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 Inspirational Races in Beautiful Places 
 
 
Causeway Crossing 2015
Sun Jun 21, 2015 8:15 am la marquise
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Marquise in search of a good holiday must be in want of a race to spark Spike’s interest.

Strangely, my bucket list of places I’d like to visit has been shrinking, not due to visiting them all, but more a reluctance to travel vast distances and contribute to global warming. Having seen photos, one place has remained on my list for many years. It is near, but for some years was not an ideal holiday destination. Fortunately the political situation is far healthier nowadays, so I set my sights on Giant’s Causeway.

There are an ideal set of races along the County Antrim Coastal Path in September – 10km, half and full marathons. However, that clashes with the start of the cyclocross season and duathlons, so that wasn’t going to happen. Then I found that 26 extreme, a Northern Irish sports event management firm, advertised the Causeway Crossing – a set of trail runs: 25km, 50km and 100km – which for the last few years have taken place on the May Day bank holiday weekend. As this coincides with my birthday, I get first dibs on activities.



With the prospect of a challenging race and a happy partner, Spike readily agreed to the expedition. And, O Big Mistake, I thought “Oh, what the hell, I may as well have a go at the 25km”. My aim was to finish with a smile, rather than bust a gut to save a minute or two. In November I found some wonderful accommodation, the Magherintemple Lodge, an Irish Landmark Trust property near Ballycastle. Old college friends living in County Down confirmed that our visiting them in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains would be welcome and EasyJet flights and car hire were booked.


Ignore sharp climb at the start - that was Spike's garmin waking up.

With six months to train for the event, and already able to run 5 miles comfortably, I felt confident that I could build up both distance and speed. However, speed is a relative notion. Spike’s slow is my sprint. So I contacted the race organisers to check on cut-off times. They replied by email that all the information was on the website. Well, I had triple checked the race website before the initial contact, so I asked them to just tell me whether there were time limits. No response. I asked the same question on their Facebook page, which was also ignored. This didn’t give me much confidence in the organisation, but I had booked everything and my training continued according to plan, starting with the Hadleigh 5, and a couple of cross country series races, both about 6 miles.

In January I completed the Freethorpe 10 in 1:51:49, with a big smile. Things were looking positive.

Then the race entries opened – for the end of May bank holiday. Oh Crap! The Irish Landmark Trust was most obliging in changing the dates of our booking with no admin fee. Our friends confirmed that the later weekend was also fine with them. An added bonus was that our good friend, Anne, who has accompanied us on several race weekends, was available for the new date, and she has had Giants Causeway on her list for ages. Changing the car hire was no problem, just more expensive. Of course, the EasyJet flights had to be junked and new ones booked. My fault for booking well in advance.

In February I completed the Tarpley 10 in 1:50:36, still smiling. It was a good reinforcement that my training was solid.

In March I extended the distance and trotted happily through the Stowmarket Half Marathon in 2:31:37. Not exactly setting the running world records on fire, in fact, over 15 minutes slower than my own PB, but I was training for the long haul. I had been doing my usual mouthing off but my original idea of completing the Causeway Crossing 25km in three hours had already shifted to three and a half hours. I was ready to consolidate my progress at the Bungay Half Marathon, but came down with a chest lurgy, which developed into bronchitis and a particularly rasping cough. Training ceased for a good three weeks and my mojo took a good beating. On the May Day weekend I got shifting again and enjoyed a 23km trail run of three laps of Fynn Valley. My confidence was boosted and I knew I could do the distance, but speed was definitely an issue. My target was now shifting inexorably towards a 3:45 target, but I knew I would not be happy with 5 hours. O Ye Gods! Me and my big mouth.

After a crack of dawn start, on Friday morning we met up with Anne at Belfast International Airport (the EasyJet place 15 miles out of town), took the coast road to Ballycastle, stocked up with provisions and settled into our cottage, which proved to be much nicer and larger than the website indicated.



All proceeded to plan as we visited Giants Causeway – the full visitor centre experience with atrocious audio guide.



It’s strange that we all imagined that the basalt columns would each be at least a metre wide. In fact, they are more like 30cms across.





Anyway, of course it is absolutely stunning.



Through the Giants Gateway we strolled along the path past the Pipe Organ and on towards the Amphitheatre, which recently had a massive landslide making it inaccessible.





Turning back towards the causeway, we climbed the Shepherd’s Steps up to the coastal path. We saw some little yellow pointing markers. Hmmm…



Before returning to the cottage, we registered for the race at Ballintoy, where we met Rowan, the Race Director. The race had changed hands to Primal Challenges – shenanigans in the event management world, methinks. Rowan explained that, as the 100km race was due to start at 5am, 50km at noon, and the 25km at 2pm, there was no way I would be last on the course. He also mentioned that the course was actually 24km. We collected our race packs and headed home for the traditional pre-race spaghetti bolognese. Spike encouraged me to think that the distance would be the full 25km, then, if the finish line came early I could be happy, and not miserable if the measuring was a little off. Sound advice.

We had a leisurely breakfast on Saturday, got our race gear together and put a chicken casserole in the oven to slow cook through the afternoon.

The bus was scheduled to leave Larrybane Quarry, by the entrance to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, at 1:15pm to take us to the race start, just beyond the ruin of Dunluce Castle. We arrived in plenty of time and soon realised that Spike’s race gear was still in the cottage. Mild mannered Spike issued a rare expletive. There was a food stop at 15km, but that wasn’t quite enough to keep him racing at full pelt. A plan was formed. Anne drove to the cottage to collect the kit while Spike and I boarded the bus. Meantime we eventually got details as to how Anne would find the Magheracross car park. Text messages were sent whenever the bus reached a point with a couple of signal bars.
All the athletes disembarked from the bus and the ritual stretching routines began. The fit people were checking out the opposition. I was looking for our little red hire car to appear. At 2pm Rowan called us all to start the race. Just as we lined up, Anne turned in to the car park. Hurrah! The race was delayed for a couple of minutes while Spike donned his drink pack and Garmin. Then we were off.

The first 100k guy had already started back by the time we started. A couple more of the 100km and several 50km athletes were approaching our start point (their 75km and 25km marks respectively). The 50km route started at Larrybane Quarry. The 25km start was the 50km turnaround point. So long as I kept the sea on my left I should keep on course.

As our paths crossed there was much encouragement and high fives. There was a tremendously friendly and positive atmosphere as we ran down to and through Portbalintrae, crossing the golf course, and picking up the coastal path. Plenty of weekend walkers prevented me from getting lonely. Yes, as usual, I was at the back of the race within five minutes.



I thought that perhaps one of the other athletes had set off too fast and I would reel them in. I was wrong. It was a sunny day in one of the most beautiful places I have been privileged to visit. I was smiling.

I reached the Giants Causeway Visitor Centre after 10km. It was a great feeling running down the sloping road as the tourists made way for me. I’m quite good at descending and almost look like a runner.



Having seen the causeway properly the day before, I felt quite blasé ripping along to the Shepherd Steps. I was glad that we had climbed them previously as I knew I could manage it (with a rest half way up). On the top path I turned left and trotted on towards Dunseverick. After I passed above the Amphitheatre I had already admired, I took a moment to stop and admire the view. It was breathtakingly stunning. I got quite emotional, despite a lack of dust in the sea air. This was the reason for the trip.

Yomping on my Garmin informed me that I had covered 15km. There was no sign of the food station. I was not in need of food – I had energy drink and food, but I was expecting to see them. I wanted reassurance. After 16km I asked a passing 50km-er whether I had missed the aid point. “It’s about a mile further on” he called, and also checked whether I was in need of anything. The table of race food was waiting for me at 17.75km. I was fine about the food, but was worried that, as I had been told it was 15km to this point, and a further 10km to the finish line, did this mean the course was actually 27km? That would be a substantially longer in my book. The people manning the aid station didn’t know the distances – but they were good at providing water and bananas. I downed a gel with caffeine. I knew I had a long trek ahead.

Keeping the sea on my left I followed the well signed route. A kilometre further along I asked a passing 50km-er whether she knew the distance from her start to the aid station. She replied 8km with considerable confidence, so it looked like the distance would probably be 25km. But my nerves had been shaken and I proceeded cautiously. At this point the terrain took a much tougher turn. Up to this stage there was a solid well-worn path with an occasional stile to straddle. Now there was soft sand to suck up all my energy and stony beaches. I crossed a small bay and was faced with large boulders. After a few minutes of stumbling along I worried about slipping and injuring myself. Some friendly 50km-ers invited me to follow their stepping route, but I could only keep up with them for three rocks. I had to choose a route. At one stage I found myself on a small cliff, had to backtrack and pick a different course. The smile had slipped and the lip was starting to wobble. I was exhausted, and this was much harder than I had anticipated. A passing walker asked if I was OK.
“Not really” I replied “I’ve taken on more than I can chew, and could do with some help across these rocks, please”.

Patiently, he and his wife kindly guided me over the rocks to the firm sand at the end. I thanked them and marched on. By this stage a sub four hour finish was not on the cards. I was keen to conserve my energy in case there were more large rock bays to clamber over. Off the beach the track varied between grass, sand and bog and was littered with stiles. A quite unreasonable number of the bloody things. I was vaguely aware that the sun had changed to a steady rain.

Eventually at about 23km the yellow arrows pointed me onto tarmac at Ballintoy Harbour. I heard a familiar voice call from the road above to advise a 50km-er of the correct path. I waved up the cliff with a big smile.


See that little dot in the distance staggering up the road...

I tried running up the hairpin bends, but soon reverted to marching. Spike walked the final section with me. He had a spare t-shirt which I popped on as I was getting quite chilled in my soggy running vest.

As the clock turned 4:48 I crossed the finish line with a grin.



My Garmin recorded 25km. Very happy I had completed the course, but pretty much off my head, I sat in a gazebo on a stone and started shutting down. Spike helped me in to his jacket and Anne drove to meet me. They poured me into the car with the heating on full, wrapped me in a blanket and whisked me back to the cottage where I soaked in a hot bath. The chicken casserole was superb, but I was so tired I could only manage one helping!

The next morning we took Anne back to the airport after a visit to Carrickfergus Castle.



I was amazed to find that I could both climb and descend stairs, despite Saturday’s adventure.

We drove on to Turnip House Tea Rooms, located in the middle of nowhere in County Down, somewhere between Dromara and Castlewellan.



John and Elaine welcomed us with open arms.



Food was eaten, drink was drunk, memories were shared and future dreams imagined, pretty much solidly for two days.



We parted on Tuesday morning.



If you have spare time in Belfast, I can recommend the tours of Stormont and Crumlin Road Jail, both interesting in their different ways.






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~   Last edited by la marquise on Sun Jul 19, 2015 4:47 pm; edited 1 time in total
Sun Jun 21, 2015 9:06 am Cleo
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Takes a lot to inspire me to run these days and this race report did it! What a brilliant challenge - well done, Susannah!!!!
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Mon Jun 22, 2015 11:48 am TSH
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It's great to hear how you did!! As I mentioned to you beforehand, I thought the views were tremendous and the warm friendly reception from the locals most welcoming. So glad you made it through the race and have fond memories of your visit.

What's next on the bucket list - may I recomend the Great Glen Ultra for you both next year? Smile
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Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it!
HIMUK 04, IMUK 05, 06, 07, 08, IMFR 09 & ETU Long Course Prague 09, Vittoria Gastiez 2010, IMWales 2011 DNF, IMWales 2012, Wimbleball 70.3 2013 & IM Wales 2016

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