RACES: World Trial

The World Trial was completed today and Belfast Harrier Stephen Scullion ran a stunning race to take 20 seconds of Stephen Duncan's record. He was followed in by Kevin Keane, my colleague Mark Ryan (still struggling with an ankle injury) and Ballyross' winner Ian Conroy in his third hill race. Padraig MacCriostail was slightly behind this group which will most likely make up the team going to the World Championships in Italy.

The field was overall probably a bit better: The top-10 in 2008 were slightly faster (you needed 58:58 to break into it last year) while this year the 10th placed runner finished in 60:27. Further down the field average times were up interestingly. My time from last year, for instance (66:02), was enough for 19th in that instance but would only have yielded 23rd this year. You needed 66:09 to finish top-20 last year against 63:25 this year. The field size would have played a part in this as it was only 29 last year while increased to 35 this year. Another positive was seeing a good few lads from Munster and Ulster coming down unlike last year which was mainly a Leinster affair. Missed were the likes of Barry Minnock, Brian McMahon, James McFadden, Ronan Guirey, John Brooks, John Heneghan, Eoin McKenna and last year's winner Stephen Duncan on the men's side and Fiona Maxwell, Alwynne Shanne, Sharlene Ward, Trish McCann, Aisling Coppinger, Orla McAvoy and Aoife Joyce on the ladies' front. Injury and different priorities takes their toll on the potential field every year.

Victory and Defeat, Times of Progress and Times of Recession
Some of the runners who finished ahead of me by only 1-3 minutes last year had improved hugely, notably Jason Reid (by 3:24), Jason Kehoe (by 3:52), and Aengus Burke (by 3:03). Jason Kehoe managed to turn the tables on Zoran Skrba, who's enjoying a great season, after his defeat to him at Mt. Leinster.

The women's record fell to Edel Mooney and overall times were slightly faster on the ladies' front too. 44:05 was enough to qualify for the World's team in 2008 against 43:57 this year.

Some of last year's great performers didn't have manage to hit the same level this year unfortunately, perhaps paying the price for the Euro Trial earlier this year as their form has been good previously, notable among them were Mags Greenan (down 3:01), Angela Speight (down 1:58 from her women's record), Peter O'Farrell (down 3:06), Martin McDonald (down 3:14) and Edward Hanna (down 2:52).

This level of decrease shouldn't be too alarming to anyone involved, however, as its around 5%, a deficit easily explained by one or two minor mishaps or issues such as unfortunate pacing strategy, slight illness, end-of-season fatigue or slight weight gains. But those who improve and those who had sub-optimal races will most likely know the reasons things went as they did on the day. Every great battle has winners and losers and most of us have been on both sides of that divide multiple times and now its all about regrouping to fight another day when you lose and not getting carried away when you win. But certainly there was some good battles today, notably the trio of Kevin, Mark and Ian stayed in close range for most of the race playing out an almost cerebral fight for places.

The effects of psychology shouldn't be underestimated either. Once a qualification place is out of sight, many clever athletes will conserve energy and just coast through, while those who have it in sight still will fight like wild beasts to retain it (as every runner does when something important is within grasp).

Girl Power
The men of the Leinster and Trail Leagues should fear the day Edel Mooney decides to return from Scotland. Many noticed the strength of Donna Mahon's performance when she finished 5th overall at Ballyross but today Edel took more than 3 minutes out of Donna who was also beaten by Karen Alexander from Tyrone, no mean contender who has won several mountain races in NIMRA regi.

Close behind Donna in the final qualifying spot was Cathy McCourt of North Belfast Harriers who has already taken a massive step forward since her recent return from a long running hiatus. Her abilities are no secret: Cathy once ran in the 35-minute bracket for the 10k. Behind her was Angela Speight whose record last year would have put her home in a safe 3rd but who is still only returning to her previous form after injury. Next was Helen White and Mags Greenan who both qualified for the European Team and perhaps illustrate just how difficult it is to achieve two peak performances within the space of 1.5 months but both could still celebrate being first F40 and F50 respectively as well as giving hope to those of us who don't have 10-15 years of youthful running in our legs yet still carry the same hopes and dreams as those who do.

More to follow...