Published in Reports on 5th June 2012
Okay, so I am waaaaaaaaay behind on the blogging situation - but here's one I started earlier (and failed to finish until now). More news from the US anon...
Sometimes, if you are not that fast, it’s necessary to apply a little cunning. You don’t need to outrun a bear, just to find a fat guy to outrun.
The Bay Relays are a charity run in aid of Enable Ireland and Cope, with a fun concept – teams of three, running 5km each from the Claddagh hall out along the prom and back, in a traditional relay format (with chips but no baton). My friends from Galway Triathlon Club had taken the first prize in 2011 at this event, and were keen to retain their title. I was starting with the handicap that most of the competitive teams were going to be composed of three men, and my middling 5km time would be a few minutes slower than most of the guys anyway. I was still determined to bring home some hardware.
First step: Lower the bar by avoiding the obviously faster sports club teams. My first thought on entering a team was to round up people from work, possibly because a few people I knew had entered work teams in the previous race. The great thing about sports clubs/ teams at work is that it’s a way of meeting people who you wouldn’t ordinarily know or interact with, especially in a vast company like the one I work in. So: who do I know at work who runs? More to the point, who is the fastest person I know in my company? Step up to the plate, Mr. Gerry Ryan, three time winner of the Streets of Galway, 2005 Irish half marathon champion and a 14.5min 5km runner. Gerry, a member of Craughwell AC, is an unassuming but incredibly gifted athlete, who is a three time winner of the Streets of Galway (including 2011; notwithstanding his masters running status, he is still running guys twenty years his junior – sorry, Gerry! – into the ground). If I was going to have a work team, it would be a good one. I then solicited Seán Hanley who is a keen athlete with Galway City Harriers and a fast 5km runner who I know through our corporate 5km. A perfectly democratic mixed-club Galway running trio.
I turned up at the Claddagh hall beaming with barely concealed delight at my secret weapon. A few friends rolled their eyes when I told them who I had on my team. Our club mate Ray O'Connor (armed with 1,000 Chinese traffic cones) who had volunteered his services at the finish line grinned at my line up. I insisted on taking the first leg, as I had a terrible vision of being handed a giant lead by the two boys, only to disgrace myself by being overtaken by various people along the way. I took the philosophical view – in the manner of my own triathlon racing: a slow swim may be averaged out by a fast run; Gerry and Sean would make up for any deficits created by me huffing my way in well behind the lead runners. I tried to gently lower Sean’s expectations in case he expected me back sub twenty minutes.
I was dreading the actual run. I had not raced a 5km since early 2010 due to all the long haul racing and cross training I have been doing, and my running has not had a lot of speed focus. 5km racing is intensely uncomfortable. “Now take a breath. Now put one foot in front of the other. No, faster. No, faster. Does that hurt? Yes? Good. Keep doing that for the next twenty minutes”.
The first relay leg took off in a stiff cold breeze at seven. I was distracted for the first km by an incredible tailwind which blew me out along the prom. I was a little dismayed by a smattering of women galloping incredibly fast out ahead of me, until most of them blew up and screeched to a near halt after about a mile. Once around the turnaround point out, there was a pretty stiff headwind and I concentrated on turning over my short legs fast and getting back to base; spurred on from mediocrity by the fear of disgracing my celebrity running team. I tagged off Sean’s relay leg at exactly 21 minutes, which exceeded my expectations given my lack of speed work and the strong wind. We were well down from some very fast lead runners but there was time to be made up.
While waiting for Sean to return, I got our star anchor leg ready to run. The joy of being a fast runner means that you have lower body fat, and he took off for a last minute warm up. A minute later, number 9 runner came barrelling around the corner, ready for tag off. The marshals started shouting: Number 9. NUMBER 9! There were small children tucked into bed in Knocknacarra who heard me bellow: GEEEEEEEEEEEERRYYYYYYYYYYYY! About 10 seconds down notwithstanding, Gerry shot through the crowd to take his leg, running out along the headland with his long graceful gait.
Sean had made up a lot of ground but we were still some way behind. We waited for the lead runners to finish. A team from Galway City Harriers took the honours, quite a way clear of the second place team. A few minutes later, the second team came into view, from Galway Triathlon Club. They were being closed down rapidly by....I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had gone from a pretty decent top of pack position to third. John Greaney from GTC’s last year’s winning team just about held off Gerry to take second place. I jumped up and down with excitement. Third place! And first corporate team (only by a small margin, mind you), with a combined 15km time of 55:10.
I don’t think Gerry is used to running from the midpack. He came back looking slightly aggrieved and said ‘I got a bit lost!’ A man who is used to either following a lead car or hugging the shoulder of the lead athlete on the way to the finish is not used to having to question the marshals from somewhere in the middle while cruising past at 20kph. I didn’t care. It was a successful day out; both in terms of (for me) our finishing position and a fun expedition with some talented workmates who I don’t normally get to interact with on a daily basis. I picked up our little trophies at the awards ceremony with pride (I do love my hardware).
I get by with a little help from my friends.