Monday, July 25, 2011

Back in the game

After taking a few weeks out to concentrate on training and hitting the hills for fun, I decided to race last week as a warm-up to the International Snowdon mountain race on Saturday 23 July.

So I tentatively took to the start line at the Phoenix Park 5 mile on Saturday 16 July. On the one hand I was confident because training had been going well. But I hadn’t posted a good performance in a race in 9 weeks, so was worried that my form in training might not translate into race fitness. The hilly and wind-swept course was not about to deliver fast times, so my best hope for the race was to finish strong and take back my confidence by racing smart.

Things went to plan. After running a steady race throughout with several runners sitting in behind me, I attacked at the magazine fort where the course turned left uphill and into the wind for the last mile of the race. In doing so I shook off the runners who had been sitting behind me, pushed past a couple of runners and made some ground on some usual (friendly) adversaries who were up ahead.

Most runners were disappointed and somewhat alarmed by the ‘slower-than-expected times - checking in with each other to make sure that they weren't the only one to fall short of time expectations. But slow times were inevitably due to the course and race conditions. On the whole, this was a promising first race back for me.

Four days later I took a bold step and signed up for the Dublin Graded 3000m at Irish town track, alongside a few fellow Rathfarnham W.S.A.F club mates.

The 3000m event involves 7 ½ laps of the Olympic distance athletic track. Track racing is often very tactical, and it takes practice to get the hang of the pacing and race-strategy. Unfortunately I missed most of the track season due to illness in the first half of June. So as it stands this was my first, and will be my only, track race of the 2011.

The top lads went off ahead while myself and a couple of club mates settled at a tempered pace of 74/75 second laps (3:06min/km or 4:58 min/miles) and ran more-or-less together for the first 5 laps (2km). The pace seemed to slow a bit after the first two laps and I was feeling ok after three laps so I tried to push past, but my club mate Brian Furey had different ideas, and accelerated as I pulled beside him. I wasn’t used to running 3 minute kilometres and was nervous about blowing up, so I decided not to rise to his challenge at this early stage of the race (after painfully watching too many breakaway cyclists last week getting pulled back by the peloton throughout the TdF last week).

Two laps later, I felt strong and decided to go for it. I pushed to the front of the group with 600m to go and imagined myself running intervals at Bushy Park (Tuesday training ground). The adrenaline kicked in then, and I surged ahead, confident that I had enough gas to shake off any late challenges. I then had a clear run into the finish.

Finished in 9:19 on the stopwatch, so approximately 3:06 min/km pace. I would have needed to run harder in the middle part of the race to run a fast time, but I enjoyed the race and it was a good confidence booster for the Snowdon race, so it served it’s purpose.

My season goal after returning from Kenya was to run under 9 minutes for 3000m. That was based on a plan to race and train for track all through the summer. So this result was quite acceptable considering how things actually turned out.

Observation: track racing, alongside a fast paced mountain descent, is probably the most exhilarating type of running race. There is something about the pace, combined with the shoulder to shoulder battles that play out on the track, that make it such a buzz.

I look forward to having a decent crack at the track next season. Fingers crossed for a clean run into it next time.

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