When asked to attend a marathon by Newline, I was a little apprehensive. My usual race involves running on trail or in the mountains over 50 to 100 miles. Recent training sessions and races include the Cornish coastal path, Glen Nevis, the Lake District, the Welsh mountains and the French Alps – You get the picture.
If I’m going to travel for a race I want to make sure it’s something that can push me physically as well as offering breath-taking scenery along the way. When you run as seriously as I do, you need to remind yourself that it’s about having fun and the experience. With hours of training each week, I sometimes forget that this is a hobby and not a job!
The Mooathon is entirely on road but take athletes up and around the Donegal mountains and then along the beautiful coastal line through Downings and up to Long Rock.
The start line was a mix of serious looking runners and cows. Yes, that’s right, cows! Many on the line had made great effort to dress in accordance with the rules, i.e. look like a cow. Pretending to be a serious looking athlete I simply opted for the white singlet and black shorts to avoid disqualification. Some went for the complete cow suit. Great! Athletes had the option of two distances, semi-skimmed (half marathon) or the full fat (marathon).
A bit of face painting with a cow patch on my face (“Moo!”) and I was ready to go. Looking at the competition on the line there were certainly some serious looking athletes amongst the cattle. I noticed some guy who seemed to have been inspired by the Tarahumara Indian barefoot tribe as he was standing on the line in some very flimsy flip flops. He had painted his toe nails in cow print; guessing what his feet probably looked like and will look like at the end of the race, it was probably for the best!
The route starts in the very sleepy village of Kilmacrenan just outside Letterkenny. The countdown began and I immediately broke off from the crowd at a fair pace just behind the leading semi-skimmed runner. Half a mile to warm up and then the hills kicked in. I never wear a HRM but I there were times my heart felt like it was trying to break through my rib cage. A couple of miles in, my lungs felt like they were going to explode. It was like this for a good 7-8 miles. I am conditioned to run hills and mountains, but not at this pace!
As they say, “no pain, no gain”. And there was a lot of gain to be had. I finally hit Lough Salt a beautiful lough shadowed by the Loughsalt Mountain, these were the views I was after and they were well worth the wait (climb).
Reaching the highest point in the race we were given a little respite (by that I mean running at marathon race pace on the flat) where we ran the length of the lough to be rewarded with a view that stretched for miles across Donegal. To the right I had a vast stretch of beautiful countryside and mountains in the distance and to the left I had Sheephaven Bay. This is why I run and more importantly, this is why ultra running and mountain running is the way forward!
Having spent the last 7 to 8 miles running at 6 minute miles to 10 minute miles, the next few miles would lead to the half marathon finish line at Downings and would provide a different challenge. Downhill and with pace. The long downhill road provided the opportunity to make up for the slow climbs. In fact, I remember looking at my GPS a couple of times and seeing 4.37 minute miles at times. I knew I would pay for that later in the race.
It wasn't long before we hit Downings. The guy in front passed the finish line and clocked a very respectable 1.22 half marathon. A great time for that course. I had hit the half-way point and after a quick refresh of my Elete electrolytes I was ready for the second half.
The second half follows the coast line and offers the same kind of climb as the first half but spread out in long undulations. The route had its own challenges mainly from its exposure to the winds coming in from the coast. Fighting a steep climb in the wind was tough and I was starting to pay for that downhill section several miles back. My mind however was elsewhere. I was taking in the huge cliff sections, rugged rocks and traditional Irish thatched cottages that were dotted along the coast line. I wondered what life would be like around here.
I completed the full loop of the coast line which naturally brought me back into Downings. Only a couple of miles to go. I can see the finish line but I’m not there yet, I have to do a wee detour around a church and then try and find some speed in my legs for the final two miles into the finish. These final two miles or so was in headwind and my legs felt like lead. The pace felt like I was walking but taking a cheeky gander at my watch I was still running at a respectable pace.
Before I knew it I had a few hundred metres into the sports centre. A hot shower awaits. A final push and I was being greeted by the smiling organisers at Irishfit.com (the race organisers) and a post recovery carton of milk. Job done!
This really is an amazing course. If you want a half marathon or marathon PB then this is probably not the one for you. However, if you like dressing up as a cow, or you are looking for a true challenge with the rewards of one of the most beautiful places in Ireland, then the Mooathon is one to add to your diary!
See you on the start line! Enter online here: http://www.mooathon.com/