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6 Things I Learned on My Wicklow 12

I recently completed the Wicklow 12. After repeatedly having to postpone challenges because of pandemic restrictions, it was surreal to finally set off on one again. Here's some of what I learned on the day:

1. OPTIMISM - The key that can’t be lost.

We’ve all lost a set of keys on the mountains right? Well I did anyway, so if anyone finds keys around Table Mountain give a shout! Seriously though, on my 12 I realised that optimism needs to be put in the most secure pocket in my running vest and fully zipped. Once optimism is dropped, it’s nearly impossible for me to find again. I keep it secure by checking in with myself regarding things that I can control and sorting things out as I go. My coach, Sarah McCormack, has played a big role in helping me do this.

2. PLAN - Feelings feel real, so plan in order to feel as good as possible.

I find planning to be a bit annoying to have to do in the lead up to a challenge. I’m usually all hyped up and slightly unfocused, but the time spent pre-challenge planning is really worth it. I also get quite anxious, so knowing things are planned out, helps keep those nerves at bay. On the drive to the bottom of the first hill, it’s calming to know that everything is planned and set to go. My main plan included specific nutrition for the day (hourly carbs, electros, cals, protein and fat) with the help of Kylee at Fly Nutrition. I had an effort-focused pacing plan that I discussed with Coach Sarah. Then with Karina, I sorted some rough timings, so my crew / pacers would know when to be at the road crossings. Finally my boot was full of first aid bits, head lamp/electrical extras, spare shoes, socks, poles and clothing.

3. TRUST - There's only one conductor on this train, you.

Ok so my guilty Netflix pleasure leading up to my Wicklow 12 was binge watching Snowpiercer. Then of course, heading up Gravale, ‘Eternal engine! One Train!’ and flashes of the series streamed through my mind. My poor crew can attest that this streaming didn’t leave til I got to Glenmacanass. The point is, I WAS DRIVING MY TRAIN and it wasn’t going to stop. Like most of us, I feel empowered when I’m in control. In previous races, I’ve allowed myself to be blown about by someone else’s hot air. This time things were different. I was the conductor. Things were run my way.

4. LIGHTNESS - Acceptance is a lighter load to carry.

In the training coming up to my Wicklow 12 I realised there is absolutely no point in complaining about what’s in front of me. It drains me and makes me feel like shit, when I focus on what I can’t control, like the terrain. I recced what I could and made changes if the terrain was completely unmanageable. Then, I made a deal with myself that I was going to accept what came in front of me on the day and not complain about it. I did get challenged with this on my northwards ascent up Knocknacloghoge. Never have I travelled UP heather so high. As Maggie, my pacer at the time coined it, we were doing a new sport, Vertical Heather Swimming! The lighter load of acceptance, certainly helped me get up this summit #13.

5. OPPORTUNITY - This isn't a pass fail exam, it's an opportunity to learn.

Again, Coach Sarah suggested this and it was the perfect earwig to have throughout my day. Knowing that I couldn’t fail, freed me of worry and allowed me to just enjoy the challenge and have fun. When that self-doubt that we all get, started to creep in, I reminded myself of all the training I’d done to get to this point, along with the experience of previous mountain races, challenges and time trials. I labelled the thoughts as noise, like the sound of the birds and the wind and let them float away. (Thanks to Claire Walsh for this tidbit).

6. TEAM - Choose a team that will help you to open your wings.

The thing about this challenge is that I was able to choose who would be a part of it. There were no other competitors but me, no race directors, no spectators. I surrounded myself with the people who I knew would help me to open my wings. This mad ultrarunning sport is definitely a team thing and it was a privilege to be supported and paced by my friends. Shout out to Karina, Gail, Maggie and Tara!

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