If a better day exists for racing then I've sure as hell never seen it in Ireland. Wind was minimal, temperatures were above 'cold' and there was a blue sky with an honest to God sun up there. A perfect day and I felt in great nick walking around. No excuses (although I had some lined up just in case!). As CR said "Just get out there and run".
Having not raced a 5 Mile race in just shy of 2 years I had no recent times to try beat. A goal of 27 minutes was in my head but there was no pressure on this. I was going to run, trust in the training, and trust in the miles and the mud I'd put in over the last few weeks. I've never trained as hard as the past month, never felt as fit or as strong, so there was no way in my mind that this wouldn't work out. The plan was quite simple - ease into the race. Go off easy for the first 600m or so and then start to work. By Mile 1 be racing. A simple plan that couldn't be messed up...
Singlet on. Short shorts on. Racing flats on. Strides done. Heart beating. Nerves non-existent. Bring it.
The first minute or two went as I'd wanted them to. Bit by bit I started to progress through the field trying to find the group that was going to drag me to a fast time. Even going "slow" over the first half of the first mile it still worked out being the fastest mile of the lot. I latched onto a group that seemed to be moving and we passed through the first mile mark with some shouting "five eighteen, nineteen, five twenty". Bang on 26.40 pace - probably a bit faster than I could achieve but nothing that was going to cause me to change the way I was running. You can't get shock results if you're holding back from achieving something that'll shock you.
The second mile involved some more weaving and group changing as I continued my march forward. This mile went on... and on... and on. So much so that I'd convinced myself that I hadn't seen the marker. Maybe as it was the only mile that we had what little breeze there was in our faces it made it feel that bit longer. Again there was someone shouting splits. No idea what they were but I recall realising that I was out of the 26.40 pace. Probably onto a more realistic 27 minute pace. At this stage I was involved in a group that I knew contained at least three, including myself.
For the next while we each injected some pace into proceedings but no one was getting dropped. For the first time in an age I felt like I was involved in a race. Each move being made by one of us was covered by the other two. No one was giving an inch. The next group ahead seemed out of reach so I just focused on what I was doing in my own little race. As we ran along the coast the pace seemed ridiculously fast - the kind of pace I'd run a 1 minute interval in, not the kind of pace I'd run 27 minutes in back to back. My legs were getting heavy but my breathing and control was good. On countless occasions on this stretch I thought I was gone but still I was managing to keep up with two lads. I knew that the turn off the coast road went up a small hill. My turn to make a move. Surge up the hill and see if they'd go with me. Mile 4 done. The time called out meant I'd have to run around a 5:10 to last mile to get 27 minutes. Not going to happen. Just concentrate on the tussle at hand now.
The last mile of this race is horrible for someone who has never done it before. The course seems to do a full square around the finish, so while you can't see it, you can hear the loud speakers for a few minutes. It's a horrible feeling when you keep turning corners, hoping to see a finish line, instead being greeted by another corner a few hundred metres ahead. With no idea how long was left I just had to go by feeling. As we turned the corner at the top of the last hill it turned out that my move at the foot of the hill was pointless as the two guys went by me. At this stage I was giving it my best to just hang in as best I could. Then, I don't know how, with about 600m to go I went to the front of the two guys and started to put my foot down. Soon someone shouted that there was 400m to go and really started to push it. This was getting fairly uncomfortable but I knew there was only just over a minute to go so I could handle it. I knew the two guys were close because someone at the side was encouraging one of them on. With the last corner turned and the finish line in sight I sprinted like I didn't know I could. Such a sprint that I narrowed the gap on the nearest guy ahead of us to 2 seconds!
I crossed the line with a finishing time of 27.25 but more importantly with the sense that I had raced, that I been involved in a battle that I came close to quitting but overcame, and that I was finally moving again.