RACES: A Day of Lessons - Carrick

Some concerns have been raised during the week about the length and complexity of today's Carrick Mountain route. It's a lovely run, but is it too long for a Winter league race, and does it take too much manpower to run without mishaps?

In the stark shine of hindsight the answer to both of those questions are probably yes, and I imagine, that come next year, a more streamlined, slightly shorter, version of the route will come into existence as the permanent "Carrick Mountain" fixture.

Race Preparation
I had looked over the route again and again this Friday eve, trying to pick the best strategy. Do you wait it out on the first climb, conserve your strength? Or do you attack?

The "wait it out" strategy employed at Trooperstown had served me well, but the more I stared at the profile, the more I realised it wouldn't work here. There was no second big climb towards the end to wait for. And there was little chance of catching the lads in front of me on the long final descent.

That meant doing what I dreaded most: Attacking a steep ascent. I like shallow ascents and have improved a lot on them, but every time I've been faced with a steep descent, it has wrecked my race. Donard, Cushbawn, Prince Willie's, Croagh Patrick, the list is endless...

There was no choice, however: Let strong men like Mike Long, Martin Francis, Tim Grummel, Niall McAlinden and all the others get away on that hill, and my descending skills would mean nothing.

The Week Before
This week had been suboptimal to say the least, with pretty much no training due to a strange virus, Tuesday and Thursday night, I returned home from work so exhausted I collapsed on my bed for 12 hours straight.

Even Friday evening, I felt off, and as I lay to sleep my heart was wobbling all over the place. Come the morning, though, I felt almost normal, a slight ache in my throat and stuffed nose where still to be felt, but my mood was good, my legs didn't feel overly heavy. Life was good.

Up We Go
The start at the foot of the serpentine track winding its way up towards the peak of Carrick was full of a good crowd of runners, almost a hundred, but missing some of the top runners we saw at Trooperstown, all occupied by the Senior Cross-Country in Belfast.

Eoin Keith was likely to wrap the WL up today, the most notable competitor being ex-Irish International, Bernard Fortune, who ran so strongly at last year's Connacht Championship where he had fascinating joust with Peter O'Farrell and Eoghan McKenna at Ben Gorm.

With the absence of Aisling Coppinger, Aoife Joyce was suddenly the lady's favourite, and another victory for her would mean edging within inches of the women's WL Trophy. A good crowd of women lined up to face her though, among them Maria MacCambridge's sister Tressa.

As the start went I went off hot on the heels of the leaders, and was today determined to stay there if possible. I felt surprisingly good coming up the first steep bit, and as I passed out Martin Francis, both of us walking hands-on-knees, I knew I was doing well. "What a pretty couple we make," I said as we hobbled upwards!

The Battle
The next few kilometres saw a fascinating battle between myself, Mike Long, Tim Grummell, Adrian Tucker, Colm Magee and a runner in red-and-white that I haven't seen before. Also with us was Paul Duffy who had narrowly beaten me at both Howth and Trooperstown, today, however, he seemed to spectacularly collapse once we got off the first descent and hit the flat.

As myself and Tim passed him by, he was reduced to walking, and didn't look like getting back into the race. I had passed out Tim and Mike Long on the first descent, but Tim burst away on the flat with an impressive sprint that immediately opened a huge gap. I hung in there, narrowly on the heels of Adrian Tucker and the runner in red-white, and I was feeling quite decent.

On the final flat ascent, I started to chew away at the runners in front of me, and as I passed Colm Magee we had quick words with each other and wished each other good luck for the remaining 6 kilometres of the race.

The Vicious Descent
This race is a descenders dream and we weren't far down the descent before I caught Adrian and Tim, I was then suprised to hear steps behind me and suddenly Colm Magee torpedoed past, half-screaming, flailing his arms.

I could meet the original acceleration, but kept my hard pace and stayed within a few metres of him for the remainder of the descent. This felt really good, Billy Bland once said: "People say I was reckless, but I was always in control." Know I knew how he felt, and me and Colm were catching Mathias Eckerle in front of us.

Then disaster struck.

The Mess
Today a lot of runners ran wild and ended up doing a 16k loop of the area, more runners managed to finish, but only after going wrong in several places, many losing as much as 4 minutes in the process.

A good 10 of us, where even less fortunate. Coming down in hot pursuit of Mathias and Colm, Niall McAlinden somewhere in front of us (he'd go on to finish an impressive 9th, with a resurgent Martin Francis right in front of him), I followed the two lads down the wrong descent straight back towards the finish. Tim and Adrian where pulled straight with us, and the race was over as we realised the mistake a bit later.

It was a silly mistake, and an annoying one, we where on course for a very strong finish, and I arrived over the finish line with little pain in my legs and energy enough to sprint around during my cooldowns.

As Alan Ayling said later though: "Patience". Today would have been my best result ever, no doubt about it, but I won't let the loss of that cloud the fact that I had a terrific ascent, that the planning went mostly well, and that this was on the back of a week curtailed by misfortune.

Even more, a good result would have led to complacency, now I feel a grim burning determination to put this behind me at Crone Wood. I feel the need to punish that race for my stupidity in this one. And I feel the need to go out and run my socks out till they bleed on the stones of the Dublin Peaks tomorrow.

Back to the Race
As expected Eoin Keith wrapped up the men's Winter League title with a fine win with Slovakian Ondrej Pijak a few minutes behind him.

Aoife Joyce was beaming as she secured her second win this year in front of Niamh O'Boyle and Tressan McCambridge. Jackie O continued her string of fine results securing a solid fourth.

Today I got within an inch of beating such great runners as Dermot Murphy, Rafael Salazar, Paul Duffy, Mike Long, and Martin Francis for the first time. While Mike Long was gracious enough to offer me the morale victory, I hope all of these fine gentlemen excuse me if I insist on a revanche at Crone Wood.

I have a feeling they will only be too happy to grant me that request...

They say you learn more from your mistakes and defeats than from your successes. Today I think that never a truer word was spoken...