11 Things I Learned on Achill Island
The Achill Ultra race series on Achill Island in Ireland consisted of three events: a half marathon (13.1 miles), a full marathon (26.2 miles) and an ultra-marathon (a whopping 39.3 miles). There were just over 200 runners across all three races, making this a very personal affair. While most of the runners were Irish, we met folks from Ontario and New Jersey as well. And of course, we were in from New Hampshire.
The race course was a 13.1 mile loop that runners covered either once, twice or three times depending on their event. J and I were running the full marathon, which meant we were going around twice. The terrain itself was what you would expect of an event labeled an ultra-marathon. Although the race was run on paved roads, the total elevation gain was 1,100 feet. In addition, the hills were mostly compacted into a challenging five-mile stretch of mountain road along Achill’s amazing Atlantic shoreline. Much like Mount Desert Island in Maine (MDI), the mountains on Achill slide right down to the water, where sea-side cliffs drop from sloping green pastures. The sheep grazed in the grass beside the road, occasionally bleating or fleeing in panic, as runners passed them.
Despite the best moments of the weekend, the beautiful scenery and friendly people, my run on Achill Island was not exactly what I wanted it to be. I ran about 20 minutes slower than last year’s marathon at MDI, with the majority of my extra time coming during my second loop of the course. I could blame it on the hills, jetlag, a nagging sinus infection, the rain (came dangerously close to Milli Vanilli there), or anything else, but success on race day comes down to training and execution.
Since I had a few extra minutes out on the course, and my brain demanded that I think about something other than my legs, I decided to take stock of a few things. Fortunately, no one was running close enough to hear me talking to myself. Here is the list of things I learned/realized in Achill about life, running and myself:
1) I owe myself a flat marathon. After 1,400 feet at MDI and 1,100 feet at Achill, “fast and flat” is sounding much better than “challenging but doable.”
2) I need to train smarter. Just logging the miles isn’t enough; they need to be quality miles. This means scheduled track and hill workouts.
3) I am married to a warrior. J overcame her knee injury to execute a flawless race plan. I thought for a bit that she might catch me on the course.
4) When it’s raining and windy, waiting 20 minutes for your wife to come around the corner and finish the race feels like an eternity.
5) Wet sheep poop in the road is a real hazard. Watch your step!
6) Irish people will yell at you (playfully, of course) for A) going to bed too early B) not drinking enough pints and C) not taking enough “jelly babies” from the “Jelly Baby Queen” at the mile 23 water stop.
7) In Ireland, they run for distance, not speed. It’s possible they’re having more fun.
8) Ultra-marathon runners are hard core, and Irish ultra-marathoners are even more hard core.
9) I feel like a wimp when taking a walk break while the guy next to me explains that he’s running his 18th marathon this year and will be running another tomorrow.
10) I could benefit from a few months of running just for fun (isn’t it always?) before I start my next training plan. I’m looking forward to many fun runs over the next four weeks in Germany.
11) Last but not least, despite my many concerns about germs and personal hygiene, at mile 21 of a marathon I’m okay with sticking my sweaty hand into a wet plastic bag to retrieve a jelly bean even though dozens of other sweaty runners have also reached into the bag. Even worse, I will eat the jelly bean.