Tollymore Half-Marathon 2015

Here is a sneak peek into Unique Running’s AtTheRaces e-book, which will be coming out over the next couple of months. Exciting times! This race report was written by Yours Truly, but there will be dozens of other race reports from all over the country – efforts of endurance, miles of madness and audacious conquests of the body and mind. Reports have been written by a myriad of runners, runners just like you, and is a great source of inspiration for planning future races in local towns and distant backwaters alike. I have to say, what a good advert for the British Running Scene and a showcase of the UK’s fantastic running clubs. Enjoy the read…

Tollymore Half-Marathon 2015

Location: Tollymore Forest, Castlewellan,
County: County Antrim, N. Ireland
Surface: Trail
Profile: Hilly
Month: November
Year of Report: 2015
Entry Fee: £30
Number of Entrants: 354

Tollymore Trail Half-Marathon is set in Tollymore Forest Park on the edge of the Mourne Mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland. The Mournes are an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and well worth a visit, especially the hike up Slieve Donard, NI’s highest point. There are groups of fell runners that travel from Belfast to hit these peaks every weekend and quite a few fell and orienteering races hosted through the year. For the less brave, the Tollymore Half-Marathon looked a tempting proposition for a guy that loves trail running, which allows runners to enjoy some of nature’s finest scenery without the pressure to hit the same pace mile after mile that a road event requires.

Unlike some runners who periodise their training to build up to a couple of races a year, I had this event down on my calendar for a matter of a few weeks. My addiction to running is through the competitive nature of racing and I would never stick to such a structured schedule. I had set a half-marathon PB of 1:19 at the Belfast HM at the end of September, breaking that important 1:20 barrier and my form seemed to be carrying through from parkruns and training with my regular Belfast running group.

My girlfriend and I drove down from Belfast with a friend of ours in 1 hour. I didn’t know anything about Tollymore apart from it was supposed to be a pretty spot – we had always driven straight past it to get to the more famed Mourne Mountains.

The event was hosted by 26Extreme who had a number of interesting events including the Mourne Way Marathon. This event was not only a half-marathon, but also had a 10k, Marathon and Ultramarathon option. I was there to treat it more like an enjoyable training run than anything more and to explore a new area of NI, and I didn’t feel like I had done enough long runs to give the marathon a bash. Also, the half-marathon was a single loop and the Marathon 2 loops, and it didn’t hold much appeal to go around twice.

The marathon runners and ultramarathoners had already set off earlier in the day, then it was our turn. The car park was really close to the start, and I managed to fit in a mile of warm-up prior to the race along the gravelly, sandy, muddy, puddle-y single track, where I headed along the route and cheered on the hardier of distance runners. As we lined up there didn’t seem like there were many people there for the half. I was quite happy on the start line, usually I get quite nervous especially when it is a race you have been building up to for months. This was definitely a better way to do it.

As the starting gun went off (although it may have just been someone shouting ‘go!’ – I forget), a few speedsters jostled to the front. Within a few hundred metres I could feel I was going to be too warm so dumped my jacket in an open air hut as we went by. The first kilometre ticked by and I was running at a fairly reserved pace. I decided I wanted to put a bit of effort so picked up the pace a little. I figured I was about 10th which surprised me, and my increased pace was gradually picking some of the other runners off. The good thing about running in NI when you have lived there for a while is that you start to recognise faces, running styles from behind and the tell-tale colours of club vests. This can work in your favour sometimes as you know whether you are usually quicker than someone, but also puts a bit of a target on your back. Here it worked in my favour, as there was a runner ahead of me I recognised from other races, and knew I was usually a few places in front. As we rounded a hairpin bend and dropped down a gentle decline towards the river, I used gravity to my advantage and caught up with him. After another 2km or so I had reached the front of all the runners I could see. I asked the guy if we were at the front and he panted a response that the front 3 were further ahead. As we rounded a corner I could see the 3 off in the distance by a couple of hundred metres. My competitive spirit kicked in and I injected a little more pace to bridge the gap. I knew due to the length of the race that I could close this over time and I didn’t have to rush. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes I was on their heels, as we weaved between trees and over mud bogs along the river terrace. I just dropped in here, letting 3rd place know I was behind him, and tried to take in the scenery. The autumn had brought out the golden and red colours of the leaves, a fine mist was descending and I was having a joyful time alongside my running brethren through the medieval-looking forest. After a while, 3rd place began to struggle and when I spotted an opportunity I jumped ahead. I was reluctant to lose the front two, and my enthusiasm was buoyed by the prospect of a first podium finish for a half-marathon if I could maintain my current rhythm. In truth, the pace wasn’t too intense and overall I seemed to be negotiating the up and downs as well as the other guys. On the downhills, 2nd place would move ahead of me, and on the uphills I would pass him. The 3 of us exchanged places quite a few times. Luckily for me there were more ups than downs which means 1st place and myself established a commanding lead, before 3rd place dropped out of sight. Brian and I (we had a bit of a chat as we were going along) compared notes about running in Belfast, who we knew, which running club we belonged to, which races we had done etc. This is how I know we were running at no more than tempo pace to be covering such details. There came a point when I decided that I wanted to push on at about 14km, so I must have been feeling good. I knew that I didn’t want a fast finish as I didn’t know how I would fare. At 16km, having established a lead, I came across an aid station and decided to take on some fluids. Unlike road races I stopped for around 1 minute, a massive luxury at the pointy end of a race. Brian took on some fluids and then continued, while 3rd place man carried on by me. By this time the rain and the wind had set in. Feeling I was pushing my luck with my interim rest I set off on 3rd place’s heels. I didn’t feel under pressure as there was a hill immediately and I knew 3rd place did better at the downs than the ups so I passed him quite quickly. Brian was a little further ahead but I could see him, and gradually reeled him in. With a few km to go to the finish I passed him, and managed to continue at a good pace, until a reached a final steep hill, bearing a camouflaged photographer to capture all runners gurning faces at their most hideous. I emerged from the trails beneath the trees, out onto the main entry road to the forest park. The end of the race is on the road which felt a bit strange having done the rest of the race on trails. I checked my mirrors repeatedly but no sign of Brian or the other chap, with the finish line gradually getting closer, and by this time I could see the finish banner. I picked up the pace for the final 100m and crossed the line to…well, nothing. My first half-marathon win and it wasn’t even acknowledged! In my dreams it would be done to much fanfare, being handed a bottle of champagne and a kiss from scantily clad beautiful ladies, though maybe I’m in the wrong sport for that.

Overall, a great experience and a great traily hilly course to put you through your paces. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was an expensive race by NI standards but fairly average across the UK as a whole at £30, though they do give you some grub at the end, and you get to watch the marathoners and mad ultrarunners, as they loop the start line. I was a bit hopeful of winning prize money, but instead they gave me free entry into another 26extreme race later in the year, which I was happy to take up. Plus they gave a beautiful photograph of Tollymore Forest Park, a fantastic memento of my greatest running triumph now adorning my living room wall.