Sunday, March 09, 2014

Life is Cruel

You might remember that a few weeks ago I had written a short paragraph that I would not be running in Ballycotton this year because my application form must have gotten lost in the post. Luckily for me, the race director is a reader of this humble blog and offered me an elite number, saying that my time was good enough for a 45-year to qualify as an elite, and he even let me keep it after I pointed out that I was still at the crisp young age of 44. (There is no need to lament how the status of elite has crumbled in this country, I have already done that myself the second I received that email). Thus my sequence of 6 consecutive Ballycottons would remain intact.

One sequence I definitely expected to fall as that I always managed to improve my finishing position year on year after finishing in 103rd last year, agonisingly missing out on a top-100 t-shirt by 5 seconds. I just am not in the same shape as the same time last year, my training is aimed to have me peak for a later race than in 2013.

Anyway, I made my annual trip to Ballycotton, probably the only 10 mile race I am prepared to drive so far to, but the buzz on the day and the immaculate organisation is always worth it. I lined out closely to Angela McCann - last year I had followed her group for as long as I could, desperately hanging on to the end of it for most of the race and running much faster than I ever thought possible. A repeat would have been nice, even though I feared I would be in way over my head.

However, there are over 2500 runners in one tiny cul-de-sac and it's hard enough to get away unimpeded, so for the first mile I just minded my own business and when I scanned around I could not see her, but I did happen to run right beside an equally fast female runner, Ann-Marie Holland. She was flanked by a couple of her Eagle AC club mates. I guessed this would have to do.

Mostly I tried to run in a relaxed manner rather than pushing the effort too hard, because I know from experience that a 10-mile race can feel much longer than that if you get it wrong early on. They called out the time at each of the first 3 mile points and we were doing 6-minute pace pretty much spot on, though I was pretty sure that would not last. Indeed, our group seemed to slow down and when a couple of runner sped past I clung on to their backs instead. In fact, from that point on I gradually started to make my way up the field, catching a fair number of runners on the way - though I was being passed myself on a few occasions as well.

I reached the halfway point in about 30:10, half a minute slower than last year but still faster than I would have expected. However, we were now turning into the wind and while it was not strong at all, it sure did make running at that pace harder on already tired legs. I had passed an entire group just before halfway but was now fighting the wind on my own, which felt like tough work.

Mile 7 waterstop. Photo by Kieran Minihane. I feel as old as I look.
I still caught a couple of runners, as well as wheelchair athlete Jerry Forde, not just an extremely well known athlete but also a fellow 10in10 survivor. I found the going pretty damn hard, but that's what you expect during the second half of a race. I still managed to keep a good rhythm going and my breathing was surprisingly relaxed, I could tell that my breathing was calmer than others' every time I was passing runners. Usually I would expect to have been wheezing for miles already at that point.

At mile 8 a runner in a red t-shirt passed me and I tried to hang on to his back, which required a significant increase in effort, and from that moment on I was basically redlining. The climb back into Ballycotton started with about 1.5 miles left and I first tried not to kill myself on the first, steeper climb and to keep the rhythm reasonably relaxed but the effort high when it flattened out a bit.

One guy called the time as 55:30 as I passed the 9-mile marker and I figured I should come under 62, which I would have been quite happy with. It was well over a minute slower than last year but what can you do. I dug deep during the last mile and went way back into the pain cave, and if there are any photos of me during that stretch they are probably even worse than usual, I really was giving it all I had. There was massive gap to the runner in front, and even though it might have shrunk a bit I was never going to make up that distance but at least I was not going to get passed either.

When the agony was finally over and I crossed the line I was absolutely shattered and told myself that I could not have run a single second faster. Just then I saw the runner in front of me receiving something yellow from a lady marshall and then she turned over the cardboard box, now empty. At that moment it hit me, the guy in front of me had just received the very last top-100 finisher t-shirt and I had missed out by one, one, just one single blasted damn place. I was dumbfounded; I had not expected to come anywhere near the top-100 but to miss out by one place was just unbelievable. I received my mug and was highly tempted to smash it to smithereens but just about managed to contain myself.

Actually the initial shock wore off quickly. I had never expected to be in the running for a top-100 shirt which made it easier to accept. I didn't blame myself, I really thought I had given it all when I had crossed the line and I was never going to make up the 11 seconds I had been behind the 100th runner. I had managed to run the last, uphill mile in 6 minutes flat; ironically, had I done that last year I would have gotten a t-shirt back then. Instead I have to console myself that my sequence of finishing in increasingly better position has remained intact and if I manage that one more time, that t-shirt will invariably be mine.

I'm not sure why the standard for a top-100 place was lower than last year, the conditions were pretty damn good today, probably better than last year with less wind. At least I managed to find out why I never managed to spot Angela - she had always been behind me. That's pretty much a first!

Update: Mile 9.5 See what I was talking about:
Photo by Kealan O'Connor.

8 Mar
5 miles, 39:59, 8:00 pace, HR 130
9 Mar
Ballycotton 10, 1:01:31, 6:09 pace, HR 172
   101st place, 20th M40


  1. Amazed when I saw pos 101 Thomas, you took a few scalps today though and should be proud of your effort, move on and your day will come in BC in due course, best wishes K

  2. Congrats on a great race, Thomas, even if you missed the 100th shirt! Sustaining that kind of speed for such long distance is completely out of reach for most of us, awesome work!

  3. When you get it which you will it will be a just reward.

  4. terrific effort and pace. you'll get the t-shirt next year

  5. Well, Ballycotton may be a good race, but any race with climbs at the end is cruel. Well done!

  6. Great effort Thomas, amazing how much effort one can put into a hobby!

  7. Awesome race and report as usual Thomas! Are you nearing your 10 year peak?

  8. Great race report! Sounds like you gave everything you had and then some. Be proud!

  9. Thomas you had a wonderful race, sorry to miss meeting you yesterday in Ballycotton.
    Martin Keane

  10. Well done Thomas, great running!

  11. Good attempt Thomas. Console yourself with the thought that 101 is palindromic and therefore lucky.