DIARY: A Glory Day!

I don't particularly like the word "glory" because a) it's not what running is all about and b) it's just too strong to describe anything that can happen in athletics (or most anywhere else).

I'll use it for this entry, though, because not only was this Sunday a glorious day in terms of weather, from the nice cozy mistiness of the morning to the velvet pink rays of the sunset a s I returned from Wicklow to Dublin.

The day (originally!) had a simple program: Do the Rathfarnham 5k and see if the injury is really an injury or just an overuse strain. Well, I got a lot more than I hoped for, and I was not alone.

One Race, Multiple Goals
I had ganged up with Conor (once again!) and Sharlene for today's race. Conor wanted to break the 24 minute mark, this being his first "fast race" (meaning short and relatively flat), while Sharlene was just looking to do a decent run after her Baptism of Fire at the Dublin Novices Cross-Country yesterday.

There were many familiar faces there, Mike Long was marshalling after also running yesterday for Rathfarnham, while Eva Fairmaner was a very welcome "cheerleader" around the 4th K. To add to it, I ran into Jacqueline O'Hagan (ubiquitously known as "Jackie O'"), the ex-triathlete/come-adventurer racer for Sportsworld.

Jackie had two fair finishes in this race just above the 20 and 21 minute marks, and while she was eager to break the 20 minute barrier, she didn't think the amount of running she'd put in this year warranted any such optimism.

For myself, I wanted to do 19:50, maybe push it to 19:30. I had deducted this from my previous fastest on a similar course (last weeks 5.5k Paddy O'Dwyer Handicap Race), but felt it may be optimistic given my troubled week. You need stretch targets, though, so the plan was lay out hard, but not 100%, run smart, and try to push it at the end if necessary. Most of all, I wanted to see if any pain would come from that darn left calf.

The Race
Let me first send kudos to Rathfarnham WSAF for an excellent event, good organisation, nice route, and the possibility of watching yourself race and finish on video straight after!!!

Conor, Sharlene, Jackie, and I certainly enjoyed reliving the race, and a fierce affair it was.

As we took of, I wasn't taken aback by the speed, the Star of the Seas cross-country had done away with any naive notions of relative speed. I got off well, was breathing well, and while Jackie had started right next to me, I lost her immediately and didn't see her for the remainder of the race. This I took as being on track, she was expecting a 20-21 minute finish, so as long as I was ahead, I couldn't be too far of my own target.

Starting the race on a descent did me a real favour as it took the edge off the start-sprint (as you often go out hard, you find yourself struggling to find you own pace on the next few kilometres).

The Bushy Beast
The much maligned "ascent" on the 2 kilometre was nothing like the beast the tales had made it out to be, indeed it was like handing a hill runner a loaded gun. A lot of the speedier runners were starting to make headway on me as I found my more moderate pace, but the hill allowed me to use Keith Daly's "low gear" (tip-toeing!), and edge ahead of the challengers I had and into the curve for the long 1500 metres behind Bushy Park.

This was the roughest bit, there was a little bit of descent to provide me with a push, but the runners around me where making moves at this stage, and looked more accustomed to racing at this pace than I did. I just about kept my place, and overtook a young lad, 13 or 14 years old at most, who would later hobble in looking absolutely devastated. Too much pressure on young shoulders? Or just a freak injury?

The Run-in
The map of the course available on Rathfarnham's webpage warns that the start and finish are not in the same place, and Jackie pointed this out to me again before the start. This is critical, as you turn back left around Bushy Park, you feel a lot closer to the finish than you should.

Several runners where applying pressure on me at this stage, and I was feeling close to max, the old kettle wouldn't boil much hotter. I knew this, but this was not a time to let go, neither was it a time to sprint. I tried to find a Golden middleway, but was struggling. Defected I looked at my Garmin, expecting to see disappointment, but as the clock was showing only 17 minutes with a bit further to go, I knew a ground-breaking time (for me!) was suddenly within reach.

So encouraged, I kept at it, not allowing anyone to gain on me, and just as I looked able to enjoy a peaceful sprint to the finish, a tanned girl in black that I had overtaken on the 3rd kilometre, pounced past me in full sprint, not wanting to allow it, I just about countered the sprint in time and edged over the line first where I could let my lungs out in full burst.

Success All-Round!
As I caught my breath, I got the chance to chat with Mike Long, and rejoice at the race result: 18min 48secs, a Personal Best given that this was my first 5k run, but one I know I will struggle to beat for a long time. I have been looking for that "one great result" to spur me on in this hard time, and I feel this is it. This is an average minute time of 3:44min/km, my fastest ever in a race (which means I ran the race in exactly 6 minute miles). Even better, I ran my fastest first kilometre ever in 3:29 (the first, equivalent to a 5:36min mile), something I have only bettered with 3:27 on the Stepaside descent. "Awesome" as the Americans would say!!!

I quickly turned my attention back to the finish, as I knew Jackie couldn't be long coming, and right she proved me as she ran over across the line in 20:50, knocking 9 seconds off her previous best. She wasn't overly ecstatic, given the margin, but it all counts, 9 seconds or 30 seconds, progress is progress.

A few minutes later a big group was racing in, with Sharlene having a strong finish sprinting past a few other runners on the last 100m to record 23:35 and Conor following in close on her heelsr in a time of 23:50. Sharlene got her "decent race" (and much more than that in fairness, given that this was her second fast race in two days, truly impressive for someone relatively new to "racing"), and Conor comfortably beat the 24 minute barrier he had erected for himself in his mind.

So a successful day for all, which we duly celebrated with Powerade before we all universally frowning on the offered Tayto's chips (what kind of post-race serving is that? Fruit anyone? Well at least the Tayto's Monstertruck was a sight for sore eyes, should have bought one of those...).

After this we went for tea and cake in the Terenure College, greedily grabbed away at the free insulated mugs on offer, and then leaned back to admire ourselves on screen.

Wait...the Day isn't over!
This should have been the end of most normal runners Sunday, but oh no, it was not to be. Just before the race Jackie had suggested I join up and do the Orienteering down in Glendasan outside Laragh. Jackie is a relative novice to the sport, and I'm somewhere between imbecile and clueless with a compass, but something concerted me to think "frag it, let's do it".

So after a quick break, we dropped off Jackie's pink car, brought out the jeep, and roared off towards Laragh where we would arrive as some of the latest starters. With the able help of the marshals, among them Coleen, our Crusader's midweek Circuit Training torturer, we got off, pairing off to work our way through the 12 posts in what they told us was "the roughest orienteering course in Ireland".
The Borgmeister
As we ran off, Gavan came down from the shouting: "Ah there's the Borgmeister, I was wondering when you'd show up," right behind him followed everyone's favourite marshal, the senior of Clan Doherty, Brendan, and just to round-off the familiar faces, a well-known voice yelled: "Good luck René". As I turned, I saw Paul Nolan, looking his usual composed self at the car park.

It definitely had all the hallmarks of a good Wicklow Round Recce, sticky branches, mucky treacherous pits, steep drops, and endless boulders to be crawled under, over, and, well, circumvented.

The day started as it finished, though, apart from slight troubles on post 9 and 11, a combination of decent bearings, great eyesight, and hunting graft brought us all 12 posts home, and we enjoyed the rare luxury of a second post-race tea in one day at Lynhams of Laragh.

That the world of adventure sports is small was emphasised as we ran into Mike Long, relaxing in the lounge with his better half.

A tea, a Guiness black-currant, and plenty of chatter later, we turned back to Dublin. The end of a perfect day. Just the kind to remind us, that this active lifestyle beats off all the competition, if not for the fun, then for all the great friendships that are forged on the roads and trails.

That'll be my final words for the weekend, as a few Danish comedians would always finish off: "Goodnight and sleep well!" (emphasis on sleep).