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Connemara 100 Ultra Marathon in support of Staff Charity Partners

3 August 2020

This Saturday our colleague Declan will be taking on the challenge of his life – the Connemara 100 Ultra Marathon in support of the Bank's 2020 Staff Charity Partners Make-A-Wish Ireland, Pieta House and CyberSafeIreland, raising much needed funds for these deserving charities, at a time when they need it most. All money raised will be match funded by the Bank for an overall donation to charity.

The Ultra Marathon covers 100 miles and takes place on the West Coast of Ireland. The start line is in Clifden and brings participants through Letterfrack, Lettergesh, the Inagh Valley, Maam Cross, Leenane, Inagh Valley again, before heading to Roundstone, Ballyconneely and back to Clifden to the Finish Line.

The race must be completed within 30 hours and Declan will have a full crew with him every step of the way. There are currently only 60 people registered to take on this challenge.

In the lead up to race day, we checked in with Declan to catch up on how his training is going (how does one even prepare for something like this?) and to speak to him a little bit more about his motivation and what made him decide to run this iconic 100 mile race.

Declan, what is the Connemara 100 and why did you decide to sign yourself up? Were you runner before?

I started running 3 years ago when my wife signed us up for a December Half Marathon in Waterford. A friend of ours helped us to train for the big day as she had around 50 marathons under her belt. The two overriding memories I have from finishing that race were, I was never so hungry in my life and how do people do a Full Marathon, something I was never going to do.

Then in August 2018, my wife and I travelled to the West of Ireland to crew for a friend in the Connemara 100 Mile Road Race, basically a 100 mile race starting and ending in Clifden and covering scenic Connemara in a figure 8 over a maximum of 30 hours. You are wrapped up in a bubble, totally removed from reality for a couple of days and I guess the seed was sown back then.

How many people in Ireland are signed up to complete the challenge?

The race is in its eleventh year and there has been an average entry of 30 participants each year and over this time there has been an average of 17 finishers each year. 2020 has attracted a record entry of 60 participants most likely due to the fact the majority of races nationally and internationally have been cancelled. Even with this record entry no more than 250 people will have participated in this race over the last 11 years. One of the scariest stats I have heard is that 25% of first timers don’t finish!

How are you training for the 100 miles?

I have been training for this since February mixing 3 runs a week with 3 days in the gym to do some strength and conditioning. The two midweek runs were varied between straight 1 hour runs, intervals and hill repeats at 6am while the weekend run was the long run at 7am with the distance built up over time. I did a couple of marathons, a couple of Ultra Marathons, a couple of night runs and lots of back to back runs on Saturdays and Sundays. Thankfully I am now in the tapering phase!

What is going to be your approach come race day?

To make sure I finish the 100 mile course before midday on Sunday! We will stay in Clifden Friday night and eat lots of Pizza. The alarm call will be at 5am Saturday morning to allow time for downing the Porridge and Protein Powder mix. We will meet at the start line and get ready for the off at 6am. One of the most important things will be to control a very comfortable pace from the start, my best Marathon is circa 8 minute 40 second mile but for this we will be looking to slow down to around 12 minutes a mile which is a discipline in itself. The other really important thing is to manage hydration and nutrition to ensure the tank is kept fuelled up and not allow it to hit empty.

How long do you think it will take you to complete? Are you planning to rest between stages or ‘just go for it’?

If I finish 1 second before the 30 hour cut off I will be thrilled, as there is a massive mental challenge to overcome throughout the event as the miles clock up, as the night time comes in and managing many potential weather conditions. I will aim to try maintaining a slow steady pace throughout, walking many of the hills en-route and taking short 5 to 10 minute breaks with a few longer 20 minute breaks as required. In the past some competitors might sleep for a couple of hours and then get up and finish the race so it’s an option but I am hoping not to sleep.

You mentioned you will have a team with you, what is their role on the day?

I am very fortunate to have massive support from my wife, one of my sisters and my youngest daughter. They will have all my spare running gear, fluids, nutrition and first aid kit in the car and will meet with me at pre-arranged points during the day. There is a 10 mile stretch from mile 32 to 42 which is on the main Galway Clifden road that they have to drive behind me at 9kms per hour. We will be back to meeting points after that stretch but once dusk comes in they will drive behind me for the remainder of the race. They will support me in every way and will even take turns running a couple of miles with me when doubts set in and the most important thing is they can’t be soft on me if I start to mention the “Q” word.

What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?

The biggest challenge has been the lockdown which meant a big chunk of training had to be completed solo and also confined some of the long runs into a 2km radius. This challenged me to run the many hills close to my home which ensured I clocked up a lot more elevation than planned. The gym was also closed during this time so the strength workouts had to be completed at home.

How have you overcome it?

I pushed myself to keep doing the intervals session midweek and pencilled in lockdown Marathons on the dates that I was due to compete in the various marathons that were cancelled. The positive side of lock down was that I gained back circa 20 hours per week from the non-existent daily commute. On the gym front I was extremely lucky to have my wife and daughters to push one another in our homemade gym.

What keeps you motivated?

I have many intrinsic motivational factors that drive me on with the biggest one being the brilliant comradery developed with my training friends. Also the mental and physical health benefits of running are unbelievable, no better way to spend a summers morning that running along the South East coastline at 6am as the sun rises over the horizon, I feel really energised heading to work after a morning run. Also being a newbie to the world of running, I have learned about some amazing challenges that people have taken on and completed and I do like to take on new challenges and prove to myself that I have the fortitude to complete them. My wife & kids calls this my stubborn side.

For the Connemara 100 I decided that some extrinsic motivation would benefit me as the race progresses. The Permanent TSB staff charities have done tremendous work over the years raising funds for very good causes and as with lots of other things the pandemic severely curtailed many planned fundraising events for 2020. I reckoned that this event is quite unique with a very small number of participants in comparison to a normal City marathon and figured that it might capture the imagination of people in terms of supporting. This race will demand super mental resilience and I am a big believer in burning the bridge behind you, so the more people that know I am doing the race increases the motivation for me.

 Any advice for anyone who may want to take on this challenge?

If you are thinking about taking up running just go for it, it is such an accessible sport with very low costs to get started. You need to start with small distances and then just build it up from there. Get involved with people in your area that run as the community spirit and camaraderie is absolutely fantastic and very positive for all aspects of your health.

The Connemara 100 – Course

Starting in the centre of Clifden, the course travels north and east towards Letterfrack turning left to Tully Cross. Along the north west Connemara sea side the course travels through Lettergesh and then south towards the main Leenane to Clifden road. A few miles west brings participants onto the Inagh Valley, East to Maam Cross and North to Leenane followed by a second trip through the Inagh Valley and this time turning westwards along the main Galway to Clifden road. Taking the road to Ballynahinch, the final stretch passes through Roundstone and then Ballyconeely before returning once again to Clifden for a few quick laps of the town and under the finish.

The Staff Charities Fund

Since its establishment, the Staff Charities Fund has donated in excess of €1 million to Irish Charities, supporting local communities across the country. The charities supported are nominated and selected by permanent tsb employees for the fundraising year.

Numerous fundraising events are organised and managed by our colleagues from around the Bank throughout the year and all money raised by employees is match funded by the Bank. Our 2019/2020 Staff Charity Partners are Make A Wish Ireland, Pieta House and CyberSafeIreland.

Declan, we wish you the very best of luck in what is an incredible challenge. You have our full support and we will be cheering you on come race day!

Keep an eye on Declan’s progress on Twitter @permanenttsb this weekend as he takes on the Connemara 100 Ultra Marathon.

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