RACES: Dublin Intermediates 2009

Yesterday’s Intermediates turned out to be as old school as it gets despite the seemingly tamed surroundings of Tymon Park in Tallaght. This was the “home ground” for my club comrade Jason Kehoe and he turned out to be mightily fired up for the occasion, but more on that later.

In 2007, the Intermediates featured a 10.5k course with five laps and running up a short steep hill. This time distance was reduced by one lap and there where no serious hills as you had to run down the afore-mentioned slope.

Crusaders had two teams out on the day and there was a decent sized crowd of about 80 runners (the usual DNFs brought the finish total down to 77). Yesterday was windy, wet and miserable and you could hardly see where the path ended and the pond started as you jogged into Tymon Park from the parking area towards the start.

Runners were clad in as much protection as they could muster for their warm-ups before a late strip-off into the traditional singlet and shorts of cross-country. I’m not bad with cold but decided to keep my gloves and an extra t-shirt under the singlet.

While Clonliffe won the team competitions on offer, it was a proud day for Crusaders who had their first men and women’s team out at the same time and got a 5th place out of 10 teams in the men’s as a solid award. When I competed here in 2007, I was the “Lone Crusader” (although without a cape). Jason Kehoe became the team’s third scorer, a great performance as he beat out (just!) seasoned competitor Gary Park. He had quality tracksters Ivan Kinahan and Karl Fahy ahead of him and hung on to old hill-running rival Brian Furey for the first half of the race.

My performance

On the surface of it I should be happy enough. I didn’t fall despite the trail shoes; I didn’t blow up but had steady laps of within 4 seconds of each other after the slightly fast 8:56 first lap (each lap timed in at 2.2k). My legs never did completely and I finally confirmed that drinking coffee before races just makes me feel bad for 10 minutes and should be avoided whatever the benefits of the caffeine.

There are times when you must be tough on yourself, however, and looking at it, this was a woeful performance. 58th out of 77 is not good enough in the Intermediates. Ok, it’s an improvement over the 43rd out of 47 in 2007 but much water has run under the bridge since then and I should not be blinkered by this superficially favourable comparison. It’s a good thing my cross-country season is over now: It has highlighted the weaknesses I have and the mistakes need to correct, but there’s nothing further to be gained from participating further and it’s time to get back to work without distractions.

Truth is I’m a “pacer”. I find a pace, I keep it and this makes me very good at running effectively on the road (and I think) the track. But I have traded out two key skills that I’ll need to keep improving: Combativeness and improvisation. I need to realise what parts of the course must be attached ferociously (very important in the hills too) and what I can’t keep just running the “steady-train” as I am currently doing.

Part of the problem is that in the old days it felt like dying when a runner passed me out, now I don’t care because in my mind I’m already focusing on tomorrow and there’s almost complacency in thinking “it doesn’t matter if I win the battle as long as I win the war”. Yesterday I had to constantly pep-talk myself (“use your heart and lungs”, “last cross of the season, c’mon give it everything). I was largely talking to a deaf internal ear. I am happy to be able to focus on priorities, but fear losing too much of my competitive edge over the next years when I am preparing for that big peak.

It’s not all doom and gloom, I know I can still run through several pain-barriers when I’m really fired up (as I’ve been on 3-4 occasions this year) but can’t help being a bit disappointed with my lack of fighting spirit. There’s almost an air of arrogance about it. If I’m not counting for the team and not up “in the good end”, a race turns into a mere procession for me. If I don’t become competitive within the next few years, this doesn’t bode well for my running as it would probably only leave the ultra-distances as challenges I would enjoy.

On the good side, my legs and feet are both dandy today. The strength of just 6 weeks of aerobic training still seems to stand as a formidable barrier to post-race fatigue but I need to clear this injury in time to prevent the work of those weeks to be wasted. I could have been at 120k per week now and building; this is frustrating.

So, somewhat of a come-down after the Thursday’s trial, lots of effort but little to show for it. Definitely a lesson in not racing when you're not training for with racing in mind.