With the latest news from John Murphy (my physiotherapist) that my injury had regressed slightly and it could be as late at December 13th until I can resume normal training, I thought to myself “just as well have an outing with the Crusaders lads and take advantage of rest of the summer fitness before it’s gone”. I had planned to go up anyway as the race would be Aoife’s comeback on the cross-country session and the final step of the road to recovery she started almost one and a half seasons ago.
The Dublin Novices seems to have a permanent standing order on sunshine which never fails to be delivered and this made the already fast course dry and manageable. “Uncross”-like if you’re a purist!
I took the chance to trial my Vibram’s in a race here. Veterans of the sport have been running these races barefoot since time immemorial so it stood to reason that wearing Vibram FiveFingers would be quite comfortable and so it proved. The shoes were nice and light and gripped the terrain well. Only way they made themselves felt is through slightly sore calf-muscles, no doubt from the extra stabilisation and lower leg activation required when using this form of footwear.
My own race is a definite epitaph of today’s event. Whereas the Rathfarnham 5k road race last Sunday had provided us with a promising preview of the results of her Lydiard training program, the Dublin Novice offered the litmus test. To ensure we would get a “mini-spike” in her form, we decided on Lydiard’s race/non-race week approach during this period which has followed 10 weeks of aerobic and strength conditioning and four weeks of anaerobic conditioning.
Would the slightly lower volume but faster work this week conspire to build on the good 5k performance from seven days prior? As I watched the early stages of lap 1, the answer still hung in the balance from a spectators point. Aoife had work herself up to sit in a lead group of five ladies after initially heeding some advice that both Susan, our ladies coach, and I are very strong proponents off: Watch the leaders for at least the first half of the first lap.
Both the men and women’s fields (the former in particular) went off at suicidal and unsustainable paces. The men’s race proved particularly arrhythmic when most slowed precipitously on lap two and three before recovering for lap four. While this is not so bad when everyone does it, it can handicap your race, so I was glad to see Aoife in the position she sat in and I egged on her on as they disappeared into the forest.
Spurting to the other side for the final lap, I watched delighted as Aoife had gobbled up a few runners and sat in a strong third position. The final run-in on the grass offered more drama when Aoife eventually had to concede ground on the Raheny runner in second who stretched away strongly. For a brief moment it looked like Donore’s “ ….” could pull a damaging sprint finish out of the hat, but Aoife staid strong long enough to brush off the attack and could celebrate a well-earned Bronze medal, her first individual county medal. When the next few Crusaders girls arrived in a tight pack, a glory-day was compounded: Team Silver for our girls and two medals for Aoife to bring home in the car. Not bad as comebacks go!
As a very proud coach I stepped up, suitably inspired, to the men’s start line and the usual fast pace and hustle and bustle saw us near the first corner. I decided to cross through the field and cut the corner sharply only to be caught by the tape and tumble ignominiously to the ground. My hands scraped the bike path and as I looked up a stampede of spikes moved over me. Somehow I didn’t get trampled and managed to get back on my feet and use the adrenaline surge to pick back the places I had shed.
Despite the fall, I came off at an only slightly slower pace than last year booking the first two kilometres in 3:45 and 3:48 (my average pace in last year’s race had been 3:50 min/km after hitting 3:33 on the first kilometre). After my two antibiotics treatments I feel like a new man and can’t help but think I’ve carried around a stomach problem for a long time. I started the race “easy” with an average heart rate of 185bpm before increasing it gradually every kilometre to 190, 191, 192, 193 and 194.
I am delighted both because it confirmed a gutsy performance but also there was no sign of the chest pressure and stomach cramping I have experienced over the last year and a bit which have prevented me from pushing me into these heart rates. One of my strengths in the early days was an ability to sustain a very high heart rate (in Howth 2007, for instance, I raced 8.5km at 188bpm. Today was 6km at 190bpm average).
Our teams were never in the mix for medals but Karl Fitzmaurice, Rob Cross, Jason Kehoe and Gary Park ran well. My osteitis didn’t manifest during the race (we’ll see the reaction tomorrow morning) and once I hit the third lap I knew I would finish. I thought about quitting the race four or five times which is in the low end for your standard cross-country race but some of my newer team members around gave me some targets to hang on to and James McFadden in particular had the ability to shout the right encouragement at the right time.
One was “think of yourself as a sprinter” which made me manage a bit of a speed increase on the last few hundred metres and saw me finish in 23:29 compared to last year’s 22:32 over the same course and same conditions. My lungs and heart had had it by the finish so I staggered quietly over below the trees and laid down gasping for a while thinking my legs could have gone another few rounds and my aerobic fitness is still largely intact despite the hiccups I’ve faced since Snowdon in late July.
The Auld Crusaders
Getting injury-free and fit enough for the Dublin Seniors will be a challenging task on the back of my latest status and the time I could run but I will take each day on its own merits and see where we go. And after all, nothing can take the sheen of the medals Aoife brought home for our club – the first in this competition for our women since the 1960s. “A welcome return to form”, the announcer said in Donore’s club house. He has good memory!
For me I paid the biggest price in terms of “work” discomfort.As I’m typing this, the scrapes in my right hand bang against the end of the keyboard but I suppose I should instead be thankful that I am not off to shovel cement tomorrow morning but just tapping away at keyboards.