RACES: So am I a miler then?

‘So, how does it feel to be married to a miler then?’ I asked Aoife when I returned this evening after the Bray Invitational Mile at Charlesland.

The disgusted silence either told me that it matters what time you run a mile in, or it was simply because I had abandoned my wife for an evening to run a race in which I had no hope of being competitive nor of setting any kind of respectable time.

The Miler as a total runner

I had decided to go as soon as I saw the invite. Although my new training cycle only commenced on the 28th of May, it was a good opportunity to see how the speed side of my current fitness was faring. Besides if  I could go back and pick my own genes I would pick the genes of the miler – rather than the long distance man. It is a distance with a remarkable history and in which the runner needs a near-perfect blend of endurance, stamina and raw speed.

In most other events you can afford to have a weakness in one of those areas. Not in the mile.

I had invited Jason along and going off recent hill performances I expected a solid performance from him. A mile race is not a specific workout for a runner competing to win the Irish Championships in the mountains but I wanted him to have one heavy lactate tolerance workouts with huge oxygen debts as well as provide another useful experience for later in his racing career. I was glad when he decided to take the trip down from Dublin.

The race

A small field assembled of what looked like 12 runners with Tim Grummell (a regular 4:48 performer) the firm favourite and other strong runners including Gary Condon who had run 33:11 for 10 km at the Dunshaughlin 10 km over the weekend.

The pace set off fast and I found myself alone with a young Aussie within 100 m. He seemed reticent and I thought he might slip out the back so I decided not to make an aggressive move nor to selfishly sit on his back and let him take the wind. So I did the stupid thing and sat on the outside close to the second lane, losing metres by the second.

I had aimed to run sub-5:30 which was the basic requirement for being there and something I imagined I’d do handy enough having a best time of 5:11 which I set during a time trial done on my own on Irishtown Stadium many years ago.

With things going to plan the first laps should have rolled along easily in 75-80 seconds but I was on the back foot ‘drowning in oxygen debt’ from within 300m and from the time my young Aussie friend passed me out, my only companion was a constant thought of stepping off the track. I had a terrible 93 second third lap and recovered only somewhat on the last lap as I gasped my way over the finish. My end time of 5:51 was 40 seconds off my best and slower than the pace of my 5 km personal best. So in absolute terms not much of a performance.

Hill runners on the track

Cormac Conroy saw the brighter side when he said ‘not bad for a pair of old hill runners.’

Jason did indeed acquit himself well with a new personal best of 4:51 and fifth position s Tim stamped his authority on the race. As Gary Condon said ‘no one wanted to take him on’ and no one did as he put in a 60 second last lap.

While I couldn’t see proceedings at the front being too oxygen deprived, the whole event had a great feel about it so fair play to the organisers. Track running is very special and something every runner should have the chance to experience regardless of speed and pretensions. It seems like such a boring thing but it is nothing of the sort: rather it is the essence of our sport – the pure pursuit of pace – scrubbed clean of all distractions.

An important lesson

A runner who fears how he will perform and how a performance will ‘make him look’ will never amount to anything at all. This is one reason I throw myself gladly into races ill-suited to my strength and current fitness.

Only by stripping away all vanity and self-respect can the fearless runner underneath emerge. I have noted before that I feel there is too many runners who talk a good game ‘hiding’ for reasons perhaps down to self-promotion.

To achieve what I want to achieve (qualification for Fukuoka) I cannot allow myself to fall into such behaviours. A few people quizzed me on just what purpose running a mile in the third week of training for a marathon man would serve and my answer was that ‘it has no physiological rationale – the reasons are purely psychological’ . I want to detach myself from the result to immerse myself fully in the process.