RACES: Wicklow Way Relay 2011–Part Deux

Aoife had been up for half an hour in anticipation of her earlier race-time. Running leg 7 means a lot of waiting time. Being team captain meant I was sending texts from bed at around 6:30 anyway.
I tried a different breakfast strategy: Protein rich (mistake?) courtesy of some eggs and liver-pate. Our kit was packed, except I forgot my Crusaders singlet which I took out the day before, looking for Aoife’s singlet (I know BORING, but it’ll explain why Tony Collins and myself wore the same singlet!).

Leg 1
Jason, only one day off his Carrauntoohil-courtesy crutches zoomed Richie and Ian to their respective starts of leg 1 and 2. I few texts had confirmed to me that everyone was in position, so the final moments of throwing endless streams of gear into the boot passed by more relaxed.

Clock hits 8am and, as if on cue, my mobile screen flashes up Jason’s name. A flurry of words later, I know that Richie has finished second within his target time and Ian has set off on the hunt.

His only regret was not taking advantage of the known short-cut which he reckoned cost him 40-50 seconds on those who employed it. There was discussion after that is was “legal” something Joe disconfirmed with me at leg 6. This is probably best clarified before next year’s event and to my mind shortcuts are non consistent with the format of the relay. Leave that to Stone Cross to Lugnacoille.

Results (target): 58:28 (59:00) Team in 2nd

Leg 2
By the time Ian hits Crone, Jason phones me up: "It's not going good," he starts and I sense he's up to his old tricks, "it's going great!" Ian has has pulled back Kevin Bolger and Jason let’s me know we’re in the lead and building.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” I think in best “A-Team mode”. Comparing teams, I knew we had a chance to lead at least until the start of leg 4, after this we would need Rathfarnham to make mistakes.
Ian started paying the prize for his intense chase on the long climb towards Lough Tay but still put us into leg 3 with a 1:45 cushion. I text Des the news: “So far so good,” comes the reply.

Looking at the time later, Ian missed my prediction but still set the seventh best time ever run on the course. Spot the optimist.

Results (target): 01:05:36 (01:01:00). Team in 1st

Leg 3

I had driven the short distance from Glendalough to Oldbridge and as I dropped off Aoife, we ran into Lucy Darcy, of Sportsworld, another last minute power-substitute along with fellow F40 Helen White. The Nifty Fifties, even with Gerry Brady having had to pull out, looked more dangerous than ever and shortly showed it. Eilis Connery arrived (too soon!) in the fastest time of the day and Rathfarnham were back in the lead then followed Maura. The President’s Men (four minutes down) and Nifty Fifties (five minutes) arrived next. Boards were six and a half down at this point.

Maura had run well but had had to stop to get a pebble out of her shoe (she didn’t find it). We found it stuck under the sole, the drawback of some road racer designs! I looked at her watch and it showed 00:34:35, perhaps the watch had stopped on way?

Results (target): 00:35:33 (00:35:00). Team in 1st

Leg 4
Aoife set off up the hard tarmac climb in the impossible pursuits of John Brennan. With Jenny McAuley, Lucy Darcy and Suzanne Kenny waiting to set off in pursuit, there could be no slip-ups.

Driving back towards Glendalough, I nodded happily when seeing how far up the road she had come already. Since designing the rehabilitation program, then a cross-country program and now a mountain running one, our goal has always been to bring Aoife back to the form she had in 2008 and then look beyond that.

Stuck impatiently behind a bus, I phoned Tony, cursing myself for not having done so earlier. No response. Ugh. Called again. Voicemail! Third call: “Yeah,” Tony responds and I pull into the car park to grab his gear. Peter O’Farrell warms up, looking relaxed, Colm Hill lingers at the hand-over point eyes full of hunger.
I walk to the hotel once, sees John Brennan skirting over the ground, his Inov-8 X-Talons barely bothering with the ground. They build an eight minute lead here and their race is against the record now. I walk back but a restless and soon turn to cheer her on.

Just then Jason and Ian pull into the entrance to the carpark. They beep their horn incessantly and start shouting. The timing is magnificent, Aoife rounds the corner, a can barely shout a few words before she is gone over the grass (Lucy Darcy with a road runners dutifulness later stays to the concrete path). Her 45:55 (the recorded time of 46:02 included the time to ask Aoife her team number after she stopped) takes almost two minutes off her previous best and sets the sixth best female time for the leg. How’s that for a comeback.
Early signs of trouble stir as we depart. Bernard Fortune arrives, looking confused: Jenny has arrived well ahead of target and no hand awaited her outstretched baton! As he runs on, Colm’s gaze wanders the vale: Where is Suzanne?

Results (target): 45:55 (45:00) Team in 2nd

Leg 5
“You’ve run leg 5 before?”
“Yeah in 1:02 or so,” I remember Tony saying. On a tough hot day apparently. “Ok, can you do it again,” it seems an unfair request to a man just back from a six week honey-moon but the Sli Cualann man throws himself into three weeks of intensive training and battles his way into the uphill stride again at Glasnamullan and Scarr.

“He’s a real runner,” I tell Aoife, “we just need his muscles to remember that 2:04 800m pace before the day!” She nods, reminding me that here’s a real competitor, fired up for a real fight. With a team in your back, what more do you need?

On the recce, the mid-section was sloppy enough to send anyone in road-runners skidding. “If it’s like this on race day and you arrive without bleeding, we know you didn’t try hard enough,” Jason says before elaborating on where the cuts should likely be.

Tony doesn’t disappoint, although he isn’t bleeding (Jason’s sun-glasses give away no reaction), he runs under target and a new best on the course despite the extra hundred metres. Des takes off, we still have a cushion. I speak to Peter: “You happy with your run, did you stay on time for the record?”, he laughs “Yes, I ran 55 minutes, which is good, for that’s the target I wrote down for the leg myself!”

All is not right for the other teams. Paul Nolan jogs up and down the road, expecting to see Colm. Eamonn awaits Bernard. Then we all see a furious bare-chested figure screaming his way down towards Paul “RUN you F*CK, RUN”. Nolan has four minutes and ten seconds to make up, Colm’s run has torn through. It looks close between Des and him. We miss Bernard arriving and his argument with Colm for not calling him back when he goes astray. The President’s Men are five minutes down as Eamonn Hodge strides along looking to recapture some of his 2010 form.

As we go off, the Nifty Fifties still linger as the most formidable threat remaining but Martin McDonald is engulfed by the forest for 1 hour and 38 minutes and the gallant veterans sword has been broken.

Result (target): 01:01:57 (01:02:00) Team in 2nd