IN WHICH WE CONTINUE TO REAP THE REWARDS OF ALL THAT MARATHON TRAINING DURING THE SUMMER, SNAG A REALLY NIFTY BOBBLY HAT FOR THE WINTER, AND A MEDAL THAT COULD GENUINELY DO SERIOUS DAMAGE TO ANY INTRUDERS… PLUS WE FINALLY GET OUR FACE BACK…
There now follows a race report of sorts from the Waterford AC Half Marathon. This was not a race I was familiar with, but my mate Ciaran in the brigade has done it a few times, and rates it, so a few months back, I registered and then largely forgot about it in the fog of Dublin Marathon excitement and training. But as with all things, it gradually rolled around, and before we knew it, we were whizzing south down the M9 towards Waterford, early yesterday morning (Saturday, 2nd December, 2017, to be precise).
It had been planned to have a posse with us, including a few of Ciaran’s running mates, plus S, who had taken the day off work. As the day approached, people start dropping off with illnesses or work commitments, and in the end, hanging around a sports campus on the edge of town for the guts of two hours just didn’t sound much like fun, so S decided to give it a miss. And in fairness, I can’t blame her… I wouldn’t fancy it much myself. Running is not a great spectator sport at the best of times, and when the race is a half-marathon where the runners vanish for all but the start and finish; well, you get the general idea.
Our plan was to get down with an hour to spare and give ourselves the luxury of limbering-up time and even a sneaky coffee. Well, even though we made good time on the roads, we got snarled in the heavy traffic all vying for the last few parking spots at Waterford IT sports campus, and ended up abandoning the car in an unused gateway. The changing rooms were thronged, and the toilets were equally overwhelmed. By the time we left the main campus building, we had a lively jog up the hill to get to the start in time. So much for the warm-up!
Though we had planned to run together with a rough goal of 1.45, we managed to scupper this before we even got going. Ciaran decided to duck behind a hedge for a quick whizz, saying he’d catch me up at the start… well, that never happened. 2,500 was the sell-out crowd (though this number wouldn’t have actually started; there is always a percentage that doesn’t make it for a variety of reasons). The start was quite constricted, and the chances of finding someone was slim.
And so, we were off. The weather was perfect for running. Cool, slightly damp, but the cloud was clearing and the sun would soon be out. No wind to speak of, and not a drop of rain. I had donned the arm warmers I had bought but not used for Dublin, and they worked a treat. The human chain snaked its way down to the dual carriageway and off towards Waterford and then ducked and climbed into an industrial estate. My only ‘plan’ as such was to try and tick off each kilometre in or under the 5 minute mark. After that, I was just going to wing it. The industrial roads and buildings seemed to go on forever. On the plus side, each beep on the watch showed a decent pace: 4:50s or even some 4:40s. I spied and eventually over-took the 1.50 pacers. But there was no sign of Ciaran.
We finally left the industrial heartland of Waterford behind and skirted the southern suburbs of the city. Clearly they are still burning smokey coal here (despite the ban), because the smell was quite acrid. Nostalgic too, perhaps, but when you are puffing and panting, it’s not the ideal thing for your lungs.
About halfway through the race, and the pace was holding steady enough, with each kilometre ticking off at under the five minute mark. Perhaps this was going to be a good day after all. I am not particularly good at doing the mental calculations in my head as regards estimating the finish time, but I knew that 5 minutes per kilometre would give me a 1.45 which would beat my previous best time by a good few minutes. So nothing for it but to keep tipping away. Take a gel every 5k or so, and a few sips of water. Now is not the time for stopping for a wee and losing valuable seconds.
We crossed a busy road by bridge, and were soon in deep countryside. The whiff of coal-burning was replaced with slurry-spreading. I’ll take that any day! The narrow country lanes were a pleasant change to the busy urban roads and took my mind off the pace for a while. It was digging in time. Because as each k fell away, a new thought was nibbling away… unless your legs fall off, dear, you may not only beat your previous best time of 1.49 and bits, but you should definitely get 1.45, and hell, if you could only pick up the pace a wee bit more, you could even get tantalizingly close to sub-1.40… I was now looking for the 1.40 pacers and their bobbing balloons, but they were nowhere to be seen.
Yes indeed. Dangerous thoughts to be having as the race reaches its critical point. We were approaching mile 10, and it was time to make a decision.
You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way…
Or so the song goes.
Anyway, fortunately for this old soldier, these were not life decisions. Just a choice between settling for a good time, going for broke and blowing up, or perhaps actually aiming for something and grabbing it. Then the hill happened. Well, two hills really, one after the other, but nothing for it but to bite down hard and push. Don’t let that watch beep with a plus-five. Someone passed me out on the way up the long draw, so I hung on in behind, and then pushed again and passed him. And with the fear that this would be construed as arrogance resulting in a trading of blows that would result in a runner’s version of a zero-sum game where there are no winners, I pushed on again, and hoped there would be no response. When adrenaline has worn away, sometimes fear is the last resort.
One mile to go. One kilometre to go. From now on, it was about pass and don’t get passed. Pick the next runner and go by. Don’t slow down. Pick it up. Drive on. The finish line was now in sight. The watch was ticking towards 1.40. There was just too much distance left to cover and not enough seconds left on the clock. And the finish was a cruel uphill sprint. Under the finish, over the mat, stop the watch, and sure enough, we had missed the magic mark. But not by much.
The last k was covered in 4:05. That would have been pleasing in a 5k. To knock one out at the end of a half was very gratifying, but still there was the knowledge that a few seconds could have been picked up easily enough over the course of the race. And indeed, the watch says I travelled for an extra 0.12 k (over the 21k) which cost me 24 seconds.
But sod it. I was delighted really.
Ciaran came in a few seconds under 1.45. He was very happy with that time. By his own admission, he hasn’t done the level of training he did last year. We picked up our stuff and headed for the car. It would have been lovely to grab a shower but we were under pressure to get home. Detox would have to wait until Leixlip. The soak in the hot bath was worth the wait.
For the record, the official timing shows the following: I was 593rd place out of a total of 2,172 finishers, with a chip time of 1.40:17. 31st in the Male 50-55 category. Oddly enough, they show the placement stats according to gun time, not chip time, but that is indeed a minor issue. And as for the age range… well, my time would have only snuck me into the top ten of the 60+ category, so I’ll need to keep doing some serious training if I fancy staying at this moderate level of success.
(Having said that, I suspect I am like most runners out there: we enjoy taking part. Each race is a personal journey, and the time is only a yardstick to gauge your progress in terms of training. The medals (in my case) are hung on the office doorknob, and the numbers are pinned to the door itself. But they are largely overlooked or buried in bags and rucksacks. Similarly, the ‘stuff’ you get after each race is really not that important. What’s important is that you do it. Even the time is not that important really, though I can feel your wry smile from here, having read this race report. Perhaps another way to put it is that my 1.40:17 is pleasing to me, but clearly would be a disaster for the guy who won it (in 1.06, or thereabouts). It might also come as a surprise for someone who normally gets around in two and a half hours. It’s a number, and it’s a bauble just like those we’ll hang on our Christmas trees this month. We do like numbers. But they are a small piece of the picture. The big picture is taking part. Here endeth the tangential lesson.)
There were some serious runners in the mix, with international names like Sergiu Cobianu and Maria McCambridge. So the race clearly has pedigree. In fairness, it was well organised and nicely put-together. Unfortunately we just didn’t have the luxury of time to bask in the glory of it all after the hard work on the roads. But thank you, Waterford AC, for a great day out.
So, a quick glance on my Garmin page proves once more that you can’t beat a dose of serious training to improve your times. That, and running faster. Oh yes. If there’s one thing I have gleaned from all this running lark, it’s that you will only achieve faster times if you run faster. That you can take to the bank!
There is no way I would have set out to run that half-marathon with an average pace of 4:45 min/km. I just wouldn’t have had either the confidence to do it, or the faith that there was enough in the legs (which amount to the same thing really). But that is what I ended up doing. That’s nearly a full minute faster than the average pace for a four hour marathon. It’s all thanks to the programme undertaken over the Summer. And now of course, I am eyeing up the 10k time. The other three distances (5k, half and full marathon) are now showing up as 2017 PB times, with the 10k lagging behind from 2015. It’s not a distance I do very often, and that’s largely because it’s just not that popular. There are chip-timed 5k races on every weekend of the year, if you look around, not to mention the old faithful parkrun. And then there are quite a few half-marathons and a few full ones. But the 10k race is often overlooked. So if I can find one soon, I’ll give it a rattle. This fitness won’t last, unless I keep up a good degree of training and fitness. That is the plan, but then, things don’t always go to plan, do they?
So I should finish off by explaining the odd amount of facial growth I am sporting in some of those pics. It is, of course, Movember. The month when strange things appear on the top lips of men. I am going to assume that you know all about Movember, and its aim to raise the profile of mens’ health issues. Men, as we know, are often bloody useless when it comes to talking about their health issues, be they physical or mental. This campaign tries to shine a light on that, and get men talking about their problems. For the last few years, most of our crew have taken part in Movember. The success in terms of ‘tashes has been mixed, but the response has been more favourable in monetary terms, and we have raised a few quid towards the cause.
So, unashamedly, here is the link to our personal site…
I really don’t like shaking down folks online, so do feel free to ignore this. It’s not a request per se, more just an explanation of why I seem to have a chopper ‘tash on my face. It’s not my usual look! Sometime later today, I will clean up and get back to normal. It’s a bit like a Christmas tree. It’s fun for about a month, then it starts to overstay its welcome…
Here are the crew members who took part this year. Even though I am nearly six foot tall, I look tiny standing beside these guys. I should have stood on a box 😉
Great bunch of lads. They remembered, and celebrated my birthday during the week at drill with a cake, and a gift bag with a fine bottle of wine and a voucher for a local restaurant. I was delighted, not least as I suspected I was going to get the hose treatment which has happened in the past. Maybe when you hit fifty, they take pity on you?