The loneliness of the long distance runner

Keith Whyte in action for Ireland

“Mission accomplished. Two ultras (Longford & Dingle) in six days, two wins and a European Number 1 ranking over 50 miles. Not a bad weeks work.”
September 2012, Dingle

THE above slogan was penned by Keith Whyte in his blog just after he added the Dingle Ultra-Marathon title to the Longford one he won, two remarkable victories that put the seal on the greatest year of his, still very young, athletics career.
That he neglected to say in his post that these exploits also brought with it the added recognition of being the number two 50-mile runner in the world. Maybe the omission was down to tiredness on his part – after all he’d just run over the Connor Pass, the three mile trek makes it Ireland’s highest mountain pass to Dingle and he hadn’t even reached half-way, while then there was Slea Head and another 26 miles to contend with before he staked home in a course record and under the 6 hour barrier.
Remarkably, however, even these exploits in Dingle and Longford and the European and world rankings that came with them weren’t even the highlights of Keith Whyte’s 2012 year.
These were the add-ons – the wins at the tail end of a season that had been tailored for events longer than 50 miles.
“There were a number of highlights during the year,” recalls Whyte, “with the big one winning the Anglo-Celtic Plate in July. It was special.
“At the start of the year I was gearing up for the World Championships in April and once that was over I was looking to the Anglo-Celtic Plate. We were hoping to win the team event, but unfortunately on the day we couldn’t field a team and I was the only Irish competitor in the race.
“The Worlds went well for me – we set a new Irish team record and finished sixth in the world, which was the highest ever placing by an Irish team in ultra-running. Individually I came 31st and I was very happy with that, but to become the first Irishman to win the Anglo-Celtic Plate was really special,” he adds.
Whyte’s journey to become one of the world’s elite ultra runners began in 2008 when he ran his first Dublin Marathon, having linked up with the Clare Crusaders – not with ultra running in mind, but just fitness.
“For me starting out running was just about getting a healthier lifestyle,” he reveals. “I was only off the cigarettes and it was just about being healthier and there was no real competitive side to it at all. I just did it for charity to try and get fit. Then when you start running, it gets addictive and you just carry on from there. I just came on from year to year,” he adds.
Without question 2012 was his greatest year thus far. In the World and European 100k Championship in Seregno in northern Italy, Whyte’s time of seven hours 25 minutes ensured that he was the third Irishman home.
“It was a year when I was really focused on the Worlds and Europeans in April and after that just took things as they came – race by race and I got some great results out of it,” he reveals.
The Dingle triumph which bookended his remarkable year, with Whyte’s blog entry about the experience making for amusing reading. “I finished work at 6pm on Friday evening and then made the journey for Dingle,” he revealed.
“I was staying in a hostel six miles west of Dingle and arrived shortly after 10pm and was greeted by the owner who offered me a cup of tea. I politely declined explaining I would try get some sleep as I was running in the morning. The woman seemed amazed to hear that I was running the Ultra. She continued to state that I didn’t look like a runner, never mind an ultra runner. I didn’t know if I was supposed to be offended or flattered by this remark. When she asked how I expected to do, I told her I would win. She laughed and said good night,” he added.
After rising at 4.30am for the 7am start, the last laugh was on Whyte as he smashed the course record by 23 minutes for what Whyte described as “a fantastic day and remarkable achievement”.
And there’s the promise of more to come as Whyte gears up for 2013, goes through a pair of running shoes nearly every eight weeks on this training runs that can take him into every corner of Clare.
“The Anglo-Celtic Plate is on in Scotland in March and I would be hoping to defend my title in that. Then there is the European 100k Championships in April and the World 100k is in October. My year will be based around those three races,” Whyte reveals.
Just before embarking on another training run.


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