Wednesday 22 November 2017

The Endurance Crew

Running an ultramarathon requires strength of mind and body, dedication and a support crew. That's why Dublin-based fitness entrepreneur Asher Senyk says he has assembled a crack team to conquer the cruel Connemara course

Asher Senyk and Filip Filipov are training for the upcoming Connemara Ultra-marathon
Asher Senyk and Filip Filipov are training for the upcoming Connemara Ultra-marathon
Vicki Notaro

Vicki Notaro

Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to complete an ultramarathon? On April 12, a motley crew of first timers and race veterans will take to the starting line in Connemara to complete a 39.3-mile ultra through the wilds of Galway's west coast.

For Asher Senyk, running is a way of life. The 37-year-old Aussie native runs an athletics store, Run Logic, from Dublin's Temple Bar, and has been running marathons for 14 years with more than 60 under his belt. This will be his third time running the Connemara Ultra, and he's currently training with three friends and clients - two of whom have never completed this distance before.

"Barbara, Gavin, Filip and myself have come together in Dublin to train for the Ultramarathon and support one another," Asher explains. "Each person is unique in their preparation, planning and organisation. So far, there have been moments of hallucinations, joy, tears and some setbacks."

One of the setbacks Asher refers to is injury, as he is currently not training at full capacity.

"At the moment, I'm stretching, and cross training on a bike for cardio fitness. My body hurts, but I am determined to make the race and finish. I plan in doing a 10-day stretch of running twice a day (morning and night) to get myself up to scratch - we call this 'cram- training'.

My aim is to see the group finish the run on the day, but I want to relax and enjoy it, so I'm aiming for a lazy seven hours to complete it in."

Asher is a runner to his very core. "I started running many years ago as a teenager. My first memory of running was when I ran home from a party in Australia and when I got picked up by the police. They saw me running in jeans and DocMartens and thought I was in trouble, so they gave me a lift home. My mother was furious when she saw the police car!

"Most people think I am mad, even for the 50km training runs prior to the race. Someone said to me that I could just buy a t-shirt, it would be easier than running 40 miles to get one," he laughs.

Gavin Byrne is a first time ultra runner, and really looking forward to the challenge in Connemara.

The 27-year-old from Palmerstown in Dublin works as a heavy vehicle mechanic. "I've no children and I'm not married,which gives me lots of time to train and do as I wish!" he laughs.

"I only started running in May 2013 when I returned from Australia after travelling and living there for two years. I started to do training runs, just for something to do really, and soon realised I was improving almost by the day. "Before I knew it, I was running 10-15 km easily."

Without much thought, Gavin signed up for the Dublin City Marathon on a whim, his first competitive race. "I knew deep down I could nail it and I did - a respectable 3:31."

Since then, he's been bitten by the bug. "I don't put too much pressure on myself and I don't stick to a plan. I run because it clears my mind and I like a challenge, so I don't bother with a schedule. I just try run as much as I can, whenever I can. At the moment my biggest training run has only been 40km, but the main thing is I felt good after it... not sore and not too tired."

Gavin runs five or six days a week - one day doing intervals, two to three 10-20km sessions and then a couple of long runs, over 25km. That's the dedication it takes to be an ultra athlete, and Gavin is determined - so much so that he's considering the Wicklow Way Race, which is 127km.

Another first timer, 29-year-old Barbara Krute is a personal trainer and pilates instructor. "I generally love running and Connemara is my very favourite place on earth," she explains of her decision to undertake the ultra. "It's like sightseeing combined with my favourite activity!"

Like Gavin, Barbara started off slowly a few years ago, and built on her distances and speeds. "Every time, after every race, I said 'I want to do it again!'. Plus I wanted more of a challenge, so I decided to go for the Connemara Ultra which had been on my bucket list for a while."

Barbara is enjoying her runs with the boys. "It's more fun training with group of people that have similar passion and loads of positive energy. Also Ash is an excellent coach, and also very supportive when it comes to advice.

"I'm running four or five times a week, with mixture of long, short, fast and slow runs I also swim, practice yoga and pilates, and cycle, which benefits my running training. "My goal for Connemara is to enjoy the run from start to finish, and to stay mentally strong! Especially through the last hilly part of race."

Not content with resting on her laurels, Barbara has an ironman planned for September, and is using the ultra for endurance training.

For Filip Filipov, 29, from Bulgaria, it's all about a deep rooted love of the sport. "I was into mountaineering a few years ago, and was running just to keep fit for it. Gradually, after I started doing more runs on trails and in the mountains, I started loving running so much it took over my life and I gave up mountaineering!

"I've never been afraid of the distances, and finished my first ultramarathon before I did my first road marathon. For me, it's all about planning and being mentally prepared."

Filip has no set schedule for Connemara, but spends 10-15 hours a week running. "I don't know what Asher means about hallucinations, but on a few occasions, we do see flying pink ponies and get chased by UFOs!" he deadpans.

He also doesn't care about finishing time, because for him, it's all about fun. "Running ultramarathons, for me, is more about challenging yourself, rather than chasing time. That's the beauty of them! Just have fun, and have a beer at the end of the race."

One thing is clear from speaking to the group - they all have a shared vision and similar mentality when it comes to distance. While some might see running for so long as a sort of punishment, Asher and his gang use it as a barometer for self improvement, and enjoyment.

But just in case you're thinking he's some sort of robot or machine, Asher reveals his secret.

"I enjoy eating while running ultras - things like wraps, wine gums dipped in salt, and cans of cola. And I always run with a lucky charm on me, usually a stone that I've had 19 years from a beach in Australia.

"That rock has done ironmans, the Death Valley marathon and the Berlin Wall 100 mile!"

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