John Maye contacted me shortly after news had broken that the National Novice had been cancelled: He was arranging an impromptu gathering of a lot of his promising college youngsters in Carlow to race a cross-country event at the Carlow Hurling grounds.
When we arrived, John was marking out the course: five laps of the hurling pitches. Short and rock-hard grass both ensured fast pace and robbed me of one of my 9mm spikes!
The boys were chatting away eagerly in the dressing room and were definitely into their running which is always good to see, the talk revolving around how they were really coming on as a team.
They weren’t all talk either, a six man group went straight to the front and set a fierce pace. Pre-warned of their credentials by John (some were knocking on the door of sub-16 for the 5k), I did not respond but settled in with the chasers hoping useful enthusiasm would doom a few and have them come back to me later.
With us were a few older Carlow runners as well and last year’s M50 winner in the Wicklow Fit4Life series.As we went into the third lap, he closed the gap on me, but I could use it as an incentive to hold my pace strong and pulled away again immediately.
Coming through the first lap behind the leaders, most of us probably realised we had gone a bit fast.The first kilometre had been faster than the killing 3:30 which had destroyed me in the Dublin Novice this year. The leader held firm, kept his pace around 3:17min/km and won in 15:53. Most dropped off progressively. Luckily for me, my wind-sprints and 800m controlled time trial (both staples of a Lydiard peak race week) had fortified my buffers against oxygen debt enough that I shrugged off the fast start and settled into a solid pace for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th kilometre before speeding up again for the last 840m.
Catching a youngster on lap four, I decided to move in for the kill on the two flagging in front of me. I opened my pace increase with 600 to go, closed the gap 60m from the finish, but the two young runners had enough power to match my pace and float in just ahead of me confirming that I still lack a finishing kick but have managed to improve it a bit in recent months.
The course was just over three miles and it was encouraging to have recovered enough speed after the injury to run solidly sub-6 minute miles with heart rate of only 176, well under the 190 at the Dublin Novices. As Lydiard advises, the cross-country is there to condition your muscles and ensure you don’t enter your winter training in a “plodding state”. I feel that mission has been achieved, all that remains now is an easy ten days, looking back at 2010 and then forward to the winter training for 2011 starting on January 2nd.