Jason Bryant - Sheep Don't Care

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sheep Don't Care... But You Might!

By Jason Bryant

 

This is a long post, but it's worth it... maybe.  Our moms will read it... maybe.  Anyway my race recap, then Alison's.  It has sheep in it, but they don't care.

Alison and I started this saying in Ireland while we were running “Irish trails”daysbefore the IAU World Trail Championships. “Sheep don't care.” Out running the “trails” along Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe, we observed the sheep out on the mountains. I should probably explain “Irish trails,” then I'll stop putting it in quotes. Many of the Irish trails were not like trails in the US, there wasn't any distinguishable trail. Just walk from where you are currently to the top of the mountain, or other destination, however you feel is the best route. If a run is getting long, then just turn and cut cross country, it's not like you were on a real trail most of the time anyway. If you pass though any gates, close them behind you. In some places there are posts with a hiking guy on it to direct you in a generally direction toward a landmark or to help you avoid large holes or bogs. Sometimes there are four inch wide sheep trails to follow, but those generally go wherever the sheep have need to travel. I quite enjoyed the Irish trails, they suited my personality. So back to my “Sheep don't care” story, Alison and I were discussing the thinking of sheep. Do they really think about being on the side of a mountain? Do they think it is hard going up and down the mountain? Does the mud, wind, rain bother them? They certainly don't seem to be concerned about any of these, sheep don't care. They just walk around looking for food, even if it is along a cliff, high on a mountain. Both Alison and I used the “sheep don't care” thought during our race.


Proper Irish Trail

So about the race, it was run in the Connemara region of Ireland, a beautiful area of large mountains with plenty of Irish trails. The Europeans were taking this Trail Championship seriously. There were 20 countries represented and 13 full men's teams. A helicopter covered the race and guys with cameras were all over the course. A Championship race show will be broadcast all over Europe. That was definitely different from my average trail race. The start was at the doors of Kylemore Abbey, an old castle. We traversed the road for about 5K to Letterfrack, where we turned up to summit Diamond Hill. We were to run the loop up and down Diamond Hill twice, then head out for a long out and back section. Being a guy without much leg speed, a fast easy start on the road, and a lot of talented runners, I would guess that I was in about 80th place early on. Diamond Hill would be considered a significant, difficult climb and descent in the US. I knew we were running the easy stuff. I did pass about 30 runners on the first ascent and continued to move up on the technical descent. Then more easy running back to Letterfrack and losing places again, ending up in 47th at the bottom. Again back up and down Diamond Hill where I again gained positioning. Now it was time to start having some fun, we hit the first section of proper Irish trails, 2k of open ground. I was telling Josh Brimhall and some other runner that we were not in the bog yet. Yea, it's wet and you're sinking up over the top of your shoes, this is just open ground. By the way open ground in Ireland, and the UK, is not a golf course or park grass fields. It is clumpy grass, heather, holes, drop offs, mud, rocks. As the RD, Richard Donovan said at the technical meeting, “The course will have any range of technical and difficulty you can imagine.” Richard Donovan is the RD for the North Pole and South Pole Marathons, that should tell you something about the course.


One Man's Pass - Slieve League (Not Race)

After gaining several more places on the open ground, I lost several places on the road section to the bog. Now it was 2k of bog, a playground of fun, if you had the right mindset. Boggy areas are wet and muddy, but when you step in an actual bog it's not like being in mud really. Nor is a bog like falling in a hole or a pool of water. It's more like stepping into a tub of oatmeal. On the surface it looks like it might be solid, but once you step in the bog you sink to some random depth, completely surrounded by some type of earth. You'll have to use your bog muscle someday to understand. I laughed out loud some at this point. I had run Three Peaks a few years ago and knew what to expect from the bog and the whole experience. Other runners were in a little shock I believe. Most everyone was buried to their waist at some point. Dave James said he followed the runner in front of him in and they were both up to the chest or neck. Dave pushed him out, then he pulled Dave out. If you were thinking like a kid, you had some fun. If you were too serious, you most definitely were not having fun. We left the bog and returned to a road section going over to Benbaun Mountain. On the way we passed through the second aid station at 28k. I was in 30 something place. I knew it was about 2k more to the base on Benbaun Mountain and then the race would actually start.

This was called the mountain section of the course. Diamond Hill was just that, a hill. Just traversing the open ground of Irish trails is difficult. It is wet, mud, uneven, just plain bad footing. Now put that footing on 10%, 20%, 30%, and 40% grades, plus add a few rocks or all rocks at the top. That was Benbaun Mountain. Think broken arms, grown men wincing and complaining, bloody foreheads, elite women crying. Quite a few DNFs. Asking if you fell is not the right question, it is more how good are you at falling and maintaining speed. I made friends with a Dutch runner who went down on his butt, pushing himself with his hands the second time down Benbaun. He said that he passed two runners that way, asking them how do you like my technique as he went by. The Dutch runner said the other two did not seem amused. As I said earlier, some of us were on a huge playground, some of us were in some Irish hell. Personally, I did quite well here and had moved up to 21st by the bottom of Benbaun on the way out. Then another dreaded easy section of disused road, but road like none the less. I lost ground here. I saw Ben Nephew here, he was running great in 7th. I met Dave, Josh, and then Alison on my way back. It was great to see teammates and trade encouragement. Dave James was so positive and encouraging as I went by, that was inspiring. My second climb up Benbaun was not as good as I'd like, I'm still not 100% with my climbing from last years back difficulties. The final grass section going up was cruel. It had to be 40% or more, it was steeper and longer than Whernside at Three Peaks Race. It was a literal ¼ to ½ mile crawl, grabbing grass and pulling yourself up. Think huge green wall, think bigger unless you were there. Then a final rocky section to the summit. I had lost a few spots and hit the top around 25th place. I was a little concerned about how I'd descend now, but once at the top my back released and I was tumbling down once more. I am really encouraged about about my work on improving my descending. I got all the way back to 21st by the bottom and hoped that I could hold that or move up more. That was foolish thinking.

The guys around me were equally tough, they wouldn't give up and they were faster. So I slipped back to 24th on the road and could see several guys coming into the last aid station as I left. Finally off the road and back into the bog, but going uphill now. Yes an uphill bog??? I seemed to be about the only one running most of it and did some serious damage catching a couple guys and pulling away from the rest. One more long road section to the open ground. Two Italian runners passed me again here. I had gone back and forth with one of them since the 20k mark. Finally, we hit the 2k of open ground with less than 3k to the finish. I caught one Italian quickly, then the next. In trying to gain any time for our team that I could squeeze out, I caught one more guy to end up back at 21st.


Back:Roy, Gabe, jb, Dave, Ben, Josh  Front:Liza, Alison, Perla

The Connemara race was definitely an experience of pushing back limits. There is nothing like it that I know of in the US. Josh Brimhall, two time winner of Zane Grey 50 Mile, commented, “This made Zane Grey look like a freeway.” Interestingly, Richard Donovan was convinced to change his original course because it was too hard. I spoke to a couple of fellows who said the original course was much harder. Richard was concerned the revised course that we ran would be a track meet! It was great competing as a team with Ben Nephew, Dave James, Josh Brimhall, Gabriel Rodriguez, Roy Pirrung, Perla Rodriquez, and Alison. Thanks guys. Our mens team finished 6th out of 13 teams and Ben was a sweet 6th overall. Thanks to Gabriel for getting us great singlets from Under Armour. We all hated that Liza Howard couldn't run, but appreciated her and Eliot working the aid station for us. My La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0 were awesome. Shoes with grip were a precious commodity on this course. The Crosslite 2.0 has quickly become a favorite shoe for any off road running and I've put them on about everything this summer. A final interesting note, I still averaged a faster pace on this “insane” 43 mile ultra than I did at my 23 mile Slovenian mountain race by 7 seconds/mile. Difficult courses has certainly been redefined by my last two races. But hey, sheep don't care.

Alison's calumniations,

For those who don't know us well, for all that Jason and I have in common, we are also very different personalities. Jason is fearless, adventurous, and thrill-seeking, and I, well, am not. Luckily he has been working on transferring a little of his personality to me.


Alison on some Irish trails

We spent our first 3 days in Ireland running on Slieve League, up and down mountains, and through bogs. So at least I had a little of an idea what to expect from the race and I had my head set on being positive.

The race started out very easy on a road. I thought that I had gone through 5k a little too fast, however once I got to Diamond Hill I realized that there was going to be enough slow "running" in this race that the fast start would not hurt me. The loop around Diamond Hill had the options of running down slippery wet rocks or slick mud. I tried a little of each, falling in the same spot on each loop in the mud. Once we got off Diamond Hill, I started passing people. The race organizers had soldiers out on the course to "reassure" us that we were still on the “Irish trail.” As I crossed over a fence into the bog, one of the soldiers said, "Don't fall." I responded "It's okay, I already fell three times." I then promptly fell in a big hole in the bog. The woman from Great Britain decided that she would let me lead the way after that. Back on the road, I continued to steadily pass people. Then came the big mountain, Ben Baun. This mountain was steep and slick. Going up I was still passing people, one woman even commented that I was "going fast," although that was definitely relative. I should probably mention at this point that I am afraid of large steep drop offs. And this mountain was definitely high and steep. I just told myself to get up the mountain and not to worry about getting down at that point. I never let myself look down the mountain too far, since that would only cause anxiety. I got up to the top and started down. I promptly fell, then fell again. Each time I would slide 3 to 5 feet down the mountain. My feet slipped out from under me so much that I thought multiple times I would be better off just sliding down the whole mountain on my butt. Finally I reached the bottom, and already saw the top men coming back up the mountain. The out and back was fun to see the American men. It was energizing to see Ben and Jason running so well. Then it was back up the mountain and down again. I realized at the top of the mountain that I was hyperventilating when my hands and lips started tingling, so I had to consciously calm myself down. I was passed at the top of the


"None Shall Pass"

mountain by another woman. On the way down I saw her get down in a crab crawl and figured that that was probably the best way for me to get down the mountain as well. Finally I reached the bottom. Once I was down the mountain, it was back to passing people again. I finished the race still feeling strong and running, while many others had been reduced to walking. I also finished the race very muddy and covered in bog, which took multiple showers to fully remove. Overall, I really enjoyed the race and the opportunity to participate in a big event like this.

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