Today was the Connemara Marathon, an event my friend and I had been anticipating and training for over the past 3 months.
We left our hostel around 0815 and just made the last departing bus (the marathon provided free transport from Galway to the race starting line). The bus ride took about an hour from Galway to get to Connemara National Park, where the marathon was held.
The conditions were less than favorable: about 37 degrees & windy, but it could have been worse - it wasn't raining. The race started at 1030 in the most undramatic way, I hardly realized we'd started. The line we'd all been waiting in on the side of the road near the bag truck suddenly began the line to head to the start. We were told to move forward to the start line and 5 minutes later were off without much notice. My friend was much MUCH faster than me, so we said farewell there with plans to meet up for dinner.
The scenery was everything of my melancholy-soul, gloomy-weather-loving, out-doors addict dreams: overcast sky, tan grass-carpeted hill sides, pine trees of dark red and evergreen hues, pussy willow, hickory leaves, sheep (look almost mountain goat like), fijords, and stark, dramatic hill sides that funneled you along the marathon course. The race was relatively small for a marathon, only about 3000 participants, but included marathon & half marathon runners & walkers and ultra marathon runners. Anyways, the small size meant that you had stretches to yourself or with only a few others around you...if you were in the very back, as I was. I was killing myself for not carrying a camera, because every turn of the bend begged for a photograph, but I suppose it's for the best, I might still be out there photographing otherwise.
Sadly, I'm nursing a minor injury, so I was only able to run the first half and then had to walk pretty much the entire second half. It was incredibly frustrating and disheartening to find yourself passed in mass by almost every other runner in this event, but I tried to make the best of it, because that was all there was to make of it: it was a Point-A-to-Point-B race out in the middle of nowhere, so you just had to keep going in order to finish, no turning back, no short cuts.
Anyways, the scenery was so beautiful I tried to treat it as a 26.2 mile hiking day rather than a marathon, without a camera I did my best to memorize the landscape, it was devestatingly beautiful to me.
However, it was the coldest I've perhaps ever been. The headwind was so intense, and followed us at every turn in the course, challenging our steps, it has left my face wind-whipped and my nose was a never ending-running facet (sorry...TMI) : fortunately, in marathons one can always find bits of discarded clothing about...and I gathered a few sweaters, a hat, and gloves to add to my running kit and ended up being appropriately warm to walk for the next 3-4 hours it took me to finish the second half of the race. Funny thing is, at first you take whatever you can find, but as you go, you see other bits of discarded clothing, and almost enter a shopping mentality, become selective, pick things that have a more preferable color or size or warmth-quality. Let's just say I am glad there is no one I know who will remember what I looked like...I am sure I will become a story to tell for those who saw this ridiculously bundled up walker out in an Irish national park.
When you have to or choose to walk most of a marathon, I will say, you do get to do some fun eavesdropping and you get to soak in more of the course scenery. When people see you near the back of the pack as I was, they also offer up a lot of encouragement and engage you in short conversation as they pass you buy. One man, 85-90 years old I'd say, and so perfectly Irish in speech, talked to me for a bit, humbled me entirely, and also blew me over with a wave of inspiration and motivation. He has run 248 marathons to-date, and ran one YESTERDAY as well. Wow. I hope I am active at his age, although I will never reach such a number of marathons. Well done sir, wherever you are, and thanks for the encouragement today.
My time was my worst ever, but I was able to finish it running, and I'm trying not to dwell on the feeling of defeat at the moment, at now facing the reality that I cannot say that I 'ran' this race...I felt silly collecting my shirt and metal. Anyways, it was a gloriously Irish day outside, terribly cold for one like me not used to it (side note: when I crossed the finish line the commentator said "this girls has a full wardrobe on!...yep, that's the Californian running in frigid Ireland for ya ;), but the scenery was everything of my dreams, and I'm thankful I got to see it and was able to finish the 26.2 distance in some capacity.
I got the bus back to Galway and we are off to dinner soon!