Barry goes into detail in how he found his way into the sport of Ultra Running and in turn imparts some genuinely sound advice for anyone finding their feet as a runner in their advancing years.
Irelands longest Ultra Running event:
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Below is Barry's Essay on his 2016 Kerry Way Ultra Win
A few words about the KWU in case you don't feel like reading about me bursting blisters and my paranoid hallucinations!!
The Kerry Way Ultra 200km race is a unique event, which is everything that's great about Ireland, amazing trails, crazy weather, real genuine people that really care about community and sportsmanship, and even though everyone is pushed to their absolute limits inside you feel part of a lucky chosen few that travel from all over the world and get to experience this adventure of a lifetime. Eileen, John, Niall and all the volunteers ... You Rock!!!
At the start of 2016 I knew I was going to do 2 races, Wicklow Way 127km and the Kerry Way Ultra, I knew I could go faster than last year but I needed advice, so I contacted the best, Don Hannon and Barry Murray. Don wrote a training plan for me including a few races to push me and I can honestly say this worked, mainly because for the first time since I started running I had to tell someone as highly respected a runner as Don that I was actually doing the training I was meant to do.
I had read about Barry's body fat running and I felt this was for me so I asked him for a nutrition plan, I cut down on carbs which made me lighter but when I tried to run on empty I just bonked and I quickly reverted back to bananas and spuds, my favourite running nutrition, however when I actually look at what I ate I can see the nutrition plan has made me less reliant on carbs and I didn't eat much at all. So in case I forget ... Don and Barry you rock at what you do!
These people are the experts at what they do and the proof is in their own ultra-running results.
There was a great atmosphere at the race start as we jogged out the Muckross Road, I chatted with my mate, Ray Lonergan and as I looked up ahead I saw the lead group go off like crazy, we were right at the back so I turned to Ray and said "I'm gonna have a crack at this" and I pushed on up the road to join the mid pack group. I had run the KWU in 2015 with Ray whom I met running the Wicklow Way 127km race that year, we were both starting out running ultras and we were kindred spirits helping each other through both races and getting to the finish in the allotted time. I have huge respect for Ray and I love telling people how a few years before, he trained to run 10k as part of a 4-person relay team to make up the 42 km of the marathon, on the day he was doing the first 10k but felt grand so he ran the whole thing!!!!! A Legend in my book.
The great part of an Ultra like this is all the different characters you meet, I ran with
Noel Ward for a bit, Noel is as hardcore as they come, a true Dubliner, no bullshit, sleep in me car, eat a load of bleedin burgers and get up and run 100 miles, drive home and go to work! Noel kept me in stories for a while but I pushed ahead, soon I was caught up by Mariusz. Jasus, he looks like a runner, all the best gear, like you'd see on the front of trail runner magazine, skipping up the hills, I imagined he had landed with team Salomon to whip up the medals and jet back to Poland, but turns out he lives in Castleisland just down the road!!! He fired on passed me.
Soon I caught up with Jason Dowling and a guy from Scotland, I know JA from running in the Wicklow hills and he's as sound as they come. I was listening to their stories of an ultra-race in Scotland, how a lady runner won a prize for sleeping 14 hours of a 24-hour race, Duncan himself won a prize for ducking into a chipper during the race to get chips and a battered mars bar...fat. sugar. carbs ... Perfect ultra-nutrition.
Before I knew it we were in CP1 where the marshal informed me that the front runners didn’t stop - just flew past. That’d be Barry Murray…How does he do it? Grabbed a Banana and changed my bottles, I had 4 bottles at each CP, water, Lucozade, Coke and Dioralite/water in my drop bags for the race. Quickly out of the checkpoint and the sun was starting to heat up, hat on –should have put on the sun tan lotion! The weather forecast that week gave everything from 27 degrees and sunny to a hurricane moving across the Atlantic towards the south west of Ireland!! The next section was pretty hilly but I was loving it. I had a brief chat with Paul Clarke, another tough dude from last year’s KWU and I hammered on.
My lucky stars saved me at the junction when we come out on the road near the next checkpoint as, like an idiot, I turned right, following a B+B sign to Glencar, instead of the Kerry Way sign pointing left. It said Glenbeigh and I was afraid I was skipping a section, but a few hundred meters up the road a random lady in a car told me I was going the wrong way and I made a quick u-turn. Soon I was running into the checkpoint. The party had started here and I got a huge reception like it was the finish line, clapping and cheering, Eileen was in the thick of it, offers of tea and coffee and loads of encouragement, scoffed my water melon, grabbed a banana and 3 bottles and off up the road. Soon after, I passed a runner and he was sweating big time, it was seriously warm now and I was already regretting not grabbing a 4th bottle. I was lashing it into me and I could feel the salt crystals on the side of my head. I had a bag of salt in my pocket so I licked a tongue full …ughhh and swallowed it quick.
A very brief pee before Glenbeigh told me I was getting seriously dehydrated so when I got into the CP, I horsed a bottle of Lucozade into me, more water melon and a few salty spuds. Ray’s wife, Jess and daughter were there with the chairs out ready to help out but I didn’t want to sit down at this point.
I soon picked up Mariusz and he wasn’t in a talking mood – panting a bit, so I tipped on. The detour into Foilmore was a real kick in the nuts. First busy road we were on, and mentally draining running past the checkpoint for about 1-2km before doing a u turn and back down a parallel road to the CP. Here, Pat was great – I had soup in my drop bag but it was freezing and I was dreading gulping it down, Pat heated it up as I changed my bottles and it tasted great.
Out the door, feeling fresh and stopped straight away – where am I going – just then Pat who had watched me up the road shouted “Go Left” – Pat a serious athlete himself knows exactly what a runner needs - all good to make it to Waterville before dark. This section is long, very rough terrain and if the weather is bad it can really break your spirit. About an hour in I was running across a hill top and there was ‘Georg the German’, sitting on a rock shaking his head.
“I’m out, he said – sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I totally underestimated this. I haven’t enough water – how much further to Waterville?” I told him to snap out of it, and he put out his hand to be pulled up. We moved on slowly and Georg was telling me he had completed 1000km of racing in the last year, but this was different, the ground was killing him, he was dropping back so I turned to ask him if he had Eileen’s number – he had, so I moved on, a few minutes later I stopped to put on my jacket as the weather was turning bad and he caught up. At this point I saw a farm yard and a man moving about so I shouted in to see if we could get some water. He gracefully pointed to a tap and with Georg sorted, I felt I’d better hammer on cos he would soon be getting out of this low period and, with his experience, he was a contender. He had run with Barry Murray right from the start and he said he had come here to win! No messing with these Germans!!! At this point, I also learned Barry was still at the CP in Foilmore felling quite ill. I made a break for it pushing up the last few hills before Waterville.
The CP at Waterville was amazing – brand new hotel (Sea Lodge), proper buffet laid out and this time I accepted a coffee as I knew it would be getting dark soon and the caffeine would help me stay awake. Marshal and Race Co-Ordinator Niall is such a cool character, again knows exactly what you want and what to say. I was in danger of relaxing here and I knew I wanted to keep going in the daylight. So out the door. Suzie, my wife and Lisa, our great friend arrived just as I was about to leave – a much needed hug and few words of encouragement and I was gone, Suzie and Lisa had to travel 1 hour to Dublin get the train to Killarney, walk to Randalls Hotel to collect the van, drive like crazy to Waterville for a quick hug (!!) but for me this was a massive help. You’re a cracker of a wife for prepping my race food and tearing around the country after me!
As I ran up past the Golf Course, I caught up with Brian and we chatted as we ran, he's a type 1 diabetic and this baffled me how anybody can run this brutal 200km and still manage his sugar / carb intake. Amazing! He told me Martin was ahead so I set about catching him. After a few km of good road, I met John Healy, directing me on my way. Sun was dropping so head torch on! The night was warm and the air was alive, animal’s eyes, bugs, moths and bats everywhere. I can honestly say this is the best I felt since the start, I love running in the dark, maybe it’s because you can't see the hills ahead of ya!!
Before I knew it, I was in Caherdaniel and Suzie said I was singing out loud as I ran into the town. She said Martin was only just ahead so I scoffed my water melon, grabbed a banana swapped my bottles and legged it, see you in Kenmare I said to Suzie, she was driving all the way back to Killarney for a quick kip!
I was loving this now and about 15 minutes later I caught up with Martin. He was starting to struggle. We ran together till the next big hill… if I was going to win this I knew I needed to show him I was feeling good so I pushed on up and he fell back a bit. This was uncharted territory now as I have never been in the lead of any race in my life and there was still 70km to go! Still my mood was good and I think it was on this leg I met the Irish legend John Lenihan - every year Irelands best mountain runner waits with water and supplies at a real vague junction of the course to guide runners on their way, he had saved my and Ray's bacon here last year, I was delighted to see him, I stopped to shake his hand long enough that I could steal a bit of his mojo, I promised to buy his book and I ran up the road. Soon I got into Sneem, I got a bit confused as I thought I was in the main square but as I came around the corner I saw a big fire pit and a party in full swing, It was like a formula one pit stop with all the people running around me, "Mrs Doyle” was offering everything from tea to chip butties and I bet if I asked for a steak she would have had one!! Quick coffee and a few spuds and off the road to Templenoe.
Still feeling great, I got to Blackwater Bridge and into the woods, but a detour put me back on the fire road again, local volunteers asked if I needed water and I was guided into the diversion. It’s around 2am and I'm amazed how many people are here to help. I could see the reflective jackets running up ahead and I had a wee race with Dan to get to the end of the detour, like a true pro he got there before me, "take the next left “and away I went, after a long fire road I was starting to worry I had gone wrong but as I got out in the road I saw a sign for the Kerry Way pointing down a track but a red and white tape across it, John Healy had explained this junction earlier but my head was starting to get fuzzy, I can go left or right but not straight, what do I do now? Ring Eileen! Quick look at the watch, 3am, I dialled the number - answer machine - then my head torch started flashing – shit, batteries going - dialled again - no answer - I took the spare batteries out of my bag and begin to swap them using my phone as a light, that sorted, I tried Eileen again and what happened next had me laughing! "Eileen, I'm lost. I see a red and white tape. “What's it tied to?” A sign post. “What's the other side tied to”. A tree. “Now is it a tree or a bush”. Well, more like a bush. “Ok, you’re a mile from Templenoe, go left up the road and through a wooden gate, out on the road, turn right and you’ll see the CP on the right” Pure class! This course is 200km long and Eileen knows it like the back of her hand! Sure enough, I see a red torch up the road and into the CP with me.
John Healy and a group of volunteers have a nice fire going and I grab a seat for a minute, I have a cup of cold soup from my drop bag and watermelon.
For me, this was the real start of the racing, I overheard John saying "about 1/2 hour" - I don't know if he was referring to my chasers but that's how I took it, with a marathon left to run that's no cushion, I still felt good so I was out of there like a rocket, I am now entering the "Avatar Stage". I have a habit of hallucinating on long runs and I was starting to see stuff, last year I saw crocodiles, snakes and Garda everywhere, this year it was avatar!! Multi coloured slugs on the road (grass tufts), the bugs were leaving multi-coloured trail backs, I was tripping! By the time I got to the hills before Kenmare I was starting to feel tired and I was getting a bit disoriented. There a beautiful hill just before Kenmare with two horses and their eyes were blinding, they are very tame and as I hiked up the hill one of them walked with me, it was amazing, I was a bit scared to be honest , not wanting to startle her, but when I got to the top, I looked over my shoulder, I got a fright. I saw what I thought were 3 head torches (streetlights!!) behind me and I panicked, turned and ran toward the next marker straight into a huge gorse bush, buried up to my neck, I climbed through it and kept going, this section downhill is very tricky and I was getting fuzzy, I finally got out on the road and pushed into the CP.
John Healy was in Kenmare and, as I scoffed my watermelon, I looked around for Suzie. I really needed to change my socks, I had been in the same pair all day and they were now full of gorse thorns and stones. I asked John and and, fair play to him, he offered me his own size 10s. I had learned in the last KWU that the wrong socks are as bad as no socks so I declined, as I ran out the gate onto the road, Suzie pulled up – life saver - and all was good, new socks, new runners just one huge bastard of a hill and less than 30km to go.
As I left Kenmare, it started hammering down with rain so I stopped to put on my jacket. I took off my bag and leaned forward to take out my jacket and for about ten seconds, my eyes closed, stand up quick!!! - I was fading. When I finally got to the top of the long hill section, my left foot had a whopper of a blister and it was screaming at me! I tried to push the pace but my foot was killing me, don't crack now, I got angry - threw my poles on the ground - you can actually win this if you get your shit together.
IPod on, feck the rain it's not cold, jacket off, big slug of coke and I pushed on again, but the pain from the blister was making me hobble instead of run. I sat on a rock,
ripped off my runner and sock, it was a beauty!! I took the safety pin from my race number and burst it three times. Now man up and run! Gradually, the tiredness wore off and I started to move, for the first time in the race I set my watch to track my pace, I needed everything, I thought about how cool it would be to tell the kids I won, the pace started improving and , within a few km, the terrain levelled off and I was flying, I imagined I was in Last of the Mohicans, running with Daniel Day Lewis (bear with me here, I have been running for 24 hours and I'm away with the fairies!!). I got to the real technical boulders which is the last real killer section, after which is about 10km of mostly flat or downhill running.
I ran on to the first rock and bang! Feet went forward and l dropped my hand to catch myself and a sharp pain darted through my hand, I had landed on my finger and it was not looking good. I took the 2 poles in my right hand and worked my way carefully through this section, ” just get through this and you can run like hell”, and that's what I did, by the time I got to the down hills toward Torc I was flying, the waterfall was blasting the water horizontal as I got to the bottom of the steps, In my head, the group of three were still catching me, I wanted to know if they were close but, at the same time, I knew the pressure was good, as I ran out in front of Muckross House I kept looking behind me, crazy paranoid I was getting caught, the trails get messy from here so I had to concentrate to keep on the right trail/road but finally I was out on the main Muckross road. “Where's Suzie, I need to know if I'm being chased”, I really wasn't feeling like a sprint finish, I see the van coming down the road....where's the finish she said ..... “Is there anyone behind me” I shouted ..No! About 2 hours behind ya.... Ah jasus .... But I wasn't gonna walk now, no way. I ran through the tape, hugged Suzie and rang the kids,
"winner winner chicken dinner "!!
Ps. if i got any names wrong please feel free to correct me!