Published in Reports on 6th March 2007
Ballycotton ‘10’ 2007
Report by Mick Rice
It has been said many times before, but it bears repetition, that the Ballycotton ‘10’ is the best road race in Ireland. This is surely the case. For many of us in Athenry AC, we don’t travel to Cork each spring for a race, we go there on pilgrimage. Having had a small taste of race organisation ourselves in recent years, the scale and quality of what is achieved each year by John Walshe’s ‘Ballycotton Army’ is almost beyond comprehension. Before another word is said we in Athenry AC want to thank John, and everyone else involved with the race, most sincerely for organising this event which we can take part in and enjoy each year.
The travelling Athenry party was somewhat diminished this year by a combination of injury and domestic duty. James Lundon, Owen Curran, Philip Magnier and Liam Mycroft all withdrew late in the day leaving eight maroon-clad athletes to brave the elements. Most of us travelled on Saturday afternoon and Club Captain Brian O’Connor had organised a beautiful Italian meal for us in Cork that evening. We foolishly believed that we couldn’t have a more interesting waiter than last year and many of us fondly recalled the campest man in Ireland who had served us at a different establishment last year, but, of course, we were wrong. This year’s waiter, gentleman though he undoubtedly was, had only a passing acquaintance with the English language. Ordering a Diet Coke from this young man was an exercise that descended rapidly into farce. Having listened to the words ‘Diet’ and ‘Coke’ repeated in conjunction a number of times he tilted his head to one side in desperate confusion and asked “Toilet Coke?” When the Pizza and Pasta were subsequently polished-off and we made our way home our thoughts turned to the serious business of racing ten miles along Cork roads the following day.
The weather forecast for Saturday night and into Sunday contained dire predictions of gale-force winds and rain in sheets. Gulp! As we retired to our comfortable beds I’m sure many of us were making mental preparations for a wet and windswept experience on the following day. Gary Doherty, his wife Rena and I travelled together to the race and arrived just before 11:00am. We were followed by Alan Burke, Brian O’Connor and preceded by Peter Delmer, Dave Dunne, Michael Rooney and John O’Connor. By about 11:30am the collective Athenry AC ‘eagle’ had landed. Parking had proven difficult as the usual car-parks were unusable due to the overnight rain but somehow the incredible Ballycotton stewarding machine managed to cope.
Once we had arrived, the usual ritual of meet, greet and slag could commence. If you weren’t there, you don’t want to know what we said about you and if you were there you’re guilty by association and so you should keep your head down. Souvenir t-shirts were bought, rub-downs were procured and injuries were analysed in great and painful detail. Brian’s sore calf was going to be a problem and Alan was limping too, but without a shadow of a doubt my own injury was more important and potentially devastating than anyone else’s. Don’t ask me to justify that last statement, it’s just true, ok! It is almost invariably the case that injured runners find it had too see past their own personal ice-packs, much less genuinely and sincerely empathise with any other cripple’s difficult situation. And so it was that we limped and waffled our time away until the moment for action was almost upon us.
Given the wet and windy conditions, it was never going to be a fast race. From a personal perspective I was operating on limited optimism which boiled down to the following three aspirations;
1. I wanted to break an hour for the distance.
2. I wanted to be amongst the first one-hundred finishers.
3. I wanted to avoid exacerbating my injury to the point where I needed to return to Athenry in a wheelchair.
In fairness, given my, ‘oh-so-important’ injury, none of this seemed in the least bit plausible on the starting-line. When the clock ticked past 1:45pm we were sent on our way. Peter, Brian and I were in close formation going out of town and sharply downhill. Some initial bobbing and weaving brought all three of us past the first mile marker in 5:58. The rest of the Athenry contingent must have been breathing down the back of our singlets but there’s no such thing as looking back in a situation like this. Once out of town the throng thinned slightly and the pace evened out to a generalised stampede. I was amazed that Brian and Peter hadn’t yet pulled further ahead as objectively both men are fitter and faster than me at the moment. We struggled forward. Mile two was 5:51 and mile three was 5:59. The wind was strong and I drafted wherever the opportunity arose.
There was quite a lot of water on parts of the course and so it was generally best to steer a central course. I spent quite a lot of time looking at the road rather than straight ahead and each time I did look forward I expected to see my club mates pulling further and further ahead. As we passed the five mile marker they did indeed start to build a gap, slowly establishing a lead of about fifty meters over the next mile or so. It was almost a relief under the circumstances and felt somehow ‘right and proper’. Miles four and five had been completed in 6:00 and 6:02 respectively.
In order to complete the course in less than an hour, I had, of course, to average less than six minutes per mile over the entire distance. Despite the wind, rain, large inconvenient puddles and a lack of any apparent running talent, I was eleven seconds ahead of the clock at halfway. The only obvious problem I could see at that point was that I was completely shagged, and short of getting a lift back on a motorbike I couldn’t really see the whole ‘under-an-hour’ thing happening. However, once we got past the midpoint of this particular misadventure there was at last some relief from the wind and despite my prior determined pessimism things started to look a small bit brighter. It was somewhere along this stretch that Peter hit some problems of his own.
Unbeknownst to me Peter had been having stomach cramps since the very early miles and he eventually had no other option but to stop running for a moment somewhere around the seven or eight mile mark. I knew that he would be disappointed to be delayed as he’s in great shape at the moment. A small fraction of my tiny blackened soul experienced something approaching guilt as I passed by my stricken comrade. Then, I decided to press on as fast as I could to make it even harder for him to catch me. I hope you’ll understand that this was for his own good.
As I look at my watch now the mile splits seem a little erratic as we passed into the second half of the race. Despite mile splits of 6:07, 5:55 and 5:54 for miles six, seven and eight respectively, I was gaining slightly on Brian. The final miles of this race would determine whether I could meet the first two of my ‘goals’, the third one was in the hands of fate. I guessed, correctly as it turned out, that I needed to average about six minutes per mile over the last two miles to break an hour overall and then hope that that would be good enough to place me in the top one-hundred finishers. As usual some kind soul was calling out the position of each runner as we ran between the eighth and ninth mile markers. Having heard that I was sixty-sixth on the road I felt somewhat more confident of my eventual placing but still needed to run my target time.
The last mile and a half of the course in Ballycotton is in the majority uphill. This wouldn’t normally encourage the swift finish I required but for some obscure reason I always seem to close out this race strongly. By this stage I could see Brian about twenty meters ahead and tried desperately to hang onto his slipstream. Giving it all that I had left in the ‘tank’ I completed the race with splits of 6:12 and 5:50 for a finishing time of 59:50, with Brian seven seconds and five places ahead of me. Mission accomplished. Peter never really got back into the swing of his running after being forced to a stop with those stomach cramps earlier but to his credit he stuck to the task and made it into the top one-hundred finishers as well in a time of 1:00:56. From memory I don’t think we’ve ever had three Athenry runners in that particular league before.
Next Athenry runner across the line was our webmaster and club chairperson Alan Burke. This was without any doubt the performance of the day from amongst our ranks. Alan is an obviously talented runner who believes in guarding his athletic ability jealously against the many risks inherent in overtraining. Alan’s time on the day of 1:04:12 was a great return in tough windy conditions and once he starts to actually train regularly anything is possible. Johnny O’Connor was next home in 1:06:02 giving the impression that he had experienced quite a tough day at the office. Johnny looks to me like he has the genetics of a Kenyan but; unfortunately, he has the lifestyle of an Irishman. Having said all of that, averaging 6:36 per mile around Ballycotton is no small achievement and given that he’s a recently married man some of us were surprised that he had the energy to run at all.
Gary Doherty was close on Johnny’s heels finishing just over a minute later in 1:07:25. This was Gary’s first visit to Ballycotton and he’ll surely improve on this clocking in years to come. The race probably came a little early in the season for us to see the very best from the ‘Headford Express’ and he never really hits top form until he has James Lundon to either chase or stay ahead of. Michael Rooney and Dave Dunne must have been within sight of each other as they passed the post only sixteen seconds apart (1:09:16 and 1:09:32 respectively). These were fine solid runs in the conditions from improving runners. That all eight Athenry AC runners finished the race in less than seventy minutes was fantastic. A glow of quiet satisfaction gradually descended over the Athenry contingent. The poor weather, in combination with niggling injuries and other unforeseen difficulties, meant that we hadn’t all met or exceeded our pre-race expectations but we were all glad to be alive and to have had the chance to take part in yet another superb Ballycotton ‘10’.
As we filtered through the refreshment area at the top of the hill and slowly, slowly, limped and chatted our way back towards normality and our awaiting cars and busses, one of our number was about to receive a reminder about the norms of social behaviour in Cork. I can think of many races where you quite safely attempt to snaffle an extra Snickers bar as you depart the scene, but on reflection Ballycotton probably isn’t one of them. Alan ‘Two-Snickers’ Burke, as he shall henceforth be known, was to our collective amusement, informed in strident Corkonian that each person was entitled to take just a single piece of free confectionary. I don’t think he’ll make the same mistake next year.