My plan to run the Killarney 10k began from a conversation with Tony Riddle after I had been invited down to speak at the “Run Killarney Expo”. The “Run Killarney” series goes into it’s fourth year and features a full marathon now. All events are scenic and undulating, as you would expect from Kerry. After working the Friday at the Expo we had signed up for the 10k and planned to enjoy too “mini-holidays” in Killarney.
When the opportunity came along I had yet to begin my race specific training. Summer is our busy time and with my commitments I am lucky to get 40km done in a week right now. So Tony suggested I test how much my running technique had improved instead – by running the event barefoot! Without knowing the type of surfaces I would be running on, he urged me to train on the hardest and most gritty tarmac in Wicklow. As it proved, this was a stroke of genius – but it did not suffice to prepare me for what was in store…
Feet meet tarmac
Throughout the morning I dosed my body with water. I have had a difficult time in hot weather and even doing gentle mobility drills in the morning had me breaking a sweat.
Yet, when the gun went I felt strong running over the national road to Kenmare . This road is not smooth by any means but similar to the roads I practiced in Wicklow and I surprised myself, running with the leaders for 400m before settling back just behind the lead group and another small group, flicking in and out of 5th or 6th pace at this stage.
I kept coming on strongly and from the early splits I could see that it should be no problem to reach my private goal of breaking 40 minutes barefoot. My personal best of 36:57 was set in my last 10k race (in May last year) on the back of the biggest block of training I ever managed. But then…
Aoife and I have fond memories of Muckross Park but for a second they were somewhat tarnished. As we ran off the road and into the park, the surface changed to a strange mix of pebbles, sand and ancient broken up concrete. I slowed down here and lost two places. I had not expected to be taken off-road and just as I thought the most difficult part was over we went onto a trail of pure gravel.
There were a few moments of brief panic here, but somehow I kept it together.I had not prepared to run barefoot on terrain of that extreme nature and my splits slowed to 4:30min/km pace here. Suddenly Aoife and another guy appeared on my shoulder and passed me out. Seconds later we emerged on a gentler path with banks of grass. I used this to my advantage, got the spots back and took two more. Several small steep ups and downs came at us now and I flew up them effortlessly. Hard to believe that even such shallow climbs used to be such a weakness for me and now they are a weapon.
Yet it took me until lap 8 until we were clear of the worst challenges. I sped up to 3:21 for the 8th kilometre, my fastest kilometre in any 10k race I have run (all shod) and the fastest kilometre I have ever run barefoot on tarmac. Coming back out onto the main road a runner drifted into view and on a small hill I used my high leg-turnover to pass him. Unfortunately he was more alert to the fact that the finishing chute had several narrow bends and he began his sprint just on the last flat section leaving me no chance to react and get back in front. As I crossed the line someone said “7th” although that needs to be confirmed in 40:35 (final position was 8th overall in 41:08, I do not know why there is a discrepancy between my watch and chip time). A minute later Aoife arrived as first woman, not a PB for her but a strong performance under the conditions and it’s always nice to get a victory.
The photographer came over to me: “You did that barefoot?” “That’s crazy,” he continued and took a shot of me which I hope will be up on the website later. This seems a good point to pass on Aoife’s sentiment to the organisers: “This is one of the best organised races I have ever attended.” I agree. The whole event ran smoothly with a lively buzz surrounding every part, so definitely one to recommend and a race series I hope will establish a long tradition on the annual calendar.
Going to our planned “fine dining” experience in town in the evening, Aoife took off her high heels and walked barefoot on the rough foot paths of the town. After a few minutes she looked up at me and said: “I just don’t know how you did it.” I couldn’t give her a straight answer. I can only say this: I am still not the finished article. If we gave out belts (like in Karate) for running technique, I might be a green belt whereas coaches Tony Riddle is arguably in possession of a level of skill similar to a “Master Black Belt”, but the training we have done together and the mental barriers we have challenged over the last 1.5 years (and with it much conventional wisdom) shows that we runner are nowhere near as fragile as injury statistics will have us believe.
Photos and more thoughts to follow tomorrow…