Reflecting on the 21.2% incline at the end of the tarmac road we were warming up on, I said to Jason: "It'll be a hard pull up"
"You mean there'll be a rope?" He answered.
"If there's a rope I'll use it on myself!" I roared!
- Route: 5 (For me personally, a more unsuitable route could not be found, but my personal bias will not allow me to misrate it. Splendid views, marvellous toughness, and very good underfoot conditions for an open mountain. Tactically challengin)
- Weather: 4 (A little bit too humid at the start but a pleasant breeze and a few clouds combined with otherwise very fair conditions to provide an enjoyable day on the mountain)
- Field Strength: 4.5 (While Stephen Duncan, Barry Minnock, James McFadden, Tom Hogan and a few other notables were missed, this field was as good as anything you can expect to find on the Irish hill running scene at the moment, but I'll leave out the 5 as it would have been truly captivating had they all been there)
- Performance: 4 (A clever and endlessly cynical performance on a route were I had no strengths to take advantage of and little to run for for the majority of the race. Strong finish, particularly over the last 2km but possibly guilty of a small miscalculation on the road bit in terms of pacing and aggressiveness)
- Overall: 4.5 (Great company, great views, great experience and the chance to explore a little used part of the Irish hills. Also a tremendous training session with an eye on the Leinster League)
While the overall race only features a 16.1% grade the final 4 kilometres rise to 21.1% and the route takes you for a slight up and down ride on tarmac road, starting at 142m, to the highest point of 794m at the cairn on Clohernagh. In total you must climb 725m. Today, the winner managed this feat in just 38 minutes and 34 seconds and constituted another remarkable time set by Brian McMahon after his destruction of the Wicklow Way Leg 2 record.
For lesser runners such as myself the prospect of the rope as the quicker "out" from the pain of such a climb was more alluring. For me, in particular, for I have always said there are two qualities I don't like about a race and that work against me: Steep and short. As I said to Mick: "You know, that doesn't bode so well for this race."
Normally finishing 24th (20th man and 18th senior man) in 135% of winning time in a hill race would be enough to have me reaching for the proverbial rope (or at least my flagellation whip). Today was no ordinary race
Heartbreak in the Club Competition
I wrote a lengthy piece on the exhilirating Irish Club Championship 2009. While I was not among the scorers (Richie, Rob and Jason were), I could feel the disappointment of the team as we were pipped for Bronze by just a singular point. As Rob said having collected his spot prize: "I'd have taken the medal over the wine any day, but at least I don't leave empty handed." Our mantra was upbeat though: "Next year", we told each other, and more importantly, five races remain to have a go at the Leinster League title and I for one intend to go all guns blazing on the open mountain races to try and put some stardust on a good season.
Myself, Jason, Rob and Richie only started or returned to running over the last 2-3 years, and if anything we need to replicate the "Rathfarnham model", that means having a good core of runners with great team spirit who not only together, in racing and training, but put pressure on each other. With Jeffery Healy also added ot the mix, and long-standing members Shane and Gavan, I think we can do some good work together over Winter. Comparing notes with your club-mates is no waste of time, that's for sure.
But now I want to talk about North Laois as I was presented with the case that I'm not giving them enough mention on my blog or the IMRA site! Contrary to rumours, I'm strongly pro-Laois! North Laois is a club many hill runners aren't familiar with since they only compete rarely in the Leinster League, yet they have a tradition of attending the Sugarloaf race and Derek Coogan won the Trail League in 2007 with PJ. Carroll also a well-known face in IMRA races.
Their leading man for the last number of years has been Martin McDonald, however, who finished 5th today. Also with them today was Tony O'Reilly (8th) who hasn't recorded a result for IMRA since 2001 when he was 12th in a Munster Championship race and is a runner I must profess I know little about.
Together this strong trio couldn't quite pip Rathfarnham to their throne as perennial Irish Club Champions, but they had a big gap on the next two teams: Sli Cualann and Crusaders.
I currently operate under the working assumption that it will take anything from 2-5 years to become competitive in a race like the European Trial. This doesn't mean winning it, but being up and around the top-10 and close enough to the top-6 that I could make a reasonable plea to the Danish Athletics Federation to grant me a spot on the Danish hill-running team.
This may, of course, never happen, as every runner has a ceiling and if mine proves too low, then I'm just not good enough. But after today, I feel like my season is again gathering momentum, and I feel I'm doing Emma Cutt's prediction that "I believe next season will be a fruitful one" justice. I come to think of her help, as I was discussing how important it is to have a second opinion as I was cooling down sitting in the Avonbeg River with Peter O'Farrell and Kevin Keane, two of the great victors of the day, after the race listening to the sound of the Carrawaystick Waterfall in the background.
No matter what level you run at, if you're Mark Ryan, new to hill running but battling to become entrenched in the Irish teams, if you're Brian McMahon, mercilessly chasing records, Peter O'Farrell, out to secure a top-6 qualifying finish, or a Dane with a dream that remains still intangible. All of these runners realise that one result does not make a good runner. They know the importance of learning from both good and bad lessons. They know that he ability to find a way to replicate your best performances again and again by controlling the parametres that brought them on, are needed to secure lasting progress and top-level competitiveness.
And top-level competitiveness was the order of the day.
I'd like to start this section by congratulating first Peter O'Farrell for not just qualifying but doing so emphatically in 4th. Peter held his nerve well after being 7th in the early stages and carved out almost 2 minutes down to the dreaded 7th place.
Second kudos goes to my colleague Mark Ryan, in his second trial race, who only had 13 days of training to get ready for this challenge after injury, yet managed third place behind Kevin Keane who shows, to everyone's inspiration, that you can return from a long injury and do so well. Vincent O'Sullivan of Sli Cualann followed Martin McDonald into the top-6 and Gerry Brady will undoubtedly have interesting plans for the team going to the Europeans in 4 weeks time. Most of these athletes will now have three weeks of hard work planned following by an easier one to arrive at the start line sharp, fresh and rested.
In the women's, Mags Greenan showed herself a formidable climber as she disrupted early predictions somewhat and resigned Alwynne Shannon to 2nd, in-form Donna Mahon to 3rd, and Helen White to 4th. Yet all ladies will undoubtedly be pleased with qualifying for the team. Prodigy Angela Speight, somewhat surprisingly, just missed out finishing 5th woman 1 minute and 26 seconds outside the last qualifying time.
The male juniors showed great promise with Michael Treacy 9th, James Griffin 11th and James Speight 12th. Dundrum's Kian Jennings was 19th.
Derek Coogan was first M40 followed by Paul Smyth who had some race and Mick Hanney in 3rd. Martin McDonald was first m50 in front of Martin Francis and Tallaght's Dessie Shorten. First and only M70 to brave the route was the redoubtable Mick Kellett. In the women's Alwynne Shannon and Mags Greenan's wins in the f40 and f50 were overshadowed by their strong overall runs.
My Race - No Pressure
I have been feeling a bit under the weather this week, waking up tired, lacking appetite, coughing and sneezing. My training had gone fairly well though and I arrived at the start line in a reasonable condition. Most of all, I arrived a load lighter: The good race on Saturday had taken some of the pressure off myself and the fact that I viewed today's race completely as a hard training session and a learning experience, meant I felt no particular nerves. If anything bothered me it was the fact that there'd be no way to arrive on the top without considerable discomfort, especially as I didn't want to drag it out any longer than necessary!
I also wanted to do myself some measure of justice, and I wanted to be well-positioned to do a job for the team if needed. In the end, it wasn't as both the Healy's and Jason are stronger climbers than me, and while I held off Sli Cualann runners Jimmy Synnott and Cormac O'Ceallaigh this was inconsequental on the day as I couldn't catch Martin Francis and the damage done by the early climb left my too far behind for my late surge to create a better finishing time than Jason.
The last 2 kilometres were exciting as I, constantly changing gears, managed to finally punch a hole on my pursuants and over the course of the next mile I passed out Angela Speight, Paul Joyce, Marc Barrett, Shawn McCormack, and finally Dessie Shorten, no mean contender to beat.
My heart and lungs could have sustained a more aggressive final push, but my legs frustrated me again and again as they just couldn't deal with the steep incline and true uphill charges such as my final one (seen on the first picture) actually flatter me as I spent more time with my hands on my knees (if not mentally "on my knees").
Others paced themselves even better as Mags Greenan, Alwynne Shannon, Paul Smyth and Colm Mullen all passed me out reasonably late on the zig-zags yet build comfortable gaps by the top despite my resurgence. My frustration was shared with Jimmy though, who told me "everytime I catched up you seemed to find another push out of nowhere".
I had started the race with a lack of "spark" but certainly finished on one and today both my body and legs feel good, which is important before Scarr. Today I plan to go out and jog the race route for Wednesday as I feel like being in the hills and I like having my races in fresh memory.
All in all, a very useful day out from a training perspective, and I wish all the competitors for the Europeans the very best of luck and hope the make themselves proud at the Championship. I also hope they share the sentiment I take away from today's race: Feeling like a man very much in control of his own destiny...