Finally, a recap. It only took me five weeks. And, in an effort to keep this somewhat concise as we traveled a long way for a difficult marathon, I’ll get right to the topic at hand.
Pre-race eve was typical: we stayed in, ate a pasta feast, drank booze, made sure the coffee was ready to go for Claire’s early awakening (that’s what you get for registering for an ultramarathon), and were asleep by 10:00. (Or at least I was.)
After tossing and turning for a couple hours, I finally got out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and crept downstairs. Walsh, who was now awake for an hour or so, was sipping her coffee and pacing around her bib person. Good, someone else was nervous.
After some minor problems (fixing the coffee machine—a horror of horrors on race morning), I performed normal race morning things (you can probably guess what happened), bid Claire adieu on her epic adventure, and made breakfast of steel cut oats I brought from New York.
At this point, everyone started trickling down to the kitchen. My nerves started settling in as I realized I had no idea what I was in for; as well as my training was going, I hadn’t run a marathon in nearly a year. My stomach became enraged, and I was in the bathroom a handful of times, refueling myself after with more oatmeal so I could run on some kind of nutrients. Thankfully, Bojana’s overly carefree attitude brought my anxiety down a notch. I tried to channel said attitude as we had agreed to run the marathon together.
And then it was time to go.
We packed in our
creepy pedophile awesome van and ventured to the Cathedral car park where a pack of buses awaited to ship runners to their ultra, marathon, or half marathon starting lines. We climbed in and waited a bit before making our hour-long journey out to Connemara. Bojana could sense that the waiting was only agitating my nerves, so she calmed my anxiety by playing her new song of the hour—Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie.” (It’s quite catchy.)
We drove for what seemed like an eternity. I looked out the bus window and wondered what the day would be like. I came into this race without expectations, why were my nerves so high?
And then, as we passed a familiar looking pond (and let it be known, there were a shitload of those), I spoke.
“Hey, aren’t we close to the finish line?”
The finish line was also the start of the ultra marathon. (What a mind fuck.) Either way, I knew that if this was the case, we’d spot Claire starting.
And spot Claire we did. This gave me a great feeling of joy, and I finally became excited to start the race.
After almost running over the ultras (apologies!), we were dropped off at our marathon starting line, which was actually the sticks in Connemara. Yes, we were quite literally in the middle of nowhere.
And then we waited. And waited and waited. In ponchos, squatting, and blocking ourselves from the wind, we waited. It was brutally cold. Cold and windy and overcast. Not so glorious for race day.
Hunched over in my poncho cocoon, I grew weary. I didn’t want to run anymore. I wanted to go someplace warm, drink a glass of wine, and all around screw my spring race season. I thought about that oven in Tampa and thought how nice that would feel on my shivering skin. I looked around and realized there was nothing for me to do except run—or walk—to the finish. Either 13.1 miles in the opposite direction or the 26.2 mile race. Obviously, I decided to take the latter option.
Everyone stood up, and with very brief warning, the race had begun.
As previously stated, Bojana and I decided to pace each other. The goal was to run easy, enjoy the scenery, and finish. According to the trusty elevation chart, we knew we were in a bit of a pickle, so we took the hills in stride while taking advantage of the downhills without flying down them.
At this point in the race, runners were chatting, and in pretty good spirits. Although the temperature wasn’t favorable, the wind subsided, making the rolling hills much more manageable. When the first mile ticked off, Bojana made a comment on how well we were doing. I took her word for it instead of looking down at my Garmin. We ditched our ponchos at the first aid station (which were folding tables with water), and stripped off our jackets. Mentally, I had broken up the race into three chunks: the first 6 miles, then our first right that contained the next 7 miles, and the last right that contained the remaining 13.1 (see map below). Not the greatest plan in marathon history, but it was the only thing I could think of at the time.
The first hill on that first right was a bitch. And a rude one, too. I was so focused on the incline at Hell of the West, that I didn’t care to notice the stretch in the first 10 miles. When we reached “the top,” I congratulated Bojana. I put the top in quotes as it wasn’t; after a short leveling, we climbed some more. The hill went on for 2 miles—my first real taste of the Connemara mountains, I suppose.
And just like the ebbs and flows of the economy (sorry, I’m not sorry, it was my minor in college), we took a huge dip in miles 9-10. I thought about His Lordship and his injured knee and knew that probably didn’t bode well for him. We reached the flatness that was mile 10, and I noticed the river Claire and I had scene pictures of prior to when we arrived in Ireland. While it was still beautiful, I thought about how gorgeous the sun reflections would be coming off the water.
And that’s when I got slapped in the face.
The wind was more than unruly. In fact, it was downright deplorable. I was now running directly behind Bojana with my head down; I couldn’t keep it up without my visor attempting to fly off or my eyes stinging from the wind. I saw Bojana grab a few gummis from some spectating kids. I declined as I was waiting for the 12 mile marker to take my next Gu.
This became the beginning of the end.
Between the wind howling in my ears, my already aching quads, and waiting on that 12 Mile beacon, I hit my wall. I started slowing. Bojana yelled at me to catch her. Instead of doing that, I shouted expletives, waved her to go ahead, and trudged along.
Then I was greeted with a short, steep hill at the half marathon start line, also the beginning of my final sector.
And I started walking.
My quads were on fire, but I was so mad for letting my head get in such a bad place that I started running again. But, my quads demanded I walk. So I did. I ran/walked for the next two miles. I greatly welcomed the small, sloping downhill began at Mile 15. I could see Bojana in the distance, but I knew it would take something of a miracle for me to catch her. I decided to see how long I could keep her in my sights.
The next uphill was at Mile 18. And, in case you’re wondering, the wind was still dreadful. And by this point, my lower back was hurting due to keeping my head down from the wind. I shuffled my feet, ate a Gu, and walked a bit more. And then came another downhill. I ran a bit and told myself to take in the beautiful scenery. As beautiful as it was with all the sheep and farms and country inns, telling myself that didn’t do much. My quads were toast.
And then another uphill started at Mile 20 (do you see the pattern yet?). I walked some more. I saw a young woman limping; I asked if she was okay and if she needed anything. She explained she had a foot injury and all she wanted was to finish and would do so even if she had to walk. I wished her luck and went into the wind.
I passed a few half marathoners on my next downhill. One of them asked a nearby spectator if that was the last hill of the race. He responded, in his thick Irish brogue, “Sure. Until the next up.” Under any other circumstances, I would have found this funny. But at the time, obviously, I did not. I loathed that man and his smugness. Go back home, you.
A light bulb went off as I reached the next uphill at mile 21.5—put back on your f***ing windbreaker. Why I hadn’t done it before, I don’t know, but I suddenly had a new boost of energy. Shielding myself—just a tad—set me off at a run again. I saw some kids at the Mile 22 marker and gave them high-fives. If I wasn’t so concerned with getting out of the godforsaken cold, I probably would have give them a hug—the windbreaker’s boost in my mentality was astonishing. I refilled my handheld to get hydrated for Hell of the West.
We veered left and came over the crest of a small hill. And that’s when I saw her.
“You bitch,” I stated. I secretly wondered if anyone heard me. Hell of the West lives up to it’s name: a winding road of 2 miles going at what seems like the slowest incline ever. It looked like ants marching up a mountain. I shuffled my feet as best I could until I couldn’t anymore. Half a mile in, I started power walking. My back hurt, my quads were defeated, and I was now starting to get cold. I heard a whistle blow behind me—it was the lead female ultramarathoner. I cheered her on as she passed.
Excitement channeled through me as we got to the top of the hill – I knew it was just a smooth downhill to the finish. I started running as best as I could for the last 1.5 miles. Way off in the distance, I saw the hotel, which I knew was the actual finish. But was it really only just over a mile? Why did it look like three? Was this some kind of sick joke? Not really wanting to risk anything, I kept going. With around 800 meters to go, I started getting emotional. I thought back on all those miles with the ups and downs and roaring winds, and couldn’t believe what I had overcome.
And, as if the skies had parted with sunshine beaming down it (surprise! they didn’t), I saw the finisher’s chute. As I ran through the finish, an announcer exclaimed, “Abbe Lewis, from NEW YORK, NEW YORK!!” I smiled, and tears welled up.
I grabbed my medal and a cup of the Irish version of Gatorade. It wasn’t the best idea for my continuing bowel issues, so I threw it away and found the gear check. I heard Bojana scream my name as I walked up to the front of the hotel, and instantly asked her if she qualified for Boston. Although she didn’t, she finished in an excellent time of 3:45, and 11th female overall (badass).
We found Maura’s brother Chris, changed, stretched, and met the rest of our crew at the bar. I sat in silence for a moment to collect my thoughts.
When Walsh arrived, the entire bar erupted in applause as she was donning a medal with a red ribbon—the status quo of the Connemara ultramarathoner. We drank more beers, got back on the bus (which we almost missed—who’s up for running back to Galway?!), and continued the celebration through the night.
What seemed to take eons to finish now feels like a brief moment in time. And that’s the story of the marathon.
Results: 4:09:20 (9:30 pace)
Huge congrats to the Runner Army on their big finish in Connemara. We came to Ireland. We saw (and perhaps shat ourselves). We conquered.