Sunday, February 14, 2010

Roller Coaster Ride

Well, what a fine Valentine’s Weekend it was. We spent Saturday shopping in Cork, after unashamedly ensuring we got our money’s worth from the breakfast buffet and after hitting the pool in the leisure centre. And even I got the benefits of the shopping trip, having purchased a wetsuit and other triathlon paraphernalia that had up to now been missing from my wardrobe. As Niamh pointed out, after spending all that money on stuff there is no way I can pull out of the Valentia race now.

In the afternoon we headed for Bantry for some more swimming and a wonderful meal. We really hit the jackpot on that one. After not booking a table it looked a bit hairy at one stage regarding dinner, but the lady in the hotel reception found us a table in the Fish Kitchen, and if you ever find yourself in Bantry one evening and like seafood, this is the place for you. Thia was a real find.

Anyway, Sunday came along and after my obligatory 3-mile pre-race run in the morning it was soon time to head towards the Mealagh Valley where the race would take place. I was glad to have left on time for a change because the drive took a lot longer than expected and when I got there the car park was full (“there are a lot more people than we had expected”) and we all had to get a bit creative about parking.

Anyway, I got my number and the run towards the start line was sufficiently long to serve as my warm-up. We had an unofficial reunion of the Gauntlet race from last November as three of us were wearing that race shirt and at least 3 more runners from that race were there as well. I also spoke briefly to John Walshe from Ballycotton, Pat O’Connor (Grellan’s neighbour) and John Desmond, the proprietor of South Ireland’s most important running websites.

The race started after a brief but moving speech from the RD about her young grandson and then we went our way. Alan O’Shea was there and he stormed off as if he was trying to lap the field and we mere mortals followed behind. We started by going over a hill and I was in maybe 20th place, but soon we were looking down a very long and extremely steep drop and with a loud cry of “woohoo” I just took off. I was not trying to show off or clown around, I was merely taking advantage of the gravity assistance and spun my legs as fast as they would move, which apparently was 4:30 pace. This catapulted me past almost the entire field and having survived the breakneck speed I found myself in fourth position, where I really had no place. Over the next mile as the course started going uphill at steeper and steeper gradients I gradually dropped back and didn’t attempt to keep pace with the much better runners.

Eventually John Desmond pulled up alongside me and I was able to keep up with him, at least for a while. We chatted for a bit and eventually he moved ahead, which was not surprising (John is a sub-3 marathoner, and I don’t usually manage to keep up with those folks). The climbs were getting ridiculously steep, we had to round some hairpin bends, and according to John I sounded like I was about to give birth. One more runner went past with the words “I’m not going to talk to you any more”, and it took me a couple of seconds to place him, until I remembered Phil Coffey from the Dublin marathon where he had pulled me along for about 2 miles when my wheels started falling off until I was no longer able to keep up. History initially repeated itself here as he pulled up to John, about 10 steps ahead of me, and I was unable to follow.

Somewhere between miles 3 and 4 I heard yet another set of footsteps, and when the runner pulled level I was about to say “Good Man” when I realised that the person in question was a) a woman, Moreen Harrington, and b) said exactly those words to me (we were both wearing the same outfit, the Gauntlet race shirt). It took half a second of processing to come back with reply. Now, having seen all those men go past me had been fine, but how would my fragile, vulnerably, insecure male ego deal with the fact of being chicked? The answer was not at all, and I jolted back into action and remained right behind her. Then the course dropped for a change, and half a mile of descent was all I needed. First Maureen and me pulled level with John and Phil, and since I felt I could run faster I went past all three of them and opened up a gap. I fully expected them to catch up with me again on the next climb that inevitably drew nearer, but I kept my momentum going and instead of being pulled back I managed to pull closer to two runners in front and eventually passed them as well. The fact that the road was not as steep any more was definitely a major plus point, I managed to keep a really good and strong rhythm going in that part of the race. John later told me that the gap between ourselves remained constant for the next 5 miles, but since I never looked back I was not to know this.

Eventually we reached the halfway point and I expected the road to drop from here on but was taught a lesson not to assume anything. Every drop was immediately followed by a climb back up to virtually the same elevation. I had the next runner in my sights. He initially had a good gap on me but I very slowly edged closer to maybe 20 or 30 steps behind him, but that’s where we stayed for a while.

I have to give a mention to the very enthusiastic support by the people of the Mealagh Valley. They really were out in force, at almost every driveway there was a family standing cheering loudly, there were signs all over the place, water stations being manned and the general support was great. They really added a lot to the atmosphere of the race and seemed genuinely excited about the event.

Anyway, on a long but not very steep drop towards mile 8 I was getting closer to my front-runner again. I started hearing his footsteps, which was worrying initially because they sounded like someone was catching up with me, but I eventually realised that the sounds were coming from ahead. At the foot of the climb I was right behind him only to find all the work for nothing as I lost contact again on the next climb. He opened up a good gap again, but shortly before the 9-mile sign the road started dropping steeply again and I was back in kamikaze mode, almost falling rather than running down the hill without too much thought for the consequences of one small misstep. The distance between us melted away, I gained one more place and immediately opened a gap. Then we turned left once more, passed the start line from which it was about half a mile of ups and downs (mostly downs though) towards the finish. Having gone from being the hunter to the hunted I was worried about losing my place again and pushed that last section with all I had. I was wheezing badly, and I don’t know what John would have made of it had he heard me at that point.

Someone must have added a few extra pieces of road since we had started an hour ago because it seemed a lot more drawn out, each time I thought the finish was straight ahead there was yet another bend and/or climb, but eventually I saw the line and crossed it in 1:05:39 on my watch (1:05:41 officially), in 13th place and ahead of a few runners that I normally have no business of beating, so I must have run well.

The course profile resembles the Big One in Blackpool more than a road race. The legs are letting me know that I had been in quite some race.

The post-race spread was spectacular, the socialising great, but eventually I had to head back towards Bantry where Niamh was waiting patiently and full of understanding. Hey, what could possibly be more romantic than running a race on a beautifully sunny day in stunning surroundings?

13 Feb
am: 6 miles, 46:40, 7:47 pace, HR 137
am: 30-40 minutes swimming
pm: 30-40 minutes swimming
14 Feb
15 miles, including:
  Valley Ring 10, Bantry, 1:05:41, 6:34 pace, HR 172
  13th overall, 3rd M40
  extremely spectacular but tough race


  1. Great race and report as usual Thomas. Certainly a fast time for the elevation. The downhills certainly suit you.

    Pat texted me saying it was the hilliest 10 miles he ever ran.

  2. Fantastic result on a tough course. Enjoyed the report especially the bit where you were almost 'chicked'. That nugget made me snigger.

  3. nice one Thomas - nothing less than I'd expect though!!

  4. Your pace on the downhills is very impressive. I would not have the control for that kind of pace. Sounds like a very tough course.

  5. Fish Kitchen would be perfect for Scott Brown - he'd get to sample unburned fish for the first time.

    Sounds like the perfect romantic afternoon to me ;) Bet you wouldn't be game to go downhill like that here - our ground is as dry as concrete. And when you hit the 50-54 age-group you'll no longer worry about getting 'chicked'. Half the chicks in the race are ahead - which isn't such a bad thing ;)