THREE of Omagh’s finest endurance runners helped Ireland to a second successive victory in this year’s Four Nations Backyard Trophy.
Jill McCann, who was also involved in the home win at round one at Castle Ward, was joined by Trevor McFarland and Paul Kelly at the Cowshed BYU which took place in Stocksfield near Newcastle Upon Tyne where Ireland continued their winning run, completing 439 loops of just over four miles, compared to 359 from England, 358 by Scotland and 222 by Wales.
That achievement was all the more remarkable when you take into consideration the preparation, or lack of it in two cases, of the three Omagh participants.
McCann was coming off just a few week’s rest after her epic 48 hour run around the track at Youth Sport Omagh during which she completed almost 200 miles, while McFarland received just five weeks notice to prepare for the event, which was a luxurious amount compared to Kelly, who dropped everything at five hours notice after another Omagh runner, Richard Shannon had to pull out after recording a positive Covid test.
Despite their varying degrees of weariness and freshness, the trio did their bit to help Ireland achieve their goal with McCann and Kelly both completing over 60 miles – the former having to pull out due to injury – while McFarland achieved his holy grail in endurance running, by breaking the 100 miles and 24 hour marks.
“I completed exactly 100.8 miles, which has been my goal for a long time,” he beamed.
“It has eluded me for a couple of years but I managed to get over the 100 miles and 24 hours and to do it [during an Ireland win] was part of what made it so special because only four of us in the ten person team crossed the 100 miles.”
McFarland believes that, despite going into the event feeling like an ‘underachiever’ who had never broken 100 miles before, he was able to achieve his goal because he had trained during the winter for a similar event at Castle Ward.
“I was training but I wasn’t training for anything specific,” he explained.
“I was going out a few times a week to keep the legs ticking over but I had come out of a Backyard event in February that I had trained for over the winter, so there was a foundation there.
“That gave me a base fitness level so I could ramp up my mileage when I got the call to go to England.
“But such was the quality of the field, I went over feeling like an underachiever, so it was probably what pushed me on to push through the pain to make sure I wouldn’t let the team down.”
While McFarland was delighted with his result, the same can’t be said for McCann, who suffered an ankle injury which forced her to retire around the 60 miles mark, while the late-comer, Kelly, who has previously completed the Fire and Ice challenge in Iceland, saved the day for Ireland.
“Jill was gutted but she couldn’t go on,” McFarland acknowledged. “She rolled her ankle a couple of times and it swole up on her.
“But Paul played a blinder and got a PB as well, covering 16 hours, creeping up on 70 miles.
“Paul would be very mentally strong and he really pulled us out because we’d have been going over there a man down and his 16 loops probably made the difference between us winning and losing.”
Like many endurance runners, who start out running the same distances as mere mortals like the rest of us, McFarland soon found he needed to go further and longer and that’s what led him into the world of the Backyard Marathon and Last One Standing races that sees participants having to cover a 4.167 miles course every hour for as long as they can or until there is only one runner remaining.
“I’ve only been running ten years and I started with 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons and then that wasn’t enough so I went into marathons and then it got to the point they weren’t enough either, so I started entering 50Ks and then the next thing these Backyard and Last One Standing events started appearing and I thought ‘that looks easy on paper, let’s give these a try’,” he explained.
“Florencecourt in 2018 got me to my first 50 miler and then it was a case of wanting to get more out of myself until I got to the point where I wanted to get 100 miles, I wanted to last for at least 24 hours and that eluded me until this year.”
And while he’s delighted to have cracked the 24 hour mark, he admits he won’t be challenging the world’s top exponents of the art who push into 70 and 80 hour territory.
“It’s a case of longer distance and slower pace,” he added. “I remember reading about these events and thinking it sounded easy but it’s not until you’re there and the hours start to build up that you realise how hard they actually are.
“The Belgian guy, a dentist I believe, held the record for 72 or 77 hours [312 miles in 75 hours] but then a guy in the UK, John Stoker, last year, he went for 82 or 84 hours [337 miles in 81 hours], but I think the world record now is back with the Americans and they have done close to 90 hours [Harvey Lewis did 85 laps and 354 miles], which is savage.
“I don’t know, but I was struggling with sleep deprivation at around 20 hours. Obviously we were up six hours before the event started so I had been awake for 26 hours at that point and I like my eight hours sleep every night!”
Due to work and family commitments, Trevor is unable to compete at round three of the Four Nations Backyard Trophy in Wales next month but he and Shannon are both hoping to run in Scotland at the final round at the end of July when they hope Ireland will be crowned champions, if not before!
“It was a mighty experience and I just hope I get selection for the Scotland one because I would really love to do it again,” McFarland concluded.
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