The words help gave an indication, but you really had to see John and Eddie complete the last few laps to understand just what it meant. In this race, everyone has a story, and a desire to test themselves.
Eddie Gallon is 51, lives in Madrid. He was born in Belfast and has completed in every Energia 24hr race to date. The only man to do so… and he’s getting quicker each time! Eddie has a diminutive appearance in racing white vest, but he’s kindness and persistence personified. Eddie was lying third in the closing hours of this race, and on catching up with John looked as if he could take him and outright lead in the National Championship for the first time. But he didn't, instead he walked & ran with John side by side and together they finished the last few laps. Joint first in the national championship!
Jan Uzik was a tall & lean, with the look and glare of a seasoned ultra-runner. Little was known of him before the race, his race entry stating “Jan Uzik, Slovakian living in Blackpool, Cork”. That won’t ever happen again. Jan was steady, strong and consistent – not until the last 10 minutes did he even appear sore or beaten. Yet he ran 147 miles, the second longest ever in the history of the race. All the more outstanding for a man who until 3 years ago had never ran. Apparently, he lost 7 stone, became a vegan and this was only his second Ultra. Unbelievable, but as I say, this race is full of stories, some personal, some shared.
Kiwi born Paul Martelli, ran 100km in under 7 hours… 6:54 to be precise, the fastest ever recorded time on Irish soil. And he didn't get it easy; he was constantly weaving through a chicane of spread out ultra-runners, often passing in the second lane. I couldn't work out whether it was motivating or demotivating watch him slalom past us, but was hard not to appreciate the speed & finesse with which he undertook his challenge to obtain a qualifying time for World Championships later this year.
And what about the Champion and record holder from last year, Eoin Keith? Well he turned up in customary racing blue t-shirt and got on with his natural stride, happy to chat to runners either side. Many perhaps not knowing the greatness of the unassuming runner in their mist, who among other feats is one of only a handful of runners to run 100 mile a day for three days... Eoin pulls out after 12 hours and only after do we realise he entered with a cruciate ligament injury!
Then there’s Tim Brownlie who along with his sister Susan entered this race several years ago as amateurs and have done astonishing well since. Tim achieved bronze in the national championship with an amazing 130 miles. That’s like Belfast to Derry & then on to Enniskillen on foot! Tim’s 117 miles last year had been beaten by sister Susan’s 122 miles, and so he was determined to beat 122 miles. Susan wasn't running this year, although fully in support she’d have loved a go on the track, if only major international races didn't lie ahead.
Tim went out with a strategy to run for about an hour and then over time to slow a little and reduce running time to 45 minute between breaks. He was strong throughout and ever supportive of other runners, and it was always a pleasure to share a few laps with him. Even over the last few laps his competitive nature stayed strong as he ran with Vilnus, together pushing each other along. No doubts he’ll be competing with Eddie, John and Eoin in the next few years.
Ultra running is one of the most evenly balanced of all sports. Ruthann Sheahan shattering any misconceptions last year with Susan McCartney also not far behind. Both were out this year, so Achill’s own Donna McLoughlin took centre stage and secured a world qualifying distance of 180km to win. Donna’s determination was clear to see over the last half-hour as she wouldn't give up an inch on her way to achieving the qualifying distance. Donna and the Achill crew launched the first Achill Island Ultra Marathon event last year, and she even makes the medals! Iryna Kennedy is a superhero, and stand out personality of this event… but more later
So many others had so many stories that will gradually be told. But this is one you really have to see it to believe, support it to understand it and run it to know what it feels like. It’s a mental test first, physical test second. John O’Regan's a two time winner and accomplished ultra runner, to see him suffer and continue running is an inspiration. The competitiveness, the challenge and the comradeship makes this a race above all others in Ireland…
This is only the beginning of the story, to which stats, pictures and more will be added but for now just read John’s quote again, the race, race organisers, race supporters and runners in a nutshell
(part 2 coming later this week)