RACES: Leinster Intermediates

Another Sunday, another cross-country race and this time the field of battle was set for both myself and Aoife with my injury just about behaving well enough to make the risk of running worth taking.

The venue: Adamstown, County Wexford, same place as the Leinster Novice 2009. Conditions were ideal with the first chill of the upcoming storm shading us from the sun and a still largely dry course. The women had to navigate a 1000m loop followed by 2x1500m whereas we men likewise started with the fast 1000m loop before being led (like lambs?) into five laps of the hillier 1500m course created by taking a zig-zag detour up and down the knoll at the centre of the field.

Downhill Start

Be warned whenever you see a nice grassy downhill start for they are the most likely to lead you to crash and burn. Both myself and Aoife had our fastest kilometre and mile on the first but our pace had stayed smart: the initiation lap simply made it easy.

Aoife executed her strategy to absolute perfection sitting strongly in the group that had formed behind Deirdre Doyle of Tinryland who had won the Leinster Novice a few weeks back. Regrettably, on the final lap when a DMP and Donore runner broke away.

Aoife and a girl in green stayed determined and made several serious attempts to close down the gap as they alone were left to chase the top three. For a long while everything stayed up for grabs but all front-runners held their nerve and didn’t budge. At the penultimate corner beckoning each lap’s tough hill, “green girl” had a slightly stronger finish up the hill and one Donore runner emerged from obscurity to launch an amazing kick and take out Aoife on the line. The Richie Healy of women’s running had been unearthed and these runners should be remembered as they must be taken out well before the finish.

Keeping up an old tradition

One record which I take great pride in maintaining is the fact I’ve never raced a 10k and not finished sub-40. However, when I heard the Intermediates had been upgraded from 8000m to 10000m, I felt less than pleased not having counted on putting the injury through more than 40 minutes of hard cross-country running.

“Focus on what you can control,” I thought, and stepped to the line. I stuck to mid-pack as the field took off down the hill. We quickly spread out and I seized a comfortable position. First lap went by fast but felt eminently comfortable.

While I started picking off people early enough, I tried not to rush myself. I’m at my best when I act as a destitute man’s Gebrselassie and just settle into a trance-like rhythm with no sudden pace injections.

The next few laps passed by and I kept feeling good, I found myself knocking off sub-4 minute kilometres with ease: 3:44, 3:50, 3:58, 3:53, 3:58 and 19:23 for the first 5000m. My legs floated over the bumpy terrain, perfectly paced, a man in full control of his own capabilities, enjoying his craft.

The next four were a bit more uneven with three 4:03s sneaking in but I had taken out two more runners and passed through 6000m faster than my crash and burn performance at the Dublin Novices. Lesson: when you can’t train, lose weight!

On our fifth face-off with the “The Hill” I caught another Liffey Valley Man and took my time passing him out, acting like a smiling assassin, I heard his breath and felt his eyes measuring me up: He knew the score, ease and fluency took me away. Little wonder I looked cheery and send thumbs up to Aoife and Martin McDonald’s family who supported me superbly throughout.

On Pace

Midway through I had set a goal for myself: “Run this cross-country 10k in sub-40 minutes and you know you’ve got a good run-out today.” The 10k point arrived a few hundred metres ahead of the infamous “penultimate curve”: 39:24 and fair to say my 10k PB of 38:28 would have been consigned to the history books had our feet caressed tarmac and not thick grass.

My mixed pattern of 9mm and 12mm iron spikes dug deep one last time as I started to close in on a man I had kept in eye all race: A stout looking grey-haired runner wearing the fearsome singlet of Sliabh Bhuidhe Rovers – Ireland’s only all-male club and perhaps the hardest collection of harriers in the country.

He had run cleverly throughout and only when I belatedly opened a sprint did the gap between us evaporate but a few metres denied me another spot and instead I congratulated him on his well-paced effort and we agreed it had been “a clever man’s race.”

2009 versus 2010

The clock read 41:14, the mileage 10.48km. Sure my injury felt a bit stiff and I probably need 2-3 days on my backside now but nothing takes away from a heartening run and a happy day.

At the car afterwards, we met Tim Grummell who reminded me of the time I dragged myself up and down Ben Gorm with two swollen gashed knees and two gashed elbows just about beating the M70s: “Never have I seen so much stupid self-inflicted pain”.

Today, despite a heart rate of 180bpm average, the pain never really stung, what had deflected it, I could wonder, looking back at my best cross-country performance yet and one of the top-3 performances of the year.