You know you have a good crew when they agree to write up your race report for you. I will write up my own thoughts and perspective on the Connemara 100 in due course but I thought it would be interesting to see how the race unfolded from the eyes of the "Chuck Wagon"
Written by Denis Looney
Edited by John Desmond
Based on a true story
View from the chuck wagon.
Some time ago we were discussing the Connemara 100 and I told Grellan, when he decided to do it, I’d crew for him. So that’s how I ended up witnessing his stunning performance up close and mostly from the comfort of the support vehicle. Grellan, John Desmond and I started to put a support plan together the previous Sunday (seriously) during a club run. John and I left the race plan to Grellan.
On the Friday evening after the race briefing in Clifden, Grellan walked us through his energy drinks and food supplies. True to his word Grellan had loaded up with every conceivable food that he may need/want on the day. In fact we made 2 visits (before and after the race briefing) to the Clifden branch of an unnamed German discount supermarket to stock up on more of his possible desires. (I’m still not sure about the mackerel fillets or spring onions but he was the boss). Grellan had taken out most of the seats from his people carrier and all supplies were arranged in boxes/coolers/bags where we could easily get at them. And once we got Grellan on the road, we could quickly get our secret weapon (John’s mountain bike) in and out.
At race HQ on Saturday morning I finalised realised a boyhood dream and hooked up the 2 flashing orange lights to the support vehicle. And I kept them flashing for the next 16 hours 22 minutes and 8 seconds.
The plan was for Grellan to walk up the steep bits and we’d supply food at that stage. He did not plan to stop and eat and we’d supply drinks as he needed them. We would deploy the bike when we hit the N59 (mile 20ish) through the Inagh Valley and through Maam Cross, giving John Des a break until Leenane.
The first 20 miles from Clifden through Letterfrack, and onto the N59 was pretty easy for the crew. We’d stop every 2 miles to supply drinks and get instructions for what Grellan wanted to eat at the next walking section. John Des had driven the course on Google street view and he also had enough Ordnance Survey maps for a military invasion of West Galway. So we knew where to park and wait. At this stage we didn’t need to be cycling/driving behind Grellan as the roads were quiet and the runners were close together.
Once we hit the N59 at mile 20 John cycled behind Grellan to give more visibility and I leapfrogged them every 4 miles in the support vehicle. I’d get instructions from John/Grellan as to what to have at the next stop and hand it over at that stage. Think of a mobile McDonalds drive thru with a far greater (and more bizarre-turkey slices Grellan??) menu. In fairness to Grellan he thought of his crew as well. John and I had our tea and hang sandwiches at regular intervals, plus some mini muffins from the aforementioned unnamed German discount supermarket. There was an on course rumour at one stage that Grellans impressive pace was partly down to his concern that his crew would eat through his supplies if he didn’t get home under 17 hours. That’s absolutely not true; we would have left the mackerel fillets, spring onions and carbonated water.
There are 4 intermediate checkpoints on the Connemara 100, Inagh Lodge, Leenane, Inagh Lodge (again) and Roundstone. At each one the runner has a book that he needs to have updated by Race officials with the time he/she passes that checkpoint. At checkpoint 1 I hung around to get the gaps back to the next place runner, (there was no Eurosport cover like in the Tour de France). From then on as the gap between Grellan and the rest of the field widened, I had to leapfrog to feed , then go back to other places as mobile coverage up there is very poor. Later in the race we could rely on the race officials to update us by mobile. No unfair advantage here, as those behind us would know at the checkpoint what Grellans time was and how far ahead he was. While Grellan kept his 30 minute lead from checkpoint 2, we all knew that could evaporate quickly, even with just 10 miles to go. Sometimes while I was packing the wagon, one of the other runners support cars would pull up behind me and I’d be nervously think Grellan was being caught.
As the only one of the 3 of us not engaging in any serious physical activity, (John you’d want to get out more on that bike) as well as head of catering and supplies, I also became chief photographer, and head of crowd control. Especially through Leenane where the passengers of 2 full tour buses were gathered on the footpath and we had to run ahead of Grellan to clear a path. I was in charge of weather forecasting and media relations (my mobile was on fire once we got reception) but a big thanks to Eagle AC Lady Captain Elaine Guinane for keeping FB updated and giving a central point of reference for all those interested. Thanks also to Niall who was able to give on course updates via FB.
I also became chief spiritologist. Coming up out of Leenane (mile 60) Grellans calves started cramping. In a move that I believe the McLaren F1 team will seek to replicate next year, John D applied Bio freeze to Grellans legs with staggering proficiency. It was only rivalled by the cutting and application of some nipple protecting band aids in the Inagh valley 10 miles later. John and I were still a bit worried about our man. So as “Stop and Pray” church was the next support point after feeding the athlete, I did just that and lit a few candles. It seems even God was on our side and the cramps disappeared along with the mid morning mists.
John played a stormer on the bike, giving protection on the road. As we got further into the race and the gaps between the leapfrogging got shorter. He’d come to me as Grellan passed to order the supplies and carry them off in his rucksack so he could “stand and hand” up ahead. He also controlled the mix of sugar and salt that Grellan was getting in order to avoid stomach problems which have hampered participants in the past. John kept Grellans mind distracted as they chatted about the terrain, views and other non race things. On several occasions’ I could hear Grellan or John laughing about something or other (maybe me) before I could see them around a bend on the road.
Once we got past the last check point at Roundstone (great buzz off the crowd there) Grellan had under 18 miles to go. As we got further from the check point we were relieved that there was no call to say those behind us had gained any time. The gap was still 30 minutes. Then it started to get dark and the little convoy formed up. Grellan leading the way, like Cyclops with a head torch, (thanks Viv and Colin). John D on the bike like a Christmas tree with the red and green flashing lights and me at the back with more flashing yellow lights than the earthmovers on the South Link Road over the past year.
I didn’t tell Grellan till after the race, but I got a call from the race officials at our mile 91 to ask where we were, as they wanted to make sure the finish was set up by the time Grellan made Clifden. All he had to do was not walk!!
We hit the town and I parked up on the first lap to see if anyone was on his tail. By the time runner and bike had done 1 lap with 2 full laps (2 miles) to go we knew he had at least a full 1 mile lead.
I got the recovery drink, foil blanket and change of costume (first one) and went to the finish line which Grellan had to pass twice more. His last lap of the town seemed to take an age and it did, but he finally rounded the last corner. He had done it...16:22:08, awesome. John Des being the ever demanding taskmaster was encouraging Grellan to push and break 16:22, but I think that was just a ploy to get him over the line.
Across the line, John D holds him up, Niall O’Crualaoich checks him out medically. We give him the recovery drink and wrap him up. Then Grellan starts being interviewed by a lady who said she worked for the Guardian. His answers and comments were humorous, relevant, coherent and complementary. Not like someone who had just completed a 100 mile race, so he was in good shape. We got him back to the wagon as we wanted him to get his legs elevated and keep him warm. This proved highly effective as he was in great form when we got back to our lodgings for a late night feast of (you’ve guessed it) tea, hang sandwiches and the last of those mini muffins.
On the day
One thing that struck me in the leap frogging was the amount of distance Grellan was covering each time he passed me and I stayed in position preparing drinks/food. Or how fast he’d be up to me when I’d drive 1 mile ahead. He was relentless, a demanding team principal……. . Not stopping to eat or change costume helped him maintain his lead. The second thing was that while we knew from the race strategy that certain sections of the main roads would be busy by the time we hit them, I had no idea what time of day it actually was. I was all focussed on my stopwatch and the car Odometer, (pre historic Garmin). We only started thinking of the time of day as light started to fade and we had to get bike and runner lit up.
On the preparations
Bring everything you can think of and then some. You really never know and surprisingly there’s no supermarkets or sports shops on the route.
On the people
Know who you’re crewing for and know who’s crewing for you. The 3 of us started Ultra running in Connemara in 2010, (Grellan is the extremist) and we know each other well.
We’ve been on a lot of running adventures and it stood to us on the day. Grellan may edit this piece out, but when he started his (last) 3 mile loop of the town with a 1 mile lead, I was so proud of (and relieved for) him that I actually became a bit teary eyed. Ray O’Connor (RD) said something about him being a legend, but I prefer how our fellow Eagle AC Clubmates were referring to him all day, “the Beast” because he devours any challenge you put in front of him. If you’ve seen the picture of him passing the finishing clock with his arms outstretched, I’m the guy with the big grin on the left hand side of that photo. Thanks for having me on board Grellan!!