The Trail League continued this Wednesday, with the second of the 3 races that serve as the prolonged season "cooldown". Next Wednesday we finish off with the most glorious of the three races: Carrig Mountain.
But first let's turn our thoughts back to this Wednesday, and the 9.17km long race from Crone Wood carpark, starting point of the fearsome Powerscourt Ridge race.
At the Foot of Maulin
Maulin is an imposing little hill with it's characteristic forested Northside, standing proudly at 570m, and like Gandalf at the bridge in Khazad-Dum, seemingly saying "You cannot pass", as it guards the entrance to mighty Djouce behind it.
Today, we would not take in the 15km race over Maulin to wind-swept Djouce, instead we would follow the forest track from Crone carpark straight up north-west. The winding forest road is mostly gravel, solid underfoot when conditions are not too wet, like this Wednesday, yet difficult as the path weers ever up and down, climaxing in a steep climb for more than a kilometre before turning back to the carpark following the same way.
The Ballyross route is a much more traditional trail route than the wild foresty route at Glen of the Downs, with an ascent grade of only 5.9% and a 265m total climb. Of all the races I've done this year (can't believe it's already 28) only Howth has a lower average climb with 4.9% ascent grade, so in that respect Ballyross is perfect: simple, not technical, and not too steep, a beginner's dream.
For the experienced hill runner, the route is a bit of nightmare in other ways, it's simply too fast, any street runner or cross-country runner with tremendous pace is going to burst along on this, while more specialised mountain runners will find their options for attack limited (the uphills are not bad enough to "kill off" a street runner, and the downhills not technical enough to slow them down).
What the route lacks in roughness compared to Glen of the Downs it makes up in length, being 9.17km long instead of the (not so!) "measly" 7.26km we battled through the Wednesday prior.
And before we label this an easy run, be assured it's not: Less than 2km of the total 9km can be considered "flat".
Readers will have noticed that I love theorising about strategy of running. Some laugh at this, and I understand where they are coming from: After all few plans survive first contact with the enemy. Even worse, apart from Howth, all races have been unknowns to me, so how can you plan?
Planning for a run is actually not so difficult I find. Once you've raced enough races, you know more or less what a set amount of mileage and ascent will mean for you in terms of roughness. There are unknowns sure: Weather, terrain, ascent grade, but you can adapt pretty quickly to these as you go. This is were strategy turns in to tactics.
Last week, I wanted to make sure I pushed the boat all out. As I have mentioned before, I want to see my max baseline performance before we enter the long hard winter training. If you don't know where you are, you don't know where you're going. All navigators know this. Pure running is no different.
Since Ballyross is longer, I decided to start fast, but not as fast as last time. I had a complete breakdown on the 5th and 6th kilometre, running at an average HR of 188. If I pushed myself to that today, I would crash and burn.
Describing the tactics behind today's race got me so much carried away that I have decided to post this as a separate article (above).
The Race Report
I was driving down again with Sharlene from work, and while we managed to get "slightly lost" once again, a quick breath, a look at my 56 Discovery Series map, and some good fortune with guessing led us to Crone Wood carpark with enough time to spare to not only register, but to be savaged by midges.
I always thought there was no place for hate in my heart, but these tiny pregnant she-flies are quick changing my mind, and have replaced wasps as my least favoured insect!!!
I sneaked up alongside the front pack, with prying eyes keeping an eye on my regular rivals, such as Aoife, Mick Hanney, and Paul Hannon, and my "new" rivals (a sign of improvement!): Cormac, Joseph Connor, Jonathan Corrie, and Orla McAvoy. The dynamics are slightly different in the Trail League so far, the runners with cross-country and street backgrounds having a bigger relative advantage.
Off We Go
The start was fierce once again, and I must have started faster than I intended myself, as Gavan told me afterwards: "You went off like a greyhound!"
It didn't last long, though, as I decided to pace myself up the hills, hoping that the race would be decided on the 4.5km return (how mistaken I was!). After 2/3 of the way, I finally had to let go of a group consisting of Cormac O'Ceallaigh, Jenny McAuley, Ciaran Brody, Mick Hanney, and Rathfarnham's William Griffin.
I kept them well in sight for the reminder of the climb towards the turn, my pulse being well in orange at this stage. I had to make a decision: Stay in orange or push into red to close the gap on the descent?
Thinking the long descent would be sufficient to close such a small gap, I made the wrong call, stayed orange, and arrived at the turn just slightly ahead of Paul Hannon and Jonathan Corrie.
When I saw those two strong runners on the turn, I had no doubt that I would need to make haste going down, and was banking on my descent not letting me down. It's been a potent weapon this season, but has occassionally, and almost inexplicably, let me down from time to time.
I didn't get much off the top before Orla McAvoy came into sight, and moments later, another Crusader, my old rival Aoife Joyce. At this stage I could really let rip as the course offered it's only seriously steep descent of the day. Due to the easy terrain, this was a perfect place to pick up speed, but was also the point when I realised that it would be almost impossible to change the status-quo: The runners in front weren't getting any nearer, and neither were those behind me!
Running a bit further down to the flatter bit, I met Sharlene coming up, she shouted her greetings, but my heart was working to hard to respond with anything more than a hand gesture!
The rest of the race was in many ways as dry as the aforementioned Eighties band. Nothing really changed, and all you had to do was keep going at whatever top speed you had. The terrain would certainly allow it.
A little action came my way, though, with about a mile to go, David Comerford came into view in his characteristic red, and he looked like he had sold himself slightly too dearly on the way out. I knew how he felt, having combusted at last's weeks race, and as he I passed him by, so did Paul, Ben, Jonathan, John, Orla, and Brian. Tough fate to lose 7 places so clase to the finish!
The last bit was tough, I felt myself tiring slightly at this stage, but once it became clear that the finish was not far off, I upped the speed as much as I could, and almost caught William Griffin, closing the gap from a few hundred metres to a finish in the same time at the very line, registering myself as 24th out of the 115 runners.
Waiting in the Swarm
While it's generally nice to wait for your fellow runners, the midge swarms took some of the enjoyment out of it, and most runners coming over the finish seemed to be plastered in black smears of dead midges.
Not Sharlene, though, who emerged, looking strong on the shallow downhill slope at the finish. She finished 79th and improved her time relative to, once again, winner Derek Coogan of North Laois from 150% to 146%. Rumour has it she's out running Howth this weekend to get the hills firmly into her legs. Well, all us Howth lovers will know, she's chosen a good place.
Former Irish international Jenny McCauley took the women's title in front of my Crusaders Orla McAvoy and Aoife Joyce. With these two ladies back for next year, Crusaders should be able to give Clonliffe a serious run for their money in the club competition.
Jenny has shown in the past that she's close, if not quite at the level of Aisling Coppinger (yet?), will she have a go at the World Trial at Trooperstown Hill?
I'm can't help feeling slightly saddened that the Trail League is almost over. It's been great fun, and with the Leinster League gone and the Winter League for off, I'll miss these Wednesday speedfests.
It's not all doom and gloom, though, the Navigational Challenge awaits, I'm doing the 12k Marselis Run in Denmark during my holidays, the Rathdrum 5k, the Dublin Marathon, and hopefully a long winter of cross-country. So plenty to look forward to!
But first, bring on the beautiful scenery around Carrig Mountain.