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Good Times


from “Diary of a Rubbish Marathon Runner” I did a lot of races this summer, more so than usual. I had a fantastic 5k in Killarney where the “equivalent” time for the marathon went under 3:00 for the first time ever. However, since then I have not managed to replicate that achievement, and I have lost my earlier optimism about being able to break that mark in Dublin. Today’s half marathon in Blarney was the first long distance race in along time. I felt that I needed to run about 1:25 in this race to have a realistic chance of breaking 3:00 for a full marathon. However, recent races as well as training runs have shown that to be out of reach. As we drove towards Blarney today, I was merely hoping to better my personal best of 1:27:52, set last year in that very race, on a scorching hot day (well, scorching for Ireland, that is).

A few weeks ago I had been interviewed, by the Irish Times no less, and had mentioned to the journalist that I’d prefer racing in the rain than the sun. Today was the day where that statement would be put to the test.

Niamh only decided at 8:25 today that she and the kids would come with me. It had become obvious that the rain would not cease for the entire day, and with 4 children in tow, this would be a problem for her. However, she decided to bundle everyone into the car, and by 8:48 we were on the road.

This was my third time in a row at this race, so we knew the road well and I got ready in good time. I’m starting to recognise quite a few faces these days, and I’m also being recognised, which meant I had a few chats before the race. I met Grellan at the starting line, we only had time for few words before the start, and off we went.

I found myself immediately behind Mary Sweeney (a running legend around here) and Grellan, but after about half a mile I checked my Garmin, and the 6:18 pace made me back off a little bit, despite feeling perfectly comfortable at the time. Mary did slow down a little bit further on and I went past her shortly before the first mile marker, just like I had done in Liscarroll 3 weeks ago, but Grellan was about 10 steps ahead of me at the time (mile 1 in 6:35). Over the next 2 miles I managed to keep contact; in fact, I’m sure I managed to close the gap. I could have drawn level if I surged, but surging uphill so early in the race is not a good idea; at that stage I still expected to be able to catch him later on. (miles 2 and 3 and 6:29, 6:41)

The course is not easy by any means. The first half is uphill, the second half is downhill. That’s what the course profile says, but that’s not what it feels like. You do notice the uphill part, no doubt. However, I could have sworn the second half is mostly even. This had confused me last year and the year before, but this time I was already familiar with that peculiar sensation, and was prepared for it. (mile 4 in 6:37)

Eventually the course got steeper, and by mile 5 it got really steep. It was at that stage that I completely lost contact with Grellan. I don’t know how far ahead he got, but it must have been well over a minute, maybe even two. I more or less held my place in the field at that stage, though I was not concerned about that. I just put my head down and ran, trying not to cook myself. I know my pattern these days. Despite all the hills I’m running day-in, day-out in training, I tend to lose ground on the climbs. I do, however, make up for that on the downhills, and my time was soon to come. On a positive note, I noticed that the official mile markers coincided very closely with the figures on my GPS. At least I could trust those numbers (miles 5 and 6 in 6:53 and 7:23). By the time I reached the apex of the course, close to the halfway mark, my average pace was at around 6:50. I could not remember what it had been last year, but I knew it had been slower. A new PR was almost a given at that stage; I still felt very comfortable, and the better part of the race was yet to come. I overtook no less than 4 runners on the first, steep downhill (mile 7 in 6:20). At the foot of that I looked ahead and saw a number of runners ahead of me, but not the white shirt I was looking out for. Grellan, where are you? The chase was on!

In Liscarroll I had been ahead of him, this time I was behind. Psychologically it is better to be the hunter, but if you are too far back, that’s not going to help. However, for the next miles I flew down the road at unprecedented pace for such along distance. I must have overtaken at least 5 runners per mile, probably more. What surprised me was the number of female runners amongst them. Last year I had been overtaken by 3 women at mile 5; I had managed to draw one place back later on, but the other two stayed ahead, and they were the two fastest women in the race. This year the female contest was far more competitive.

Anyway, I felt I was running great. The road felt level, but I was doing 6:08, 6:12, 6:19 and 6:13 pace until the 11-mile marker, and I could not possibly do that on a level ground on such a long race. I really enjoyed it. I knew I was flying along to a new PR, the pace was hard but manageable, and I was able to keep a relaxed but fast running form, always a good sign. Even better, I kept overtaking runners the entire time, and there was never any danger of being overtaken myself. However, that white shirt was still not on the radar screen. I forgot to check the watch at the 10 mile marker, but I was faster than I had been in Ballycotton earlier this year when I had set my PR for the 10-mile distance. Mathematically speaking I had set a new PR already at that stage. In that race I had felt crap earlier on, due to a too-fast start, but recovered and had some very good late miles. I felt I would have run an excellent race over a longer distance, but ran out of road. If that had been a half-marathon, I would have done very well. Today, I was running that race.

I kept pressing hard, but despite all the effort I must have slowed down eventually, on the second-last mile. It passed in 6:32, the slowest mile for a while, but still not too shabby. It was at that stage that I was starting to feel the effort. In almost every race there comes a point when you really wish this were over and you could finally relax. I had reached that point.

With one mile to go I spotted a fairly large group of runners a good bit ahead of me, and I thought I saw Grellan’s white singlet amongst them. However, this was too close to the finish and I would not be able to catch up. In a longer race I would have managed it, I guess, but the race is over when you cross the line, not when you manage to catch up. With the finishing line coming into sniffing distance, I managed to increase to pace again, giving it all. It was downhill, but running 5:50 pace with 12 miles already under the belt still feels awesome. I still caught more runners, and after a final sprint (5:47 pace on the last bit) I crossed the line.

The provisional results have me in 56th place in a time of 1:25:10, but my own watch said 1:25:15, and that’s what I’m going by. I more than pleased to have bettered my previous PR by well over 2-and-a-half minutes; I had thought the times of cutting so much off my PR were over already. Grellan got credited with 1:24:21; I congratulated him to the run of his life, but he didn’t agree (he obviously thinks that one is still ahead of him). I didn’t mind being beaten – my own time was more than satisfying. I met Niamh later on (they had been to a play centre), and we went to Blarney Castle, which the children enjoyed immensely. Niamh later said she was glad we all had come – good times were had by everyone.

I definitely proved myself right about the racing conditions. Racing in the rain is preferable. You might not find anyone but 508 running idiots out there in the wet, but they will have a good time.

And the marathon predictions? Well, MacMillan gives me an equivalent time of 2:59:48. Damn! A bit faster, and I could relax. I bit slower, and I could accept. As it is, I will have to run the race of my life in Dublin. This is going to hurt.

12 Sep
8 miles, 1:04:02, 8:00 pace, HR 137
13 Sep
5 miles, 40:01, 8:00 pace, HR 136
13 Sep
16 miles incl:
Blarney Half Marathon, 1:25:15, 6:30 pace, HR 170
56th overall, 10th in M35 age group