RACES: Dublin Intermediate Cross-Country

Another day, another race, seems to be the theme of the year, and today I had a frantic pre-race preparation as I prepared to take on the Dublin Intermediates.

See the pics here. (I'm the white dot behind Mike on most photos)

After getting a few hours sleep after our running of the Wicklow Way Trail route yesterday, I had to pick a friend up at the airport at 01:00. He was only over for a connection flight, so after a glass of wine and a bit of chatter about the folks at home, we both crashed dead at 3 and got in a good 6 hours of sleep before I had to drop him back.

Coming home again, well knackered, I went back to sleep, and almost left it too late. As I rushed off to Tymon Park, everything went wrong. I couldn't find the race in the park, no one could find the numbers lady, and I was running around like a headless chicken trying to get registered for the race.

A Lone Crusader
Having had three teams at the Novices, I had been hopeful that we'd be able to field another team for the Intermediates, but with a lot of focus on the marathon, and many feeling the two races are too close together, I turned up as the only runner from our Ringsend-based club.

That I was not running for team points turned out to be a good thing (later!), but at the moment my concerns were more simple: I still had no number, so with a few minutes to go, I sneaked into the back of the field, and hoped to run along unregistered.

There was several familiar faces around, I shook hands with Keith Daly (a recurring tradition at these x-country races it almost seems), and said hello to the many Rathfarnham runners, among them much of the cream of Irish Mountain Running: Barry, Peter, Gerry, and Turlough, and not to forget, Mike Long, of which much more will be told later!

Rathfarnham would go on to finish 3rd in the club standings, and Barry in particular would have an outstanding race finishing 6th.

Thrown to the Wolves
I arrived at the race fully mentally prepared to finish last. Not only did I only look at the field for a few brief moments to realise that there was some real quality here from top to bottom, but the heavy training of the recent weeks is not well tailored for this sort of racing.

Mountain Runners are always compared to all kinds of animals: cougars, goats, Helvellyn cats, and maybe even sheep! My favourite animal has always been the wolf, and I fancy myself to be one of those solitary, impossibly skinny wolves, that you see stagger out of the Canadian Northern Territories.

Today, I felt less the wolf and more thrown to the wolves, though. I decided I'd try and start out easy. Going for a time of about 43 minutes seemed realistic. If the race was indeed the allotted 10km, that would give me 4:30 splits, something I felt was achievable over what seemed a relatively flat course.

Back of the Pack
As the gun went, my predictions did not take long to come to fruition, I was following Mike Long, with a few runners behind me, for half a lap, but going into the end of the first lap, I looked back: And saw no one!

Before the race, Turlough said about my missing race number predicament: "Just look at the runner behind you, memorise his number, to get your time."

To this I replied: "Today there may very well not be anyone behind me!"

It seemed he was right, but I was somewhat consoled by the fact that I felt I went of steady enough (which later, once I Garmined the route, turned out not to be true, as I did the first lap in 3:45 and 3:52 min/km while my worst was the 8th kilometre where I dropped to 4:20min/km).

Thanks to the Support!
Most of the credit for the race result will go to the fantastic support along the route. To Jackie who stuck around for a few laps to cheer me on, and to Karen Duggan who had several combative cheers in store for me as we went round-and-round on the tough 5 laps of Tymon Park.

Add to this Gerry Brady, who seemed to be everywhere on the route, and must surely have run further than us doing the race. Again and again, he spurred me on to take up the fight with Mike Long, who had opened a gap on lap 2 and 3, and whom I only narrowly surpassed for a brief spell on lap 4, before finally breaking free midway through lap 5.

At this point, though, neither Mike nor I were fighting it out for last, several had fallen behind us, and one guy nearly seemed to stop and stagger into the hedgerows as we caught him on the final third of lap 5.

Smart Running, Stupid Finishing
Every lap features small ups and downs, the most disheartening being about 400m of slow ascending to a very short, but very steep contour in the park. Every time we hit this hill my speed dropped close to a walk, the 700m of ascent from yesterday's race chewing chumps out of my legs like a blood-crazed shark.

The final time, though, I felt I had left myself with just about enough, and with Mike in hot pursuit, I took two runners, barged up the hill to more encouragement from Gerry, yelling: "Go for one more," as a Clonliffe runner was suddenly within touching distance.

As I turned towards the 600 or so metres to the finish, I quickly abandoned that brief hope, though. The legs would hold to a small short sprint, but not a lengthy, so I found my pace, and fought to keep the battling Mike at a distance.

I was well satisfied at this point, I had run clever, kept myself, now all I had to do was finish the job...

Motorically Handicapped
I have oft mentioned that the above title was labelled onto me by my first gym teacher as she had to explain her concerns to my parents (thus prompting my dad to wheel my sisters into handball and football, as he quickly realised that his bookish son would be a wash-out in all those disciplines).

While it might have been harsh judgement on an 8-year-old, I've clearly always had problems with any sport that involves any kind of skill. Our Crusaders coaches had arrived early in the race, and yelled to me that they had my number, I just had to make sure I would catch it going in on the last lap.

As I saw the number fluttering before me in the wind, I slowed down, so much that the distressed coach yelled: "Keep going Rene!" Well, I can't catch and run at the same time, so by the time I realised that I had Mike Long on my shoulder, I barely had enough time to react.

I countered the sprint just in time, though, but in my confusion fairly ran straight into the plastic side-lining, completely missing the entry gate to the finish. As I looked back to the right, Mike stormed over the finish, and all I could do was jump side-ways in to finish a second later.

Normally, such a blunder would leave me kicking myself, but with no team points at stake, I'm happy to label it under "learning experiences", and make sure I don't make a similar mistake again.

"We'll call it a draw," said Mike, and fair-play to him for I dare say my result would have been a lot worse if not our battle of endless back and forts had kept my pace up during most of the race.
38th out of 45 was the net result, in a time slightly below 44 minutes, a slightly worse position than the Stamullen race earlier this month (35th out of 45), but I ran the 10k in the same pace as the 6k then in the Star of the Seas race. This leaves me looking forward to shaking the marathon training out of my legs, and really work on my pace throughout the winter. Speed is fun! (disclainer: Not the drug!)

My time is 21% slower than the impressive 36:12 win time of C O'Leary from Raheny (who repeated their Novices triumph with this victory), but I'm well pleased to have finished within 15% of Barry Minnock, who has generally trashed 28-35% out of me in the mountain races.

The obsessively perfectionist side of me still wishes it could have written 37 into the Excel sheet of my Race Statistics today instead of 38, but as Tony Kiernan said so well at the finish: "Ahh, will you stop you." And so I will, good race, great weather, fantastic crowd, and a good finish, made this an altogether enjoyable outing, and a mistake like this will serve me well in the future as a permanent reminder that you cannot leave your eyes from the ball even for a second at this level of running.

The Mountain Women
There was more to mention about our mountain running women today, than the great support I got from the likes of Zoe, Karen, and Jackie. Karen showed once again that she's on a real up-turn curve in her form, and finished a strong 10th. Clare O'Sullivan, whom I hadn't had the chance to catch up with for a while, is now a "Clonliffer" and showed good promise for the coming season with a fine 22nd finishing spot out of the 42 runners.

Also Jackie O had a good run, finishing 18th and helping her Sportsworld claim the women's Bronze. Well done all, with our own Crusaders ladies also in strong form, the mountains won't be safe next year as competition heats up!