Sunday, March 03, 2013

Almost Always Never Nearly

Tralee might be my target race this spring, but in my heart Ballycotton was a close second. I did (still do) wonder if it really is a good idea to race 10 miles only 13 days before a marathon, but I just was not going to miss this race. Any other one, maybe, but not this one.

So I found myself once more shivering in the cold before the start, which is pretty much part of the Ballycotton experience. I lined up reasonably close to the start, which is always a bit tricky, it can be hard to gauge where you should stand, certainly not amongst the elites, though of course there is always the usual contingent of idiots who don't get that.

The start came as a bit of a surprise, according to my watch it started a minute early, unheard of in Ireland! There was a small amount of weaving around some of the slower starters who had placed themselves inappropriately (my fear is that one day one of them will be causing a serious accident with 3000 runner following closely behind on such a narrow road), but all in all I got off very well. I found myself right next to Paul Moran, who I had paced Limerick with last year, but I knew I wouldn't be able to quite stay with him so wasn't too bothered when he slowly moved away.
I'm in that bright orange t-shirt a minute into the video

Before the race I wondered if I would be able to pace myself off Angela McCann, a previous winner of the race and usually just a little bit faster than me. After half a mile I managed to spot her, just about 10 steps ahead of me. Over the next mile I managed to close the gap and a group of about half a dozen runners formed and that pretty much defined the entire rest of the race for me.

Last year I had started a little bit too hard, started suffering after only 3 miles and had to drag my sorry backside home for a very, very long time, though I still set a new PB. This year it felt distinctively easier though the pace was very similar, maybe even a touch faster. Mile 3 came and went and I felt comfortable enough; well, it's what runners call comfortably hard, at the high end of what felt just about sustainable.

The cold temperature made for excellent running conditions but there was a little breeze that was a little bit stronger than I would have liked. It helped us during the first half of the race, and we passed the 5 mile mark still in one group well under the 30 minute mark; I think they called the time as 29:26, though I could have misheard that. At that point I was still feeling okay and was wondering if I was inside the top 100 places. The top 100 finishers in Ballycotton receive a highly coveted t-shirt and it is a long-standing dream of mine to bag my own one day. Before the race I had stated that I had an outside chance of one, but probably not. But maybe, just maybe, this year would be the one?

Photo by Gearoid O Laoi
I started suffering at the 6 mile mark. I took a gel, which is what I usually do at that point. I know you won't run out of glycogen in a 10-mile race, but even if it gives me just a psychological boost, purely by placebo, that would do me just fine. I learned from last year that you do overtake the odd runner who falls off the pace, but once you start falling off the pace yourself you get swallowed by packs on 5s or more at a time and you can very quickly lose a lot of places. So I hung on grimly to the end of our group, having to work harder and harder, but being determined to keep going for as long as humanly possible. The wind was now right into our faces and I reckoned the group would provide at least a minimum amount of shelter that would be gone immediately once I dropped off, so that was to be avoided at all costs.

I was really counting down the miles now. Mile 7 came and went and I still hung on. We passed mile 8, where Rene had overtaken me last year looking relaxed and fresh, but this time I was still going. Then the hill started with about 1.5 miles to go and I just could not quite keep up with Angela. What was left of our group pretty much splintered at that point anyway, Angela doing very well but the rest of us clearly struggling and suffering.

I did not lose much ground and I did not get caught from behind and I fought hard to keep my place. When I passed the 9 mile mark they called the time as 54:06, at which point I realised that I would most likely not break the hour mark but I would be very close. I did not have the energy to think, but a new PB was already in the bag, I would have gotten that even if I had jogged to the finish, but of course I pressed on even though I was running entirely on fumes and had been doing so for a considerable amount of time.

I struggled and suffered through the final mile, never giving up but not quite managing to catch the guys in front of me. When I started my finishing sprint with what little I had left they did so themselves, which put them just out of reach. I don't remember seeing the time on the gantry but my own Garmin had me at 60:14, which was basically a minute faster than last year (they correctly rounded that up to 60:15 in the results). I could see the runners in front of me collecting their t-shirts, Angela got hers, but 3 runners in front of me that stopped. I had missed out on a top-100 shirt by 3 places and 5 seconds! I want to keep this post reasonably clean so I won't repeat the next 2 dozen words I voiced; let's say I gave a good Father Jack impression. There were dozens of guys hanging around all wearing their new t-shirts. I looked at the ground in front of me and walked off.

Luckily I did calm down very quickly. Pat Quill had finished shortly behind me (unlike in the Dingle ultra) and we chatted for a bit, I met a few other guys on the way back down, including one runner who greeted me with the words "aren't you that crazy fella from Kerry", which I suppose I was, and I met Keith in the car park and we ran 2 miles together for our cool down. You can't be upset in Ballycotton on race day. There is such a fantastic buzz in town, you can almost feel the energy and it's a great place to be. The positives easily outweigh the negatives and I was left with one thought:

Two weeks ago I ran a disappointing time in a 5k and used that to pump me up for the next race and got a new PB for it. Today I just missed out on a dream in Ballycotton and will use that to push me to a better time in Tralee instead, and since I have improved both my time and my place in every single year since I started running Ballycotton 5 or 6 years ago I will collect my t-shirt next year instead.

Provisional results are here.
1 Mar
8 miles, 58:42, 7:20 pace
2 Mar
5 miles, 35:30, 7:05 pace, HR 144
3 Mar
13 miles, including:
   Ballycotton 10, 60:15, 103rd place


  1. shame about the t-shirt but well done thomas. a minute off is not to be sniffed at. hope the rest of the taper goes smoothly

  2. Hard luck Thomas, you'll get one next year for sure.

  3. Great run!! Sorry about the shirt miss!!

  4. Congrats Thomas - fantastic time. Can't believe how competitive that race is. 60:15 would get you top-10 here and most likely top-3 Vets. Shame about the T-shirt. I see Angela started on the front line, so that was the difference!

  5. Well thomas.. I think we both started to far back and got caught with the slow runners in at the front. it defo stopped any advanatage from the hill and the wind for the first mile.. even an extra 10 seconds makes all the difference... Best of luck in tralee .. p m

  6. Well run Thomas: another pb! Looking good for Tralee. Enjoy the taper and all the best on the 16th!

  7. well done. cracking run but starting on the front line or as close as possible seems to make a differance.just be careful in tralee- a sub 3 is still a sub 3 be it 2.59 or 2.55


  8. Well done Thomas, still a great run. Hope your final preparations for Tralee go well.

  9. Glad you ran that Thomas. I understand that some races are special and can't miss them either. Good point about using not so good races to motivate one to do better. If it weren't for the bad ones there'd never be good ones. Not that, that was a bad one.

    All the best for Tralee!

  10. Another great PB and entertaining post. Your frustration at the finish reveals just how deep down you want that T-shirt. Perhaps next year you should just make it an A race and get yourself in the shape to do a sub 60 minute hour race by focusing on shorter distances.

    Or... stop yearning for some arbitrary number in a race. I know it's fun to achieve these targets but if not quite achieving them takes away from the enjoyment then perhaps it's worth dialling down the pressure/importance of specific figures and focusing more of enjoyment/sense of occasion.

    For me I think it's really impressive that you've put away yet another PB, a great reward for the dedication, clearly you are in the best shape of your life. Perhaps it would be useful to write a blog post about your progress over the years, both in races like 5km through to Ballycotton, the marathon and beyond. Such a post would make interesting reading and inspiration for others looking to see similar year on year development but also for yourself so that you can reflect on how far you've come from the 4hr marathoner that you once were. I'd hope that it would further build your confidence for Tralee as sometimes writing stuff in black and white can cement ideas and understandings.

  11. I can't believe you didn't get the tee shirt!!!! ARRRGGGHHH!

    As you say though, if you'd gotten it you might have ended up resting your laurels a little in Tralee. I hope you're spurred on instead.

    Oh and well done on the minor matter of the PB and a 10 miler in 60.15...

  12. Great run all the same Thomas. PBs always welcome! Its the "running on fumes" that'll have you well steeled for Tralee as you fly by other runners over the last 6 miles!!

  13. go to
    right click and select large size
    look at angle of your left foot

    1. Strange angle indeed. Never seen that before.

  14. Great time Thomas, love the Blog