RACES: Earl’s Drive (Djouce Trail)

I’ve been throwing races into my schedule at random since around May when I decided to kick myself out of the ‘plodding state’ and get some power back before the next big training build-up and this Wednesday I decided to do my first IMRA race since I finished 7th in the Wicklow Way Trail back in 2012 if you don’t count my run in the Wicklow Way Relay. I couldn’t believe it had been 3 years and 4 months!

Day in the life… (skip to the next section if you don’t care!)

My day started as usual these days. Cillian woke us and after his morning feed he was handed over to me while Aoife went for her morning run. I checked my Heart Rate Variability using my Ithlete app to see how recovery was coming along. Unfortunately, the tool acted up and I couldn’t get a reading. I had been in RED the day before, showing under-recovery and too much stress. My sleep had been mediocre but slightly better than the day before.

The morning routine I have starts by going outside in my bare feet and taking in some fresh air and sunlight. I down some water and a glass of spirulina, chlorella or wheatgrass. I am not a great fan of plant foods so this ‘extra shot’ of green also helps me get the balance right. After that I have what’s called a ‘BAB’ (Big Ass Breakfast!) to set the hormones right for the day. I put together one of my special ‘savoury pancakes’ – eggs, Astralagus powder, bitter lemon, ginger, cinnamon, chia seeds, sip of cream and fried in butter then garnished with some local Wicklow raspberries, few flaked almonds and some full fat Greek yoghurt. I finish off with some coffee from 3FE that Aoife gave me as a present. This light roast artisan coffee is easier on the body (not the same ‘jitters’), has a more interesting taste and is healthier. Then my favourite part of the morning: a long ice-cold shower.

After a morning at the computer, I threw in a session of running specific body-weight exercises followed by intense jumping with an overhead bar before a long flexibility routine with a fit-bar and then my second meal of the day: home-made Bolognaise served on sweet potato and courgette pasta with olive oil liberally applied. Then a glass of water with apple cider vinegar. A session like this generally affects racing but I did not want the event to interfere with my training and felt it would set my body up nicely for later in the day.

Afternoon work was fairly stressful and I eventually signed off at 18:15 having had another short coffee break in the middle and a quick walk outside as well as the usual pre-race ‘Beet It’ shot – I figured that with few miles in the bank I’d need all the help I could find getting oxygen! I decided to take a shave to keep the weight off and then did some myofascial rolling and chest and hip openers to loosen up before the car drive to meet Barry Murray in Roundwood. I felt warm, so strapped three ice packs around my shoulders and stomach to cool down a bit and then hit the fan to maximum for the drive.

Djouce Woods – take 2

It was deja vu all over again in multiple ways as we pulled into the busy Djouce Wood car park. Only Thursday the previous week I had raced in the Djouce Predictor over the exact same course. Or at least it would have been had the front 5, including me, not taking a strange detour through harsh bushes.

There was a virtual stream of familiar faces next and it was great to exchange pleasantries. I walk bare  foot during registration before warm-up to get the muscles nicely relaxed and active before a run. The first easy kilometres of easy trotting did not bode well as my heart rate was abnormally high and I felt wired.

Glendalough AC

Another Barry (O’Neill) joined us, making it three musketeers from Glendalough AC all in our sparkling yellow singlet. Barry had raced Thursday as well and beaten me by 48 seconds. So the plan was to tuck in a bit further down the field, get off to an even start and work my way up in the latter half.

Like bulls unleashed in Pamplona, the field went off when Brian O’Murchu unleashed a quick ‘surprise countdown’. I was caged in for a little while and people were ducking, weaving, braking and arms were flailing everywhere. Eventually, some daylight emerged and I could really begin to open up my stride.

I passed out Barry Murray briefly here towards the end of the descent. It was not my plan, as I knew he was starting conservatively and would be strong on the climb, but I just could not slow down my momentum any more on the fast fire-road. It was easier to just ‘roll with it’ than ‘'try to brake. I focused on transitioning to the climb better than on Thursday and despite dropping a few spots I kept a better pace this time. I won a few more places and lost a few, including to Barry O’Neill, who would stay just ahead of me all race. Barry had finished 48 seconds ahead of me the previous Thursday, so I tried to reduce that gap and succeeded.

Tucked in nice and conservative at the start

Around midway I passed out the leading lady Emma Hand who had taken off very hard in an attempt to stave off the threat of Rachel Wisdom. She succeeded despite dropping a few spots here midway and took another of many victories this season for the Bray lady.

The hard slog

The zigzags up the woods is where I knew I would be most exposed and at my weakest so when I emerged onto the more open and harder packed trail I was immediately back on the front foot and took three spots. I passed an old adversary – Jimmy Synnott – going around the river, only to be passed in turn by another ‘blast from the past’: the tireless Adrian Tucker.

I had gone backwards up the final steep descent the previous Thursday but this time I managed it better. I held off Jimmy and with a very fast turn off the top swept past a runner in light blue. The next target was now Sam Scriven who himself had Barry O’Neill in front of him and then a group with Martin Francis not much further on. The pace of the race noticeable picked up now but no positions were exchanged.

There is a lovely soft trail at this part of the race, a surface strewn with rotted pine needles, before an abrupt re-entry onto the hard fire-road. It’s net uphill to the finish here, so I knew I had to stay strong. Thankfully, no one seemed able to apply real pressure on me here so I could focus on my ‘offense’ against Sam. I don’t often win out in sprints, so it seemed a long shot as the gap closed on the last steep climb to the finish. I put in what I had and when I sprinted past I sensed immediately that momentum had won me one more spot and so it proved. The last kilometre had been in 3:38 despite the uphill finish.

Finishing strong


I paid for that last effort and had to hang off the gate gasping for half a minute before I could compose myself enough to join the post-race chat and then go for a short cooldown with Barry M. We couldn’t linger, so after dropping Barry back in Roundwood, it was straight home to begin focus on recovery.

Happy enough at the finish!

Having bought some bones at the butchers, I had fresh beef broth ready which Aoife had prepared for us to mix in with a carrot and coconut soup. I downed another quick cocktail of salt, spirulina, wheatgrass and apple cider vinegar as well and then had a nice warm shower before finishing with the usual ‘cold shock’. To settle the stomach I had a warm cup of nettle tea before hitting the sack.

Results won’t be up for a while and position doesn’t matter too much. I am moving, slowly, back towards my best. In 2012 I was operating at an entirely different level – but that was off 100-120 km run strongly every week versus 42 to 45 the last few years. My family and I are going through a difficult time with my mother in the last stages of a brave battle against liver cancer. It is hard not to feel a bit guilty about enjoying the simple fun of a race like this under such circumstances but I feel it is better to keep things as normal as possible for as long as possible.

Next up I hope to put the overdue ‘Lactate – part 3’.


Philip Brennan said…
fantastic read Rene - keep it coming & well done on what sounds like a great race.