At 9am on the 3rdof October 2020 off we set from the Crumlin Road gaol. Most of us edjits including myself, were dressed in prisoner attire. The race was a 24hr ultra marathon, with the winner being the person who got the furthest ‘by the crow flies’, from the jail. I’d run the event the year before while still building back my fitness after injury. Then I had stopped at Newry in the late afternoon having run about 40 miles. This year, I was determined to run the full 24 hours.
Right from the start the group split up with some heading south and some heading west. I ran west and got chatting to a few guys. They weren’t running overnight and seemed a bit surprised when I told them my ultimate goal.
As I ran through west Belfast with Mark Ramsey taking snaps, I met and began running with Gary and Keiran. We all got chatting, sharing stories and having a bit of craic. Keiran was dressed like me and we were getting plenty of beeps from cars and shouts of encouragement.
On the Andersonstown road a woman told me I wasn’t the first escaped prisoner to run up this road. It gave me a chuckle.
As it turned out Gary was planning the same finishing point as me with Keiran going a different route, but the same for about 50 miles. I thought we might run close together for many miles but this didn’t pan out. Kerian began to pull away then nearly got run over by a taxi while still in sight. This must have given him an adrenalin rush as he soon disappeared into the distance!
I ran with Gary for a while until he stopped with his support crew around 10 miles. He had told me his brother was supporting him in his car and his mum was collecting him at the finish. I was well jealous, as I had no support and had to make my own way home. This meant I had to stop and queue in shops for food and drink and had to carry everything that I might need. My backpack was huge compared to the rest, including a change of clothes for travelling home.
I ran on keeping to my plan of 9 to 10 minutes per mile. I took very large steps to help stretch when I walked every few miles. At around mile 15 Gary must have been close behind, as I went past his support crew who were out of their car. I shouted over that we could be seeing a lot of each other!
I’d started the race with a litre of fluids, 3 gels and a protein bar. I would have carried more but I had to strip out a lot, when I initially couldn’t get the back pack closed. I kept the protein bar but took the rest in the first 4 hours, as I closed in on marathon distance.
When I reached Portadown, I had my first pit stop at a filling station. I tried to be as quick as I could but still had to queue to purchase 2 x 500ml sports drinks and 2 Mars bars. Off I set again feeling good and strong but had wasted close to 5 minutes.
At 38 miles I reached Armagh and had another stop at a filing station. The Mars bars and drinks had gone down well and easy to find in any shop, so were adopted as my go-to food throughout. After another few minutes, I was off again heading towards Monaghan. I was climbing gradually heading south west but glad the wind was coming from the north.
Not long after crossing the border I had a scary run in with a Rottweiler. As I ran past a house the big dog came running after me barking and growling for a good 50 metres. I spoke to the dog in the softest tones I could manage hoping to make friends! Thankfully it soon got bored and returned home.
There’s a marked change in the roads over the border with a lot less foot paths. Close to Monaghan I had another scare. I was running over back roads on the right-hand side of the road when a car approached head on. He wasn’t going fast but was very close to the side of the road and was making no attempt to pull out round me. It all happened fast but it was one of those moments engraved in my mind. Just as I was dropping down into a crouch ready to spring into a hedge, the driver final caught sight of me. The muppet was driving while looking down at his phone and had to do a quick swerve to avoid me with a second to spare. Phew.
I reached Monaghan about 55 miles in, just after 6pm. There was an Applegreen shop here and I resupplied with 2 drinks, 2 Mars and really pushed the boat out with a packet of crisps. I also took the opportunity to change into my high-vis clothing, so that was the end of the black and white strips and beeps and shouts of encouragement.
That mile took the longest so far of 17 minutes with about 6 or 7 stationary. It had rained early in the race and there had been a few heavy showers, but the weather had now dried up. Running from Monaghan towards Cavan was a steady climb with some sharp hills. I began to struggle and had to take many walk breaks. I stopped to pee and found it really difficult getting going again. I decided to stretch a bit and check my phone. I was disappointed to find I had no signal and my battery was nearly flat. I wasn’t able to check on how I was doing compared to everyone else.
I considered for the first time of packing it all in. I thought about finding a phone to contact my family to get a rescue lift home. I had been holding off taking any caffeine as I wanted to use it overnight but decided it was the time to get a boost. I took a Revvie and set off again thinking that I had to at least run 100k so over 62 miles. Thankfully by the time I reached 100k I was feeling better again remembering how much of a roller coaster ultras can be. I gave myself a good talking to and ploughed onwards.
On my 70th mile I reached a small town I’d ‘street viewed’ and knew there were a couple of shops. However, the shops were derelict and there was nowhere to resupply. I had no food or drink and 12 miles from Cavan. This was going to be tough but I had no option but to soldier on.
7 miles further on I was parched and ran through a little village called Ballyhaise. I ran past a Chinese restaurant and then it dawned that I could get a drink. The lady in the shop was friendly and happy to hear that she had saved my life! I bought 2 bottles of coke with the first one lasting only a few minutes. I burped my way down the road heading for Cavan.
I’d planned to run straight through the middle of Cavan stopping at a 24-hr garage to resupply. However, just before Cavan I saw a sign that had my destination. This give me a real lift as I followed the road towards my goal. As I ran south, I saw lights to the west and eventually realised I had taken a wrong turn. I was heading towards my goal but I was missing out Cavan and the last chance to resupply for a long time.
As I reached a roundabout, I made the decision to run straight towards Cavan and not follow the sign to my goal. I reached a junction and turn right as my Garmin told me I was back on course. It was after midnight and I had been running for 15 hours and over 80 miles. I wasn’t thinking straight but focused on finding a shop. Cavan was packed with many people drinking and partying in the streets. I got some banter as I ran past the drunks. After about 5 minutes I looked down at my watch, and was horrified to see I was further from my goal than the last time I’d looked 10 minutes before.