Sunday, August 24, 2008

Spot That Donkey

It wasn't hard to sell a drive to Liscarroll to Niamh and the kids. Two months ago (actually, the day of the Cork City marathon) we had driven to that very place and visited the Donkey Sanctuary. We adopted a donkey called Jacinta (well, it's sponsoring, but they call it adoption), and all the kids were very keen on the idea of visiting her again. That way I could justify driving over 90 minutes for a fairly low-key race, though when Niamh asked how long the race would be, she wasn't too impressed that we were driving so for for a mere 5-miler. She expected 10 miles at least. As it turned out, the race was billed as am 8k which is a tad short of 5 miles; I guess we're going metric these days.

The last 2 days were reasonably easy. I tried to keep a balance between keeping my marathon training on track and not sabotaging the race, so I ran measuredly on both days; just over 13 miles on Friday and 8 miles on Saturday.

My best race ever had been the Killarney 5k last month, and I had run 3 miles on that morning to test my sore back. Since then it has become part of my race preparation to run 3 miles in the morning; it had worked then, maybe it will work again on day. Therefore I ran 3 easy miles in the morning. If it made a difference, I can't tell.

We made it to Liscarroll in good time and without losing our way (a bit of a miracle with the lack of signposting). I saw Grellan before I had even left the car; as I was signing up the guy at the table (John Walsh from Ballycotton) already knew me from my blog, and a few minutes later, at the toilet, some other bloke recognised me as well (he even apologised for not even letting me have a pee in peace). If I ever get big headed then you know that's because I'm slowly turning into some sort of celebrity in the running scene.

The weather had changed between cloudy, sunny and rainy, not particularly unusual in our corner of the world. By the time of the start the sun was shining, and later it turned cloudy again. All in all, the conditions were pretty good. We lined up to the start to Grellan's words “let the pain begin”.

I immediately settled behind a runner well known to me, Mary Sweeney. I tend to have similar times to her; she was way ahead of me at Ballycotton, but I managed to beat her last year in Killarney and Blarney as well as this year in Bantry and Cork. But she seemed to slow down at the first climb, less than half a mile into the race and I went past. The other runner I had hoped to have around me was Grellan, but I could not see any sign of him initially. When I heard footsteps approaching from behind I was sure it was him, bit a quick glance told me I was wrong. That runner never managed to draw level and I kept my place. A quick scan ahead told me I was in 13th place, assuming that I had not missed anyone, of course. I managed to run past one more runner before the first km, and found myself a few seconds behind a group of 4 but could not close the gap. Around the first mile marker one of that group could not hold the pace any more and fell behind, which left me in 11th place. From then on I was pretty much on my own, which wasn't ideal. I had hoped for some other runner to give me a good fight; it's those kinds of fights that lead to good times. Running almost on my own, this felt more like a time trial.

During the entire first half the course was never even. Each climb was followed by a descent to be immediately followed by the next climb. As we were nearing the halfway point I reckoned that we must have gained a good bit of height, which of course meant a downhill second half of the race. Thank God for that, because my legs felt increasingly heavy. The biggest climb had been around the 2 miles point, with a gain of about 90 feet in half a mile. Not exactly Mont Ventoux but enough to make me feel like the lactic acid had started curdling in my legs.

As I was turning a corner, around the halfway mark, I took a quick look behind me. And who did I spot, but no other than Grellan chasing me. The race was on.

The second half was easier than the first half, it was mostly a gentle downhill. The drawback was the we ran along a busier road and had to take care – but, in fact, each driver we encountered was very careful, and it wasn't exactly a busy highway. In fact, I spent a good bit of time running in the middle of the road where there was no camber. That's what I'm used to, and that's where I felt most comfortable.

My main worry was to keep ahead of Grellan. I started to hear his footsteps behind me, and at one point I could not resist looking backwards, and there he was, probably half as close as he was the last time I had checked, the bastard! I tried to increase the effort, which had been slightly lacking during the last few minutes. The last thing I wanted was to lead all the way and then get overtaken right before the finish, but that was a realistic possibility at that point. With about 1km left to go, the road started climbing again. I tried hard not to look back and to concentrate on running faster instead. Having Grellan right behind me was most likely a good thing – I doubt I would have worked equally hard otherwise. We came back into Liscarroll and turned a sharp left corner. That's where I had a last quick peek behind me, and I knew that I would stay ahead unless he had an unbelievable sprint finish in him (which can't be ruled out, that's how I got beaten in Kilgobnet 3 weeks ago). Anyway, I flew down what was probably the High Street, and after on more left turn there was the finish line. I crossed it, still in 11th place if my counting at the start had been correct. Grellan was right behind me, and Niamh and the kids saw us crossing the line in quick succession.

We chatted for a few minutes; the other runner who had been talking to me earlier (sorry, I never even thought of asking your name – my bad) came over and mentioned how my blog is such an inspiration (to which Niamh later remarked “he reads all that, and he thinks you're inspirational rather than completely mad???”), and with all that we left for the Donkey Sanctuary to visit our 4-legged family member.

Before the race, Niamh had inquired how long it would take me and my answer had been between 31 and 32 minutes. This turned out to be correct, my final time according to my Garmin was 31:06, and the distance was pretty accurate, though Grellan's watch of the same design found it slightly short. The mile paces were 6:13, 6:21, 6:30, 6:19 and 6:08, which reflects the undulating course. My average HR was 178 with a high of 187; that's pretty high and a sign that I must have worked pretty hard even though I felt that on a really good day I could have squeezed out another ounce of effort. All in all I'm reasonably happy. I think the 5k in Killarney was a once-off. Efforts like today, Kilgobnet and Ballydavid are more representative of my level at the moment. MacMillan gives an equivalent marathon time of 3:03:57, and that's where I think I'm standing right now.

22 Aug
13.1 miles, 1:45:08, 8:01 pace, HR 143
23 Aug
8.2 miles, 1:06:19, 8:05 pace, HR 146
24 Aug
12 miles, including:
Liscarroll 8k, 31:06, 6:18 pace, HR 178, 11th place

Weekly mileage: 79+

Late update: Not only did I indeed come 11th, I also won the M35 category! Results are here. And the race report from Grellan's point of view is well worth reading!


  1. I only caught you sneaking a look back once. I thought about going all out to catch you but I didn't want to put that heart of yours under any more stress (more like I didn't want to collapse in a heap as soon as I caught up with you).

    Yes you did win the M35 category. Lest you get any notions of grandeur the second M35 ran with a pint of Guinness in one hand and an cigarette in the other - mind you he found it very difficult to light - damn safety matches.

  2. Good race Thomas. Good time considering that was at the end of a 78 mile week.

    Things looking good for Dublin.

    BTW a good friend of mine from Kilbarchan - John McLaughlin is running at Dublin. He is also aiming to go sub 3hrs so he'll try and meet up with you. I would imagine you will see each other on the route.

    He also enjoys your blog - your fame is reaching to all corners of the world!!! (well Scotland anyway!)

    John Kynaston

  3. nice to see you and Grellan havin a close battle, which should lead to some fast and furious races next time you meet!
    by the way in my STORMIN NORMANS coaches hand book on race tactics, rule 57 says never look back in a race it will only give your opponent encouragement to chase you down harder, thinking that your starting to suffer!
    great racing and well done on becoming a winner!

  4. Well done on the age-group win Thomas. Grellan told me he's already spent your cheque on a super light pair of racing flats for the next showdown.

  5. Great race and report! Congrats on the age-group win as well!

  6. With all the celebrity notoriety you'll have to start asking for an appearance fee at these races.

    Seriously though, good to see you still have the fire in you even after a few races, and it's nice to have a racing nemesis in Grellan.

    My wife shares similar (dis)affection for my blog.