Wicklow Way Solo 2014 Winner – Race Report

Wicklow Way Solo 2014 Winner Race Report

By Don Hannon – Trail Heads Running Club

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The Wicklow Way Solo is one of Ireland’s toughest trail running race in Ireland:  127 km along the Wicklow Way from Dublin through the Wicklow Mountains.
Don Hannon was the 2014 winner.  Here is the race report:


Here we go again.

I have had the pleasure and pain of running this course 5 times in the last 2 years.
Sitting here now I am beginning to realise how much it takes out of you.
It really grates on the braincell, bones, sinews and joints.

Before I get into the details of the GRATING there is a bit of a lead up story to this Race. I was in the middle of opening up a new shop and was planning on opening it the week after this race so I was dubious about even taking part.
In my head I have written this year off for racing because I won’t have the time to train. I hadn’t had a day off since the 1st of April and was feeling a bit worse for wear.
The last run I had done was 3 weeks beforehand in Howth in the East Of Ireland Marathon. I seriously doubted taking part but as usual the aul “sure I’ll give it a crack anyways”.

Sometimes things are sent to test you and believe me Friday was gonna be one of these days. It’s the little things that put you over the edge sometimes.
I had planned on dropping my car to the finish in Clonegal on Thursday so I could drive home after the race. On the way down I was gonna place a few bottles and Gels in between the Aid Stations. Wouldn’t ya know it but I was too busy on Thursday so had to change to Friday when I should have been getting myself
ready for the pain and suffering.

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It went something like this..
I left Roundwood with my mate Stephen at 2pm. He was following to Clonegal drop me back to Roundwood.
It’s a windy and slow drive and I was trying to get down as quick as possible to get back and try getting some sleep in before the midnight kick off.
Dropped my last bottle just before Tinahealy and headed towards the Finish.
I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up getting lost. Turns out it’s easier to navigate in the mountains!! Stephen took out his Sat Nav and we
headed off again, this time me following.
At this stage we were probably driving a little too fast and suddenly Stephen hammered on the breaks. I nearly crashed into the back of his car and then
I felt the thud of why he had broken so hard, a massive dip on a small country road.
Stephen got out and walked to the front of his car. All ok!! He walked to the front of my car. All not ok!!
Oil spurting out of my engine. Engine casing F�$ked.
We pulled the car into a local farmer’s yard and that was that.
Great day so far, it can only get better. Yeah Right!

I thanked the farmer for being so sound and we headed back to Roundwood so I could get some shut eye. I was still pretty calm considering I had wrecked my car and the clock was ticking towards race start.
We took the main roads back home and got there around 5.30pm. When I was getting out of the car I went to look for my keys and could you believe it??
I am a complete tool.. I had left my keys in the car in Clonegal. It’s the little things!!! I think the words I used were as follows..
“YOU STUPID LONGHAIRED BEARED PR@@K” Stephen laughed at me calling myself that..
At this stage the blood was boiling and I was looking for something to smash.. AAArrggggghhh
My mate Ste was the voice of reason. Look what can ya do?? We will drive down and get them. It would take at least another 3 hours.

My time for getting a bit of rest in was now getting less and less..
I was up at 6am that morning and was feeling tired already.
So off we went out to retrieve the keys..
We had a bit of a laugh on the journey out about how life can kick you up the arse sometimes but I was painfully aware of how this was gonna pan out.
We made it back to Roundwood around 8.45
I thanked Stephen for all his help, I wouldn’t have been at the start line without him. Thanks Buddy

Preparation is the key to any race.. This was going well!!
I tried to get my brain and gear together; this was going to be a very very long night.
Maria came to bring me down to Marlay Park, she took one look at me and said.. “you look wrecked, are you sure you wanna do this”.
My reply was.. C’mon, do I even have a choice. There was no way I wasn’t lining up to do that race. It is such a fantastic experience to try and run something
it takes most people 7 days to walk.

C’mon (Wicked Way) Lets be having ya..
Registration was a fair bit busier than last year.
Nice to see Jeff, Aoibheen and Robbie again. All the memories of last year come rushing back.
Donna & I had gone through the hell together the year before but tonight would be a very different journey for both of us.
This time Donna was out to set a new Female Record on her own in the dark with no one to keep her company. I had no doubt that she would achieve her goal but it’s hard to convince someone of that at the start line of a 127km mountain race.
She is a real competitor and it shows the measure of her strength that for the 2nd year she is the only female to take it on.
Donna had just completed a PB Marathon in the UK 10 days before so I knew she was on top form. We wished each other well and hoped for the best.

There was a lot of very nervous looking folk hanging around. There is a certain kind of energy at an event like this that is hard to capture.
It’s like a mixture of calmness and electricity if that makes sense.
Anyone who is willing to toe the line at this race is already a hero. It takes a certain breed of person to willingly put themselves forward for such
physical and mental torture. It doesn’t matter if you are 1st or last, finish or Dnf, 12 Hours or 20 Hours the fact is you had the spirit and heart
to give it a go. Respect to all of you who had the courage and I hope I will be fit enough to make it back next year and I hope many more will take the plunge and join in next year.

I was surprised to see Eoin Keith there after a Record Breaking 6 day race a couple of weeks before.. ANIMAL/LEGEND/RUNNING MACHINE are a few of the
words that I would use to describe him..
Suzanne Kenny and Dee Boland were doing me the honour of pacing for the end of the race. Suzanne had dropped down to show support and pick up some supplies.
I had a chat with a few of the lads and got some pics.
Jeff the Race Director called us to pre race formation for the big daddy talk.
Before I knew it we were standing in line getting the Group photo and it was nearly time to go. Gareth Little said to me just before we started
“are you going for it”?? I honestly thought no way am I ready for racing this distance at the moment so I just said I will see how it goes.
My daughter Ellie says what she always says before I do a big race.. “Don’t die daddy”..
She has watched me head off into the darkness now a few times so I suppose when you are small it seems scary. Always makes me laugh though..

So off we go into the blackness of Marlay Park
Eoin and Zoran in front but I was happy just to stick in behind them for as long as I could. We got through the park and up towards 3 rock at a nice steady pace, nothing crazy so I was happy about that. The 3 of us ran together for a good while then Zoran and Torben went ahead as we got onto the road to Fox’s Pub.
Eoin and I ran the next few km’s together.. We had a good chat about racing and training. Eoin said from the start he wouldn’t be racing.
As we were heading up Glencullen Mountain Zoran and Torben fell back in behind us with a group of around 8 or 10 runners.
It’s a steady climb up that hill but I was feeling good so I decided to up the pace a bit and head on.. I presumed that the group would follow suit but after a while I was out on my own.

The weather had cleared up a bit at the start but had progressively gotten worse as we were moving along. I was heading down to Knockree and the rain
started to fall heavy making visibility hard. Last year it was lovely and warm.. Irish weather eh.. I got to the bridge just before Checkpoint 1 and could
see back across some of the field and couldn’t see any headtorches. I was expecting to see a trail of white lights bobbing up and down.
That was good; I could get to the checkpoint now and take it steady up to Djouce.
Richard Nunan was at Checkpoint 1. He pointed me towards my drop bag and I went straight off up the hill.

It’s a long hard slog up to Powerscourt Ridge and then onto Djouce Mountain (English Translation is Devil Mountain)
I had a bottle of water and a SIS Gel and trotted up the hill. I was still feeling pretty good at this stage but I knew that wouldn’t last.
Down the valley to the Dargle River was impossible to see more than 10 feet ahead. I made it down and was thinking the bridge might be gone again but it
was there but the water was so high it was nearly touching the bridge.
Over I go and start the climb, when I got to the stile at the top of the hill I looked back to try and see if anyone was coming but there was only blackness.
The next mile up to djouce was a river!! There was no way around it. Wading through 6 inches of water with every step, it was fantastic..
I loved every minute of it.. I was laughing to myself trudging up the hill; they say bad things happen in 3’s.
1. Broken Car 2. Forgot Keys 3. Floods
All good from here on in the way I see it..

I fought my way onto the boardwalks and got a good pace going again, past Lough Tay which was invisible in this weather and down off the
boardwalks, as I was heading across I fell down and my leg dropped down between two rocks they have put in for drainage, I was waiting to hear a crack but it
wasn’t too bad. I brushed myself off and onto the new section of the Wicklow Way.
This definitely adds distance to the race and some unwelcomed extra climbing, out the other end and down the road section.
Frank Melia had set up a mini aid station and I stopped to get some water.
A sneaky couple of Jaffa Cakes and a little sip of Coke and off I went towards Lough Dan and Glendalough.
Thanks lads for the sugar buzz..
I was still feeling quite good so I kept on pushing along. I was thinking the wheels would come off between Glendalough and Glenmalure but I might as
well keep the pace going while I could. Further down the road now means less time later.

As I was running down towards Lough Dan I took off my headtorch and looked back. I could see a light back up in the hills behind me, I guessed around 10 mins.
It was inevitable that Eoin,Torben or Zoran would catch me I thought, no need to panic. Passing Scarr and Brockagh and it was starting to clear now and I was
nearly at checkpoint 2 and still in the lead. I never imagined this scenario.
Quick check of all vitals, head good, heart rate good, hydration good and
nutrition good. Result!!

Down into Glendalough and Richard was there again with a couple of more people.
Amanda, a girl I coach and some other couple were there also. I don’t know their names but want to say a big thanks to them for the quick cup of tea.
I grabbed my bag and headed off again.. Richard told me that Eoin had pulled out and to take it easy heading down into Glenmalure and not to shoot the legs goin down the long hill. Good advice Richard, I took it steadier this time and felt a lot better up towards Ironbridge.
It’s a long hard evil climb out of Glendalough. As you get up near the top there is a long fireroad that seems to go on forever.
When I got to the end of it I could see someone at the start and thought well it’s not Sir Keith so it must be Zoran, wasn’t tall enough to be Torben.
I was wrong on all accounts.. Turned out to be the Tomas the Terminator.

I had a good lead so I was still relaxed and kept on pushing along towards Ironbridge.
When you get to Glenmalure and the Halfway Point it’s a good boost for you mentally, every step you take now is the journey home.
You have half the job done and it makes it seem that bit more manageable.
Last year Robbie was waiting with Coffee and all the nice stuff, this year there was no sign of him.. Sad Face..
I was looking forward to a nice hot coffee all the way down the hill.
Nothing to do but keep on truckin.. Still a lot of work to do to get home.

The climb out of Glenmalure is the last big long hill in the race, the hills get smaller as you go along but you are getting more tired so it kind of evens it out overall.
I made it down to Ironbridge and was now starting to get into the pain.
Adrian Tucker was there at checkpoint 3 to help us all get a bit further down the road. The fall I had earlier was now affecting my knee so I asked Adrian for some Painkillers. Had some coke and a bit of chocolate.. My Drop Bag had disappeared so I took a couple of the bars Jeff had provided.
I spent a little too long hanging around Ironbridge and paid the price later. Won’t be doing that again!!

On ahead towards Dying Cow
For me this is the section I hate the most in this race, it just goes on and on and on forever. I had organised to have 2 pacers for from Tinahealy to Clonegal. Suzanne Kenny and Dee Boland.
I coach both of them, they are both great runners and would take no crap from me when I was feeling sorry for myself.
As I was running towards Ironbridge I rang Suzanne and told her where she could meet me.
It was starting to heat up now so I stopped to take off my jacket and hat and get ready for all the road sections.
I made it through the forest and onto the first long road section, about a mile in and I could see Suzanne driving towards me, she had made it a bit earlier than expected and had somehow managed to find me in the maze of roads.
I was delighted to see her. I had spent around 9 hours in wet shoes and she had dry socks and fresh road runners waiting for me in the car.
I jumped up onto the bonnet of the car took off my shoes and she informed me of the splits and of some guy called Tomas.
I was convinced I had a longer lead. While I was changing my socks and runners this little fellow ran by. Suzanne looked at me with a look of WTF..
Calm down.. It’s a long way to go!! 50km to go and now the race starts.. Why does it have to be like this?? Had I not had enough crap the day before??
After I stopped feeling sorry for myself I jumped up off the car and said to Suzanne something like “you are a Legend.. see you in Tinahealy”.

Let the race begin..

The feeling of new socks and shoes was amazing. It was like running on pillows.
Tomas had built up around a 5 minute lead at this stage. I could see him off down the road. Ok then, time to really start working.
I put the boot down to try and catch him quickly, if I was going to beat this guy I had to make a statement now while I still had the power to push on.
I caught him after a while and sat in behind him to monitor how he was going.
No chat from my new running nemesis so I turned into strategy mode.
I listened to his breathing and noticed he was slowing on the uphill sections but fast on the flat. He was a small fellow so I knew he must be quick. The next long hill that came was my time to try and put this race to bed by making a statement. I thought if I could break him here he might be happy with 2nd and cruise the rest of the way to the finish.
I powered up the hill and away from him, I kept pushing and pushing for the next few km’s. I built up a 6 minute lead from there to Tinahealy.

Cuckoo Lane came pretty quickly for a change and Me aul Saviour Robbie was there with Suzanne and Dee.
Robbie gave me some coffee and a bacon sandwich hot off the frying pan.
Tomas The Terminator was closing fast and I was very aware of the time I was spending here at this unofficial checkpoint. I was just finishing my sambo when he arrived. He looked the worse for wear which was a good sign.
I said to the girls c’mon lets get going. I couldn’t believe he was still so close, I had killed myself to get ahead and he was still there.
OK then, let’s be having ya. I was in sooooo much pain now and just wanted to lie down and sleep. The lack of sleep from the day before was really taking hold now and I could feel those hallucinations starting to creep in again.
Keep pushing forward, keep moving and don’t give into the tiredness. I was starting to fade badly and then a fire lit inside of me..
C’mon, this is not over. Fight, you are an Irishman and these are your hills and this is your race to win or lose.
I was been chased by Tomas, Zoran and Torben.. Not an Irishman in sight for a Podium.

So on we go to Dying Cow.
What goes on in your mind and body while running flat out for 12 hours??
Lots of different things i suppose. I thought of Donna and the pain she must be going through and wished her well on her journey to break a record.
I thought of all the other entrants and how they were all doing. I ran through every twist and turn left to go and set up mini checkpoints in my head.

To have pacers towards the end I think is a good idea. Your brain really does stop functioning past a certain point and you forget to hydrate, eat and sometimes take a wrong turn. Having Dee and Suzanne pace me towards the end was the best decision I could have made. It’s a distraction away from the pain. They both run even splits, checking time regularly to make any necessary adjustments if I was running too fast(Tee Hee) or slow.
They are both experienced runners who could give advice along the way or simply encourage and motivate me to finish the race.
Running this distance race with a pacer allows you to focus only on your running, without having to expend any brain strain on your pace.
You just keep your eyes on the pacer, focus on your running form and listen to your body. As long as I could keep up with Suzanne and Dee I would be grand.
The two of them were brilliant, no wussing around with are you ok or any of that nicey nicey stuff. You are moving well, take on some water, have a gel.
Your nearly home now and why is Tomas still behind us..

The girls gave me a great lift and we pushed on to Dying Cow.
We got there pretty quick from Cuckoo Lane and now we only had one more checkpoint to go, Raheenakit.
Jeff, Robbie and Gary Boland were waiting at Dying Cow. I grabbed a banana and headed straight up the hill.
I had pushed hard from Cuckoo Lane to try and build some form of a time cushion.
We headed out the road and up towards Raheenakit, I knew what was coming but the girls had no idea. There is a hill just before the last checkpoint that would break anyone’s spirit. We made it to the top of the hill and Suzanne looked back down to the bottom and there was Tomas the Terminator.
He looked very close but I knew he was still 10 mins behind. Suzanne said something like “look he is at the bottom of the hill” my reply was “and what do you want me to do about it..”
I was way past running on empty at this stage.. A few hundred metres and Jeff was waiting at the forest entrance, I didn’t stop, I just grabbed a gel and some water and powered on.. Every second counted now.
I went on and Dee came with me, Suzanne took care of my jacket and gear. She had to run after us all the way up a hill and I knew this was hurting her now as much as me. I took a glance back after we made it to the top of the hill and could see TTT (Tomas The Terminator) closing in.

W made it to the top of the climb and I knew there was a good 5km of downhill and flat running before the last climb through what we have renamed the zig zag forest.
I said ok lets put this race to bed now on this section, I quickened the pace with everything I had left, push push push, drive, fight, just don’t give in now it’s within your grasp. The girls were struggling to keep pace now but they both fought on. We made it to the forest entrance and I said if that man is still there after that he is a machine. We kept on going up through the forest. This section is soul destroying because on the road it’s a 1km but they send you up and around back and forward for 3km.. We pushed on but when we were nearly out of the forest both my legs went into spasm and cramped, I never get cramps but we had run out of water.
Dee rang her husband to get some water ready and she ran ahead. I said please please not now.. Nothing you can do in this situation. Cramp is Cramp/
Brainwave, as I was trying to ease out the cramp I saw a puddle, straight over and rubbed the water up both legs. Cramps were gone instantly. (mental note).
Result, flying again now and we caught Dee before the end of the forest.
Gary had run up to meet me with some water. He asked me was there anything he could do for me like throw his children at Tomas. Comedian!! I met Robbie at the road. Coke, Water, anything to keep me going.
5km to the finish now and I could barely stand.

Dee hopped in the car with Gary and Suzanne kept pushing me on towards the end.. We were pushing hard now and then Robbie pulled up beside me..
Do you want the splits?? No thanks it might freak me out.. Well on second thoughts ok then. He is 1 minute and 30 seconds behind and moving well.
How could this be, I had given everything to get to that forest. That’s not possible, it was and TTT was closing in fast.
Dee hopped back out of the car to join us for the finale. The next 4km was the most pain and torture I have ever experienced in a race.
Go to a running track and sprint for 4km and see how that feels, then imagine doing it after running 123km at pace.

After Robbie told me the split I never looked back, I didn’t stop pushing or trying to achieve my goal.

I crossed the finish line 14.46.52 with a margin of over 4 minutes after 127km of running. Mental really when you think about it..
After I touched the plaque in Clonegal I fell to the ground because that was all I had in me, no more could I do. I had a pint of Guinness and had a snooze for a while.

Donna came in with a new ladies record of 17.01.10 and 7th place overall.
What an achievement and what an athlete and inspiration she is to us all.

Maria, Maranda, Gary, Stephen, Amanda I thank you for your support.

As for Suzanne and Dee I think this story tells what you did for me I can’t thank you enough.

To Jeff, Robbie and all the crew who supported us throughout the race.
Top class job again. It is a massive undertaking to plan and execute a race like this and I thank you for all your support. You have a classic race on your hands.

Finally as always I am humbled to toe the line with such great Gentlemen and 1 Lady

Don Hannon, 14:46:52
Thomas Klimas, 14:51:07
Zoran Skrba, 15:25:00
Torben Dahl, 16:31:03
John Cronin, 16:51:00
Grellan McGrath, 16:51:00
Donna McLoughlin, 17:01:10
Fergal Connolly, 18:23:42
Laurence Colleran, 18:23:42
Bertie Harte, 18:34:35
Pol O’Murchu, 18:46:48
Donagh McGrath, 18:49:47
Mark Melia, 18:53:59
Mike Jordan, 18:55:42
Liam Costello, 19:02:59
Niall Corrigan, 19:13:38
Gareth Little, 19:28:39
Johan Dehantschutter, 20:40:19
Paul Croke, 20:50:15

DNF

Tim Chapman, Paul Daly, Mark Horvath, Colclough John, Eoin Keith, Paul McGurrell, Ronan Mynes,
Jim Schofield, Zsolt Szomju, Karl McGuire

It’s worth noting that although they missed the cut off time for CP4 and were out of the race and registered as DNF
Paul McGurrell and Ronan Mynes made it to Clonegal within the over all 21 hour time limit.

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