Sunday, March 21, 2010


It was that time of the year again. Actually it was 2 weeks later than usual, but that suited me just fine. Today was Ballycotton Day, and even our beloved neighbours from across the Irish Sea think it's one of the 10 best races in the world.

With 3 weeks to go to Connemara, this was my last race in preparation for the Big One. But it had slightly more meaning to me than the other ones. All the Killarney races were C races, and this was a B one. I didn't compromise my Ultra training for this event, but I still wanted to do well. I was quite optimistic, especially after last week's excellent tempo run. I expected to run 63:xx for this, and who knows, even have a shot at a new PB, which stands at 63:01, my best race ever according to all comparison calculators out there.

I dropped by at Grellan's on my way for a cup of tea and some chat. We haven't met since Dublin, and I think the previous occasion was in Ballycotton last year, so this was a rare event. I collected his timing chip to return to the organisers, which would safe him having to post it, and was off to the race.

I arrived in good time, but somehow must have gotten confused about the time available before the start. Since the start line is at the end of a very small cul-de-sac with 3000 runners cramped into a tiny space, you have to there early or you're stuck at the end of a very long line. Guess what happened to me. Well, I must have said “excuse me” and “thank you” a hundred time as I wriggled my way through the masses, probably annoying quite a few others in the process. Apologies. But eventually, and against all odd, I ended up halfway between the 58 and 65 minutes sign, exactly where I was supposed to be in theory. Since everyone cheats at this, I was still further behind than optimal, though.

The weather was surprisingly nice, the rain clouds didn't turn up until much later and it was sunny all the way. The wind was definitely stronger than I would have liked, but no worse than last year. There would be no excuses.

It took me about 25 seconds to cross the line, and initially it was really frustrating because we were still shuffling at very slow speed, but things improved quickly enough and within half a minute I was running at race pace. I tried to keep the weaving around to a minimum, but of course there were plenty of idiots who had started way ahead of their abilities.

As I passed the first mile someone called out the time, and it was almost 6:50. For a second I panicked until I remembered that this of course included the time it took to cross the start line, and my actual time was 6:23, by far my fastest ever starting mile in Ballycotton. Note: the mile splits in this report are the Garmin's, which differ from the official ones. Of course, in the end the official ones are the only ones that count.

The second mile is still downhill, in fact it is more downhill than the first one. However, we're not talking about major hills here. I think no mile has more than 30 feet net elevation change. I was still passing runners by the dozen, but actually I was running with plenty spare. Eventually I attached myself to the shoulder of two runners who were doing decent pace, hoping to get some shelter from the blustery wind. The second mile passed in 6:19.

Halfway through the third mile I finally decided to put the hammer down and race at full effort. Up to then I felt like I always had a gear to spare, and now I was throwing caution to the wind; quite literally in fact, because now I had to face it myself. Despite this, the third mile took 6:25, definitely slower than I would have hoped.

Somewhere here I passed Seamus, whom I had battled with in the M40 age group in the recent Killarney race series. I told him I felt fantastic and, as if to prove it, injected another burst of speed. I also met a few other runners I knew as I pressed on. Mile 4 passed in 6:20, close to goal speed.

For a new PB I would need 6:18 pace and 6:23 would be the slowest possible for a 63:xx final time. At that time I was well on my way for the second and had certainly not given up on the first one yet. But the fifth mile was slightly uphill, and the wind did not help. 6:29 was not bad in the circumstances, but then I passed the 5 mile timer (the official one, not the Garmin's) pretty much exactly in 32 minutes, which was a bit slower than hoped for. But I still felt good, and was hoping for better in the second half.

The next mile was the worst as far as the wind was concerned. I tried to shelter behind some runners, but each time got impatient quickly and went past, catching up to the next one, which at times took quite a while because there were some fairly big gaps to close. Somewhere around here I was passed for the first time myself, two runners in quick succession went past at serious speed. I tried to hang on, but the pace was a bit too high and I let them go. Mile 6 was the slowest so far at 6:35, but that can be attributed to the wind. The problem was, even though for the rest of the race we would not have to face the wind head-on, I'm pretty sure we had to fight it more than it would help us.

Shortly after the 6 mile mark we passed the 10k line at 40:08. At that point I started having doubts, because this was definitely a bit slower than I had hoped for. Maybe it was the realisation that I didn't run quite as fast as hoped for, or maybe I was simply getting tired from the race effort, but from here on it felt markedly harder. But I was still passing runners by the bucket load and mile 7, slightly downhill, was quite quick again at 6:20.

The eighth mile contained the third water station and I tried to grab a cup from the last volunteer in the line. Just as I was about to take it he withdrew his outstretched hand and I was left grasping thin air. What was that all about? Anyway, I didn't really need water at that stage. I passed two familiar faces on this mile, the legend that is Mary Sweeney, and John Desmond, which was a bit of a surprise, because I normally don't pass sub-3 marathoners. I called out a greeting, but he didn't seem to hear me. He looked pretty knackered, to be honest and I know how that feels. Mile 8 was good again at 6:20 again.

However, this is where things were getting really tough. The last two miles are uphill, and the steepest part is during the ninth mile, leading to a sharp left bend in the road. This is where I lost it completely. I had just overtaken a few more runners and was right behind two more when all of a sudden the quads turned to lead, the lungs could not provide sufficient oxygen and the hill seemed much steeper than before. I checked the Garmin which displayed 8.8 miles, and at that point this seemed a very, very long way from the finish. Last year I had a great finish, still passing plenty of runners, but things were not to be repeated today. A 6:35 mile was the result, still not that bad, but my HR was getting out of control and the effort was sky high.

At that point I was being passed by a group of 4 or 5 runners, all of whom I had passed not long ago, and I did not have the strength to keep up. Eventually the road got more reasonable, at times levelling out, at other times rising more gradually, and I recovered from my low. With about half a mile to go I managed to edge closer to some runners again, and with a quarter mile left I started overtaking two or three again. Then we were already at the apex of the hill and a few seconds later we crossed the finish line. The last Garmin mile had taken 6:39, but there were still 19 seconds of running left for the real 10-mile marker, and I was done in 64:50.

To be honest, I was quite disappointed. I didn't even look at the finisher's mug, didn't really stop at the finish, just had a few words with Pat and then a couple of other runners I knew, then hurried through the baggage area. Since I was still on my no-sugar pledge for lent I packed the Mars bar away (Niamh enjoyed it later) and just had the banana. When I nearly threw it up again I wondered if the very slight cold I'd had over the last few days had some effect. It doesn't really bother me apart from some coughing in the morning, but after an hour at race effort things might be different. I had a couple of sandwiches, and forced myself to do a cool-down jog, even though I really did not feel like it, and once more almost got re-acquainted with the contents of my stomach, but got away with it. Having said that, within half an hour my stomach settled down again and I could eat without problems.

The results were delivered very quickly. I came 193rd, better than last year, even though my time was slower. I noticed that 61:58 was fast enough to come in the top 100, which is definitely slower than normal, so maybe conditions were a bit tougher than usual. If you go by chip time, I was 183rd. If I ever manage to start further ahead in the field, I think I could do better (but the top 100 t-shirt is out of reach, sadly). I must have passed about 200 runners during the race, and got passed about 7 times myself. I really need to start further ahead.

[Update: thank you to Paudie Birmingham for the race photos]

20 Mar
5 miles, 40:32, 8:06 pace, HR 135
21 Mar
18 miles, incl:
Ballycotton 10 mile race, 65:18, 193rd gun/ 64:50,183rd chip,
29th M40, avg. HR 173
6:23, 6:19, 6:25, 6:20, 6:29, 6:35, 6:20, 6:20, 6:35, 6:39 (0:19)

Weekly Mileage: 71


  1. Sounds like you weren't the only one to have a tough day. With the top 100 being close to 62 you should definitely have a shot next year..... Assuming you're not in heavy training for an ultra!!! Recover now and enjoy the lead in to Connemara.. Brendan

  2. Sub 630 pace is still impressive off your heavy training and no speedwork. Might give the legs a nice boost for the ultra too!?

  3. I'm sorry Grellan didn't make the start. Centrebet don't pay out on races where there's a DNS.

    Looks a bit warm in the photos - maybe that contributed to the slower times. Anyway, 65 is still good going, and a few sub-3 scalps shows you're in good shape.

  4. Good to see you again Thomas. I hope it wasn't the 2nd cup of tea that tipped you over the edge;).

    The fade toewards the end was a bit surprising alright given your endurance base. Perhaps there was an underlying physical issue as you say. Onwards and upwards towards Connemara.

    Ewen, perhaps Centrebet will allow you to transfer the bet to Connemara?

  5. Ewen doesn't mind a wager, does he.

    Nice report, you'll probably never pin down why you didn't do quite what you expected there. But don't worry could have been a number of things you have no control over. Just be happy to come out of that race uninjured and know that this race will play its part in your future great races.

    Onward Thomas.

  6. 64 minutes is solid running, even if you were looking for that bit better. Times were definitely weaker this year - Last years top 12 were below 53 minutes and only the first 3 did that this year.

    Got to say, I'm looking good in that second picture you have up!

  7. Ran this yesterday as well, is there a better road race in the country? Superbly organised. Everyone feels like a star and I know as I had 2000 runners ahead of me.

  8. Sounds like a very tough day!
    I'm Sure the race will help you to your ultra goal race!

  9. Grellan, it went to pay of my debt. Will try and win it all back by putting $50 on you to thrash Thomas at Connemara. The odds are 5-1.

  10. Don't feel bad Thomas.

    Ewen is still sore after he put money on "Bertie Bus" to beat "Thomas the Tank Engine" and Thomas gave Bertie a clipping!

    He hasn't put money on a "Thomas" since.

  11. Don't worry, Scott. At 5-1 I'm highly tempted to put money on Grellan myself!

  12. Well done Thomas. It's difficult to be training for an ultra and then put in a hard 10miler.

    It was a B race and will serve you well for the A race to come.