Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Post race review of the Ballyhoura Midnight Challenge Half-Marathon

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Post race review of the Ballyhoura Midnight Challenge Half-Marathon

For some unknown reason, I signed up for this half-marathon back in November of 2018. Pretty soon all the available places for the half (~100) and the full (~200) were snapped up and it closed weeks ago. Last night, I found myself at the start line at 2:30am ready to trek around the trails and byroads of the Ballyhoura Mountains in Co.Limerick. This review is to give any readers a flavour of what it was like.

Why?... The first question I guess is why? Why do a trail half-marathon at 2:30am in the morning? I guess the main reason is that it was something different. If you've done a lot of half-marathon races then a lot of them are the same.... race... medal ... t-shirt. This is something different. It's a challenge event as opposed to a race. The objective was just to complete the course rather than fixate on some finish time.

Organisation... The event was orgainsed by the MMRA (Munster Mountain Running Association) and I have to say it was a well organised event. The full marathon started at midnight from Kinfinane while the half-marathon runners were taken by bus to the half way mark in the town land of Ballyorgan. The course was very well signposted and there were race stewards at critical junctions. Post race, there was a full Irish breakfast.

Course... The half-marathon course was a mixture of small roads and forest trails. On the roads, we met one car and that was it. The person driving was wearing a hi-viz so was possibly one of the organisers so traffic on the roads wasn't an issue at that time of night.

The trails had a mixture of surfaces. Some were in woods and were pretty good except for the odd stone or tree root. Some sections were muddy and this was a bit energy sapping. One section near the highest point had a lot of loose stones so getting a good grip was an issue. Overall, if you took your time then it was fine but running at speed had its risks.

The profile map is shown below...

Now the gradient wasn't as steep as the profile suggests but it was certainly a lot steeper than anything you'd find in say a hilly road race.

On the uphill sections, most of the runners had no choice but to walk. The effort of walking up those inclines was the same as running on the flat.

On the downhill sections, you had to walk sections as well for fear of slipping.

Finish Times... I did the half-marathon with two colleagues from Eagle AC... Tim McCarthy and Damien Malone. We finished the half in about 2 hours and 35 minutes and this was a result of walking the hills and running the flat and most of the downhill sections. I'd guess the average finishing time for the half was probably around 2h 45m? Maybe around 6 hours for the full? I'd guess that if you were thinking of doing it in future and you expected in the middle then they are good guide times.

Gear... Some thoughts based on last night.
1) Upper half... I wore a long sleeve top with a Charleville half-marathon short sleeve top over it and then a yellow running jacket. A woolly hat for my head, gloves and a buff around my neck.
Lower half... I went for full length running leggings rather than just shorts on their own.
The point being that with this amount of gear, I was comfortable. With the temperature down around 3 deg C and a light breeze on high ground, I never got too warm. If anything, it was easy to get too cool if you stayed walking for too long and let the body temperature drop. If you were thinking about doing an event like this then this is a good guide as to what you need to wear.

2) Shoes... I wore trail shoes which have some amount of grip on the soles. The problem with ordinary running shoes is that the soles are very smooth and they increase the chances of slipping on the muddy sections. You do really need proper trail shoes.

3) Lights... You do really need a good head torch rather than something you'd use to take the Christmas decorations out of the attic. You do need to light up the ground 5-10 metres in front of you rather than just what is at your feet.

There was one forest junction last night where there was a wide clearing. The direction arrow at the far side was visible with a good head torch but could easily have been missed with something smaller. It's worth investing in a good one.... or borrow one like I did! :o)) Thanks Timmy Mac.

4) Backpack... You need something small and one that can be strapped on securely. You don't want something that cuts into your shoulders / neck or is jumping up and down as you run. Whatever you use should be tested out beforehand on a run.

Night time running... If you were to run this course during daylight hours, you could see where you're running, the forestry, the surrounding countryside and views of the surrounding hills.

At night, you're concentrating on this spot on the ground which is just in front of you. There are no views as such, just this spot on the ground.

We did it as a group of three and were chatting away for the 13 miles. I can imagine for some doing it on their own, it might get very boring just looking at this spot on the ground with no distractions. It really depends on what people want but I'd suspect that it would be better for someone to run this with someone of similar ability or as part of a group with a target of just finishing rather than racing it on their own.

Weather... This is really a huge issue with this event. Last night, it was pretty calm, about 4 deg C and dry, pretty much ideal conditions. People ran the two courses and enjoyed the experience.

If it had been wet and windy, it would have been completely different. There's no enjoyment being wet and cold and staring at a spot on the ground for miles on end.

Full Irish Breakfast... Sounds great but maybe not the best idea after a long run. Ten out of ten for the hash browns but I think two cups of coffee and something light would more suitable. Lesson learnt.

Surreal... That's the only word I can use to describe it. Being at the 6 mile mark in the half marathon... running along in the dark.... and realising it's 4 am, not 8pm!

Half Vs Full... Which one to choose depends of course on your interests and abilities. I just thought that with the half-marathon, I was getting say 95% of the experience with 50% of the effort.

Recommendation?... Overall, I thought it was a pretty good event and I'm glad I did it. I'm glad that I got to experience a trail race at night and to have the experience of doing a race at 2:30am in the morning. Would I do it again? I suspect not. For me, that box is ticked and if I was ever going to do this course again then it would be in daylight hours where the experience would be different.

If you have never tried anything like this then I recommend it as long as the weather is dry and calm.

In conclusion... The reason I wrote this review is to give readers a flavour of what this event was like. If you are interested in doing it, then I'd recommend you do it as part of a small group.

There are of course other MMRA events that are much less arduous on the calendar. Have a look at this page for their events for 2019.

Some are nice trail races in woods and are suitable for those who might be tempted to stick their toe in the water ... or mud! :o)

Half-marathon briefing...

Marathon start...


Darren C. said...

Hi John,

Congratulations on your achievement. You were talking to me about this event at the Glen River Parkrun last week. Those events were definitely not for the faint hearted!

It was both a foggy and frosty night in Cork, so you must have been fortunate with the weather. Personally, I am not a huge fan of running in the nighttime air, so the start time of the event, would certainly not suit me. I enjoyed reading about your experience however.

Seeing the start of the marathon was interesting. The sight of the torches on the runners' heads would remind you somewhat of miners going down a mine!

It seems as if some people doing the full-marathon were walking from the start. Must have been a long trek!

John Desmond said...

Hi Darren

As we were driving into Kilfinane at about 12:30am, we could see the lights of the marathon runners stretched across the hillside. Looked great.