A Comeback with Consequences
I had not envisioned being back in the Leinster League so quickly, and certainly not at Prince William’s Seat, a race I had planned to avoid in my original season planning as I’m no great fan, and neither the distance nor the race profile suits me.

You can’t only run races you like, however, and having had some really good training recently, and passed a few tests on the ankle in the days before, I felt the need to test myself against a race. I’ve raced very little this season, and if I’m to have any hope of doing anything this Summer, I need to get a few under my belt and regain my sharpness, and so I found myself at an IMRA starting line-up once again.

QUICK RACE ANALYSIS (1 = Abysmal, 5 = Excellent)
I’ll be introducing a new standard for race reports from now on, just to provide readers with a quick overview of what I felt on the race.
· ROUTE: 2 (run-of-the-mill run through forest to heathery top. Interesting enough descent)
· WEATHER: 4 (slight overcast, but mostly sunny, bit of wet underfoot at top)
· FIELD STRENGTH: 3 (average, most of the top lads missing, but good mid-pack competition)
· STRATEGY: 2 (poor, did not follow plan, went out too quick, dangerous choice of footwear)
· PERFORMANCE: 3 (acceptable but a comeback race, but food for thought)
OVERALL: 3 (a decent day out with some personal disappointment and a bit of drama)

Numbers were again very high for a Leinster League race 187 runners plus some late-comers who had to run unregistered (some had the nerve to disrupt the volunteers doing their job as they ran through the finishing chute requesting to know their finishing time and position). If you’re not running the race, stay out of the way!

It was a dramatic day with Karen Duggan dislocating her shoulder as she tried to vault past Aoife Joyce on the last part of the technical descent. Aoife has held the advantage on the uphills and the fire trails this year, so it was a brave gamble for 1st place, but the stoic Karen had to retire from this race and be taken to hospital, commenting only: “I’ve dislocated my shoulder”, as she stood up from the ground. (Witnesses described the jump as “Kamikaze” and “she just went face-first into the fire road”).

My own WWR team was hit be a bit of setback too, as Lornie (O’Dwyer) twisted her ankle and ended up limping the long way down. She arrived smiling and optimistic, though, despite a good sized blue bubble on her foot. Hopefully she’ll recover in time for next weekend’s mammoth undertaking.

I personally believe every serious runner should have a good idea of what they are planning to get out of a race. For me priorities where these (in that order)
1. Test durability of ankle/plantar fasciitis
2. Establish fitness loss from injury/Three-Peaks
3. Finish the race (and open the door to a potential 7 race finish)
4. Run myself back into race fitness
5. Compare form to the early form in the Winter League/Wicklow Way Trail
6. Gauge my rivals
7. Get a long overdue mental award for recent training
8. Finish top-20 (top-10 is my overall aim for this year’s races, but I’m not there yet)
9. Break 35 minutes on the course, preferably 34 minutes

I don’t always write down a list like this (I certainly didn’t before this race), as its overkill for every small race you do, but I do have a firm idea of all the things I want going into any race. It’s rarely just “have fun”, but that happens too (as in the case of orienteering races for example).
For particularly hard races “survive” is a perfectly acceptable mission statement. When you race it often ends up being the only priority that seems relevant in the moment.

Every running book is choked full of details on how to best prepare for a race. Before anything else, you have to do what makes you feel comfortable and confident going into the race, and this most often involves arriving on time and leaving plenty of time for preparing yourself physically and mentally (alas some people get nervy if they stay around too long before the start).

My race preparation for low priority races (e.g. races that I don’t focus my training on and just arrive in whatever shape/condition I happen to be in) such as Prince Willie’s, would usually consist of the following:

1. Analyze last running of route ahead of time, pick a time based on which competitor’s time from last year I want to beat and extrapolate new splits based on that
2. Arrive in good time (I don’t want stress before a race)
3. Do a long warm-up/dynamics stretches (Prince William’s is a short race, and you need to go off fast, therefore doing at least 20 min jog and other warm-ups is essential)
4. Eat well in the days before (and light, some foods take 48 hours to digest!) so carb stores remain full
5. Sip a lot of sports drink in the last 10 minutes before race start to load the blood with sugar
My analysis this year was pretty concise as I had a full layout of my previous running of Prince Willie’s. I ran in 40:20 last year, I had had a good (by my standards then) finish at Three-Rock, but regressed dramatically during the Prince William’s Seat race which left me with a negative impression of the race.

I’ve been battling it out with Mike Long in a few races and he’s been a good marker for improvement, so I decided to go for beating his time last year and try to do 34 minutes. When I heard under-footing would be wetter this year than last, I decided to adjust it to 35 min. It was still optimistic, but despite not being fully race-ready, I didn’t want to set a lame target that I would automatically achieve.

I’d be keeping a close eye on the likes of Jason Kehoe, Martin Francis, Adrian Tucker, Cormac O’Ceallaigh, Mike Long, and, of course, Mick Hanney, who have all provided me with good battles this season. Even when I have beaten some, others have beaten me in turn, so I knew their form against mine would be a gauge of how my status is after the latest injury setback.
Many IMRA races have bottlenecks at the start (famously Howth and Great Sugarloaf), and Prince Willie’s too suffers from this deficiency as you have to run through a hedge to get out of the field (Mick’s Field!) to enter the fire road leading to the forest before Prince William’s Seat itself.

This means going off like a hare, something that doesn’t suit my default strategy of going out slow then increasing speed exponentially. I had been feeling very well in the latest speed sessions and saw this as an opportunity to try a different strategy (though in hindsight, exactly these speed sessions cost me my edge on the day, long-term the pay-off will be great however I hope).

Today I wanted to go out fast, in a hope of establishing an early break from my rivals or push them into over-extending themselves on the hill in order to catch up. This back-fired spectacularly, the plan was not necessarily bad, but feeling initially fresh, I pushed on too hard too soon. As we crossed the barricade into the forest, with almost a kilometre gone, the leader group was still well in sight.

I knew this was bad news, my push had been too strong, I had expended too much energy gaining a small hole on Mike, Jason, and the rest behind me, staying too close to the leaders. My body was not 100% warm and lactate soared at a critical point. Just then the race really took off down the quick forest road before the first real climb. I was trapped without recovery time, answering the attacks that flew in from all sides was now not possible, and I just had to hang in there. The hill arrived much too soon and I fought up it.

The price was paid the moment we emerged on the next fire road and took a turn up the true climb to the summit. My legs were dead, and the lactate could not be burned off quickly enough for my body to recover speed. For the first time in a long while, I was reduced to an enforced walk for the best part of the ascent (I will often walk on purpose since it’s more efficient energy and speed-wise on certain gradients).

The margin of error is precarious when running close to the lactate threshold, keep it just below and you’re running at your optimal speed throughout. Cross it, and your race will be temporarily crippled.

This cost me what seemed like endless places (but could only have been 8-10), but more critically allowed Mike, Jason, Adrian and the others to punch a 2 minute gap between us. I knew full well that even if I ascended to the best of my ability none of these runners were slow enough descenders to recover that margin. The race, for all intents and purposes, was over.
Now I had only my statistics to fight for, and my pride.

Once the pressure of the high gradient relieved, the walking had lowered my heart rate enough to efficiently burn off some of the lactate. I slowly got my legs going again and passed out a few runners on the heathery path to the cairn, then crossed straight down left back towards the fire road.

The ground was still very wet from the recent rain so my choice of Mudclaws was an advantage. It was a costly advantage though, as the thin soles meant my heel did not take this race well at all.

The ankle seemed to be holding steady, but even then, I knew I wasn’t 100% confident. I managed to pull out quite a good technical descent, with a bit more confidence I could have pulled back more, but for today, it was quite satisfactory. I passed out a few more runners here before Mick Hanney suddenly appeared behind me as we crawled the stile.

This urged me on, but not enough, a runner in black passed me out just as we hit the fire road. Nothing is more infuriating than being passed out on a descent, so I lashed off in a wild sprint, closed the gap to a few metres and worked away at the runner for the best part of a kilometre before he finally broke.

My speed was now at a stable high level, heart rate as well. I could last a little while like this and took advantage to pass out a few more runners. Then the final curve arrived, Mick was close on my tail having taken out the same runners I did a few seconds earlier. Another runner wearing black was just about to take the final turn into the field, I tried to squeeze in on the inside, but he wisely closed the gap, forcing me out into the long outside.

In front of us lay less than 30m of uphill grass, Justin was shouting encouragement, as I poured everything into a last ditch sprint, my opponent did the same, but as he would later tell me as we shook hands, “the tank was empty”, and my efforts finally broke daylight between us and a 1 second margin. “Strong finish René”, Shane yelled, and it had certainly felt that way.

Eoin Keith had snatched victory on the night, with Peter and Barry nowhere to be seen, while a close battle had been fought between the likes of Aaron O’Donohue and Shane O’Rourke. I was delighted to see our Crusaders team finishing second and my final push had meant we had 4 men in the top-20. That’s the type of width and breadth we need to develop going forward to become a force in the hills again.

Aoife had held her lead to the end and effectively sealed her title as this year’s Woman’s Leinster League champion. One more race in the top-3 and I think no other runner can mathematically catch her). Barry Minnock with 5 straight wins before sitting out today looks an early champion-in-making as well and a successful defender of his title from last year.

As I stood, breathing heavily at the finish, hands on my knees, there was a cautious contentment: My ankle had lasted, and while a stupid tactical mistake had ruined the chance of a great run, I had salvaged a decent result from the rubble of that same error. 20th was the final result on the day and while the 37:13 was some way off the mark, many complained of their times being relatively slow this year, so the fact that it was only a 3 minute improvement (unlike some of the more staggering improvements I had seen in earlier races this year such as Howth, Trooperstown and Wicklow Way Trail) might be taken with a pinch of salt.

I had a company party scheduled for the Thursday evening, our annual Summer Party. After seeing the cracks in my armour in this race, it did not take long for me to abandon plans to go, and instead join Aoife, Bronagh and Niamh for a recce of Leg 4 of the Wicklow Way as a glorified recovery run (and a lovely route it is). Today has a speed session with Brian Furey, who finished an impressive 12th on the menu, and then, a long 20k recce of the Wicklow Way Relay Leg 7 tomorrow with Brian, Shane, Uli and Eoin. Come Tuesday more knackering sessions will have been completed and then I’ll pull back and rest a bit with slow jogs until next Weekend’s highlight: The Relay itself....

When things don’t go your way, you should bounce back with hard training; it’s the best way to get it out of your system. Tactical mistake or not, one day I will need to be able to go off at the pace I did today and then go even harder. That will not be achieved sitting in the Odeon with a pint in my hand. Sacrifice? Of course not, I’d rather be running on a hill than sitting in a pub any day (except of course for the after-run cuppa).