RACES: Graded Meet 5 - Irishtown 5000m

5000m from home

12.5 laps of the track. It takes Kenenisa Bekele only 12 minutes and 37 seconds to from gun to tape so in theory I probably suffers less than the rest of us and we should all try and complete faster. If only running at 2:31min/km speed wasn’t so daunting!

Hallowed Home Turf

I drove up to Irishtown yesterday for my outdoor track debut on home turf on Crusader’s solid facilities. A good crowd cheered on the early races (the sprints and the 1500m). I had decided to go for the 5000m as it would allow me to use some of my endurance but as it would prove the 1500m might have given me a better race as the fields were much bigger and times much closer to my own ability.

Promptly registering as grade “D” knowing my place in the lowest of running echelons when it comes to this type of running (at current my best chance of beating a fast runner is running so far that he’d get bored!), I was dismayed to find that the D race would not happen and with only a few entries in the C officials made the decision to merge the D-C-B into one race and have the A after that.

Plan B

Ok, new tactics, “don’t be put off by the result”, Aoife said consolingly, “ah, I won’t”, I said and meant it. Looking around I didn’t really know too many of the other runners but there was plenty of talk about “17 minutes”. I knew a really good run on my recent form would be 17:50 and that breaking the 18:25 I set in the windswept rugged first 5k of the National 10k in Navan would be positive.

Luckily, I did see Martin McDonald and PJ Carroll, the well-known North Laois’ers of the hills. I had run against Martin (or I should say Martin had run away from me) in the Knockbeg 1 Mile Classic in Carlow earlier in the year and knew him from the hills. PJ Carroll likewise was a good pace marker as I knew he was about 6 minutes faster than me on the half-marathon (around 1:18 to around 1:24).

So when the gun went I was neatly placed in lane 1 with a Clonliffer. I decided that whatever I did, I’d just hang on to the back for a while and see how the pace felt. As always, the first three laps were quite comfortable (Aoife and our head coach Michael laughed at this my “epiphany” later “if only all races finished at 1200m!” said Michael).

To Go or not to Go

For a moment, I felt the more comfortable and (according to my spectating club-mates “looked it too”) and contemplated an attack on PJ and the Clonliffers. But by now the pace felt harder and the wind on the inside track began to bite. At one stage, PJ swerved out a bit and I drew up next to him and thought “go or no?”, the extra effort was felt immediately and with a long race to go, I backed off and kept my pace, letting PJ drift back in front of me.

“He looked awful, but then he just went,” one of my club-mates commented as PJ suddenly put the boot down and put a hundred metres between himself and me and went on to take out two further runners. This left me alone but I was working hard and focusing on moving my legs over fast and keeping good form. I had seen how runners in the earlier races (the 1500s) had started to retort to a long forced and almost clunky-looking stride once they were dropped off the pack. I’ve always felt it’s the strength to maintain high knee lift and fast leg turn-over providing the key to good performances and this needs to be combined with a sensible pacing strategy where you don’t induce so much local fatigue that executing proper movements become impossible.

Maybe, with this in mind, my approach was a bit cautious, for several laps I just held the gap that had been created between myself and the field and only on the last 800m did I speed up again and reduce some of the gap. In other words, I was desperate to keep a strong solid effort the whole way and probably hung on the safe side of the red line rather than jumping over it. On the other hand, I felt I was working hard throughout and had to summon my best breathing on the final 400m.

The 18-minute Barrier

The fast field did me no favours in my chase for a sub-17 time, we covered the first 1k in 3:13 and despite this feeling easy at the time, it remains 1 mile pace for me, so I can count myself lucky for absorbing this punishment well enough to keep going steady. Only on the last bit did I again manage to drop down to 3:13 pace for the final 300. By this time Martin McDonald had made his move, he had settled in runners-up early but midway through he held a good lead with his characteristic forward leaning style.

His winning time was 17:05, a strong effort, but we were quickly put in perspective when the A race went off with a much bigger crowd, all of who ran under 17 minutes (Brian Maher won in 14:35). Still hoping to sneak under 18, I had to concede defeat in that effort when I ran 18:16, the slowest time of the night. Yet, it still gave me a PB by twenty-nine seconds and shows that I should at least be able to match my 1:24 half-marathon time from last year, and with five more weeks to Snowdon, I can hope to turn my overall performance level up by a small notch and then go and tweak a few things for the cross-country season.

The best was to come: I recovered within minutes of the race and today I would hardly have known that I had raced at all. Even better, I felt the race was a tremendous workout and left me energised and positive. So more 5ks and 10ks in my build-up in the future! The recovery is endlessly swifter than from a hill race and it more easily turns into a valuable session than an exercise in how to drag myself up a steep hill after I’ve blown up.

Looking at comparing performances, this gives me a 10k time (on the track) of around 38:00 which is consistent with the two 38:28s I’ve run in windy and/or hilly road races, so I’m more or less in the same place in terms of performance over these distances as I was a year ago.

I November, before my injuries, I had brought myself down to a TPL 23. By the Knocbeg Mile I was a 27 and today’s result brings me just under the 25 bar moving towards 24. So while this illustrates the enormous cost of injury setbacks it also shows there’s no reason for despondency as things are moving forward, albeit at a two steps forward and one step back pace.

And fair juice to the AAI for beating IMRA to getting their results online for once! ;-)