The trip over the M50 to the N4 to get from Glendalough to Mullingar today ended up being a very worthwhile investment of Bank Holiday time. Mullingar Harriers, the host’s of today’s Leinster Novice cross-country, pulled out all the stops in arranging a splendid event in the scenic Belvedere estate.
That the midlands could have such beauty probably struck us by surprise, but more so did the severity of the course. Aoife, having been subjected to a very tough course in Cavan a few year’s back, called this the hardest she’d ever run on and I have not seen harder climbs in cross-country since Star of the Seas.
Particularly innovative was the length of the course which for the women’s 3000m race consisted of almost just one big continuous loop taking in a variety of different ascents and descents as the peloton of runners fought and battled through the auburn trees. The sunshine lend an unearthly serenity to the setting and you can empathise with Autumn lovers everywhere on a day as fine as this.
The majority of hill runners contested today’s Masters races with John Harkin taking an early second but having to concede a lot of ground during the race. His Snowdon-compatriots Martin McDonald, and Aengus Burke packed close to him and Derek Coogan was back from the East and Ben Mooney represented Wicklow. Fidelma Ayres and Zoe Melling both ran on the medal-winning Rathfarnham team and Mary McDermott, Donore, whom I know from my sessions also medalled.
In the men’s race, Brian Furey worked his way to 15th overall with Colm Hill not far away in 19th. Both looked (as most in the race) laboured midway but from the side-lines seemed to recover well. Keith Daly and Ryan Montgomery were cheering on their respective teams from the side-lines.
My main attention was, of course, on the women’s race were Aoife would duke it out backed up by fellow Crusaders Tressan McCambridge. Unfortunately, we had no team in it which was a pity as they would have been well in the running for medals.
Both went off controlled in what looked a very fast course in a race where we expected a serious burn-off once the first extended climb was hit. This didn’t precisely prove true as only a daring Westmeath runner was really punished when she joined the Kilkenny girl in the lead only to plummet through the field. The leader kept strong and seemed untouchable on the day leading from start to finish.
Both our Crusaders worked their way up the field throughout the race but Aoife had to settle for sixth but ran well with a faster pace than in Dublin on a much harder course which shows the peaking system working as anticipated. Tressan followed in 22nd having hunted down scores of runner’s throughout. With two scorers in, the Cru team was well-positioned in second as far as I recollect so a real pity we couldn’t get the numbers out and claim another team medal. In the end Donore ran away with the women’s, well ahead of Sportsworld and Rathfarnham.
Aoife was, to her surprise, presented with a gold medal as second scorer for the winning Dublin County team (they wont having secured all spots from 5th-10th!).
Times aren’t available yet, but this was a very close race were I think 10 seconds would have meant the difference for a podium spot. Anyway, it’s early days and this was a great test for the battles ahead.