My third Conn Half, and it’s always an adventure. The race is the main thing of course but there’s everything else that goes into making this complex event so memorable. Registration on the Saturday was at the Marriott in Galway – a mile trudge through a God-forsaken part of the city, through cheapo retail parks and across blaring traffic. Once there however the process was as slick as ever.

On race day you make your way across to Galway Cathedral, gathering other silent runners along the way. You get on one of the huge fleet of coaches trusting that it’s for Leenane and it’s not going to drop you at the marathon or the ultra start. Out of Galway and gradually the scenery changes from farmland and seascapes to rather bleaker, hilly land until you are in the heart of Joyce’s Country and Connemara where the majestic, rocky hills support only a bit of sheep farming and tourism. At last you are offloaded at Leenane, at the head of Ireland’s only fjord Killary Harbour.

Here you do your best to keep warm for a couple of hours before the midday race start. There’s no shelter but at least it’s dry this year, if chilly. And while the harbour businesses could make a killing on this morning all stay resolutely shut apart from a small foodstore which does huge trade.

Too soon you are invited to put your bags onto the lorries, meaning a half-hour hanging around in your race gear. I elect to wear a long-sleeved T-shirt under my Crusader’s singlet, but there are plenty of hardy souls with bare shoulders. I go for a little warm-up and I’m feeling fit and frisky. So today I’m going to enjoy the day but hopefully with my race face on and hopefully a sub-two.

Chip mats at the start! Well done the organisers – it means no pressure to get near the front. We’re off and, after a downhill jog it’s into the first of the uphill miles. Slow, too slow. No chance of pushing on at this time with everybody so tightly packed. But did I mis-read my Garmin? In fact I’m up with my target time at Mile 2 but decide I need to step on the gas. My target pace from here to Mile 9 is 8.45m/m but whoa, 7.57 for Mile 3! I’ve a little work to do before achieving Bekele’s sense of pace. Ease off – but not enough as 8.15 and 8.23 follow. But I’m feeling fine and figuring that the Hell Of The West later will be a crawl whether or not I’m bushed. I’m ahead of the game and can even afford time for a quick pitstop during Mile 7.

But for a few miles now there’s been something wrong with my Garmin. The mile markers are coming up a couple of hundred metres after the Garmin has beeped. However I plough on, still running well and taking care to look around and admire the fantastic scenery. The sun is now out and it’s a wonderful day.

Turn right at the pub and the last water station before the HOTW. As I suspected I’m flagging a bit as I start off on the 1.8 mile climb. However I’ve got no time worries and I slow down and head up the hill nice and steady The key is to concentrate on the next ten metres and not keep looking ahead to the endless stream of runners snaking upwards – easier said than done though. It’s one of those hills while, though not steep, it fools you by pretending you’re near the top – you never are. Past the simple memorial to the runner that died here in 2006 and finally over the top.

A couple of miles downhill and flat to finish. But it hurts to pick up the pace again after the hill. But it’s only pain which is. of course, temporary. I’m happy I’m on track for my sub-two but hold on….I’m not that far ahead of the pace and the finish is way ahead of the 13.1 when my Garmin says I’ve finished. Nothing for it but to sprint (sort of) the extra distance, in between quite a crowd of spectators. At last under the gantry at Maam Cross and the Garmin stops at 13.31 miles and…1:59.21!

(It now appears that I was not alone in figuring the course is long!)

Then the inevitable queues for medal and T-shirt. Pick up kitbag. Head into Peacockes Hotel for grub and a drink – again all very well organised. Where do all these helpers come from? And finally onto the Galway-bound coach, the inevitable delay in negotiating the by-now gridlocked Maam Cross approach road before we’re full speed for home.

So, very pleased with my effort in Connemara. Next up is the Wexford Half in four weeks time (though I’m also entered for the Armagh 10km on the same day). Hopefully I’ll still be on form.

My mile splits

10.29 start/part uphill
9.07 part uphill
7.56
8.16
8.23
8.50
9.00
8.31
8.35
9.52 HOTW
10.57 HOTW
8.24
8.34

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