“Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” seems to be my new mantra this season with a complete lack of disappointments up until this point. Fittingly, I saw my new-found confidence tested by a bout of cold and a day in bed this week, just as I faced the most ambitious showdown yet: trying to break 80 minutes for the half-marathon for the first time and better my previous best of 1:22:28.
People talked about wind and rain and the course being hillier than advertised and I wondered would the cold have any effect. Eventually, I decided to dismiss these notions, and focus on what to do rather than the reason not to do. I have consistently run well off the back of feeling less than perfect and there was no reason to expect this race to be any different.
At the quays
Aoife and I had driven down to her parents in Wexford the night before and I tried to get a good sleep and get the sore throat settled fully under the multiple layers of warm blankets laid out to me. We drove into town in the morning for registration and organisation was very strong here with quick processing time and plentiful portaloos. The race did not sell out with about 940 entries last I heard for both the 10k and half-marathon. I recognised very few runners apart from Paul Gibbons, one of my team mates from La Santa, and one of many strong Sliabh Bhuidhe Rovers runners out there. Paul runs in the region of 34-35 minutes for 10k so I wondered would he be a contender for a race that has generally been won in around 1:14-times, a tad slower than the 66-68 minutes times usually required in the bigger half marathons.
I had firm goals set for myself: break into top-10, preferably top-5 depending on numbers, and break 80 minutes for the half-marathon. This meant 3:47 min/km pace (6:05min/miles) was required. From a few seconds after the start call beckoned I knew things would be alright, I sat in on the tail of the second group without much effort and could see Paul Gibbons and three others forming a group up ahead. “Should I be with them,” I wondered but decided to first get a pace check on my Garmin. First kilometre came in 3:48, breathing was easy, legs were fine, so I began working my way through the second group and eventually only three of us were left from the “chasing pack” and the runner in all-black in this group torpedoed up to the leaders never to be seen again (by us).
A battle of threes
When I passed a runner in the black and red Menapians gear, I set in motion a furious ding-dong battle that would last the next 14 kilometres. This particular runner would not concede an inch and either sat straight on my shoulder, right behind me, or tried to attack me on the climbs. A few times he gained 1-2 metres which I aggressively closed and my counter-attacks on every single descent sounded like they put on the pressure I hoped they would. This wasn’t so much working together as attrition.
I had expected a slow start as the route shows mainly net climb for the first six kilometres and I was pleasantly surprised to see the second kilometre also in 3:48 but then the problems began – we hit a fairly long patch of mainly climb and despite the upped intensity of our little internal battle, we hit some very bad splits in 3:59, 4:03 and 4:02. That meant 33 seconds had been squandered and I now had to put faith in a very strong finish and aid from the descents.
By the time we hit the scenic Johnstown Castle bit, which featured a lap of the gardens, our group had grown to three as a seasoned Waterford AC runner sat behind me and the Menapian man and we had managed to peg back a DMP runner at this stage as well to put us further up a field. I tried to break my pursuers here but only managed to briefly break some light. As an aside, this bit was a very nice addition to an interesting course and featured a bit of loose gravel path as you ran around a small lake on the demesne. Generally, the route was not quite as picturesque as the Strawberry half-marathon and I would have liked to be without the sharp turn around a cone here if possible although it did give us a sneak preview of the leaders’ battle: two men fought for the win with Paul Gibbons trailing behind now and another runner in black. I lost count of whether we had 4 or 5 ahead of us now but we caught a runner back just as we left the area, he had almost grind to a standstill.
We hit eight miles in about 31 minutes and 10km in 38:44. Still all to play for. My “friends” were a boon at this stage as I had to gamble full-on to gain back the lost time. “You’ve only got four ahead of ye’s lads,” a knowing spectator shouted, “let’s do something about that I yelled, to fire on my companions.” The adrenaline had the intended effect and eventually my constant attacking at the front of the group left just me and the Waterford AC runner chasing the unlikely hope of a podium.He seemed glued to me, even surviving me doing a “grab water bottle and run” attack.
Very similar to the Strawberry half in Enniscorthy, the Wexford half has a its last 5-6km on a national road – in this case the N25 rather than the N11. I’d noticed at this stage that we hadn’t gotten as much downhill as hoped, but the course is net uphill because you start at the quays which are lower than the finish closer to the town centre, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Still the hope of sub-80 now lived after we executed an 18:13 5k on the 10th to 14th kilometre with 3:43, 3:33, 3:40, 3:41 and 3:36. Then just a tiny bit of climb put us back at 3:50 and 3:53 and then it was time for the N25. Here the sight of Paul Gibbons drifting into view really spurred us on and I kept leading for the next 3 kilometres. As we drifted nearer, Paul looked over his shoulder five or six times to check on us and this was like pouring blood in shark-infested waters.
Now the Waterford runner made his move and it was a good one, just powerful enough to break clear of me. My legs were still strong, even if less so than a few miles back, and my breathing had plenty to give but it did not quite put the dent into my paces that I had hoped. I essentially stayed “mr. Consistency” with 3:44, 3:44, 3:46, 3:44 and 3:44 as we passed 20km and suddenly found ourselves running neck on neck with some heavy traffic including a car that pulled in so suddenly it nearly took my leg off. I still regret not having the wits to give it a right old smack.
I closed within striking distance of Paul for a second just as the Waterford runner caught him but he reacted superbly to release himself again and both gained a bit on me on the final few hundred metres despite my pace upping to 3:25min/km on this stretch. It never felt like a sprint and as I looked up at the clock seeing 1:20:30, I realised that target had gone astray. My Garmin had slightly mistimed the route giving me 3:47min/km pace but over a distance of 21.25km. We ran a 37:10 10k and 1:00:26 10 mile coming back towards the finish.
Whatever other outcomes, I took 6th position and shook hands with the Waterford runner who complimented my running and then I went off to say hello to Jane and Graham handing out flyers and Aoife who had dropped into the 10k at the last minute despite not having trained for the last few months. Given those circumstances her 3rd spot in just over 41 minutes was encouraging as we shouldn’t need too much of a “repair job” to get her back to full fitness once the injury is fully cleared.
I recorded 1:20:31 with chip time 1:20:29 on my watch and finished 6th (the results show me as 7th as the female runner Aofric Casey has accidentally been given a time of 1:19:08 although first woman was Maria Griffin in 16th). Paul Gibbons kept a 7 second lead and was locked on the same time as the Waterford runner (Michael O’Mahony) although he finished a second ahead on gun time.
Pity to miss out on sub-80 but I took more positives than negatives from the race:
- Attitude was top notch, positive and aggressive despite the relentless pressure applied by my two main competitors during the race
- Never let the head drop after the unexpectedly slow uphill section
- Another personal best, this time by about two minutes
- I abandoned my usual cautious negative split strategy for a more aggressive approach although the course still enforced a negative split
- Plenty of strength and endurance throughout, 2:48-2:50 still remains a possibility. Endurance seems sufficient despite the relatively short build-up
- Nothing negative fazes me at the moment: colds, wind, uphills, feeling “off”. I just get on with it. What a change from earlier years.
My key learning points from the race were these:
- After consistent top field finishes this year, it will soon be time to gamble and stick to a group like the top-4 group with Paul. Going with them may have been a better strategy instead of pulling up the group behind them
- Without interval training, I can run almost to my full potential, I just lack the ability to currently go much beyond 3:30-3:35min/km so would not expect to be as effective in races shorter than 5km
- I have lost a “one on one battle” on the final kilometre of almost every single race I have run this year, which is something I’d like to improve. One day it could be for a very important spot and it’s important to have this “last sharpness” and not make habit of “losing out” close to the finish.
My conclusion is that I have probably done enough in terms of endurance to run close to my goals in Copenhagen and that lactate threshold work and a smidgeon of 5k pace workouts will put the necessary edge on my fitness. The new running style continues to manifest as my legs are not banged up at all and the calves are completely untouched, something that would never normally be the case after a half-marathon in racing shoes. I expect recovery to be very swift even if I have a slightly heightened temperature this evening after the race.