The night before the race Heather and I stayed in Clifden where we could easily catch the bus to the 1/2 marathon start in the morning. The bus transfer to the start in Leenaun went smoothly and we were at the start about 90 minutes before the 1/2 marathon was to go off. The weather was really nice out, sunny, but getting warm quick, and with a bit of wind. We found a nice place to sit down for a while and relax till it was time to warm up. Soon we were dropping off our bags for transfer to the finish and we were off for a 2 miles warm up. Then it was race time!
After a few words from Ray we were off and running. My initial plan was to just settle in with the lead group and try to figure out what kind of field I was running against. This went out the window when I found myself in the lead and pulling away only 200m into the race. I kind of panicked at first and though maybe I was going out to fast, or that I was really underestimating how hard this course was going to be. So I relaxed a bit and really made sure I was comfortable as we turned away from the bay and started up the first big climb of the race. I passed the first mile in 6:17 and felt really good, and still had a lead. So I just went with it and figured I would worry about those guys behind me when and if they catch me. Still going up hill I passed the 2nd mile in 5:52 and had increased my lead. I finally crested the hill and finally got to do some down hill running. At this point I figured I should press a bit and just try to "disappear" from those behind me, get out of sight and hopefully out of mind. The 3 mile mark passed in 5:16. Then I started hitting the rolling sections of the course. At this point I really felt like I probably had this thing won, as long as I didn't blow up or do anything stupid. It was also at this point I started to relax a bit and take in the scenery which is just incredible. Miles 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 went by in 5:32, 5:48, 5:52, 5:44, and 5:46. All along this section was rolling hills and I was passing some of the marathon and ultra runners that had started much earlier in the day. This was a great help to have people to chase down along the course. Around mile 9 the course starts heading up again for the biggest and longest climb of the race. It was also around this point that I started to worry about getting caught from behind. I was really worried that maybe I had relaxed too much and maybe someone was catching up to me from behind. Of course looking over my shoulder I could see plenty of people behind me, but I could not tell if the were marathoners and ultra folks that I had already passed or 1/2 marathoners catching up to me. So I pressed on up the climb passing miles 9, 10, and 11 in 5:53, 6:25, and 6:37. This climb was brutal and really had me hurting pretty bad. The good news was nobody caught me or passed me and the last 2 miles to the finish were down hill and flat. After cresting the top of the pass I tried to pick it up as much as I could and get to the finish. The downhill 12th mile passed in 5:38 and at this point an official camera car pulled up next to me and I found out that I had pretty large lead and was going to win the race. I was so excited and finished up the 13th mile in 5:49 with a smile on my face. I crossed the line in 1:17:06 (results) good for first place by over 6 minutes and a very nice payday of 500 Euros, plus a very heavy lead crystal vase!
Pictured above are the winners of the 1/2 marathon, ultra, and marathon. Just to give you an idea of how hard this course is, the winner of the marathon was Sergiu Ciobanu, the 2009 Irish National Marathon Champion in 2:22, he ran 2:31 while trying to break the Connemarathon marathon course record. The last half of the marathon course is the 1/2 marathon course, it is the most challenging part.
After the race I was pulled this way and that for pictures, interviews, and awards. I actually missed Heather finishing the race. I found her a few minutes after she finished and received the great news that she had also won!!!! Which made the day as perfect as it could have been. Heather ran a great race in 1:30:59 for a slim 27 second win. I could not have been happier for her.