Some days you have the luck of the draw and some days you don’t. I’ve never really had it, fortune has invariably led to getting lost or injured from advantageous positions but never the opposite. In some instances, it has been close to comedy, such as when I fumbled trying to catch my number in the Dublin Intermediates 07 and lost the spaces I had fought hard to get as a result. At today’s festive occasion, the 30th Anniversary of IMRA, comedy was reserved for the many runners wearing fancy dress...
Whether it was the “dress-code”, the rugby, Friday hangover or the other weekend events that kept numbers low, I don’t know but a decent field still competed and there were plenty of quality runners around to push you into a bad result. The “feared trio” of Barry Minnock, Brian Furey and Peter O’Farrell did not materialise which left an open contest for the teams that had shown.
Long hungry for medals since losing out on the bronze last year by a point, our Crusaders team nevertheless had to suffer two big blows in recent weeks. First Jason Kehoe went down on Croagh Patrick and then we lost our new recruit Niall Heffernan late this week. With the Healys almost a certainty for top-5 spots these days, I knew the pressure was on me to step up to the plate and deliver a low enough counter to see us through.
My own preparation had been somewhat unusual, with two energy-sapped, bedridden days. Come morning, it became clear that I had suffered from food poisoning but I felt more or less back to strength and went out for a 2km jog to test the body. I rested some more and did a short hill walk before driving off to Dublin. Certainly I could find the strength for 3km of uphill suffering?
To inspire me and to ensure I had the strength to try and fill Jason’s mighty shoes, I took in a poem from a church near Wasdale that is described in the new book on Joss Naylor:
I lift up mine eyes
Unto the hills
With the 24 degrees heat a long warm-up never seemed necessary and after a jog to the start, and some banter, off we went. I didn’t exactly feel on fire going off and found myself boxed in. Breaking over the tarmac, I managed to fight myself free and survived better than I thought up the steep climb towards the Boneshaker.
An Encounter of the Danish Kind
Here my new Danish fellow mountain-runner Torben Dahl ran up beside me and lauded me for the Danish colours (apart from the Crusaders jersey, Jason had painted us all in best war-style). “Are you Cheyenne or Apache,” roared Martin Francis, “Apache,” I said. I was here for scalps.
Torben kept talking away for a while and I couldn’t believe he had the breath for it because I was practically maxed out and my immediate thought was “’effin’ Hell, how fresh is he!”. I was still going better than the day before when a slow walk up Clarabeg practically took my breath away, though: The body can heal much in 24 hours or, perhaps, our will proves the difference.
And will, rather than form or talent, made my day. I felt like dying for the full climb but despite some tit for tat position-wise I eventually pulled away from Torben and just around the summit managed to take out Daniel Morrogh. I paid a hefty price for my late acceleration, when Daniel very quickly pulled away on the easy flat stretch coming off the top. I held off Martin Francis a bit longer, until the masts, but the wily descender got me again and by the time I had recovered my bearings my pace was just about good enough to keep the gap between myself, Martin, and Ben Mooney stable.
Some of us had lost a good 150 metres on the top taking a slightly wrong turn (probably equal to about 40 seconds of climbing) but little did I know that such notaries as Eoin Keith and Richie Healy were slowly making their way towards me after taking a much worse turn over the mountain. Richie himself stayed concentrated put his good descending to best use and didn’t drop his head as he chewed back ten positions coming down and took out Eoin Keith in the sprint.
I just couldn’t find space to put enough pace in to catch Ben but did close the gap to within a second. Coming down the new path towards the finish, I thought myself dreaming when I heard Richie’s voice egging me on. “You were slowing down,” he’d later told me and he would have given me the infamous “Healy kick” if I had not got my backside back in gear for the final sprint-in.
Barry Minnock had taken a slight wrong turn like myself but still held firm to win, others such as Winter League winner Eoin Brady and his club-mates in UCD Niall Fox and Zoran Skrba were less lucky and lost critical positions. The shortness of the race ensured that two minutes could cost 10-20 places as is now the state of affairs in the Leinster League.
Red, White, and Gold!
In the end, despite the chaos and Richie slipping from a top-3 spot to 11th, other people going wrong made up for it and our team could combine for a good thirteen point gap over Boards with the unfortunate UCDers in third. Of course, it would have been great to see the likes of Rathfarnham, North Laois and Sli Cualann finish with strong teams as last year, but it couldn’t really take the sheen of our victory.
When you’ve never been called up for a winning prize, it’s still a joyous moment. Rob said he hadn’t won a medal since he was a teenager. My last was a few gold medals in Ten-Pin Bowling as a 19-year-old. A sport I had to quit due to my notoriously foul temper!
More than anything I felt happy for the lads for I know just how hard they work and the extent of their fighting spirit. We've got a lot of big challenges ahead of us: Euro Trial, Snowdon, Dublin Novice Cross-Country and it's great to come together as a team and taste some success with such challenges ahead.
Our ladies were seen off by strong Rathfarnham and Duhac teams but could still walk away with the bronze. Niamh O’Boyle had a rare outing and ran well to win the women’s.
Most of all, though, and more importantly for me than my first top-ten and the circumstances surrounding it, was once again the return of my fighting spirit. My ascent was solid, but I fought rather than excelled, my descent was steady and committed but lacked rhythm and power. This in a way is good. I pulled a good performance out of a race where I really lacked the strength for one. You have to put yourself in a position to take opportunities by remaining positive and fighting remorselessly for survival rather than dropping like a stone when your number doesn’t come up.
Even better, for the first time in as long as I can remember I was not sick after a race. If this was a result of my body being completely drained of food over the previous days or because I have followed Jason’s advice and eliminated full-fat milk from my diet, I don’t know? But I’m thankful to be able to enjoy the post-race craic without migraines and stomach cramps.
More shine, More flutter!
Not just the medals shone on us today but the weather came with a brightness and ferocity rare on this island. Two-Rock felt like the top of a frying pan and the wonderful lime-juice concoction of the Dublin Mountain Rescue tasted magical. It took me a while to appreciate though, as I staggered from the finish into the bushes for a brief moment of privacy.
I recovered quickly but it was clear from my dizziness that without anaerobic buffers to protect me I had relied solely on the aerobic capacity I have built and my high VO2 max. Only by exerting my lungs to their fullest could I keep the oxygen debt from building up too quickly and keep my legs from checking out early. Hopefully my stomach bug is behind me now so I can start my track work next week. A nice jog on the hill in the evening helped me flush out some of the anaerobic poison.
OSI – Our Sponsor
The new OSI maps also glittered and I while I wouldn’t exchange the medal I could still look with some envy at the winners of this great price. More such useful prices please! The best fancy dresses merited prizes as well and the variations on fairy wings had me intrigued: From malevolent crow-wings to angelic white. Justin Rea said the wind-resistance proved problematic on his own pair but the extra float on the descent made up for it. Caroline Reid had gallantly placed herself at the back of the field so as not to poke out anyone’s eye in the tight pack. Sounds like a pretty effective way to make your way up the field if you ask me!
Aisling Coppinger had master-minded a fitting celebration at Lamb Doyles with a folk-rocking band, plenty of balloons, and enough food for a field twice the size (as might have been expected). The craic truly was mighty and IMRA showed its most familial face. We should never forget what a privilege it is to share such a great sport with such great people.
A fantastic week, new job, new house in Glendalough to move into, my first medal and my first top-ten finish, and the summer has only begun. Now let’s see if there really is such a force as momentum…