My PB streak almost came to an end on the return 5k of today’s Ballycarney 10k race on the country-roads close to Bunclody, Co. Wexford, but the crisis was narrowly avoided, and the Copenhagen train seems still on track.
The “opposition” – Sliabh Bui Rovers
I had dropped my planned fixture in the Kildare 10k in favour of this one, organised by Jane and Graham Porter. One thing attracted me particularly to the event: I knew there would be plenty of quality runners from Sliabh Bui Rovers, a club most IMRA runners will know through Bernard Fortune. I became acquainted to two of them: David Leonard and Paul Gibbons at Club La Santa, racing in their team (while not exactly covering myself in glory). Both have been interesting for me to follow this year as my road racing times have closely mirrored David’s and I got within seven seconds of Paul at the Wexford Half, although I believe it was one of my better days and one of his slower.
Well-known SBR man Tommy McElwaine, winner of many a race down south, also looked like attending and so did Keith Heary whom I haven’t seen for a long time (in the end he didn’t make it). All in all, I expected a good competitive field which was necessary to achieve my target of sub-36. My exercise physiologist, Romain Denis of UCD, had also encouraged me ahead of the race writing: Your goals sound good. Based on your second test results, on the long term, you can aim for 35 min. for 10kms (on a flat course). Of course, my long-term goal has to be at least 33 minutes, as long-term readers will know I have good reason to seek.. (if an almost forgotten one).
Priming on the Slaney banks
The starting area featured one of the most stunning views of the river Slaney across a large old stone bridge and we arrived in very good time and quickly registered so I had time for more than 4km warm-up.
I’ve adopted the habit of “priming” to its fullest this year which is essentially a scientifically supported warm-up variation where you ensure that your system has been stimulated at very fast pace 48 hours before the race and then also incorporates a hard anaerobic effort of at least 1 minute during your warm-up so “all systems are go”.
I did my usual drills, 3km easy (1km barefoot on tarmac) and then 2 minutes at 3:40min/km pace followed by one fast stride. Then it was time to get into the starting line-up. Eugene Doherty, another tough vet from SBR, was there as well, having finished not too far behind me in the Wicklow Way Trail but sadly not being registered as they had a mix-up around registration. Martin “Farmer” (he’s not, as I learned!) Monaghan whom I first met when he won the first of Jane and Graham’s Open Trail Series races, was there as well and looked like a potential winner.
The whole week had been very different for me as I have usually been injured before getting to the “Coordination/sharpening” phase of training. Most of the week featured hills or speed with a fast long hill run on Sunday, more hills on Monday, 16 x 50/50 windsprints barefoot on Tuesday, a 30-minute hard run on Wednesday, a long fartlek on Thursday and a set of 2 x 3 x 100m at ever-increasing speed (18-17-15 seconds). It has been great fun but I’m feeling slightly tired, so next weeks’ super-easy schedule should provide the short and sharp taper I believe is optimal, rather than the overly long ones often advocated (which dull rather than sharpen to my mind). One more hill run tomorrow and only recovery runs and a short 1 mile up-tempo run remain.
Jane send the field of just over 110 runners on their way towards the N11 without too much ado and about ten of us rushed to the front. Four or five seemed to get a gap of just under 10 seconds very early on – a blond haired runner alone in front followed by Tommy McElwaine, Martin Monaghan and Paul Gibbons. Paul’s brother Myles, who ran 2:49 for the Belfast marathon last weekend, sat with a runner in a black singlet as an enticing target 50-60m in front of me.
The initial section was a very fast downhill but from there on it was almost a constant procession of small ups and downs. The route was almost unique in this way, there was barely any flat, yet there were no real extended climbs or descents. “Mildly bumpy” is perhaps the only way to describe it.
Although I had all my rituals down to a tee (nice long sleep, no computer in the evening, no heavy meals on the day, Beet IT 2.5 hours before, Orbana 20 minutes before race start), I was aware that I probably needed a super-fast course to break 36, so that looked difficult.The first kilometre split was encouraging “3:24” and cruising. The next came in 3:36, bang on target, and the effort felt much easier than the Leixlip 5k the previous week, so at this stage things looked pretty bright.
Ger Doyle, another SBR man, passed me at this stage and put in a solid effort to create a gap of 100m. His breathing had sounded stronger than mine, so I upped my pace, especially as the third kilometre came in 3:45 (nine seconds dropped) and the timing seemed right. The course got ever bumpier here and as we turned onto the N11 but I ran very aggressively and recouped a 3:37 and 3:39 (5 seconds lost) and hit the 5k split only a second slower than planned in 18:01.
I had caught Ger Doyle back 500m earlier and while he stuck with me briefly I began to create a large gap from the turn-around point.
The hunt was on and I expected a faster return at this stage. Initial momentum was slowed down a bit on the short grassy bit and I was not quite happy with how fast I came into the next descent. Yet I could see the next two runners ahead, next up was Myles Gibbons.
Can you trust the splits?
I have been fooled by the Garmin reading all the courses slightly long three times this year, so I had disabled smart recording and set the watch to record a point every second. This seemed to work well at the start as my watch beeped exactly as we hit the kilometre markers. I must eventually have begun to run the bends more poorly as I dropped more and more metres as we progressed on the kilometre markers and by the end of the race had accumulated an extra 80m (which is probably quite normal unless you are extremely good at running on “the blue line”).
I struggled a bit settling into a rhythm at this stage but my breathing was extremely strong, there was no fatigue in the legs and despite the fine weather conditions (17 degrees), I felt neither thirsty nor particularly warm.
Every time there was a climb I did my best to really put some effort into them to avoid dropping too much time so I was dumb-struck by the 6th and 7th kilometre in 3:42 and 3:56. The game was practically up now and the 8th coming in 3:37 was only scant consolation but I still kept faith in a miracle. If I could put in 1-2 3:25s, there’d be a chance. Even with Myles getting ever closer at this stage, something was missing though. An “oomph”. Either that or it was the head-wind. It was not particularly strong, but easily could account for a drop of 4-10 seconds especially as the field was now well spread out and there was no cover.
I looked back only once here when an opportunity arose and could not see anyone. The ninth kilometre came in 3:46 despite my best efforts and I could see that Myles was holding his own well and would not drop into kick-range at the current rate. Mentally, I had little left to run for and even my sprint across the finish line was a bit half-hearted. Last kilometre in 3:40 and a finish time of 36:57, only 5 seconds faster than my previous best of 37:02, run on the last 10km of the Ballycotton 10 mile.
My disappointment was limited: it had been a terrific training run and I was recovered enough to run a total of 19km for the day, all of it important in keeping the peak for Copenhagen. Endurance wise I had slight concerns going into the race as my mileage has been a bit lower than expected of late, but I never ran out of juice in this run, I just could not “find an extra gear” especially once there was hills and wind.
Yet, I regretted not having tried a different tactic on the day and gone out hard to stay to Paul Gibbons. I had entertained the thought in the car. It would have been risky but since I never truly faded, but have struggled to muster a strong finish in the recent races, hanging in grimly with a faster group might have provided for stronger motivation than being stuck in no-man’s land on the last 5km with nothing to drive me on. As runners, I think it’s key that we understand our individual psychologies and I thrive off sticking to runners with slightly better personal bests than myself, as I saw once I caught up with Greg Byrne and Adrian Hennessy midway through the Wicklow Way Trail.
The blonde chap had won the race in a strong time of 34:08 with Tommy McElwaine second, Martin Monaghan third and Paul Gibbons in fourth. I finished 7th in the end with a good gap of about 30-45 seconds to the next finisher.
To flat or not to run flat?
Not every race is meant to be Rotterdam-like, so while I would have liked a pancake flat course for my PB-attempt, however, today’s race route and the field were much better from a training perspective and in terms of getting ready for Copenhagen.
I can take my PB of 36:57 and look at it as something to improve upon in the autumn season and take a learning point that I need to put myself out there with runners just a bit ahead of me from now on, to stimulate a greater competitive edge towards the end of the race where you can otherwise end up “having nothing to run for”. All said and done, with seven days to go before Copenhagen, avoiding such a hard showdown at the end may prove to have been ideal in the end.
My first 5 miles in about 29:23 were also an improvement on my 5 mile PB of 29:27 in Killarney, so this was another multiple-best performance. So why do I feel a bit disappointed at all? I have clearly gotten spoiled.