Coming into December most people are gearing up for the holiday season. They’re decorating the tree, putting up blinking lights on the outside of their houses, standing in long lines at Smyth’s Toy Store, and sticking the turkey into the deep freeze .
In years past I was one of these people.
But not this year.
This year, for the first days of December, the only trees I came close to were the ones I was jogging past in the forestry on my taper runs, the only blinking lights near our house were the four flashing headlamps being tested (rather obsessively) in the dark utility room, the only line I stood in was in SuperValu with my arms aching because they were weighed down with Red Bull, Coke, Lucozade, water, bags of nuts, Snickers and jellies. This December the deep freeze was a bit empty, but there was a pile of perfectly cling-film-wrapped peanut butter sandwiches on the kitchen counter.
I was gearing up to run my first ever 50 mile race.
On December 3rd, I did.
I ran from Sheilstown Forest near Tinahely County Wicklow, following the Wicklow Way, to St. Columba’s College in Dublin. The race was Raw Ultra’s Wicklow Way 50 mile(http://www.rawultra.com/).
Throughout my 12 hours on the course, I learned innumerable lessons.
I’m only going to share three of these lessons with you. Mostly because I tend to ramble on and the kids need to be woken up for breakfast and the school run.
- Never, EVER say never
My friend Ray (who I ran the race with) picked me up on the morning of at 4:30. A year previously, on St. Stephen’s Day, Ray picked me up for our first race together.
My youngest child was 2 months old then and Ray had invited me to run in the East of Ireland’s Howth Half Marathon (http://eastofirelandmarathons.com/).
We ran well, circling Howth twice. It was the longest distance I had run in well over six years.
If Ray had said to me on the morning of the half marathon that he would be collecting me a year from then, to run a 50 mile race across the Wicklow Mountains, I would have said, ‘No way Ray! Never!’ I won’t say never again.
- Eat, drink, and be merry
At Christmas time we’re always encouraged to eat, drink and be merry. We go for Christmas drinks, we go to Christmas parties, we go to visit Santa. Trays, overflowing with rich festive food, take over the country’s kitchens, along with tubs of Cadbury Roses and sauce pans of mulled-wine simmering on the cookers.
At this event, eating, drinking and being merry got me to the finish line. From breakfast time to the last kilometer of the race, I ate every hour (at least). I sipped on an array of beverages throughout the day. My Salomon vest (http://www.salomon.com/) was swollen with food and bloated flasks. At each rest stop I was sure to refill with food and drink.
It was crucial to stay fed and watered and equally imperative to stay positive. Often we loose positivity, and even hope, when we’re hungry. This could lead to hanger and believe me, no one wants to see me hangry.
It’s important we surround ourselves with people who help us stay merry. Especially while undertaking a strenuous task on a dull December day. Ray certainly helped to keep me positive. Our usual banter and chit chat passed the hours. Our friend Lar joined us for a few hours (Lar’s brother Stephen and their friend Kieran ran with us for a bit too). The slagging and banter filled the trails, we were merrier than the big lad in the red suit himself!
It’s no fun being merry alone though, right? Ray and I ran the entire distance together and his companionship was a huge part of my success on the day. Lar was the light heartedness and craic we needed. Who hangs out by the side of a mountain with mince pies and a tub of Cadbury Roses? Lar does.
Lucky for me guardian angels do exist on the Wicklow Way. Lycra clad lads, Ray and Lar, with head torch halos leading us through the dark.
Angels are around us in everyday life. When we’re kind to each other, we feel less lonely, we feel more connected, and we feel stronger to defeat challenges.
Raw Ultra’s Wicklow Way 50 mile with Ray, photo Paul Daly
- When you fall (which you probably will) get your butt up and keep going
One of the most spectacular and technical parts of Raw Ultra’s Wicklow Way 50 mile (www.rawultra.com) is the circling of Djouce Mountain. The views are beyond amazing. On one side is the foreboding Djouce Mountain and on the other side is a view of the fields of East Wicklow, the Irish Sea, and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Lar had joined us during this section and we were an hour ahead of where we had expected to be. A joke was made, I was laughing too hard (as we do in ultra running) and I took a spill on rocky terrain.
I didn’t get one scrape. I don’t know if it was my dance training or Mom’s constant instruction to never put my hand down if I were to fall (she was a gymnastics judge) that saved me. If she were there, she would have given me a 10. Hey, I’m pretty sure I even pointed my toes in my runners.
The momentum of that fall propelled me forward. Just as falling is an expected part of trail running, falling is an expected part of life. We need to roll with the punches with as much grace as we can, we need to get up, and we need to keep moving forward.
We sign up for these endurance events. We pay for them. We aren’t forced into them.
Why do we do it?
When we achieve something when the possibility of failure is greater than the possibility of success, it makes the success so much sweeter.
Like the holiday season, ultras have their ups and down; both leaving us with good memories (plus a bit of a hangover).
My first 50 miles is done. As we all do when we achieve something we never achieved before, I’ve learned new things about myself. Most importantly, is that I have the focused determination and stamina it takes to be an ultra runner.
Would I do it again? Yes, tomorrow.
But today, I’m going to relish the memories of my first 50.