With the good weather comes what is seemingly everyone's most beloved event: The Wicklow Way Relay, engineered by Joe Lalor as so many other great events.
Getting a Team
This time Crusaders are in with two teams (last year it was three) and once again I find myself captaining the politically correct named "Team 2". While our "Big Guns" will duke it out in front of us, we should not wallow in shame, however, we have quite a solid team. It will win no medals but I'm excited about the strength of depth that Crusaders have built over the last two years in the hills.
Myself, Jason, Jeff, and Gavan are all close in the League and will provide the senior men contingent while Lornie and Dee will supply the feminine side. The new ruler of the M60 class, Diarmud, will be our first vet, with another "guest appearance" from Brendan Craig, now almost an honorary Crusader!
It took a bit of shuffling and discussing to find out who went on Team 1 and who went on Team 2 but at the end of the day I think we've created two good teams and we'll all be gunning for the 1st team again next year. Nothing's better than competition.
We've got a few "new old hands" who know their routes but despite this I've personally been on recces of leg 3 and 4 (back-to-back) once again, and this weekend I went out to do Leg 7 with Paul Joyce and Alan O'Keefe before joining Jimmy Synnott and Brendan for a go at Leg 6.
The rest of the team have taken care of their own recces which is a relief for a Captain so I don't envisage anyone getting lost on Saturday!
I've been relatively glum about my own performance recently, but last week's illness seems to have helped. I've finally dropped down below 70 kilos again, which has lightened the load and I managed to complete the leg 7 recce in 1:53 despite having done a speed-session on Friday evening. I followed this up with leg 6 on Sunday morning and two hill runs (one morning, one afternoon) on Monday before easing up a bit today. I'm finally starting to feel a bit comfortable in the hills again.
Last year Leg 7 was an absolute killer, its a long stretch and you have to invest just the right amount of energy in the first (and largest) climb on the first 4 kilometres. Too little and you're too far behind, too much and you'll suffer the next 18 kilometres! There are many ways to suffer, of course, last year I got a stomach cramp after 10 kilometres and was ill for the remainder of the day, so that made the race itself somewhat less enjoyable.
My time of 1:40:14 remains one I look back on with great fondness. At the time, though, I was disappointed, mainly because I had paced myself wildly, chasing Niall McAlinden, who had started 33 seconds ahead of me, and overtaking him with 6 kilometres to go until I lost all power in the end and had to concede a 42 second defeat. But looking at the runners who run in around the 100-min mark and faster, it's a very good time and I will do very well to replicate that sort of form this year. In fact, it'll probably be very difficult if I compare my race performances then with now.
I draw some hope from my recce with Alan and Paul. Paul set off in a ferocious pace and I found myself struggling to keep up on both of the first major climbs, strangely, though, I suddenly found myself the pace-setter on the final tarmac kilometres to the finish which shows that my base form may be better than intended. I certainly never bonked despite being the only one to forget to bring energy along (I only drank water). 1:53 is slightly faster than the 1:55 recce I did with Brian Furey last year. Brian went on to run 1:35:38, so perhaps you can't take much from such recces, but it nevertheless gives me a feeling that I am the right man in the team for this leg.
After all the focus on speedwork and flat-speed, I find myself inexorably drawn to the longer distance. And this is good for picking the correct tactics is crucial for a good time on the Relay. With the new shortening of Leg 8 there's a reasonable argument to be made for having the female runners on Leg 3 and Leg 8 and not 3 and 4 as custom has been.
Equally, in our team, we've certainly placed our powerful explosive runners (Gavan, Jason and Jeff) on three of the toughest, but shorter, legs. Putting an energy-efficient runner like myself who lacks both strength, explosiveness and true power on Leg 7 then becomes a sound strategy. A sports car may drive fast, but it needs a lot of fuel, and looking at times for Leg 7 I find many runners who easily outmatch me in the Leinster League a good few minutes off my time.
So picking the best runner for each leg can be quite a science although Leg 1, 2, 5 and 6 have remarkably similar requirements as they all have plenty of hard climb and a distance around the 12-14km mark and all offer fast descending. This leaves the long Leg 7, as already discussed, the incredibly fast and short Leg 3, Leg 4 which while among the shortest has a bit of technical bits in it, and the infamous leg 8 with its long road section. This final leg has often been given to a speed demon from the road or track to annihilate, but this can be a risky strategy as you could
arguably make up more time with a fast hill runner on Leg 4.
As it may be, we are all chuffed in the team "Cruel Running" and excited about Saturday, hopefully all will go well. From here I wish all other teams the best of luck and a good day out.