“The Ultimate Challenge” by Martin Kearney
"The Ultimate Challenge" by Martin Kearney
Cycling was my ‘sporting’ background. A few years of cycling developed into cycle racing. After a few years racing and with moderate success, mainly at local and provincial level the timing was good for something new and difficult but never daunting. I liked a challenge.In the year 2000, a serious challenge was mooted by Eamon Duffy of NCBI blazing saddles to ride across the USA in 25 days, a distance of 4,850 Km. An average of close to 200 km each day. It was titled “The Ultimate Challenge”. So the training began with some serious local cyclists, putting in the long hard miles, and the countdown to October 2000 began. An incredible adventure started. After a few days a fast group formed from a group of 30 with an average speed of 36kph overall. Some serious cycling followed with some days cycling in the coldest rain ever and other days in sand storms - but on we went over the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains to complete the adventure. Success! A few more adventures in the following years - in the French Alps and also the Italian Dolomites which were much more difficult but only for a week each time!
With my cycling adventures coming to an end ‘Getting too old to compete’, I started some easy running in the winter of 2008. With the suggestion of Larry Kelly, I did the Fields of Athenry 10k in a time of 46.50. I was broken and sore afterwards but the running seed was sown! Dublin Marathon in 2009 completed in 3hours 29. 50 - another challenge completed. I was happy enough. After a few more races came the 5k series where the challenge was to go sub 20 for the 5k. This took a few years and then it was the sub 40 minute 10k followed by the sub 1.30 half marathon. National titles etc. Now ideas were forming and a new challenge beckoned.
“The Real Challenge” - a ‘Sub 3’ Marathon and would it be possible? The pace required was 4.15 per Km which seemed daunting but doing this for part of some longer 10 mile races gave me notions. All I had to do was run this pace for 42 Km! And so after one feeble attempt outside of 3hrs 10minutes, I knew this was going to be a tough challenge. Then followed a succession of marathons just outside of the three hours (3 05, 3 03, 3 05). Dublin 2017 beckoned and after a really hard training plan, I finished in 3hrs 02 46. I was really broken up after that 2017 Marathon in spite of winning a second National Marathon title. Serious doubts after this one. But I never shut the ‘sub 3’ out. It played on my mind more than anyone could think and I felt I had to have at least another try but only if I felt it was right. A break was needed and then I was getting older so lots of permutations. In September I ran the Charleville Half Marathon as a test and was pleased enough with 1hr 27mins, some hope there yet!!
So in December 2018 I decided to do some long mileage: 250 miles approx. total for December with the idea of a spring Marathon in May 2019 in Rotterdam. I had ran well there before but messed up. As the date approached, I just did not feel right about it so decided to give it a miss. Just not fit enough and not in the Zone and with travel etc. it was not on. I knew Limerick was coming up, only down the road, and sure I decided I would give that a go. If things were not working out I would pull up and try Berlin later in the year.
Two weeks out from Limerick, I knew I was going OK but left entry to last minute. After a few quality runs with Elaine Walsh and Neasa De Burca, I had a good feeling about Limerick even though always being tired from training. I would have a few very bad days and then have a good recovery. After a few days break before the race it was time to head off to Limerick. The Race Plan was to run with pacers, the three of us - Elaine, Neasa and myself. The plan was to run the first half in 1hrs 30mins approx. and as the race developed after this would do our own thing. At halfway and I was feeling good but cautious, it was only halfway. But after about 16 miles I drifted on and probably caught up with the tempo of the half marathon runners who had started shortly after we had passed halfway. The faster ones caught up. Larry Kelly joined me and ran with me from around 16 or 17 miles and this really helped. I missed a lot of mile markers including mile 18. Mile 18 focused on my mind as I was aware of Rotterdam when the feeling of tiredness hit at that point. I passed mile 19 feeling good - a bonus! The Next test was mile 22 - still feeling good! – with water and gels from Jimmy Ward as in mile 12. I was feeling better at this point than at any other Marathon. Incredible support. During mile 24 I could see the 25 mile mark as we were running out and back. What a great feeling! Mile 25 approached. I knew where it was and knew I had just ten minutes of running left to complete this marathon. Then some cramping started – now it was getting Scary! A brief couple of stops to stretch - I knew I had the time to do this and knew I’d finally get my ‘sub 3’. What a tremendous, emotional feeling approaching the finish line. I saw the finish clock 2 hrs 58 mins!!
The toughest challenge ever in my estimation, and for sure the most fulfilling. Completed with the support of a wonderful GCH club. “Ultimate Success”
Photo credit: John O'Connor