DIARY: Showing off County Wicklow

Last year, I took on a business venture with fellow Danish mountain runner Torben Dahl to bring Danish trail running tourists to Wicklow. Through a separate project of mine - Lap of the Gap - I was introduced to Fred Verdier of Wicklow Tourism. Wicklow Tourism had organised a press trip for Soul Running magazine with Spanish ultra-running celebrity Pablo Criado. I had the good fortune to be invited along as 'company/guide' and you can see some of the images in the article below on Visit Wicklow:

Visit Wicklow Press Trip

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An eventful few weeks

May was a bumper month for me. I had focused most of my time and effort on organising the Glendalough Lap of the Gap Marathon for the third year running. Early in the month - and 23 days before the event - the little matter of my third child (Fionn) arrived and for the next 27 days I was the proud father of 'Three Under Three' as they say here in Ireland.

While I was preparing Glendalough Lap of the Gap I also had to prepare for our first Danish tourists of the summer who were due to arrive 6 days after Lap of the Gap. I was working late a lot and knew the first week of June after the tourists left would be about 'giving time back to the family'.

But eventful also turned successful: Lap of the Gap grew - we managed to fund-raise about 3 times more for our club than we had done in 2017 and our numbers grew from 183 to 253 and from a sporting perspective we saw two new course records on the full marathon course.  Most importantly to me - feedback matched or even exceeded last year's and this continues to be our main strength: our friendly and helpful volunteers. In many ways it reminds me of the Tønder Festival I grew up with: a folk and roots festival which began as a series of 2-day concerts organised by music teachers and which today hosts over 12,000 people and the world's best musicians in those genres. The foundation of that Festival was also the skill and attitude of the volunteers.

The biggest 'coup' for us was our sponsorship deal with Wicklow Tourism - more specifically their Wicklow Outdoors project which led to us being given a grant by Wicklow County Council for which we are extremely grateful. The grant money allowed us to shoot a drone video (be the first to view it here or watch it in reduced, 1080p, format below), invest in better equipment for future years and put the 'spade in the ground' on a new website. I was extremely proud that our event was selected as one of four 'keystone' events for the Wicklow Outdoor strategy and look forward to growing the event while working alongside Wicklow Tourism in the coming years. We also hope to bring onboard several more local partners who can see the potential in this unique marathon.

My Danish guests also left me with positive reviews and raving about County Wicklow so hopefully many more will follow them across the sea (this time more peacefully than 1000 years ago). I have a terrific network of partners and I want to give a quick mention to some of them: the Wicklow Heather restaurant, Martin Lynch Coaches, Wicklow Way Baggage, James Pierce from Lus Mor BnB, An Oige Hostels, Frank Quinn of the Wilderness Lodge and Anne Dowling of the Glenmalure Lodge and Jørn Andersen, owner of Løberejser.dk, to mention only some. We currently do 'point to point' trips, sleeping in a new place every night and doing roughly 18 to 24 km every day. I take care of everything except flights: breakfast, accommodation, baggage transfer, shuttles, lunch, route planning and guiding and dinner reservations. So if you know anyone who's looking to have these things taken care of for them - feel free to send them my way. Our trips so far have generally featured 65 km over 3 days or about 80 km over 4 days with somewhere between 600 and 850 m climb per day.

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A beautiful picture taken by Connie Kjølby, one of the guests on my recent trail running holiday for Danish runners

The week before Lap of the Gap was also somewhat more busy than ideal. While I had stepped down as Race Director for the Wicklow Way Relay I had stayed on as Assistant Race Director in order to continue to take care of the results calculation which is quite a difficult task to hand over. I was helped by my club, Glendalough AC, having 16 runners fitter than me at the moment, leaving me to spectate at the race and not being needed as a runner. We had installed a 'no guest runner' policy this year but still managed our third consecutive top-10 finish. Realistically for a club our size, the best we can hope for at the moment is a top-5 finish but hopefully that will change some time in the future.

More eventful weeks

Coming into the summer I am taking a week of in July to go to Denmark and a further one in August to go to Denmark (again!) for the Tønder Festival where I work as a volunteer bartender every year with my father and my best man (Michael). We provide 18 hours of work over 4 days in return for a free pass for the 4 days of music. For me it's an annual pilgrimage down memory lane and will be my first chance to see my new niece or nephew as my youngest sister is expecting her first baby early August.

In between there are some mountain running news to: Glendalough AC are hosting two fund-raisers every year (the first being Lap of the Gap) with the second being 'Run the Ridge' - a series of races including a 1.5 km junior race, an 8 km trail race and a 20 km trail/mountain hybrid race across the Derrybawn Ridge.

This year we have moved the event from October to August in order to combine it with the local GAA's 'Cullen Cup' - a memorial sports day held for a local footballer who sadly passed due to SAD on the pitches aged only 19 years old. I find it quite stirring that he would have been the same age of me. It makes me appreciate everything I have received in the 20 years since I was that age.

The sports day will feature several events including a 'fittest family' competition and we are planning to put up a grass track for short distance events for both juniors and seniors. Long-time readers know that I am a 'Lakophile' (obsessed with the history and culture of the British Lake District / Cumbria) so you can imagine I am excited to see this combination of 'Sports Day' and 'Mountain Race' - found currently only in Britain and Scotland in the traditional sense. As runners finish with a lap of the field, they'll be cheered on by the spectacle of activities happening on the pitches.If things go well you might be able to 'cool down' with a 200m sprint of an 800m race. 

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Taking a break under Djouce

Do you still train?

I often ask myself that question. After taking a 4 month break in winter, I'm building myself back up patiently. I have settled back into a 4 day training routine instead of my old '7 days at all costs' which works much better with my current family situation and commitments. My club Glendalough AC try to meet up thrice per week: for a fast session Thursday evening, a steady run Saturday and a long run Sunday. My club colleague Rachel Wisdom generally leads the long run around the revitalised Vartry Trails - so give me a shout if you want to 'try out' any of these sessions and I can 'hook you up' with our crew.

With my time constraints at the moment, I decided on a 'crash-course' for myself to be fit enough to lead my trips. I couldn't bank on the old 'average at least an hour per day with regular 90-120 minutes runs' so instead I did very long and very slow runs on the hills (specific to the task of guiding runners on a holiday) with 48 hours total rest afterwards to absorb. This worked a treat and is perhaps not a surprise as it is a method employed by some elites - such as the Japanese marathoners known to go on what is essentially a 'fast hike holiday' as their pre-training to 'actual running'. The famous Angela Mudge also regularly used super-easy 3-4 hour runs on the mountains as her fundamental conditioning. The only downside is that it leaves you far from racing fitness as it is so non-specific - but it puts in a terrific 'foundation' to build on over a much longer period. When you have very young kids and time constraints, a training routine that includes 'bigger stimuli' followed by 'longer rests' can work well simply because it reduces the overall stress (and high stress impairs adaptation from workouts) - the key is to get more out of the days you do train such as in my case here employing 'very long runs'. It's still easier for the family to have me gone one day for 3 hours and then I'm not out running for the next two days (for instance).

Because of my winter break I plan only one race this summer - The Relay on 23rd of June. I'm a big fan of Dessie Shorten and Sandra Coleborn's project as it gives everyone who likes the Wicklow Way Relay a 'second chance'. I ran the very scenic leg 1 from Avondale last year and this year have the fortune of trying on the 'new' Leg 2 which takes in a direct climb up towards Trooperstown on very nice forest trail before following the brilliant track between Trooperstown and Boots summit. Seeing this trail now I think there would be great potential to reroute the Avonmore Way through this path - especially since the Ballard road was tarred. This would cut out a substantial road section which is the only weakness of the Avonmore Way as it currently is designed.

Some writing

I've written a number of posts on the various sites I involve myself in recently:

Patreon - Educated Runner project

This is a new project called the 'Educated Runner' which wants to become a set of tools to help each individual coach themselves better. It's designed to help you formulate your own training philosophy rather than adopt that of others. It's still in the 'beta' stage but evolving quickly now I have some time on my hands again. It was born out of a realisation that even as a professional coach you are lucky if you can effectively train 20-25 people on a personal basis. There simply aren't enough hours on the clock for one coach to deal effectively with very many people. Thus the next step is to create a place where people can largely educate themselves to 'run their own show' - that's what I want to move onto next.

Once these initial 'what's this all about' series of articles is done, I will put some paid content up consisting of actual educational packages. Unlike what's mainly available now it will not be about describing 'one training system' (Lydiard coaching or 'Borg Training System' - you will never see this term!) but rather a series of step that allows every runner to create their own individualised approach.

Now I could keep writing as there are so many things 'going on' but I will leave it here for now.