- Route: 5 (An optimal hill running route: not too short, straightforward, very runnable climb, interesting but fast descent, what more could one want!)
- Weather: 4 (Rain receded temporarily)
- Field Strength: 3 (Traditional LL field with a few top runners, and good width in the top-20)
- Performance: 4 (Perfectly timed ascent and descent marred only by a slight mistake at the top and not seeing the rock that sprained my ankle with a few hundred metres to the finish)
- Overall: 4 (A great course mixed together with a captivating 1-on-1 duel with Jason Kehoe on teh descent. Doesn't get better than that)
Brockagh was one of my favourite races last year, and with my form finally picking up again at Crone this weekend, I felt ready to run a well-paced race. My old time was over the 57min, so this year's target was hastily adjusted to sub-50min.
On a race of this distance there was no reason to go out too fast, so like at Crone, I took a slow approach to the start. Brockagh is somewhat unusual in that it features a flat part of about 400m shortly after the first climb.
I was determined not to hammer out this as I wanted to be fresh by the time the firetrail started to wind itself upwards again towards the fence that leads to open mountain.
START SLOW, FINISH FASTER?
Today the technique worked well, the group I hoped to chase with Mike Long and Jason Kehoe in it broke away, but they were still well in sight. This group soon broke into multiple smaller one's in front of me, but first I turned my attention to digging into the ascent where a stable pace first took me past Cormac O'Ceallaigh, Paul Smyth and others, before I napped away from Martin Francis on the steeper grassier bit.
Here the groups almost merged together again, Jimmy Synnott had passed and was close ahead and so was a hard-fighting Dermot Murphy. To hang in, my legs took in more lactic acid than they liked, and the first descent was almost too short, which forced me to take a very conservative powerwalk up the steepest of the grassy slope.
This allowed Jimmy Synnott to get away, but the tactic had paid off: I wasn't destroyed and on the long flat that followed on the narrow uneven path, I could start a long chase running to my strengths rather than fighting my weaknesses on the ascent.
Dean Karnazes would probably not be impressed as he subscribed to his early coache's dictum that "start hard and finish even harder!!!" Personally I'm more of a subscriber to "it doesn't matter how fast you run each kilometre, what matters is how fast you run the whole course."
My renewed confidence of catching up with Jimmy, Dermot and a few others, again, was almost dented by the final climb dragging on longer than I had expected. I got a welcome boost from passing out Jason, though, who was suffering from a stitch at this stage.
Moments before, I had had the pleasure of observing the legendary John Brooks, John Lenihan's old Scottish rival, descent leading a field that included strong Sli Cualann runner Cormac Conroy and orienteering legend Aonghus "Gus" O'Cleirigh.
In closest pursuit, though, was Raheny Shamrock's Ryan Montgomery, likewise a Scotsman. Apparently those Munros do breed a tougher breed of runner...
Coming off the top, I didn't quite get my bearings quick enough, and somewhat disoriented got down the short technical bit very clumsily. This allowed Jason and Damien Cunningham to leapfrog me.
Nevertheless, the three of us quickly made up spaces, and as the track narrowed, and the descent grew steeper, I swept past Damien and was now left where I wanted: To battle it out old-style mano-a-mano with club comrade Jason. For once, the rest of the field didn't seem to matter, neither did it matter that Mike Long, whom I had set my sights on, was nowhere to be seen. He was running too strongly at the moment, and was a fight for another day.
Jason, not being one to give up, would push the downhill pace, every time I came near, almost as if he had a sixth sense that I was there. Twice on the grassy bit, did he cut out the corner leaving me with two options: Run the long way around, or stay behind.
I choose the latter. My gut told me it was too early to open up. I had come up short in our duel at Crone, but I had a few trumps today: My form was improving, I knew the route had a significant flat bit at the end, and it was my strong feeling I held the strong legs in a "road runners" contest.
Justin Rea was the reason I remembered the flat well. Last year I had pushed so hard on the descent to try and catch him that I had blown up on the flat only to be caught helpless in the sprint by Ruiri Finucane. I would not let that happen again, my energy had to be divided equally.
You can be proved wrong in such deliberations as quickly as they come to you, but today, my probing runs finally paid off. On my fifth attempt to go past Jason, I finally got a whole, and as we hit the flat, poured energy into maintaining speed on my own accord.
This was tough and I tried not to extend myself 100%. There didn't seem to be a comeback a I had feared from Jason, so when Colm Mullen, Greg Byrne and Niall Fox came into view, I thought "let me have a go". My momentum was good, and while I had pushed hard to break free for the final time, I had steadied on the flat, and had a final push left.
Perhaps this incessant thought-stream proved my undoing, for the moment I hit the bend, my foot turned on a rock and a sharp flinch of pain stroke up. I knew instantly that the weakened right foot was sprained again. No doubt about it. Furious that all my work could be undone on the final bit, I cursed heavily, and fought on. My running was disjointed, but somehow I had created enough of a gap to fumble over the finish muttering loud explicits.
End result was good, though, despite the injury I picked up: 50:42, which was close to my target. Perhaps I would have reached it without the injury? 17th position was also equalling my previous best in the Leinster League set at Scalp. I valued this higher though, as the top-10 runners hadn't gotten lost this time around.
This will comfort me in the coming days while I assess the damage to my right foot. I had a busy July planned, and hopefully this is not a serious setback.
And the race? Well, John Brooks held on strong to finish first in front of Ryan Montgomery and Eoin Keith. On the ladies site, the visiting American Erin Roberts edged out Aoife.
I was also very happy with our team performance, where three of our Crusaders made top-20 even in the absence of our "strong cards" Shane and Alan. If we keep applying pressure on each other, then hopefully one day, we'll be talking about top-10 and not top-20.