Guest post by ultra-runner Paul Brunnock, after Connemara Ultra 100, August 9th, 2014.
I have just spent the last while reading the comments and support sent my way before, during and after the CNM100 on 9th August, 2014 and to say I am overwhelmed is the understatement of the year. Many thanks to everyone. Every comment and message means so much. I don’t really do race reports but with so many people taking the time to support me and my crew I thought it might be a good time to put down some highlights.
Ray O’ Connor is responsible; it’s all his fault! Huge thanks to Ray, Angela, Iain, Niall, Ken and the rest of the Connemara 100 team for the work organising this race and for letting me be part of the family. I thought a lot about Ray in the last 15 miles of the race and it was mostly bad but what he has achieved here is amazing and this race is an absolute gem.
Due to injuries and old age I could not train for this race the way I would like so it really boiled down to 3 runs in the week , 2 cycles and 2 swims. I want to thank Tried and Tested Dungarvan Triathlon Club for all the help support and encouragement throughout. Likewise , thanks to Dungarvan Cycling Club for their support and training, especially the lads in Group 3 Sunday morning spins. Thanks to Marathon Club Ireland for all their help too; a fantastic club and wonderful people.
Of course it’s no secret my number 1 club is West Waterford AC and nothing gives me greater pride than wearing that singlet on lonely roads up and down the country. Don’t forget Ray McConnell was running 100 milers when the sport was in its infancy and in Raivis Zakis and Anthony Whelan we have two of the best ultra runners in the country. Thanks to everyone in the club that always gets behind me; all the people I run with week in week out, Mark Cliffe for his super fast WWAC t-shirt, Linda Garcia for her arm warmers but I don’t think she knows I have them and John Coleman for a variety of equipment. Special thanks to James Veale for super advice on all things running related and more, fantastic support, encouragement and all the rest. He’s a one off and a great man to have in your corner.
The man with the unenviable task then of fixing me up when I break down is Cian O’ Conchuir and I owe him a lot. Anyone who has tried to keep an old rusty motor on the road having failed its NCT multiple times knows what I mean. He also throws in the bit of sports psychology for good measure!
So the race started at 6:00am Saturday morning and I was thrilled to be there on the start line. My crew had everything in place and I had no worries as far as that part of the race was concerned. If you look at the picture of us at the start we are not your typical race start photo. I think Paddy observed that most of us looked as if we could do with a sandwich! One of the exceptions to that maybe being Don Hannon who is a strong and powerful athlete. Add to that the true grit, bottle and talent of the man and you have about as good an ultra athlete as you could find anywhere. When I met Don on Sunday morning he looked fresh enough to go again and, I’d say, would have needed very little encouragement to lace up the runners and get the bandana out!
It was a big thrill to be able to say that I was in the same race as Aoife O’ Donnell , the first Irish female finisher of the 135 mile Badwater Ultra. I didn’t get the chance to congratulate Aoife in person but I am in awe of her achievement and very inspired by her. There too was Gerry Duffy, top endurance athlete , whom up to a short while ago I had only known from his books. My brother Johnny was once introduced over the PA to about 2000 Sean Kelly Tour cyclists something along the lines of ‘Here comes Johnny Brunnock , the nicest fella you could meet!’ to huge applause of agreement. Well Gerry is one of those ‘fellas’ too and I hope we get to share the roads many more times over the years. Also there were athletes I have not really met yet but whom I greatly respect and admire from seeing them in races I have been competing in and following their results like George Webb and Maurice Whitty.
Seconds before the start and I shook hands with Vasiliy Neumerzhiskiy , a true legend, and we wished each other good luck. Vasiliy, in 2011, gave me one of the greatest pieces of running advice I have received and it has saved me many times since. It was in Portumna 100k and he was finishing what would be a win and a course record. I was at about 75k. Vasiliy came back to me on the path and said something like ‘Keep your hands down. We’re running 100k, not 5k!’. It works!
Highlight of the morning was to see Billy Holden take off at 6 minute mile pace. I can’t say what Billy was thinking but I imagined he was laying down a marker , telling the Connemara course that he wasn’t afraid and go ahead and throw what you can at me. It was brave and foolhardy and wonderful and I loved it. I think Billy is what Bob Hilliard would call a ‘real deal rock and rolla!’
The first part of the run was uneventful as it should be. We found our rhythm and I ran with Peter and Colum. Then I ran with an athlete from Dublin and his brother but sadly it was not to be his day this time. He ran with courage and good humour and I hope he gets to come back to CNM100 again. Just before Checkpoint 1 (28 miles) I got a bad pain in my right hip and I thought the day might be done. But Sue gave me a talking to along the lines of ‘There’s nothing wrong with you!’ and that seemed to fix that. Then I ran to Checkpoint 2(55 miles) and enjoyed the scenery along the way. Somewhere there I passed Tom Reynolds and we spoke for a minute and he seemed in good form too. Aoife and George were stopped here as well and I left before them. So I ran to CP3(67 miles) all the while my crew doing an amazing job and I really doing very little. People often ask how do you run these distances and I’m not sure! It may seem like a contradiction but you have to concentrate carefully on every little thing that’s happening in the body and around but, at the same time, zone out so you don’t notice time, distance or discomfort. I’m only learning. Next came CP4(82 miles) and I ran straight through but the wheels were starting to creak. The next 18 miles took about 4hrs45min. My running friends can work that out for yourselves! I had to walk 3 miles approximately and then managed to get running again with 12 to go and ran all the way in to the finish. My crew at this stage were phenomenal and that doesn’t do them justice at all.
During this time George passed me running like a young fella! Tom came by moving smoothly and gave me much needed encouragement which I really appreciated. Alina Brown was the last person to come by and she is plainly a serious athlete. I have to look her up on DUV Marathon Statistic! I was pleased for them that they were running so well at this late stage but I couldn’t help but ask myself a few questions and another talking to was required!
On the laps of the town I met Billy again. I thought he was walking back to his hotel for a well earned rest but when I realised he was still on the course finishing his race he climbed up even further in my estimation. To put down a day as he had and keep going just says it all about the calibre of the man. I have no doubt he will be back to throw down the gauntlet again.
Of course the finish came. It always does. I just wait for that time when I know I will see Ray with his hand out stretched. It’s a simple enough thing. We shake hands. He might say ‘Well done’ and I might say ‘Thanks Ray. Great race’. Something like that. I don’t remember. This moment doesn’t need words.
When the dust settled I heard the fantastic news that Brian Ankers had joined an elite group; athletes who have won CNM100. There are but 3. In 2012 it was an honour for me to get to run the race when Mick Rice won his 4th. I am always trying to put Mick’s tips into practice since I first heard of him when I went to the Connemara International Ultra 2008. Last year it was Grellan McGrath, a fabulous runner. Grellan sent me a message of encouragement Friday night which gave me a great lift and really sent me on my way Saturday morning. And now Brian. For me this says it all. Brian is a runner like you and I , fitting training around work, family and life in general; an ordinary bloke who has done the extraordinary, 100 miles in 15hrs48min. I couldn’t be happier for him. The winner of CNM100 2014 is my friend, Brian Ankers.
It was very nice to collect our prizes on Sunday and meet everyone once more. Ray kept tugging at the emotions and I found myself close to tears many times. It was worse than Saturday that way! I had only one more thing to do and that was get a photo with a true Connemara legend. Maciej Sawicki has completed this race 6 times, getting faster and faster each time. He is one fantastic athlete and ‘sound out’ on top of it all. If I had missed the chance for the photo I would have had to go back in 2015! Thankfully I nabbed him before everyone scattered and that picture will take pride of place on my mantle piece and in my memories for a long time.
There are some questions that people always ask me about the long runs and these answers might be of interest to someone!
What do you eat during the run?
That’s easy. I eat crackers with butter and jam, bite size pastries stuffed with cheese and tomato (Sue’s recipe), boiled salted potatoes and a kind of soupy pasta (Sue’s recipe again). I use Power Bar gels( maybe 8 in 100 miles) and I drink water, flat Coke and maybe an electrolyte drink (Zym or Nunn). I now use S Cap salt tablets too since they have become a bit easier to source. Sue has a system and a few weeks before whatever run she will make me compile a rota of whatever I will eat and when. Then on the day I simply eat, swallow or drink anything my trusted crew hand to me. They sometimes have to get stern with me if I look like I might refuse something but reminding me that I did the rota in the first place usually does the trick!
Do you stop?
My strategy is to try not to stop being a firm believer in ‘relentless forward progress’. Many runners choose to stop and then they can run much faster than me in between. I simply can’t run fast! On Saturday in 21hrs37min I stopped for about 10 minutes and walked for 3 miles. The rest was a funny kind of running!
Do you go to the toilet?
Let’s maintain a little bit of mystery! All I will say is ultra runners are tough but we are human!
And ,lastly, most frequently asked, why?
Not as easy to answer. Big part is the people. Like my friend Frank McDermott. Frank and I can run 30, 40 or 50 miles together and you wonder where it went. I might not be always in the thick of the conversation or making a racket at the post race party but I love being around these people and for as long as they put up with me I will stick at it. Partly it’s to see if can it be done. Then, can I do it? And then ,what will happen to me if I do it? And I suppose mostly it’s because I like running. I like the feeling when my foot hits the ground and the noise that makes. I like the wind and the rain, the heat and the cold, the sun , the clouds and shadows, the leaves on the trees, the water and the grass and the air going in and out of my mouth and down into my lungs. When you run 100miles you know you’re alive.
I have to finish by thanking my crew. They are amazing. Liam and I have run so many miles together and we can nearly communicate intuitively. He knows when I’m suffering. Sharon, so sweet and kind ,and yet stern enough not to let me away with anything. Paddy helped me no end to get back running after a lay off in 2009 and his easy going, no panic approach is just what’s needed. Money can’t buy you a crew like this and ,thankfully, I don’t have to because they are just simply my friends and my family.
Thanks to my kids Moylan, Megan, Rory and Daithi for their patience and love. Thanks to Sue’s kids Yasemin and Yeliz (and Lloyd!) for supporting me all the way.
Love and thanks always to my sisters and brothers Joanne, Elaine, Johnny and Paddy for supporting me in so many different ways in all the mad things I might do (and my nieces and nephews for their fabulous video!). Special thanks to Mum and Dad for everything. I know you would have loved to have been at this one but don’t worry there will be plenty more jolly jaunts for us to go on.
And the last word…thank you Sue. Frank might joke with me sometimes and say ‘I’d have beaten you today Paul if you didn’t have Sue!’ Well , the truth is if I didn’t have Sue I wouldn’t be there at all in so many ways. You are my one and only.