I collected Grellan, Pat and Ian on the way and we arrived in good time. I didn't meet quite as many people as in previous years but had a good chat with Gary Condon and his wife as well as with Brendan. Standing around in the freezing cold, waiting for the race, is part of the Ballycotton experience; it happens every year, but I was glad that the sun came out right as I took up position near the start line; it was actually quite pleasant.
Pleasant is of course not the way to describe the next hour and a bit. Road racing does not work that way.
I quickly got around the idiots who start right at the front and proceed at jogging pace and settled into a good pace myself. The wind was quite strong and I decided it was really important to hang on to a pack to get a little bit of shelter. The first 2 miles are downhill and the pace is always fast, which was confirmed when I crossed the first mile just as the guy at the timer called out 6 minutes, and that was gun time, of course, my net time at that point was about 5 seconds faster. The second mile was even faster, if only by one single second. At that stage I was hanging on to two guys going at a strong pace and we caught quite a few runners who had obviously started too fast. There was also a massive pack right in front of us, 20 - 30 runners, but it was gradually spitting out solitary runners at the end which we then proceeded to catch ourselves.
The third mile was still under 6 minutes, and at that stage I was well on course to break one hour, which would have been an amazing improvement. My time from last year, 61:51, was not only by personal best over 10 miles, it was also my best running performance ever, and taking 2 minutes of that would have been quite something.
Actually, quite something did happen at mile 2.5 - I passed Pat O'Shea. That's a first. Over the past few years I have become very familiar with the sight of Pat running in front of me, but he was always elusive. As I passed him, I thought this would be the first time ever to beat him. Oh, did I mention that Pat is 60 years old? He is also a former 2:26 marathoner, and has obviously aged very, very well. I have tons of respect for the guy.
Sadly, that was pretty much the end of my high performance today. Taking some water at the 3 mile point not only cost me some time, I was really gasping for air for a while afterwards and I lost contact to my two pacers. As much as I tried to catch up, the legs would not respond. The quads hadn't felt too fresh even at the start, but that had not stopped me from going out hard. Sadly, it became apparent that I would have to pay the price for such an aggressive start. The legs seized up and I was looking at 7 really hard and painful miles, with plenty of suffering guaranteed.
I thought I dropped off very badly and by mile 4 a massive gap had appeared in front of me, but to my surprise nobody had yet managed to overtake. Any other day that would have been a good thing, but today it meant I had to battle the really strong and blustery wind entirely on my own, and it really sapped my already waning strength even further.
That's not what I'm used to. I usually start overtaking runners at that point and keep that going until the end, gradually working my way up the field. Today was different, and I did not like it. When they finally caught up with me, it was a pack of 5 runners and when I tried to hang on to them I did not last very long. The same happened again half a mile later, just before half way, and again I tried in vain to hang on.
I cursed myself for being soft and weak and not giving my best, but the legs just would not respond. There was a good crowd of spectators around the 5 mile point, and I passed halfway in 30:22 gun time, net time would have been about 5 seconds faster, which was the fastest I have ever run 5 miles; overall I was still doing well. Looking at the mile splits now, the fifth mile had seen a drastic slowdown, 15 seconds slower than the previous one, but it was net uphill and right into the wind, so it wasn't as bad as it may look.
I was dreading the second half, I kept getting passed and I hated it. I knew that my negative thoughts did not help and tried to take positive action. One runner who had just gone past was looking uncomfortable and breathing very hard; I thought that he must be suffering at least as much as I was and I managed to pass him again. I managed to hang on to one pack for some reasonable amount of time, but when the course climbed again, I fell back. The sixth mile was faster again, but we had the wind at our back now and of course that helped a lot.
I perked up when I passed the 10k mark, because that's the only time in the entire race when I checked the watch, saw 37:42 and realised that I had just set a personal best over that distance to go with the one over 5 miles. Maybe I was doing alright after all. I knew I was about half a minute ahead of last year's time and even though I doubted I would manage to stay ahead, I would give it a good go.
Unfortunately I was still getting caught by some runners, but by now only in trickles rather than by entire packs. I tried very hard to hang to them and I more than managed to hold my own on the flat bits, but every rise in the road threw me back. I think I was running right at the limit, and just could not handle any increase in effort. I also got a stitch and I had to slow down a little bit for maybe half a mile and work it out.
Just before the 8-mile mark a runner in a white Crusaders singlet passed me and I recognised him as Rene Borg. I said hello and he recognised me as well. Unfortunately (I keep using that word a lot, I know. That's just how the race went) he was moving far too well for me to hang on, and I kept seeing him moving up the field for a very strong finish 10 places ahead of me. He is obviously getting into good shape.
I got into a battle with a runner called Ian at that point and we kept passing each other several times. He had several friends along the roadside, which is why I knew his name. The course starts climbing at that point and I fell behind, but once the steep bit was finished I caught up again and we started trading places again. Locked in battle as we were, we even caught one or two other runners on the way home.
Ballycotton is well known for its tough, uphill finish, but it is also extremely well supported by a big number of very enthusiastic supporters, which can be a double-edged sword. If you're suffering, there is no place to hide, but if you're in the right mood, it is a big help.
While the ninth, uphill mile, had been a bit slow, the final was one of my faster ones, and it was all down to duking it out hell for leather with Ian. We pulled each other to a better time, and a few better places as well. Right at the end he pulled away, but at least I managed to catch another runner while pursuing him. It's amazing how you always have something extra to give right at the end, even though you could have sworn you were already going full-out. It was a rather painful end to a rather painful race, but I gained one more place (or rather, re-took one place) right at the death to cross the line in 61:13, which was good enough for 123rd place as I found out later.
I guess I was passed by about 25 runners after mile 4, so I must have been just inside the top 100 at that point. That would have been good enough for a t-shirt, but that was always a very long shot and 10-mile races are not decided at mile 4. I would not have thought I could be unhappy with a new PB, but I was rather frustrated when I finished, because of the many runners who had caught me over the final 10k. But the more time passed, the happier I became with my race. I initially thought I had faded badly, but the mile splits actually held up pretty well and maybe I should be proud for battling on even when things threatened to fall apart. Running your best 5 mile, 10k and 10 mile times in one single race is never the sign of a bad race. I have no regrets about going out so hard - I gave it a good go; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I left it all on the road and that's all I can ask for.
I was only 1 minute off a top-100 finish. If I can keep improving, and not destroy my legs by running a 50k race 2 weeks before, there is every chance that I might sneak in next year or the year after that, before old age starts catching up with me. I might just give it a a go.
Mile splits: 5:55, 5:54, 5:57, 6:08, 6:23, 6:09, 6:03, 6:17, 6:22, 6:05
- 3 Mar
- 5 miles, 39:40, 7:56 pace, HR 135
- 4 Mar
- 13.5 miles, including:
Ballycotton 10, 61:13, 6:07 pace, avg. HR 176
123rd place, 19th M40
Weekly Mileage: 59