RACES: Dublin Novices

The cross-country season kicked off across the country last weekend among other places in my adopted county of Wexford. I was always bound to run in Dublin's Phoenix Park for my club Crusaders, however, and we mustered 9 runners. Although not the force we had been in last year's rendition, featuring eventual winner Alan O'Brian and other notaries who were missing today, we had a decent first time led by Rob Cross and I was glad to be part of it (of course, there'd probably be about 10 Crusaders or more who could have gone into team ahead of me).

There were record fields for the ladies and gents races, around 100 men lined up next to me but only about 94 were listed not accounting for the good few who dropped out (I saw two having to pull out in front of me during the later stages of the race).

My legs felt fresh enough despite a 22.5k hill run and a hefty wedding Thursday which I followed with two 10k runs on Friday and Saturday, and I enjoyed a 3.5k warmup and a few strides with Brian Furey and new Crusader, French ultra-runner Stephane Pradimes, who'd be our third scorer today. More encouragement would come from the many enthusiastic spectators among them Peter O'Farrell, Gerry Brady, Martin Francis, James McFadden and many others, thanks to all!

Series of Tests
I have been very relaxing mentally about this race as I look at it as a series of tests: First and foremost of the efficacy of aerobic training. I largely pulled the plug on anaerobic training in August after Snowdon and have only tested my form in the more aerobic distances (10k and half-marathon) since then.

Cross-country is known to be a gruelling anaerobic workout due to the unpredictability of the terrain, the constant pressure from a chasing field, and the uncertain distances of the courses. All in all, the races are harder to control than road races and more difficult to "hide" in than mountain races but without the lengthy climbs and technical downhills of the latter.

Apart from this unknown quantity of anaerobic racing, I have not run a cross-country race since the series of races I did before my 2008 Dublin Marathon, so the second test of the day was simply reacquinting myself with the type of race and running in spikes. Finally, it was a welcome report to running for the club. I went out in fourth (and scoring) position and knew that my finish would probably impact on our final score, another factor I had to deal with.

The Result
Seeing so big a field was certainly unexpected and not what I was used to in cross-country context. Starting out I was never in danger of falling out back as I had two years ago and throughout the race I stayed reasonably well packed in the main field. My finish position of 64 sounds bad on paper, my time of 22:32 for the approx. 6k less so. Overall, I got good feedback on the placement, scored for my team and maintained good form throughout. My heart and lungs showed clear signs of not being accustomed to anaerobic running at this time.

The average speed of 3:50min/km was only a whisper ahead of my 10k pace from a month ago, showing how strength-sapping the undulating course proved. Still I also believe it probably shows I wasn't quite at my best today and started a bit fast with my 3:33min/km first kilometre.

A winning time of 18:24 from Dave Fitzmaurice was impressive and the field was equally so with quality runners such as Brian Furey in 15th and Rob Cross leading my team home in 23rd with 20:35. Breaking 21 minutes on the day would have been enough to finish 31st, showing how tightly packed the mid-part of the field was. Indeed a great challenge of cross-country is not getting mowed down by fellow runners. Today's race was remarkably civil, though, and two of the great hill-running clubs finished 1st and 2nd: Clonliffe and Rathfarnham respectively with hosts Donore in third.

So, a solid finish to my 2nd Lydiard Week. More than 7 hours run (as scheduled) and 81k completed to the 71k and 6.5 hours last week. Next week I move to 7.5 hours and will be gunning for 90k (although I'll more likely run around 87k) and the road towards 120k continues unabated.

Today's experience will be employed in my next two cross-country targets: The Leinster Novices in Wexford and the Dublin Intermediates in Tymon Park.