By Ciaran O’Donnell
It was over the last 11k of the marathon in the final stage of The Race on Saturday evening that Ramelton man, Marty Lynch, had to be at his most resolute.
His legs ached from hip to toe and his body was constantly shouting stop. But pulling up was never an option for the Letterkenny-based barber who became the first man to retain the prestigious The Race title.
Physically, Marty Lynch is in super shape. Ditto his mental state. Weighing 9 stone and 13 pounds, he is quite a force to be reckoned with.
At precisely 6.32pm, Marty bounced down the back slope into the Gartan Adventure Centre and crossed the finish line in a new course record of 13 hours, 32 minutes and 25 seconds – some 14 minutes quicker than last year. As he came to a stop, he hunched over and placed his hands on his knees. He was as elated as he was exhausted.
While it was mission accomplished in some style, things didn’t pan out quite as Marty had expected in the early part of the 250K course.
Sebastien Giraud, a finisher in 2015 and 2016, went with the pace at the start when the competitors set off at five o’clock on Saturday morning.
“I saw him coming with me and thought he’ll be with me for maybe three or four kilometres. I was planning to run 4:10 per kilometre. Hugh Coll told me to make sure not to run it any harder because I’d lose it in the marathon at the end,” Marty said. The pace dropped to under four minutes per kilometre and there wasn’t any sign of the French man, who got into transition in Ramelton a few seconds in front, giving way. Marty reckoned he’d open up some daylight by the time they came back out of the Swilly, so sitting tight was the approach adopted.
“He was in the water first and I could see he was working hard. I knew I was going to be stronger on the bike. I actually dropped the water bottle from my bike halfway between Rathmullan and Whitestrand. I stopped and it cost me a bit of time. I was passing him when that happened.”
Marty caught up to him at Knockalla and put the burners on for a spell. Once ahead, the defending champion pulled away – his winning margin was close to two hours.
Giraud paid a heavy price for going toe-to-toe early on, and eventually finished fifth, three hours adrift in 16:30:45. He was overtaken by Pearse West (15:28:50), Derek Brannigan (15:57:47), Tony O’Doherty (16:07:09) and Danny McLaughlin (16:21:22).
After tackling the up and down of Muckish Mountain and a second bike, anything close to a 3:30 marathon would leave him well under his previous best time.
“I’d love to tell you my legs weren’t burning, but they were. At the halfway point in the marathon I knew this is the way it’s going to be, and that’s it. You either want it or you don’t.”
Marty was longing for the finish from the bottom of the Deer’s Head 11k from the end. He had got to the stage where he was looking at this watch and the kilometres weren’t coming down. But he stayed in the zone, sucked it up and kept it neat to the gantry.
“The winning aside, it was class just to get there in one piece. I had a good day and you realise it’s over. The pain is gone and seeing my wife, Anita, and my daughter, Ellie, at the finish was great. There were people out along the route at ten past five that morning giving us a shout. There were so many familiar faces at the line, too, which was great – those who come into the barbers, people from Ramelton and different areas and clubs and people who I trained with and have raced against.”
The high point for the winner came in Doochary in the afternoon.
“There were two children playing outside and whatever game they were playing, they actually stopped and turned around to cheer me on as I passed. It was a class wee buzz.”
Marty also gave a special mention to Hugh Coll, Peter O’Donnell and his brother, Anthony, for their support.
“The support I got from Milford AC members was also class, as was the encouragement I got from other clubs and individuals. It all helps when you’re out there.”
It’s been full on since he swapped the gym and five-a-side for adventure racing.
“I just wasn’t feeling it anymore and found it very hard to motivate himself. My friend, Daniel Cullen, set up an adventure race. I was spinning in the gym and thought I could give this a go as I’d had done 5k on the treadmill. I knew when I did it that it was for me.”
His training regime is simple and straightforward – 20 hours a week over six days. He’s made steady improvement and makes the best use of his training time. He’s learned that rest is vital, as is sticking to the plan. He’s also lighter, leaner, stronger and smarter. While the prospect of going for three-in-a-row next year is appealing, it’s not on the cards.
“I’d rather give six months now to something else and maybe come back in the future and do The Race again.”
There’s a few more boxes to be ticked in 2018. He’s doing WAAR in May, the Sheephaven Half Ironman in June and MAD in July before he prepares for the Berlin Marathon in September. With a personal best of 2:46, he’s hoping to go seven minutes better.
“I’d love to run 2:39. I’m going to put ten weeks aside and focus on Berlin. If the ten weeks training is good enough to do that, fair enough. If it’s not, sure I can come back and give it another crack.”
The six week deferral of The Race 2018 certainly didn’t hinder Marty’s preparations.
“I took a full week off and started to wind it back up again. I then did five weeks of good training.”
While his kayaking, hill climbing and running were all in hand, the poor weather meant he didn’t get as much biking done as he’d have liked.
“But I managed to do 1,200 kilometres on the bike over four weeks and that was a huge help,” he added.
Knowing the terrain and the territory he had to tackle was a key factor, too, as he’d familiarised himself with literally every corner in training over the winter months. The smart racer in Marty Lynch knew best when to open out and go full tilt.
More importantly, in the final analysis of a quite sublime performance, he knew when not to.