Sunday, August 02, 2009

On the Inca Trail

I was all set for a complicated manoeuvre on Friday, the company’s day out and the day of the Kilgobnet 4-mile race. I was planning on spending the day with my work colleagues and leave at 6pm in my car to drive to Kilgobnet and race. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but what can you do. Then, on Thursday afternoon, when checking out the Kenmare tourism website I came across a flyer of a 10k in Kenmare on Sunday. You mean I can enjoy the entire Friday out and still run a race on the weekend? Perfect! Despite the strange name (Inca Trail 10km run), it was a road race.

It also meant a slight change to my training plan. Out went the idea of a sleep-in on Friday; I ran my usual 18 miles in the wind and rain. Niamh refused to let me cycle to work at 9 o’clock because of the bad weather and insisted on giving me a lift. Then, on Saturday I ran 10 miles, but took it really easy, apart from a set of strides to turn over the legs.

We took off towards Kenmare on Sunday lunchtime. We left in plenty of time but did not factor in the ***** tourists on the road driving at 50 kph. I was getting worried about missing the start but we made it with 10 minutes to spare. Since Kerry races never start on time I even had time for a warm-up.

There were not a lot of runners who looked fast, so I lined up right at the front. Right from the off a kid in a cotton t-shirt took the lead, joined by a mate in a similar outfit. I did wonder how long they would last the pace, but knew that looks could be deceptive. I was in third place, leading the chase group, when another kid stormed past me. Unlike his friends, I just knew that he would definitely not last the pace. A runner in a khaki t-shirt took position at my shoulder, and over the first km we went on to drop the rest of the group.

Just after the first km the kid in third place stopped to re-tie his laces, and that was the last time I saw him (he finished way back, which was inevitable). I didn’t stay in third place for long because khaki t-shirt went past me on the first uphill stretch to pull a few meters ahead, and then I heard footsteps coming from behind. Eventually another runner passed me, wearing a t-shirt from a Swiss mountain marathon. He was obviously at home at climbing up that hill.

Climbing up that hill soon became the name of the game. It was steep, I was suffering badly, the top two runners disappeared into the distance and the next two were pulling slowly but steadily away from me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I could see a bend in the road ahead, but when I reached it all I could see the road climbing up at the same gradient for as far as I could see. At one stage I glanced at my Garmin and saw the HR at 181. No wonder I was redlining, but I managed to keep the effort going. This wasn’t a race; this was torture! After another turn the road was still climbing, but at least not quite as steep. I could just about see the guy in the khaki t-shirt ahead of me; the top 3 guys had disappeared beyond the horizon. Since there were prizes for the top 3 runners I knew I wasn’t in the hunt for those, not that I had ever expected to be, of course. Eventually, after 3.2 miles, well past the halfway mark, we finally crested the blasted hill, well over 200 feet higher than the start had been.

Downhill it went. I had thought the climb had been steep, but the descent was a lot steeper. Fell runners might have been comfortable on that gradient, but I was not. I tried to spin the legs as fast as they would go, and looking at the chart I reached 4:36 pace at one point. It was mad, I was barely in control, but took heart from the fact that the vast gap between me and the khaki t-shirt was melting. I was still behind when we reached the bottom of the hill, but I was now within striking distance. The road was flat for the next mile, and I somehow seemed to carry the momentum from our downhill descent with me. I did my old trick of imagining a bungee rope pulling me towards the front-runner. This worked its magic once more; I was soon level. At that stage I looked at my Garmin for the first time since the second mile. I was in for a major surprise.

When climbing up that monster of a hill, my one overriding thought was “at least I didn’t sacrifice any training to run that race. A new PR on that mountain course would have been impossible anyway”. I also remember getting really angry with the organisers. I know the area around Kenmare is very hilly, but I’m sure they could have found a saner racecourse. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather run a fast race than a mountainous one.

Anyway, I had set a new 10k PR two weeks ago in Ballydavid. The pace had been 6:15. When I checked the Garmin about 4.5 miles into today's race, after climbing that mountain, I did not expect to see 6:11 on the display. I did a double take. I even wiped the raindrops from the casing, thinking that I must have misread the numbers. No, they were still there, 6:11 average pace it was.

I know you’re not supposed to pace a race off your watch. That mistake has cost me on more than one occasion in the past. But seeing those numbers gave me a massive boost. Khaki t-shirt didn’t stand a chance after that. I went past and left him behind, chasing the fastest time I could possibly achieve. I could not see any runners ahead of me, and third place was never an option. But a new PR was so close, and I was not going to let the opportunity go by.

The climbing didn’t stop there. We still had to crest another hill, passing the very swanky and exclusive Sheen Falls Lodge on the way, but didn’t have time (or money) to stop for a spa treatment. Then it was downhill again, and after what seemed to be a very long time I finally reached the bridge over the Kenmare River, and I knew this would be over in a few minutes.

I also knew that the finish would be uphill, and uphill running isn’t my forte, despite all the hill repeats I’ve done this summer. I was a bit worried about my fourth place, but wasn’t tempted to look behind to check. All I did was run as fast as I could. Twice cars passed me coming the other way and beeped their horn in encouragement (I presume). I must have made an ugly sight, mouth wide open, gasping for air up the final hill, but I could see the last turn ahead. The volunteers stopped the traffic for me, I crossed the road into the finishing chute and was done, 39:16 on the clock.

The race director had said before the start that the distance wasn’t accurate. It was over 10k, but I missed the actual figure he gave. All I can do is follow the number on my Garmin, which measured 6.35 miles. 39:16 over 6.35 miles equals 38:24 over 10k. Later, at home, I checked the computer how long the first 10k had taken me, which came up with 38:24 as well. So, after yet another inaccurate race distance (but longer rather than shorter this time, which I definitely prefer), I again have to decide if I accept that as a new PR. Since the improvement is so massive, I decided to take it. It’s obviously a better indicator of my present level. And who would say no to a half-minute improvement in the 10k?

I congratulated the three top-runners (the kids never let up their pace, very impressive), and had a chat with khaki t-shirt (“Are you the guy with the blog?”), and then it was back for family time again. It was raining heavily at that stage and Niamh and the kids took refuge in a cake shop while I was doing my cool-down (nobody complained). I asked Niamh if it had been raining throughout the race, which she confirmed. Funny that. I had not noticed a thing!

31 Jul
18 miles, 2:22:25, 7:54 pace, HR 143
1 Aug
10 miles, 1:22:30, 8:15 pace, HR 135
2 Aug
14 miles, including:
  Kenmare Inca Trail 10km run, 39:16, 6:10 pace, HR 177
  Equivalent 10k time 38:24

Weekly Mileage: 100+
July Mileage: 417+


  1. Nice training work Thomas. btw, congrats on your recent 10K PR!

  2. Nice running! I was the guy just in after you. I saw a 10 marked on the road about halfway up the last hill. I went through this in 38:30 exactly myself and finished 39:39. If their measuring was accurate you could take another few seconds off your PB. Impressive running on the downhills, and good to hear I wasn't the only one suffering on that hill!

  3. congratulations Thomas, nice job.

  4. The profile looks like you'd need ropes to scale that hill. Looks worse than running up Black Mountain. No wonder they call it the Inca Trail!

    If you can run a 10k PB over a course like that, you're in great shape - got to be worth something in the low 37s for a flat course. Roll on Dingle.

  5. Looks like your making the break through to the next level, well earned result, congrats

  6. Great run, great report Thomas.

  7. Awesome race Thomas! You know how to gut them out. Great job on the new 10k PR. Fantastic.

  8. A very gutsy run Thomas and a great breakthrough PB on a very tough course. That descent looks uncontrollably steep. That certainly equals a 37:xx on a flatter course. Roll on Dingle.

  9. Well done! congratulations. Great report

  10. While most will certainly dismiss my comment as rubbish, I must note that this result does not automatically indicate a 37:xx on a flat course. If you are strong on hills (both up and down), then the course's profile may actually work to your advantage, and a flat course might do disservice to your leg cadence, focus, etc. This by no means dilutes your achievement, but it just bears mentioning...

  11. Think that might be true for a rolling course but 200ft of climbing in 1 mile is tough, very tough....

  12. You're in fine shape pulling off a time like that on that kind of course. How about a measured flattish 10k sometime soon and then all the arguments about pb's will be over?

  13. Good God, a 10k PB just days after 18 & 10 mile runs... impressive. Make sure you allow yourself a couple days to recover from a) the race effort and b) the pounding. Stay on top of that training for the remaining few weeks! All the best mate!

  14. The trouble is Mike, it seems like there's no such thing as an accurate 10k course in Ireland. They must be all measured by triathletes.

    25 laps on the track will settle it Thomas ;)