Arrived in good time to pick up my race number. The whole set-up was very impressive and well organised. Lots of volunteers on hand to help out and a great finishing area that included a huge marquee full of food. For a moment I thought I had gatecrashed a wedding. Very promising.
I hadn't planned on doing much of a warm-up as I wanted to save my legs. I ran down to the start which was about 1km and then did a few strides before lining up for the start. Soon the countdown was underway and 5-4-3-2-1 we were off. Racing at Craughwell.
One guy went straight to the front leaving me in second. The start was running into the wind but you didn't notice it straight away as the adrenaline is flowing. I settled into a good rhythm and whilst the leader was quickly disappearing up front, I was running on my lonesome in second. The first mile passed in 5:09 (way too quick). Only 9 miles to go...
The course itself was an out and back section of well over a mile, with a loop stuck on the end. I haven't described that very well. It was like a lollipop. So you ran the first section twice (start and finish) with the 10 miles being made up with the big loop. Confused?
By the second mile I had slowed a lot. I could feel I was running slower as the wind was more noticeable but the mile split of 5:30 was an indication it could be a tough day. I kept plugging away and it was some way before the 3rd mile that I was joined by Paul who seemed to move up on me effortlessly. I decided to stick with him and we then preceded to have an almighty battle...
I don't recall too much of the detail mile by mile. We both took many turns running at the front. The pattern was that I would lose ground on the uphill drags, and then make up ground on the flat/downhill sections. One hill session in 9 months will do that. Anyway, the 3rd mile passed in 5:24 so at least I had picked up the pace slightly. Having someone to race with makes such a difference, it keeps you focused. The 4th mile was a 5:22 and we were still shoulder to shoulder. This continued over mile 5 and with a split of 5:28 it was halfway in a time of 26:53.
At this point I was feeling far from good. My immediate thought was that a sub 54 finish was not going to happen. The legs were very heavy, and the calves (left especially) felt like I was in the closing stages of a marathon. So what do you do in this situation? Try a big surge? So with a huge effort I dropped in a quick mile of 5:11 and I managed to open up a little gap. That was a grand plan in theory but it still meant I had 4 miles to go. At least I was now running with the benefit of the wind.
Sure enough more hills followed and within the next mile Paul had caught me again. The 7th mile was a 5:20 so still going alright despite feeling crap. I may have tried another surge in the 8th mile - a last throw of the dice - but still we were running side by side. The split was a quick 5:15 and that was me done and dusted.
Paul started to work away from me from this point leaving me in 3rd spot. At the back of my mind I still knew there was a nasty drag in the last mile so I'd all but given up on 2nd place. So 2 miles to go, that's 8 laps of the track. All of a sudden that felt like a huge distance. Why do you put yourself through this?
I think somewhere in the 9th mile I rejoined the same part of the course I had already run with a sharp left turn. The 9 mile marker slowly arrived with a split of 5:22 with Paul less than 10 seconds in front of me. The dreaded hill came and went and with 800m to go I really tried running hard but was fighting a losing battle. So I just decided to "enjoy" the final section and attempted a few smiles which probably looked like grimaces to any of the spectators in the finishing chute.
I crossed the line in 53:20 (a 5:19 last mile). That time was extremely pleasing. That's exactly 5:20 per mile with a big negative split of 26 seconds in the second 5 miles (mainly due to the wind?). According to McMillan that's a better run than my half from the previous week (1:10:50). So that's especially pleasing considering my legs were very tired in the closing stages of today's race.
I really enjoyed the day, especially the 5 miles of racing with Paul. At the finish area I had to get a massage on my left calf which had reduced me to a slight limp. I need to toughen up. I'll be okay after getting a rub in the next week and resting up for a few days.
Well done to the organisers. You couldn't really ask for more from a runner's perspective. A great course, a huge field, chip timing, t-shirts, massage, drinks, and an all you can eat buffet.
I finished up with a slow 1km hobble. All up 18km for the day and 54.9km for the week. And more beer tonight to celebrate.
I should say a special congratulations to the winner of the race. In a time of 49:12! That's a very impressive time. Well done indeed.