Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Race Report #34 - Battlestations

The spikes have been put away (unwashed) not to be taken out until next year. That sound's great until it sinks in that next year really is only a few weeks away. After 5 cross country races in about 8 weeks I'm going to enjoy these remaining mud free days of 2009. What I'm most overjoyed about is that after these races I haven't picked up a single injury. After both cross country races last year I ended up taking a few weeks off because of one ailment or another, just like the year before. On two occasions this year I've had back to back race weeks, which I've never done before, and in both cases the second race has been far better than the first.

Sunday saw me take the line at the National Novices in Coleraine. I take issue with the word "Novice" when talking about this race, especially when you consider that last years runner up went on to run a 2:24 marathon within a year, while the winner won a National Track and Field medal and represented Ireland in the European Track and Field League a few months afterwards. This year a talented 1:13 half marathoner finished in the lower half of the field. Novice my ass!

My race really broke into two parts. Over the first 800m I was ready to throw in the towel and concede that I was going to have a miserable day. In stark contrast during the final 4km I believe that I've never run as well before. No idea what happened in them 4km but something clicked and everything just worked - foot in mud, foot out of mud effortlessly. After about 1km of the race a old guy in a Cork singlet went by me. I immediately decided to stick with him. Old and from the country - he has to know how to run cross country. We weaved in and out of people until the end of the first lap (2km), with me pretty much following every move he made.

As the downhill started, at the beginning of the second lap, the red singlet moved a head of me and I initially let him go. A sudden thought of "only 4km to go - that's nothing - you chose to be here today" entered my head and I accelerated and got onto his shoulder again. Almost immediately we were into a climb up a hill. The acceleration I used to catch back up with my pace man carried me past him and about five others climbing the hill. Now I was moving. My long strides were bringing more and more people back to me over the remainder of the lap. You often hear sports people talking about having the confidence to back themselves going into situations and this is what I believe got me through the race. Finally being able to back myself - to know that the pace I was going at hurt but also knowing that I could maintain it.

As the last lap started I could feel a pain creeping into my side. Only 2km to go though - I could push past it. Unfortunately there was a gap of close on 20m to the next guy ahead of me. The pain coupled with the gap was forcing negative thoughts into my head that I chose to ignore and just kept at what I was doing. Going up the hill for the last time it suddenly dawned on me that I had closed the gap to the few ahead without realising it. Feck it, last time up the hill, one last big effort. A few more places were gained during this push and as I crested the hill it felt like I actually stopped for a split second to get a deep breath before going straight into the downhill (the one pictured above - although that was the first lap). One person went by me on the down hill but he was immediately reovertaken the moment we got onto the flat. Even without being part of a team the last kilometre was just about picking up as many places as possible. I'd say I lost one that I'd taken but gained a further two. Sprint finishes were all the rage with people crossing the line at a rate faster than one every two seconds. To my relief I didn't lose any spots during (or gain any) which means that I end 2009 without being beaten in a cross country sprint finish. Not a bad way to go out.
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