Two counties, two hours, four seasons - Strabane Lifford Half Marathon 2015
by Emma McLaughlin
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
The day started off so beautifully at home. Blue skies, and bright sunshine. I packed my bag, and having experienced a good bit of sunburn of the face and lips at the Connemara Half Marathon the fortnight before, remembered on this occasion to pack sunscreen and sunglasses. Excellent work, great preparation, gold star for me. I didn’t worry too much about bringing the base layer, hat or gloves, because sure we’d been basking in 20 degree heat all week.
As I roll into Strabane with the motivational tracks blaring out the speakers on the journey up, the bright blue skies turn an ominous dark grey colour. Ah sure, if it rains, it rains, it’s only water, skin is waterproof, I’ll just have to run harder. And all other thing you tell yourself when, meteorologically speaking, things take a turn for the worst.
After a wee bit of confusion getting registered (there is one other person with my name, born on the same year, on the same month - two days after me. I found myself hoping she’d beat out a half marathon in 1:30 so people would think it was me). I met Colette and Tommy Smyth - OTC’s finest supporters, bundled up in waterproof gear amongst 500 other people sheltering under an awning. The rain had arrived.
I actually have to run in this
Having seen The Neill family - and the wonderful time (18:45) put in by a very drowned-looking Matthew, I realised that I too, would have to brave the elements and run in that awful weather. And my base layer, hat and gloves were all lying at home having a really good laugh at me.
So... shorts on, race belt on, trainers on, key secured in the pocket, a good chat with a man from North West Triathlon Club, I head up to Canal Street to Derry Road where the race starts. I meet Shane McGale, who is primed and ready to sprint around the course at the start line. I walk to the back, and met by newlywed Gary Murphy, we’ve a good oul chat about his wedding, about holidays and races and the starting horn is sounded before I have time to think.
Ice in my water
I start without panicking, just with an aim to take the race at my own pace i.e. a slow, reserved and disciplined one. A 2:05 finish in a hilly Connemara, and a 40 mile bike the day before had my legs complaining to me from the off - but with a niggling time at the back of my head. Something circa 2:00 would do just lovely. More than lovely, it would be by my standards, just great.
I hear Kevin Smyth roar before I see him. A mile later I see Colette and Tommy, braving the elements and cheering us on. Over the border into Donegal, and the hailstones start like someone has flicked a switch. The hail coincides with a hilly, exposed stretch of asphalt, which leaves a lot of competitors covering their heads and faces as it bounces off our cold, and in some cases exposed, skin. I arrive to the water stop, where all drinks are full of hail. Kind of like a flavourless Slush Puppie. Refreshing!
Flat to the Tinnies
The Donegal part of the course is probably the most technical - plenty of twists turns and hills to keep you guessing, but once back into Tyrone again, the fun starts. Having worked in this area, I know how beautifully flat it is. That too comes with its challenges - there really is no let up, no recovery, you have to power on. At this difficult stage the sun decides it wants to come out and shine down like a summer’s day. The steam rises off the road. It’s become humid and sticky and I don’t like it. I decide immediately to ignore the Garmin and ignore the 2:00 pacer, whose bright yellow vest and balloon are looming close behind me, it was 8.5 miles in and I was destroyed. Last look at the Garmin, 1:17. I bet some of our ones are near finishing. Which I later found to be the case, with Chris McGuigan embracing the course and dashing around it in a new PB time. Jealous much?
Babies with Jelly Babies
The children that live along Park Road (miles 7-10) were awesome. Lots of cheering done, big bowls of jelly babies being dished out to competitors - it was lovely to see such community spirit in action. My “thank yous” were met with “you’re welcome - keep it up”. The sugar and high spirits kept my legs ticking over.
By The Skin of My Teeth
Since most of OTC had finished, eaten, showered, changed and were probably in Newtownstewart on the road home, I decided to get a move on towards the end. Its usually at this point where the friends of fellow competitors start shouting things to the people beside me like “finish strong”, and “don’t get bate by a woman” and “Go’an ye can take her, run! run!”. These things generally work to my advantage, so I sped up slightly, widened out the stride, told my legs to shut up and carried on to the finish line. Chip Time 1:59:10. Below the 2:00. By the skin of my teeth. And I couldn’t have cared less.
Well done to Lifford AC on a great course and great day out. If you could book nice weather for next year, I’d really appreciate it.
Chris McGuigan 1:17:37
Shane McGale 1:27:39
Brian Corry 1:42:49
Teresa McKenna 1:55:27
Gary Murphy 1:57:10
Emma McLaughlin 1:59:10