RACES: Wicklow Way Trail 2008

I had just parked the car at the nether car park on the slopes of Lough Tay, the "Guiness Lake". Sharlene had gotten out and run off to help the organisers get the day's classic race on the way. Like me, she was stricken with a sprained ankle, and while worse than mine, I was thinking: "Why did I drive all the way down here? I'll last a mile, at best. Maybe to the first descent, but no further."

Many hours later I would sit in my car pondering how much I would have regretted not running and how I would surely be labelled "Hypochondriac of the Year" at the Autumn prize-giving. Behind me lay the Wicklow Way Trail, beaten and battered into submission, like a slain dragon.

And I had no idea how I had gotten from start to finish...

The Dragon of Wicklow

One of the most traditional fixtures of the IMRA calendar, the Wicklow Way Trail, and its big brother, the Wicklow Way Ultra (the out-and-back equivalent) has awaited eager hill runners every April since 1998, when Maurice Mullins of Crusaders laid out the route.

The 22.2 kilometre route stretches serpentine from the dark waters of Lough Tay to the darker pints of Johnnie Foxes, taking runners over three major climbs and several minor as well as long stretches of fast descent on fields, on rocks, and on forest trail. The Wicklow Way Trail has races in the race, some days it seems to go on forever, one part giving way to another like chapters in a book. And some days it flies past leaving you wondering if you just completed the toughest 10k of your life?

The run lies as a buffer between the Winter League and the Leinster League, and it’s hard not to be drawn to its illustrious history. Who will ever forget the thrilling duel of 2005, for instance? Even those of us who weren’t there are captivated by the tale.

Then there are the many untold stories, that may never be told, why did Aisling Coppinger DNF the ultra in 2006? What caused Beth McCluskey’s assault on Mary Jennings’s record on the same route to falter that year? Would Barry have broken the record if he had taken any drink or sustenance during his 2007 run, or would he have bettered his eventual result?

Lough Tay

The wind was mild and the skies did not look too ominous as I did my lengthy warm-up around the slopes of Lough Tay. Star jumps to check the strength of the ankle, short descents down the rocks to see how the angled stroke of my foot against rock would feel.

“Are you going on an expedition,” Sean would now, looking at my North Face backpack.

He had a point; last year’s sweltering heat had caused most of us to be brought to the point of utter despair, even I, who had carried two litres of water with me. The route featured water stops, though, and Maura offered to take my bottles and my gel to Crone Wood.
Suddenly it felt like I was carrying a load of rocks, I felt trapped, heavy, and clumsy. I rushed to the car, disposed of the offending bag, leaving myself armed only with a windbreaker and a pair of gloves. The ankle could lose its ability to run within the first kilometre or midway. Keeping warm without it would be difficult, I reasoned.

Mike Long, who has arranged the race with Lindie Naughton for the last many years, strutted up in front of the gathered mass of runners. As we awaited the start Eoin Keith, first of the ultra-runners, made his way through the crowd to the turning point. Somewhat later, more would follow, none looking dangerously tired. Big applause rose for Rachel Cinnsealach, who had started out at 9am that same morning, and was planning a 6.5-7hour finish time.

As Mike laid out the route and gave final instructions, the field prepared to head up the board works that lead the Wicklow Way up over White Hill before turning west to the side of Djouce and then back North towards Maulin and Crone Wood car park where the first refreshment would be found.

I was going to run. Now I was sure of it. Perhaps I had been all the time.

“RenĂ© isn’t sure he’s running,” Sharlene had told Jackie and Paul a bit earlier in the car. The bursts of laughter apparently embarrass her still!

The Contenders
Mike Long took his place in the field. He would be one of the front runners today, having run the race well below 2 hours on many occasions, and once, broken the 1:50 barrier which is usually reserved for the top-5 runners, sometimes, in year’s which super-strong fields, such as 2005, the top-10.

The names of those, who have broken 1:50, read like a “who’s who” of IMRA over the last decade: Paul Mahon, Bernard Fortune, John McEnri, Martin Francis, Shane O’Rourke, Gerry Lalor, Kevin Grogan, Turlough Conway and more. Those who have broken 1:40 are the names of winners and champions such as Paul Nolan, although some years, not even the winner of the Trail could pass that second barrier.

Looking around the field, I knew I wouldn’t see last year’s winner, Barry, who was resting for club duty at the next day’s road relays. Nor any other of recent year’s other champions: John Farrelly, Gerry Healy, Colin Dalton, or WL M40 winner Colm Rothery. Two other past champions were not quite so absent: Adrian Tucker and Martin Francis, making their way to Lough Tay contesting the Ultra.

There was plenty of quality in the field, though, Peter O’Farrell, winner of last year’s Scarr race was there. So was Aaron O’Donoghue, an almost permanent fixture in the top-5 of IMRA races, and their regular training partner John McEnri.

Many of my own current and recent rivals were there too: Gavan Doherty, Mick Hanney, Cormac O’Ceallaigh, William Griffin, and newer runners such as Jason Kehoe, who like me, had only joined the mad world of hill running in 2007.

Women’s record holder Emma Sokell had recovered from injury, and, of course, there was Aoife Joyce, here to defend her victory in last year’s roasting heat.

Almost without warning, the start call rang out, and the stampede started. Before I knew it, I was on the board walks, I saw figures disappearing in the distance, but couldn’t make out how many. In front of me I saw Sean Hassett and a runner I didn’t recognise, then Cormac O’Ceallaigh, and then further up Mike Long.

My uphill stride felt slightly forced, but my breathing was strong. Then I heard Gerry Brady’s voice ringing out from my memories: “You must get Mike Long”. I jumped off the board walk past Sean, then Cormac...

A Mental Race
Last year had been a thrilling spectacle in many ways. Endless duels with other runners, pulling away on the downs, being eaten up again on the ascents. Then the terrible blow-up on the middle section: Was I even running then? Then, renewed energy, before complete collapse on the cruellest feature of the race: a 2.5km slog on hard tarmac on the roads of Glencullen to Johnnie Foxes’.

No matter where you are in this race, and who you run against, overestimating your own capabilities can have devastating effects on your race. Blow-up midway and you’ve got a long way home, a very long way.

Run your heart out on the first ascent, and perhaps Curtlestown will break that same heart as its 3km of steady ascent rises up as a shield-wall between you and your goal in Dublin. A runner must know himself, he must know the route, and he must have the luck of the draw on the day.

Before my injury, I had set an ambitious target of breaking 1:55, 18 minutes better than my time of 2:13 the year before. Now I just wanted to see how far I’d last.

“Why was I running?” It didn’t make much logical sense. Even if I succeeded, my injury would almost certainly be aggravated? But I knew the answer, I wasn’t there to test my physical abilities, I was there to test my mental abilities.

Two weeks after the race, the much grimmer challenge of the Three-Peaks in England awaits me, and I didn’t feel ready.

And then there was the matter of chancing it. When a hill runner get’s injured he sometimes looses a bit of his edge, especially on the descent. Memories of the pain, and much more importantly, the time off running, stay back to haunt you. You lose 10%, and don’t find a way to get it back.

You also wonder: “Will I take the chances necessary to compete? Or will I only be able to play it safe?”

I had recently read the captivating “Duel in the Sun” where Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar ran each other into obliteration at the 1982 Boston Marathon, and noticed the trend of all great champions: a determination bordering on madness.

So I had to run. To kill any anxiety, to prove to myself that I would take the chances necessary to move upward as far as my abilities will let me. The foot can heal; a tamed runner may never regain his edge. I was here to break a mental barrier and eradicate all fear before Three-Peaks...

It was surprisingly lonely on the boardwalks, I had overtaken Cormac at the foot of White Hill, and now only Mike’s distant figure lingered in front of me. The other lads had to be way ahead, whoever they were. Peter, and Aaron certainly, but who else?

Coming off the first small knoll had been tricky; I had jumped clumsily from step to step, forcing my left leg forward to take the blunt of the impact and save the right. It was ironic that my weaker left leg, with three injuries to its name, had to carry me through today. Was this nature’s way of restoring equilibrium? Or to remind me that no place is it more true that the weakest part of the chain determines its strength than in the human body?

The flat part of the boardwalks passed by, as I made way for a few ultra runners on their way out, then a slight rise in the contour of the route.

“Is there some kind of race going on,” a hiker asked.

“The Wicklow Way Trail,” I answered, as if he should know what it was, then I turned North off the boardwalks onto open trail, protruding rocks dotting the path ahead of me. This was where my fears would start, could I run this sort of uneven terrain?

Cormac could not be far behind, and I was sure a big group of fast and wiser runners, who had gone off conservatively, where just waiting to reel me in. In my mind I pictured a big pack of them, 5-10 looking strong and at ease as they closed in. I had to be in 8 or 9th position soon that could worsen considerably....

Another Salazar
I jumped off the boardwalks and jumped straight onto the rock-strayed earth. It didn’t feel so bad. Then I accelerated. Still not so bad. Where was the best, the most even spot to land? My brain kept computing away.

As I ran along the side of the ridge, also part of the Powerscourt Ridge race, I kept thinking focusing on good spots for me right foot. And I waited, anxiously, for the big sloped rock that cuts across the path at midway before you hit the softer grassier slope coming off Djouce.

Back during a recce in October, I had tried to jump on top of the rock and onwards back on the track, only to see my foot slide and then, seconds later, to kiss the granite. I wasn’t looking to repeat that today, so as the rock neared, I simply walked past it, so much for chancing it...

A few seconds lost, but today I couldn’t risk it. Then came the soft part of the descent, this part becomes almost unrunnable in wet conditions. My thoughts wandered back to the last recce I had done with Cormac, Maura, Niamh, Dee, Sarah, Paul, and Aoife. Most had fallen several times here, and I had slipped once myself.

Your ankles jolt and buckle as the soft ground gives way to the force generated by long strong downhill strides. A buckle too strong or too forceful a step, and I knew my ankle tendons would snap like twigs. I ran as hard as hard as I dared; it was quicker than I had hoped, but not as fast as I knew I could go.

The other runners had to be upon me any minute now. Suddenly a runner dressed all in black rushed past (I would later realise this was Raphael Salazar), but to my relief he was all alone. No pack of wolves fell upon me.

Hurt pride flared up. I will not be beaten on this descent, a voice howled, and I sped up as far as I thought the ankle might hold, only once did I hit a rock too hard, too angled, and winced in pain. But it was a false alarm, the four layers of tape strapped around it held firm.

The anger had worked, as we emerged on the rocky path to the Dargle River, the distance between us had all but vanished. Keep this and attack on the descent of Maulin. The race had started to feel like a game of chess.

Playing it Right – The Story of 2005
Planning, preparation, training, and luck all play a vital part in the Wicklow Way Trail, and any other longer race (indeed any race if you plan to do really well in).

I had recceed the route more than any other route I have run. It was a regular training run in my marathon preparation; I would run it with Brendan Craig in about 2:15, only narrowly slower than my race speed back in early 2007, and we would be in good shape coming back (apart from a medical scare during one of our runs which does not deserve to be recounted here).

Only three weeks earlier, the same route had inflicted a spectacular physical collapse on me. On the day after Crone, I had set out with a big group, taking it handy, only to see myself blow up and lose the ability to run at around kilometre 16. I had eaten enough, not run too hard, yet the route had reduced me to walking even the downhills. On that day, it would take me 2hours and 44 minutes to complete the route.

No year was this more true than the legendary 2005, when Richard O’Donnell of Tulla, winner of Tibradden and Nephin, soared into an early lead only to get lost and finish 5th in 1:45:57 (the year after, his time of 1:47 would earn him second place behind Barry Minnock).

Kevin Keane, who had a fantastic 2005 season, winning 7 races, that year’s Winter League, and finishing runner-up to Paul Nolan in the Leinster League, looked like the new favourite after the Dargle River, until he sprained his ankle and had to retire from the race.

This opened the door to Barry Minnock who held a comfortable lead until his Walshes fell to pieces. While his challenge faltered after this, he would go on to finish 7th in 1:46 driven forward only by his bare feet, and perhaps this experience hardened him enough to win the 2006 race and then lowering the record by more than 20 secs with his 1:32:20 run in 2007.

Now it was up to Irish international Sean O’Heigeartaigh, who had barged onto the scene in 2005, winning the World Trial in front of Kevin Keane and the 2007 Irish Champion Eoghan McKenna. He was closely chased by the then relative newcomer Alan O’Keefe of Crusaders.

The drama of the day would know no end, however, as the two men looked locked in one-on-one joust on the roads of Glencullen, John Farrelly, the current chairman of Rathfarnham, came out of nowhere, having timed his run to perfection and snatched victory from the despairing Sean who had to concede defeat with only a 23 second margin. Just a little more than a second per kilometre ran on the day. Alan would finish 3rd .

Present Day
I didn’t know that in front of me, in third place, ran a man who had witnessed this drama first-hand: John McEnri, who had gone on to finish fourth that year in an impressive 1:44:53.

Maulin had hurt me more than I expected, Mike Long had been back in sight, but my challenge had faded as I was reduced to power-walking parts of the steep ascent. I had overtaken Raphael Salazar, but what was better news: The trickiest descent was now behind me. I had come over the hard steep rocks leading to the Dargle River in one piece, without conceding too much time.

Within 500m of running into Crone Wood, I started to recover, and the longer I ran without seeing anyone passing me by on the speedy fire-trails the more my confidence grew.

The weather was heating up with the race, so I tore off my gloves, wind-proof and heart rate monitor (which had slid annoyingly down around my stomach). A kilometre later I arrived at Crone Wood car park where a quick-thinking helper took my extra belongings while I snatched water and a jelly-baby from the replenishments on offer.

Where were Maura and my gel?

Zoe Melling yelled: “Mike is not far ahead.” To Hell with the food, I’d have to finish this without it. I turned right on the road and stormed off.

The Ultra
Had an unknowing bystander looked at the race they would have wondered how a small group of hardened stout men and women, many in their 40ies and 50ies, would linger so low in the field?

Little would they know that the faces of adventure racers like Bob Boles, the indomitable Martin Francis representing County Wicklow and Sli Cualann, as well as Roisin McDonnell, were the faces of runners undertaking twice the distance as the rest of the pack.

While relative newcomers Jason Reid of New Zealand, and North Belfast man Jim McCormick would not trouble Eoin Keith (who’s old rival Paul Mahon, was side-lined with a cruciate ligament tear), they stayed neck-on-neck for long spells, until Jim, perhaps with his greater experience as an M40, opened a 5 minute lead he would keep till the end.

That age does not impede the ability to run far could be seen: 11 of the 18 runners to complete the challenge had reached their 40th year, 3 of the 11 were older than 50.

IMRA chairman Tony Kiernan, training for his Gobi challenge, would finish a strong 13th (hopefully not jinxed), and much applause greeted Rachel as she completed her out-and-back traverse in 6 hours 1 minute, much faster than she had hoped.

“Her little feet were almost standing still 2/3 through,” Conor Murray related, “but she must have picked up her strength again.”

One amongst them, though, kept ahead of most of the pack, running machine Eoin Keith, who has so far celebrated his entry into the M40 category by winning the Winter League, finishing third in the Connemara Ultra, and this year, utterly unchallenged, wrapping up his 4th Wicklow Way Ultra in the years since he set the record of 3:21:20.

His win today would bring his race miles up to 105km within 6 days, after his third place finish as Connemara Ultra the Sunday past.

Sheep and Tarmac

I’ve learned much more about sheep than I ever expected to in my time in Ireland, so I had to throw a curious glance at the horned animals lingering lazily as I ran up the only field of the race towards the Youth Hostel. They looked harmless enough, but I kept my distance not wanting a sheep-related incident to scupper my momentum.

Diarmuid had cheered me on a bit earlier: “Jaysus, you are going well.” With that in my mental backpack I fought and battled the steep steps that waited and then the merciless gradient that leads the grassy field to a tall metal gate. My legs were rancid as I crawled over. I didn’t bother looking back out of fear that I’d be depressed...

Then came a short spell of tarmac, but also Lindie, taking photos, to break the monotony, and even better, there was Maura with water and my gel. I was to knackered to thank her properly (thanks Maura!) for making the effort to catch up with me later on the route and ahead lay the steepest climb of the day as I turned North again up a broken, messy path of earth and grass.

“Don’t stop now,” two hikers cried as I slowed to a walk trying to digest my PowerBar gel.

“ M’I’m mnot, mI’m eatin’,” I mumbled. Then I realised I had nowhere to throw the litter for the next long while, ran back to the hikers and asked if they would take it. Thankfully they obliged me.

As I’d turned back I saw Raphael walking upwards in a slow trod, and behind him a mysterious runner in red. Who was he? Jason Kehoe?

I turned and moved upwards again, but it felt painfully slow, and my legs were still soaked in acid.

Finally the climb relented, and there was the wider, flatter path ahead of me. Stupidly I turned up right, but after ascending for a minute or so, I realised my mistake and turned back just in time to keep ahead of the chasing pack.

Then came a glorious long descent, relief poured into my legs even as trail made way for tarmac that pounded through my Trailfoxes into my two injured feet. That didn’t matter now, only the finish mattered, and Mike Long. Where was Mike Long?

Curtlestown – Heartbreak Hill
Dick Beardsley had tried to break Alberto Salazar on the famous “Heartbreak Hill” in Boston, and failed, to the detriment of both runners. The Wicklow Way Trail has its own heart-rendering ascent and in a similar place: Close enough to the end that it can win you the race, but not so close that you can afford to misjudge it.

As I was running through Curtlestown towards the Curtlestown Wood car park, my mind flashed back to last year’s boiling cauldron and I remembered the nice lady who had sprayed us with water. This year, I saw Paula Rea and Mary, and quickly grabbed a bit of water, but ignoring the food. There was no time. Mike had to be somewhere.

Feet striking rock rang out in a familiar pattern behind me and I looked back: The runner in red was none other than Mick Hanney and he had passed out all others chasing me, a monumental performance considering he had broken his own PB for the marathon at Connemara only 6 days earlier in 3:17.

“Will we help each other,” I yelled head over shoulder, “Mike is just ahead.”

“Don’t think I’ll be much help,” Mick said. Was he masking his cards? I couldn’t read his face. An almost three kilometre long ascent stared down at me; it was all that remained between me and Dublin County but the ascents had hurt me all day, and I had no idea what I had left at this stage.

Vaulting to Victory
Not many minutes later, Peter, having repeatedly established a bit of daylight between himself and his pursuant club comrade Aaron, tried to vault one of the final gates blocking the Wicklow Way, got caught, head went over, feet under and slammed his head against the ground.

A group of four bikers nearby reacted with alacrity, and while they failed to reason with the dazed runner who “insisted on continuing the race”, they decided to form a protective cortege behind the race leader, fearing concussion...

As Peter ran strongly through Glencullen, he crossed the finish line in triumph in a fine time of 1:35. It was hard to believe it was only his second win in the hills. Would it be the last? Would he rest happily on this victory? The answer to both are almost certainly "no".

A short 2 minutes later, Aaron, with clenched fists raised high, finished 2nd; he may not have been the victor, but his below 1:40 time was nevertheless a telling achievement worthy of celebration.

A Long Way from Mike
As two mountain riders locked in battle in the Tour de France, Mick stayed closely on my “wheel” as we strode up through the twists and bends of Curtlestown Wood. At each bend I expected to see the final, steepest, part of the climb that would offer some hope of the pain to end.

My rhythm kept breaking, and I was getting hazy, I felt like I was endlessly shifting gears. First I tried delusional psychology: “Joss (Naylor red.) is looking at you, the great hill runners are looking, don’t let them down!” I sped up a bit. As I looked back, I saw only Mick, and I had a gap now, a few hundred metres.

Then anger came, premature anger formed by visions of an imagined future where runner after runner flew by me on the final descent, undoing all my hard work, my injured foot crippling me to a halt.

If you want me lads, you’ll have to suffer to take me. I thought, and ran harder. Finally the steep ascent arrived, the peak was close now. Geraldine appeared in front of me (she had taken the early start) shouting words of encouragement. It helped.

I ran, then walked a few steps over big boulders, then ran some more, my legs screaming for mercy, I didn’t listen. Then the top broke before me and more encouragement from a group of hikers: “You’re looking good.”

“Doesn’t feel that way,” I said, and then I saw Barry, sitting on a mountain bike like the King of the Race watching over the proceedings of his underlings.

“Mike’s close,” he said. I had seen him from the foot of the final climb, had I not? He had been close, hadn’t he? I had almost closed the gap?

I tried to regain my momentum, as I finally started my final big descent, jumped a few ditches clumsily, making sure to land on my left foot, then smashed my heel onto a big rock. An electric jolt of pain soared into my plantar fasciitis, that’s it. Game over.

A few more steps down, the heel thumped a bit, but I could still run. Then I leaned forward opened my stride and put my foot down crunching out two sub-4 minute/km splits before emerging in Glencullen. As I passed the bridge, a small tough climb on the tarmac hit me like a punch in the stomach. Enough, my legs seemed to be saying. My mind started to consent.

The road turned flat after what seemed like a small eternity, and I couldn’t get my legs going, and started gazing back nervously. Mike was not a concern anymore, the chasers were, but my hope rose as I caught a glimpse of Mick Hanney. There was still a good gap and I saw no one else, no quick runner who could make a late charge on me on the roads.

Johnnie Foxes
It’s true about runs: First you run with your mind, then your legs, and then with your heart. I had thrown everything but the kitchen zinc at the last hill, yet somehow, as the finish finally become tangible; I refound pace (and perhaps peace) and covered the last kilometre to Johnnie Foxes’ in 4:11.

“Good running, Rene”, Barry shouted as he swirled by on his bike. I wanted desperately to believe him. I had no conception of time, of splits, or remembrance of my plans anymore. The race had stripped all that away, I was just running as hard as I could.

As I finally crossed the finish line there was no maniacal yelp of relief like last year, just an elated clenched fist at a job well done. Then I looked at my time: 1:49:32. Feckin’ hell, I would have sold my mother for 1:55? It was a 24-minute improvement on last year’s performance.

There weren’t a lot of people there? How had I finished?

Mike Long’s stately figure walked towards me and we shook hands as I congratulated him on his amazing resilience. I had done my best, but he had held firm, the better man had won. Mike had set a new personal best, running in 1:47:40.

Behind us runners now started coming in, Mick Hanney, taking 10 minutes off his previous best. Then Gavin Lloyd narrowly outsprinting Rafael who had followed me so long, then in 9th came ex-chairman Cormac O’Ceallaigh also recording a PB.

More runners started coming, Gavan Doherty and Kevin O’Riordan had outsprinted Aoife on the road, but she followed very shortly after, not only winning the women’s race for the second consecutive year with a solid margin after having seen of an early challenge from Vanessa Fenton, but also setting a new personal record (this was a day of records if any).

Jason Kehoe just about edged out Simon Foster’s late sprint, but both runners finished in joint 21st recording 2h4min40secs.

Women’s record holder, Emma Sokell, whose record of 1:54 survived another year of eager challengers, finished third among the women, being edged out in a tight finish with IMRA treasurer Sarah Moores.

Eva Fairmaner took the women’s F40 to make it a good day for Crusaders on the women’s side where Mary Collins also won the F50.

Mike Long’s unfettered run had given the event organiser the men’s M40 prize ahead of Mick Hanney, Gary Moralee took the M50 with 8 minutes to Joe Lalor while the most impressive performance of the day was set by Sean Clifford, who despite being ranked M60, showed no signs that this should be a handicap and finished 10th overall, the Bray Runner finishing 62 minutes ahead of his nearest rival, Brendan Doherty.

Finally came Conor, followed by the legendary “Man with the Pipe”, Mick Kellett himself. Mr. Murray, our office “postman”, had a smile on his face, and while he was well slower than last year, he didn’t collapse in his car for a spontaneous snooze.

Slaying your Dragon
The night ahead would be full of festivity, table quiz and prizes at Doheny and Nesbitt’s, but I could only look back as I stood there by the roadside in Glencullen, not forward. The wind increased strength and hail started pouring from the sky as the last of the Ultra runners, having done a detour (adding up to 53k), crossed the finish, but no storm could blow away the memories imprinted in my mind by this day.

One of the toughest races ever engineered, the “Dragon’s Back” in Wales was conquered more than ten years ago. The Wicklow Way is a much smaller serpent, but as I looked to the mountains behind us, I felt like my countryman Ragnar after he slew Fafnir the Dragon in Viking mythology.

The Wicklow Way Trail had thrown everything it had against me, yet today there had been no breaking. Sure, there’d been cracks in my armour but they only added to the glory: this was the result I had been looking for in the hills for a long time.

Then I thought of Dick Beardsley and Salazar again, and the terrible price they paid for their efforts in Boston. I had run hard, harder than I could, but not as hard as either of those men, not even close. There will be a price, no doubt, my injuries will heal slower, I’ll have burned off my “edge” (whatever it is) for a little while, but it was worth it. Well worth it. As I looked around at tired, but happy faces, I knew I could not be alone with this feeling...