DIARY: Achill Island Half-Marathon

Tomorrow I'm going to Achill Island in County Mayo to do the yearly half-marathon with some of my colleagues. A little experiment of mine to check how my credentials work on the vaunted "flat" of road-running.
To see my pictures click here. (official pictures to be out Wednesday).

The Race
I had quite a great race, doing the half-marathon in 1:38:17, finishing 66th out of 608 runners, the furthest up a field I have ever been, and far closer to the leaders than I have ever managed in a mountain race (am I still a flat racer in bone and muscle???). Not bad for a first half-marathon on the roads (and first in general, since the Wicklow Way Trail is a 22.2km race), now I just need to work further on my base pace.

Since this was a spur of the moment, I had no goal for the half-marathon but set a target of 1:35 for myself. I'm satisfied being only 3 minutes off, as it was a slow route with a few climbs and heavy wind going in back towards the village of Keel.

Sharlene and Beronika, whom I was going on the trip with, also had impressive debuts doing it in 1:47 and 1:49, finishing no lower than 163 (hat off to the girls, I think there's real talent there, it must not be wasted!).
The Route
There was a good bit of ascent and descent, so the route was not a quick one. Unfortunately ascent grades were to shallow for me to use the mountain running techniques gained through the season, and a slight niggle in my right groin forced me to slow down around 9 miles, losing the group I was with and probably a good 6 places in the process.
Weather was good, only a few drops on the way, in fact, the heat was such that I used most of the waterstations on the road as shower facilities to keep cool, while I was gaining sustenance from my trademark waterbelt.

The Crusaders Connection
As I crossed midway, a familiar voice yelled "Go Renny, go Crusaders", and as I looked up I saw Geraldine O'Shea standing at the roadside, there to cheer on fellow Crusaders Mary Collins (94th), Eileen Hassett (327th), Mary Donnelly (374th), and Rachel Cinnsealach (471th).
Shane O'Rourke was sadly missing, and not there to repeat his impressive 6th spot from last year. Other runners were Martin Francis, a regular in the top-20 at the LL races, who came in 8th at 1:25.
Also running was a runner called BabyFatLegs O'Donoghue. What cruel parents...
In the battle of the sexes I came out quite well, being beaten only by 4 of the lady runners (before anyone accuses me of sexism, you have to beat the best female runners before you can beat the male runners, so this is a good measurement of progress!).
The Madman Approach
Now last time I heard the word madman was when my physiologist described my approach to training, but I had seen nothing yet. At around 4 miles a bald, broad-framed runner passed me by from behind, I-pod in his ears, and breathing like a locomotive that had been force-bred with a berserker.
I was wondering if anyone in that much visible pain could last another 7 miles, so I let him go on his way, and sure enough, at the next slight drop I could pass by him again. This repeated itself a few times. A few miles up, a runner catched up to me, and we exchanged a few words and it proved he had done the Sorrell Hill race the week before (sadly I forgot your name friend!).
As we we're chatting along, the berserker returned and ran alongside us for a while. Thinking it unfair that we should enjoy ourselves why he was killing himself, we decided to stop the conversation, swallow our sweets and rush off, further up the field.
I thought that was the end of our brave runner, but Sharlene later told me that some male runner pulled himself loudly yelping past her at the very end. Gave her a good ol' scare at that!
Playing it Unfair
Around 9 miles the earlier mentioned problem arose. My right groin was done, the long season of carrying me up steep hills coming back to haunt me. This was very inconvenient as I looked stronger than the other runners in my group. My heart had felt good throughout the race, and it almost seemed like my body just cannot yet produce a speed on the flat that will cause my heart any trouble.
Trying to deter any attackers, I was smiling, looking around, and even chatting supporters and the fellow runners in the group. While it definitely seemed to have a slightly demoralising effect on my fellow contenders for a few minutes, when push comes to shove, your legs must do the talking, and when we hit the last hill, I couldn't resist their push and had to fall a few hundred metres behind.
Once the hill was done with, though, there was nothing further that would stop me and I secured my 66th position unchallenged (meaning I needed not take stupid risks in a sprint).
Conclusion
I'll recommend Achill to anyone. The scenery is great, the route not too flat to be boring, and the crowds a as gregarious as they come (I remember many fellow incidents such as high-fiving a little girl after 8 miles).
In our rush to return to Dublin, I missed out on a pint one of my fellow runners was offering me, but perhaps I'll return next year to collect!
A good lesson learned for the Dublin Marathon and the winter cross-country season, now let's get back working on that base pace...

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