By George Livanos

A wise man once told me that your first race sets the stage for the rest of the season so ‘begin as you intend to go on’. I hope for my sake that these words were more than just the ramblings of a crazy old man since the Rock N Road half was my first race event for the year and it’s definitely the way I’d like to ‘go on’

Firstly, registration is often my least favourite part of an event but in this case it was suspiciously simple. Walking into the community centre I spotted a sign with the first letter of my surname and walked over to it, two minutes later I walked out with pack in hand – not even I could get that wrong. There’s a couple of good decisions that the organisers made to make life simple for people like myself and this was one of them - avoiding registration on the day reduces the potential chaos that can result from people milling around trying to sign up at the last second.

Registration done, it was time to find some of the Athenry folks. I like meeting up with people before the race – it’s a great way to get advice and a pep talk before an event. In this case, Sinead F, Sinead B and Deirdre H were in the starting area - we briefly talked through our collective niggles (as runners do) as the excitement kicked in and the adrenaline started to flow. I was still getting advice from Deirdre H as we approached the starting line and this actually reminded me that I had actually planned a strategy for this run (thanks for the reminder Deirdre!).

To put things into context my 2011 strategy consisted of the same approach for all races which, in hindsight, may not have been an overly clever one. Simply put it was to:‘Follow someone that’s faster than I was and when they disappeared in the distance to find someone a little slower’. In 2012 I was going to be a little more specific starting with the Rock N Road Half. In this case the race plan was to keep an Average Pace of 7:55 min/mile, keep a Heart rate at around 160 bpm and to run the last half mile as an interval.

Time to go! The starting line faced into a short sharp uphill which quickly turned to the right for a fast loop of the village. This first quarter mile was an exercise in patience as runners zig-zagged across the road trying to gain a few metres and to avoid a few potholes. Surprisingly enough there was still plenty of room to get through at a reasonable pace so hats off to the organisers for limiting the entry size in 2012 (the second notably good decision by the organisers).

Once through the ¼ mile village loop we entered the Killina Road and the field started to spread out more. This segment of the race is deceptive – it’s a straight undulating road that stretches for 5 miles with a gradual climb over the entire length. The scenery is pretty much farmland at this point as it takes you towards Rockport and into the Burren. At mile four, my pace was around 20 seconds a mile ahead of target but the heart rate was good and the legs were warm so I pushed on following an Athenry jersey that I could see in the distance.

The next turn was approaching mile 5. Turning right onto the New Line Road the landscape changed quickly from farmland to something a little more alien and a strong headwind kicked up that slowed everyone’s pace. This was the most scenic part of the course – the roadside consisted of a flood of exposed limestone as we headed towards the Clare county line with Slievecarran in distance – all in all a welcome distraction from the headwind that had most of us tapping our Garmins in disbelief.

Somewhere between miles 6 and 8 we hit the steepest part of the course – the ‘Happy Half Way’ sign sat proudly at the end of it and led us into a quick descent before turning right onto the L-4507 – this turn kept us safely in Country Galway and put us on another undulating section of straight road.

About a mile into this stretch is is where I finally caught up with the Athenry jersey I had spotted earlier. I didn’t recognize the runner but I did recognize Aonghus Mcguinness from Predators pacing alongside. It was clear that the guys were working to their own time so I moved slowly past keeping to my own pace and avoiding the urge to chat (for a change!).

The next right turn was into the Trellick road which pointed us back towards Kinvarra. This was another 2-3 miles of undulating road but this time with a refreshing downhill grade. A time check at the beginning of mile 12 confirmed that I’d been caught out by some of the up sections and slowed more than expected – by the number of people staring at their Garmins I guess that I wasn’t the only one so it was time to knuckle down push on again.

At this stage I was running in a small group and we were all picking up the pace– it was a great motivator as we were pushing each other on until around the 12.5 mile mark when we all started to attack the final stretch into town. Two of us made a break together and this is where I realized that the painful Thursday speed sessions were paying dividends – accelerating along the waterfront and towards the finishing line there was enough time to look up at the clock, and ‘low 5’ some kids before crossing finishing with a big smile…

There were a number of strong results for Athenry on the day including Sinead F’s victory as the first woman home in just over 1:33. There were also a number of PB’s set on the day including my own at 1:41 and even though this wasn’t quite a podium finish it sure as hell felt like it - so bring on 2012!

The Rock N Road was a great day out. This was a quality, hassle-free event, well organized, with strong club representation (very important!) and with a great sense of community spirit throughout the village and competitors. The end result was a great day out and an event that I’ll be back for in 2013.