Red Rag to A Bull!

Angels and Demons

Whilst I had always intended on running this race I hadn’t initially intended on racing it hard, with the focus more on the Half in Connemara, but over the last month I’ve felt I’ve been in good form so it would be a shame to waste it.

The first edition of this race was also my first half marathon two years ago and what an eye opener it was. I realised very quickly that my sporadic training and basic mileage wasn’t going to cut it anymore and struggled home in 2.28. Two years down the line with a much more regimental training plan and a couple of thousand miles under the belt I felt in a much better place.

So down to Kinvara early Saturday morning on what was a perfect day for racing and who better to meet on my warm up then last year’s Half Marathon winner and fellow Athenry AC member, Sinéad Foran, who gave some brilliant advice on course profile and where it was going to get difficult (congrats to Sinead on another podium finish in Kinvara). Then, on the way to the start line, I met another Athenry member and one of my training buddies, Kieran, who gave me the best kick in the arse I needed before the race by telling me ‘Beat my time and I’ll beat you!!’ (Red rag to a bull).

I’ve learned by now that I go out fast for the first mile no matter what distance the race is. I’ve tried to change it but I’ve finally given in and now I factor that burst of adrenaline into my race strategy. I also like to get out ahead of the crowd too at the start so for those reasons I was practically toeing the line as the countdown started.

The claxon sounded and as always I was away like the clappers, a loop of the town and left turn up the hill onto the race course proper. Some great support around the town but I knew that would change soon as we headed off into the Burren. My race strategy had me running between 7:15 – 7:20 min/miles to achieve the 1.35 / 36 I was after. First mile down and I was feeling comfortable but seeing as I was neck and neck with the 1.30 pacers I knew I should pull it back a bit.

Mile 1: 6.43

I always find with longer distance races that in the first few miles you can overtake and be overtaken by the same people on multiple occasions in short periods as everyone settles into their rhythm and this race was no different. There was plenty of room though as my initial burst had me ahead of the bulk of 500+ runners, but unfortunately, despite making a conscious effort to rein in the pace, by mile 2 I was still within touching distance with the 1.30 group. I still felt comfortable but didn’t fancy that to last for the full race at this pace.

Mile 2: 7.01

The adrenaline was finally draining as I settled into the race and let the pacers go ahead of me slightly. The course is very slightly uphill for the first 5 miles with a few small rolling hills but when you train in Ryehill every week these hills seem that bit easier. By the turn at mile 4.5 I was happy the pacers were well ahead and I was comfortably moving along.

Mile 3: 7.09

Mile 4: 7.19

As we turn the corner we get the first hint of wind but it’s light and shouldn’t cause any problems. (But in fairness, after the recent Club ‘Fun (??)’ Run in Connemara anything less than Force 5 is a mild breeze). I knew from  looking at the course profile that the next few miles were fairly flat with a slight downhill so was tempted to pick up the pace again here but Sinéad’s words were echoing in my head ‘Save it for the end, there’s a few tricky hills’. I had a little giggle to myself as Sinéad appeared as an angel over my right shoulder with her words of wisdom while Kieran appeared over my left shoulder as the devil; ‘Beat my time and I’ll Beat you!!’. Good triumphed over evil though and I kept the pace level. Got to the water station at 6 miles and although still feeling comfortable I took a gel knowing that it surely wouldn’t stay like that. Hit the first of the hills at 6.5m (small, short and steep as they tend to be on this course) and was able to power through it. Next hill at the turn at mile 7, bigger and steeper but again powered through it.

It was at this point I realised how spread out the racers were around me. From mile 4 on I practically ran the race on my own with only a handful being overtaken by me or passing me. I normally only run my own race and ignore what’s going on around me but as I was still feeling ok I decided to try and rein in a few people ahead of me.

Mile 5: 7.22

Mile 6: 7.16

Mile 7: 7.22

The turn at mile 7 brought another slight rise in the wind speed and a slight incline (wind, hills; this isn’t wind and hills) but again it wasn’t anything to worry about. I had a few targets up ahead now and the focus was on them. A few minutes in and my breathing and stride pattern was feeling a little bit raggedy for the first time. Doubt started to creep in slightly and I was wondering did I try too much too soon. So I did what any self-respecting Athenry AC member would do and asked myself ‘What would Dee Quinn do?’ So I gave myself a good talking to; Hush the Fup Up, Cop On and Boot Down! Next mile ticked over and despite my worries I was delighted to see the lap times consistent. Mini crisis over, I picked it up slightly on the small downhill section and headed for the last turn that would bring us back in from the Burren and heading for Kinvara. This turn for home gives you the feeling you’re on the home stretch which always buoys you a bit and passing the 10 mile mark I was at 1.12.**, leaving me 23 mins for the final 5k to get in on target. Easily doable for a normal 5k, how about today ?????

Mile 8: 7.23

Mile 9: 7.13

Mile 10: 7.22

This course has a habit of throwing little steep inclines at you out of nowhere and, as I was beginning to feel the pace, it threw another one in, just after mile 11. WTF!? Where the hell did this come from? And the wind? Again WTF!? I take it all back, Ryehill and Connemara haven’t a patch on this. (Looking back at the stats, the hill is only about 10m high but I could have sworn at the time I was climbing Everest) I again powered up it but knew half way I was failing fast.

Got to the top and had to stop to walk for a breather. I was only walking for about 5 – 10 seconds when someone passed and gave some words of encouragement. It was the first person who had passed me in miles and after making up plenty of places over the last 3 – 4 miles I wasn’t a happy bunny. I managed to start up again and hung on to the heels of my competition for dear life. (He might have offered me some encouragement but a race is a race J) The short break had done me good though and I quickly passed him again with another two more in sight.

I could see they were flagging badly and caught them soon enough. Into the last mile and I had some confidence back and was putting my energy into reining in as many as I could. Hit the final turn into the village proper and knew there wasn’t much left to the end. Caught two more on the turn and felt my pace quicken again. I could see one more ahead of me and was confident that my normal speedy kick to the line would get him too. Down onto the quays and immediately I could hear Pam and her rent-a-crowd screaming like lunatics (I think she bullies everyone into screaming my name). I had picked up the pace and was hurting like hell, couldn’t even acknowledge them. I passed my next target with about a couple hundred meters to go but I had nothing left. I couldn’t kick on at all and he re-passed me just before the line.

Over the line in 1.35.13 for a 9min PB and a 53min increase over this race two years previous and happy that there wasn’t another second out there (Well maybe at the top of my Everest, but there are always What if’s?).

So all done and dusted, thanks to the words of wisdom from Sinéad, the encouragement on the start line from Philip and Pam and the kick up the arse from Kieran. Only one thing left now – name a time and a place Kieran ;-).