Monday, July 9, 2012

céad míle fáilte

Ireland, June 15-21/ Austria June 22-24, 2012

Got 1-2 hours of sleep on the redeye to Dublin and arrived Friday midday, felt a little silly having to ask people to repeat themselves when I ask them for directions because I had trouble understanding Irish, but eventually found the bus to Ballinasloe in western Ireland, then a 45 Euro cab ride down winding country roads to Portumna for the 100k the next morning. Forget about renting a car, driving on the left side of the road is one thing but navigating without iPhone, forget it. 

Got to the B&B, lucky to find one last minute less than 3 miles from the race start; sometimes the biggest stress of ultras is the logistics.

Met a couple of runners from Ireland, Collette and Eimer, who had collectively run some 300 marathons but were there for their first 50k (50k virgins). They were discussing the British Royalty and the depressed Irish economy over biscuits and tea with Mary, the B&B owner. Walked into town, looked at Portumna castle, then to packet pickup. 

Met friends of Collette and Eimer, runners from Dublin. “Did you come all the way here for this?” I explained I was going to Dublin for a neurology meeting the following week, it’s only natural that I take a slight detour to run 100k. They insisted I ride back with them to Dublin after the race. They found another runner to drive me to the race in the morning. They invited me to dinner. The Irish are notoriously friendly, their national greeting is “one hundred thousand welcomes”. I ordered my first Irish Guiness and one of the guys was so offended that it didn’t have the proper head on it that he actually went to take it back to the bar, only to find that it had came from a can. Mick pretended to be exasperated as Maurice told a long but hilarious and amazingly coherent yarn about his quest to run a marathon in Bulgaria. Dinner went late and everybody ordered dessert but nobody else was drinking. Plenty of runners don’t drink but I got the sense that alcohol can be a touchy topic given the high alcoholism rate there.

Got up at 4:30 the next morning, went to the kitchen to meet Ger (I guess that’s short for… Gerald?) who was running his first 100k was to give me a ride to the race start. He looked on in disbelief as I wolfed down a bacon and egg salad sandwich, followed by a Ploughmans cheese sandwich and a bottle of fanta while he munched on whole grain cereal and a banana. His bleary-eyed friend drove us to the park, and I was grateful I didn’t have to shlep my heavy drop bag the extra 4 km in the dark to the race start as planned.

The course is a 5k loop done 20 times for 100k (8.5 times for the marathon) on mostly dirt trail through a forest, past a marina and some castle ruins. Ran a bit with a newbie who seemed a bit stressed about having Bib #1, but he ended up DNFing. Even being from Seattle I was not prepared for the cool/ damp. Had to walk in my rainjacket to keep from freezing when I started weaving and sleepwalking from the jetlag, got severe armpit chafage. By now I’m used to feeling like crap, DNF didn’t even cross the horizon. Perked up after changing to a dry longsleeve shirt and caught up to the other female 100k runner, Selina a 55 year old Brit who was now struggling. We talked about her red squirrel sighting and she told me about some of the other runners on the course, including the eventual 2nd place finisher who had just won a 145 mile ultra in Britain 2 weeks prior, and the other woman who once ran a 16 hour 100 miler who DNF’d after running a 4 hr 50k. Guess that left the door open for me since we were the only 2 women left. Turns out despite my slow time (13:39) I was the first ever female finisher -woo hoo! Ger won it in 8:30. There was even a guy who did 100k in a wheelchair- on trail! 

Went to dinner and saw Selena and her friend Michael, whom I later learned had run the Seattle Triple 2 years prior. I remember hearing that a couple of Brits had come to run that and thinking, “they came all the way here for this?”.

Next morning I met some horseback riders from Norway and we sat down to a “full Irish breakfast” with French press coffee. Then I got in a car with the Dublin guys, Mick, Maurice, and Frank who took me on a tour of downtown before dropping me off. Here is Phoenix Park, which at 1750 acres is one of the largest walled parks anywhere. Here is the president’s house, where there is a candle always lit to welcome back Irish returning from other countries. 

The famine statue, commemorating the year when 25% of the population had to leave their homeland or starve (apparently there is a sister statue in the US with 1 fewer figure to commemorate those who died in transit). The Ha’penny bridge and the boardwalk where the drug addicts sleep. Discussed the state of Irish healthcare, which apparently no one can afford. Mick points out how none of the corners have street signs (it’s true) and Maurice calls the prime minister “a Leprechaun” but their self-deprecating humor accentuates a definite national pride.

In Dublin I struggled to stay awake in meetings. Got to see my parents, as my dad was attending the same meeting. Funny how I hardly see them and we meet in Ireland. Midweek I realized I had to see the Guiness brewery. 

Apparently sales were increased by a brilliant marketing ploy, “Guiness is good for you”. I learned the proper way to pour a pint in 119 seconds. Fill to ¾ by pulling the tap toward you to incorporate the nitrogen gas which gives Guiness its unique foamy head, let it settle, then fill to top with tap away from you so no more gas gets in it. I couldn’t even remember which way to pull the tap, you’d never guess I have a bartending “degree”.

Then I walked to the old Jameson distillery. Must say, I’m still a scotch girl.

Friday got up super early to catch my flights to Salzburg, birthplace of W.A. Mozart, where I was meeting Jenny and her 2 oldest girls. 

Funny how I have to go all the way to Austria to see family. A week of sitting in meetings, no sleep, drinking Guiness and eating fried food just reinforced my last minute decision to downgrade from the planned 2 x 100k in 2 weeks; luckily there was a 54k option. 

Got to do a little castle sightseeing before going to the “mandatory” prerace briefing. 

Walked with a bunch of runners from the race headquarters at Mozartplatz to a classroom at the University of Salzburg where they spent over an hour outlining what seemed like every turn in the race. 

The girls were good but had to be given something to keep them occupied. I noticed there was a team of Kenyans there, apparently they’re going to take over trail ultras too? The 4 man relay finished 100k in 6:19 (the men’s solo winner was American 8:54, female winner was 50 years old, 11:56). Then prerace dinner. Jenny asked the waiter about one of the menu items. “Of course it’s good, it’s Austrian”. Had Wiener schnitzel and goulash, then took a cab back to the hotel through the thunderstorm.

There were violinists playing Mozart at the start. The skies had cleared but it was sunny and humid, not great news for the chafage which had not yet crusted over from the week prior. 

Started out along a riverside path then entered a forest trail, seemed to go up and up and up. Then exited a clearing and proceeded to wander the countryside, farmroads, grassy fields with views of the foothils, interspersed with short stretches of single track with roots, rocks, mud, and creek crossings. The actual hills of "The Sound of Music".

Saw cows, donkeys, horses, sheep, dogs. Saw some gigantic chickens who appeared to be running faster than I was, and even a peacock. 

Was lapped by the 100k leader who started 3 hours ahead of us on this 2 loop course, then passed by a number of Nordic walkers as well.

Early on soaked through my clothes from the humidity, then a rare unwelcome sensation, thigh chafage. Uh oh wakeup call to go back on diet. Seemed like there was never anyone around except the moment when you reach down to put body glide on your raw thighs, then a runner comes out of nowhere to pass you. Slogged on for 4 hours in that state, was happy to get back into town where it was weaving through a dense crowd of tourists on cobbled roads and side alleys, trying to find the next Mozart 100 course marker. 

Was very glad to finish, then hobbled back the 2 miles to the hotel, bracing for the shower to come. And the return to work.

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