Thar She Blows!

Burren Marathon

Julie finishing the Burren Marathon Challenge on the West Coast of Ireland.

We woke up yesterday to crystal clear skies, temps climbing into the 80’s, and a 0% chance of rain, asking ourselves, “Are we still in Ireland?” Then we heard the gusty, 20mph winds and saw the whitecaps on the sea just outside our window, and said, “Yep, that’s the Ireland we expected.”

Yesterday we completed our “marathon challenge” near Ballyvaughan, Ireland, on the west coast of this kelly-green colored country. It was aptly named a challenge by the walking club here in the Burren, the area we’re staying in that’s characterized by treeless, windswept hills and valleys, and all covered in limestone. The course was one loop, with us first heading inland towards the hills and trails, and then circling around the mountains to end up on the sea-side of the area, running along the water on the trails and roads for the last ten miles. It was more like an ultra than anything, as it included portions of steep climbs up rugged trail that required a quick hike up rather than a run, and it had flat sections where runners took advantage of being freed from elevation change and made up time to account for slower sections.

In two words, the marathon was Amazing and Exhausting. After climbing three different uphills throughout the course, we were rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding area. There were no trees to block the views, and very few people even at the top in our field of about 215 marathoners, so it was a unique experience to see such a beautiful perspective of the area without hordes of tourists alongside of me. It was an experience that cannot be found in a guide book, and if it’s ever printed as an activity for tourists, I’m glad I was able to run it while it was still a truly “local” event.

At the same time, everything that made it amazing was also exhausting. We have not been training on hills or trails, and the uphills were all ontrails, so to combine the two meant a very difficult run. The footing was rugged with rocks dotting the trails, and the climbs were after downhills. Switching the leg gears so abruptly equated to some slow uphill miles. While a warm, clear day was preferred over a cold, wet one that’s typical of Ireland, it meant dehydration and sunburn for a lot of runners. Every few miles, volunteers handed out bottles of water and I carried one with me each time to stay hydrated and cool myself off. Perhaps the most difficult of all was a factor I’ve never dealt with in a race: wind. While the wind was at our back for the first half, we paid the price on the second half of the course as we came back sea-side and had ten grueling miles of fighting the 20 mph winds with even stronger gusts.

Despite a possible injury in my lower leg, my body held up as well as I could have asked it too. My legs felt so good and so bad at so many points in the race, depending on the incline, the terrain and the wind, but my only goal was to finish under 4:30, so it kept me from pushing too hard from the start. After a 2:04 first half, that included two climbs, I thought I had a shot to be under four hours, but with the combination of the wind being so strong for nearly all of the second half of the race, and 3 mile, gradual hill on rugged terrain, I gave up that idea with 3 miles to go, when my watch read 3:36 and my legs were dead. I put on the cruise control, drank two bottles of water, and tried to catch as many people as I could in those last few miles.

With one mile to go, just after passing a woman that had been in sight for a mile, my hamstrings started to cramp. I looked down and saw that my shirt was caked in crusty-white salt, and realized that though I was hydrated, I had sweat out so much salt that my legs were cramping up. My last half mile was painful and cautious, as I just tried to hold on without any blowups, and without being re-passed by the woman just behind me. Our friends, Matt and Joe, were at the finish with Matt, there to cheer me in loudly, and it was a finish line that I was oh-so-glad to reach. Normally I reach the finish with a “sprint”, at least it seems that way to me, and a sigh as if to say, “Whew, glad that’s done. What’s next?” But this time, it was a shuffle to the finish with a groan, and I took a few minutes to lean on the water table before making any movement towards the car.

Matt finished second overall in a time of 3:20.25 and I finished 27thin 4:04.27. We’re glad it’s over, and are ready to head back to the US. Our next marathon is in three weeks in Vancouver, Washington, and it can take it’s time coming. My leg needs some recovery time, and we both need some time to get in better shape. Thank you for being a part of our latest marathon tour of Europe, and we look forward to sharing all the upcoming races and adventures with you as well. To see what’s coming up, all the events are listed on Urbyville’s Facebook page, in the calendar of events.

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