At the recent Coldwood 4M road race (late-January 2017) Andy Talbot mentioned to me how he was trying to make a team for the National Masters cross-country, which was to be held in Waterford in a few weeks. Knowing full well this would be no place for slow runners, and only the crème de la crème would be there, I gave him a 'maybe' but try and get someone better instead.
I'm sure Andy did his best with his recruiting drive but come race day we had four runners three Martins: Hynes (Tuam AC), McEvilly (GCH), & myself (Athenry AC) and Andy (Clare River Harriers) himself to make up a Galway O/65 team. When I heard it was three to score, I could travel without too much stress as the 'spare wheel'. Last Sunday (12 February 2012) on a bitterly cold morning we assembled in the Maldron Hotel (Oranmore) car park. When we knew everyone else was on the road, Andy and I hit off, shortly after 8AM.
I joked with my passenger that as we travelled south the temperatures might rise; like hell it did: a few miles out the road I was getting 'risk of ice' messages on the car dash. Looking over at Andy I thought he might say, 'Should we turn home?' but not so with him. At Kilcolgan we were stopped at a Garda checkpoint. The Garda with the breathalyser in his hand first craned his neck on the windscreen and then gave us a thorough eyeball before letting us continue on our journey.
Shortly after joining the motorway near Gort we met an ambulance and a Garda car both traveling very fast with sirens/blue lights on. I thought to myself, 'There is someone who won't be too concerned with running today'. We went through Limerick City, on through East Limerick past Dromkeen (home of one of our esteemed club members), Tipperary Town and then on to Clonmel, where we pulled into a filing station to get a cup of tea and stretch the legs. Then on to Carrick-on-Suir, where we passed lots of cyclists, out for a spin with the local club I'd say. A lasting legacy of the great Sean Kelly!
Further on, we went through Mooncoin, with not a sight of a rose to be seen. Very soon we were parking the car in the grounds of WIT Sports Campus. On getting out of the car we were hit with a cold Baltic/Siberian cold breeze and I thought, 'Am I going to freeze to death here today?' We went to the sports hall, which thankfully was a bit warmer, as quick as we could. A bit of delay here to get our numbers, but I didn't care as there were lots of people there we knew to have the craic with.
A bit of bravery again for Andy and myself to jog around the course before the race, and although it was fairly dry underfoot it didn't have much level ground as it was mostly uphills and downhills, with several bends and one very nasty hairpin thrown in. I just don't like cross-country and to make matters worse, it made a shower of rain before our race started and that made things a bit slippy too.
I never got going right during the race and did struggle out on the course. I wasn't last but it was a close-run thing in the end.
After the race I went back to the hall and decided to have a shower, not that I sweated much, but I was hoping it might put a bit of heat into my still frozen body. The water was barely tepid :-(. They had a shop with teas, snacks etc. so I joined a long slow-moving queue with two people serving inside the counter. How people can work so slowly I can't make out - even slower than my previous running?
While having the snack, we learned that one of our own GCH runners suffered a serious leg injury when he was within sight of the finish gantry. He had to be taken away by ambulance to the hospital. Speedy recovery Seamus as, unlike me, you still have youth on your side. Those of us who can remember the 1956 Aintree Grand National will recall the Queen's horse, Devon Loch, falling within 50 yards of the finishing post.
We went inside to the main hall for the prize-giving, which I must say they got completed in very quick time. The sound system wasn't very clear so I had trouble hearing the winners' names. I was talking to someone when another person standing nearby came over and gave me a slap on the shoulder and said, "Get up there ye have won the team title!"
The Galway O/65 team were presented with our medals by Athletics Ireland President Georgina Drumm. It's all about being in right place at the right time. I was half-expecting a medal for stripping off on such a cold day, but not for running, now that was a surprise.
Of course the higher up the age bracket you go, the easier it is to win, but the race is there for everyone to have a go and no one is barred from entering. Time now for to make the long journey home and this time we didn't make any pit-stops. As we came near Gort at about the same place where we met the ambulance in the morning, we heard that a woman was killed in a car accident near Kilimor at about the same time we left Oranmore. Another young woman in Kildare out for a spin with her cycling club that morning was also knocked down and killed. We might have been happy with our win in Waterford but for those two families to get that news, say no more. The agony and the ecstasy of life.
To my three colleagues who did all the hard running on the day, thanks lads I enjoyed your company. Yes it's a long, long, long way to Waterford but it was worth it all in the end.