RACES: Djouce predictor

The 7.5 km ‘Djouce Handicap’ route has had many permutations and many names through its history. I first encountered it in my early days as a Crusader where the race served as a Christmas Cracker and went under the name Djouce Handicap. Within the Irish Mountain Running Association the event is titled ‘Earl’s Drive’ and forms part of the Trail League where Keith Daly holds the men’s record of 27:11 and Catherine Devitt the ladies in 30:29.

‘A well-loved child carries many names’

Wicklow Athletics have also used the event under the name ‘Djouce Predictor’ for numerous seasons as part of the Fit4Life series. From Glendalough AC Barry O’Neill, Claire O’Callaghan, myself as well as Jillian Dempsey, our special guest for the summer, from Donore Harriers, rolled up to participate.

The Trail League permutation (which you can run next Wednesday!) is a straight up race, whereas the Crusaders race is a handicap where runners start apart. The Wicklow predictor is just that -  a watchless race where the winner is not the fastest runner but the runner who most closely matches their predicted finishing time.  I went optimistically, despite current form, and picked 32:30.

Yellow jerseys in close attendance. Top-5 groups just after the start

Steady? Yeah right!

‘Are you racing this, doing it steady or will you just “wait and see”’, Barry asked me.

‘Ill just wait and see,’ I said and he laughed ‘I always want to do steady but it never works out that way’.

‘You lot will have an advantage now’, Billy Porter said to me, trying to pile on the pressure and referring to the trail running proclivity of our club. Ironically, this is the only Trail League event I have not raced – I only ever did the route in training.

39 runners towed the starting line and €257 were raised for the Wicklow Junior women’s trip to Portugal to compete in the European Club Cup. When the gun went I decided to tuck into fourth position but with the downhill start my heart rate was so low that I quickly took to the front and set the early pace. One problem I have is that I am a bit like a race horse – when I hear a gun I just want to gallop.

Briars and uncertainty

I listened to the breathing of the runners around me and it sounded much more laboured so I thought to myself ‘You need to hang on and win this now’. After about a mile we hit the bottom of the valley and the river crossing. On the first slight incline the life left my legs completely and I went from ‘super comfortable’ to ‘breathless’ within literally a few seconds. It was a bit abrupt and left me losing two spaces straight away with a runner in blue and Barry O’Neill slipping past.

There was to be no let-off or ‘cruise mode’ as Billy Porter and a second runner were applying lots of pressure and Billy passed me out briefly only for me to take the place back straight away. Our front pack of five had isolated itself with the fast start and this proved troublesome when we seemingly misread one of the few markers on the course. suddenly, we were at a dead end and the five of us stopped to deliberate. After a brief discussion Billy suggested a grassy trail ahead. After a few metres our mistake become obvious as we had to walk and hack our way through briars and tight low trees. After what seemed like a while we finally emerged ‘on course’ and the battle could continue.

Power up the final hill to keep Bill Porter at bay

Watches, guns and tapes

Running without a watch meant I had lost sensation for how much racing was left to do. We seemed to have lost Billy but someone was close by me. I kept the runner at bay for the circuit around the river but when we hit the very steep climb, he soared past as I had nothing in me at all. Once we reached a stretch of flat I thought myself on the ‘final 1 kilometre’ before home. Some minutes later a familiar turn emerged and I realised my mistake – there was at least another mile to go! I settled in for a few deep breaths and continued. It felt like the race had gone on forever on nothing but fumes. Somehow I managed to keep close to the runner who had taken me out on the climb and nip into fourth place with Billy Porter not far behind. I did not know whether a sprint would be necessary but put one in ‘just in case’. Barry O’Neill had secured 2nd. My time was 30:05. The front bunch ran each other ragged so its not inconceivable that we would have held a rather modest pace of 4:01 min/km for the duration but what exactly the detour cost or gained we’ll never know.

Full results

Either way it didn’t matter: rather more important the great racing during the event. No one was letting anyone have anything despite this being a very low-key affair and this toxic cocktail of ‘not knowing the distance’ and having five men very close to each other made for a compelling competitive affair. It is easy to see why the Snowdon race record was set on a day when six runners pushed each other mercilessly. Gerry Brady, the IMRA High performance officer in my day, always thought this the key to developing as a runner – dealing with relentless pressure from gun to tape. He was not wrong…

Next up, lactate part 3….