RACES: Dungarvan 10 mile

Five years after my last 10 mile race in Ballycotton, four of us travelled down for the traditional John Treacy 10 mile race in Dungarvan and what a treat we were in store for. This was a race organised by runners for runners - no loud techno music blasted at the start or finish line but large timing clocks were everywhere on the course showing that the focus was firmly on the sporting side of running: the race against the clock.

West Waterford AC, the organisers, could celebrate a record entry showing the running boom has lost little of its current momentum. Yet this is one of those races that feel a bit different from most mass participation events - for almost the entirety of the race I saw barely a single runner who was not wearing a club singlet or some other t-shirt showing allegiance to a triathlon club, fitness team or similar sporting group. I have always felt this brings something special to each event - much like cross-country it's an atmosphere I love and thrive on. It helps the mind as well when the sun shines down and the temperature is lovely and cool - ideal running conditions with only light winds on limited stretches.

The downside of a large race, naturally, comes in the form of some early congestion but the race is well setup to manage this and brilliantly marked. Traffic is neatly routed around the race and there's enough sapce at the start to avoid a complete logjam. Pacer's balloons tell you where you should place yourself if you have a realistic sense of your own ability and this seemed to be the general case here as the front of the field took off without hordes of runners having to push their way past slower competitors placed too far up front. There was still ducking and weaving and jumping up and on curbs, breaking your stride, putting hands out to indicate 'I'm coming in' and 'I'm coming out' but after 3-4 miles the field began to settle. I had started out with club-mate Barry O'Neill whom I expected would have a strong run based on recent performances. He is training for the Belfast 24-hour race and had done some long consistently paced runs that are ideal preparation for this type of one-hourish effort. With us was also his friend Charlie and Donna Quinn - another 'GMACer' (Glendalough Mountains Athletic Club member).

With Barry shortly after the start


Based on my own recent training I had stated in the previous post that 66 minutes would be a miraculous performance and anything below 70 would be ok. My training performances had dropped from 54 VO2max in October to 46 after illness in December and for most of the month I had mulled along at 48-49 only jumping up to 51 and then dropping to 50 in the final days before the race. I was determined to train right through as I didn't want a 'false positive' result flattering me just because I was fresh. So I did my 3 hours 15 run eight days out and continued training to plan. It almost cost me a bit of trouble as both my hamstrings felt strained after a series of hard strides on Friday evening. I then managed to bank 96 minutes of running the day before and the customary glass of red wine.

Once Barry and I were settled on the first few miles things were looking reasonably well: my breathing was quite steady but my legs were tired and ankles sore. So I focused on the task at hand - hitting the right effort and battling it out with the runners ahead. Barry eventually broke away for a gap that I did not retrieve and finished in a new personal best of 64:53. You are never lonely in this race thankfully and with plenty of little ups and downs, most of my time was focused on either reeling in a runner in front or holding off a runner from the back. As always I made more inroads on the descent than anywhere else as a Cork runner said to me at the finish 'jeez lad, you were flyin' down those hills' (you can add the accent yourself). Not being able to chase a personal best left me focused on the business of man-to-man racing and its incredible how many seconds you can retrieve by having to stay constantly focused and never giving an inch.  In 2012 I finally shed my demons and learnt the art of positive thinking in races: a basic trick is to always focus offensively - on the next runner and the next pack. Not the ones you just passed. It's easy to get shaken out of that as in a big race like this you're constantly hearing foot-steps behind you putting on the pressure. Now that I have developed a strong competitive attitude and ability to perform under pressure I always curse myself for not having more talent to use - but we must each work with the tools we've been given.

Final rush to the finish line

5 miles came in 33:14 for me, very positive on current form, and I only had to worry about whether I had the stamina to hold out at the moment. 10 km returned in 41:09 and then the very fast kilometer 11 opened up a big downhill for me and I thought to myself 'brilliant, I'm getting a mile FOR FREE'. I had lost count of the runners I had passed and those who had passed me in return but I felt I was in credit overall. The legs showed up as a bottle-neck at this stage - my average heart rate was quite low, at 169 beats per minute when I have run half-marathons at 176 beats per minute - and it was simply a case that the legs could not generate more power and pace today. I reviewed my cadence after and at 183 strides per minute it had been too high for this sort of pace but that often happens when muscles are a bit stiff and the body lacking its full range of motion or lacking the ability to express enough power per stride (we then take extra steps to compensate).

The finish

As we closed back in on sea-side in Dungarvan, you could feel everyone reading for the finishing sprint. I took several runners now as I made my last kilometre the fastest of the race but did get repassed by one as well - the only glitch in an otherwise strong finish. After catching my breath and finding Barry, we could see Donna finish in 72:23 about 7 minutes faster than she had run in 2016 - a massive improvement!

Tight cross-country style finish

So five years older, I was 6 minutes off my best but given the circumstances, I view it as a positive result. The training I am doing at the moment is what the Lydiard Foundation describe as 'Leg strength' - a period of training done BEFORE the base phase even begins. That will come next now once the days have had a few recovery runs to get their zip back. I had expected Ballycotton to be more hilly than Dungarvan but comparing the two routes, Dungarvan has slightly more elevation whereas the Trim 10 mile - held on the same day - has one third to one half the climb dependent on whose watch you trust most, so that may make that the contender as the fastest of the courses.