RACES: Wicklow Way Relay 2011

It takes the world’s fastest man 9.58 seconds to cover 100m. It took Paul Tierney 13 hours 38 minutes and 51 seconds to run the full 132km of the Wicklow Way. Today, the former time difference over almost all of the latter distance remained the only separator for the efforts of twelve men and four women.

This was not the difference between winning and losing, for on a day when no errors haunted the green colours of Rathfarnham, there could only be one victor and even when the race looked safely bound for the Southside Dublin club, Barry Minnock changed the perception of what is possible for the newer, elongated, leg 7 when he ran under seventy-seven minutes for the 21.1km traverse from Ironbridge to Cross-Bridge. It was a performance that contemptuously brushed aside the 650 ascent on the country’s hardest half-marathon race.

Long have “The Blister Bunch” held their fine record of 7 hours 17 minutes and 21 seconds but it is no more. Rathfarnham reached for the stars with their ambition to break seven hours and fell only narrowly short. When the 2012 race is run, Rathfarnham’s time of 7 hours 3 minutes sets the bar for others to jump. Would it have changed had Mark Ryan made the start-line? We will never know and he was amply replaced by Kevin Bolger although he would be the only Rathfarnham runner not to hand over the baton in the lead because off the aggressively chasing Ian Conroy who briefly saw our motley crew of Crusaders, Sli Cualann, Clonliffe and Raheny runners cherish the pole position.

Alas, Rathfarnham flexed their muscles once more and despite both of our ladies acquitting themselves extremely well, Rathfarnham were the bird that had flown the nest by the time John Brennan hammered into Glendalough like a run-away stream-train. Things were getting very hot, both weather and competition-wise, at this stage with Nifty Fifties, All the Presidents Men, and Boards A still only between three to five minutes behind Crusaders.

From here things unravelled from multiple sides, Bernard Fortune had been given an overly pessimistic start-time and suffered a two minute delay before taking a wrong turn in the woods of leg 5. When one of the Nifty Fifties likewise went astray, this time for forty minutes, the forested trails of leg 5 confirmed why they are feared.

Colm Hill put in perhaps the best performance of the day narrowly missing the record despite the slight lengthening of the course. Whilst we were running to schedule thus far, this cut a massive eight minute in-road into our crusading side who now knew that silver was the currency to play for on the day. Paul Nolan nibbled away at Des Kennedy despite his projection-breaking run; the old master had not taught his final lesson.

From here we lost momentum on both legs 7 and 8 and when Gary Condon handed over to Ian McGrath only three minutes separated the sides. Our second veteran Declan Horgan had to hold off the motoring McGrath and sold himself defiantly despite looking the most laboured of the two for the majority of the ten kilometres. Whether our hysterical team car helped or hurt his cause, I don’t know but as he crossed the line in the silver-lined position, and brought 7 hours and 36 minutes of running to and end, all he had was nine seconds or 1.125 seconds per team member (half if you count both sides!). One descent approached slightly more ruthlessly, a few more walking steps taken up a hill, one brief fall, or one lackadaisical hand-over and all could have been different. But so is the nature of our sports and it is a rare runner who finds himself always on the bright side of the pendulum.

Today, Rathfarnham ruled with Crusaders and Boards AC A distant second and third even when putting in times that could have won the event on four previous occasions. For our club, this was one step up the podium after the brave Bronze behind Clonliffe and Rathfarnham’s “Clash of the Titans” in 2008. What was more, we took eight minutes off that personal best performance from our club.

The President, Dermot Murphy’s, Men recovered well, having lost only 5-6 minutes, on the, inevitable incidents and the Nifty Fifties were pulled back to fifth by Mick Byrne and Tom O’Connor reminding us thirty-something's that we still have it all ahead of us.

Nine seconds made the difference between a disappointing endgame and a jubilant finish for our team but as Paul Nolan was quick to remind me: “It is not the nine seconds that count, it’s the 25 minutes to Rathfarnham”. In this, he is right, many seasons on end now have Rathfarnham thrown down the gauntlet to the men of the mountains and while they have been foiled by Clonliffe and others in the Relay, no club has truly picked it up on the wider hill running scene. What challenger can pick up the gauntlet? The coming years will tell us. But they will need lots of hard work, patience and numbers.

A personal report and the “inside story” on the “Cru car” throughout the day to follow tomorrow.