Bleary eyed, I slowly awoke on the morning of the Ballycotton 10. All my preparations had gone to plan. A good night’s sleep; an easy week running – just 3 easy miles and 1 circuit training session; a little light on the mileage for the preceding 3 or 4 weeks as I tried to work around a dodgy left calf muscle, a badly blistered left foot and a head cold.
But I felt good. Got up and had a decent breakfast – bowl of fruit and fibre and 2 slices of brown bread with strawberry jam (thanks to Josephine G for the latter recommendation). Planned to be in Ballycotton really early before they shut the roads – having traveled with the family to Cork for the weekend, no point in messing up on race day. So I left the house in Youghal (a lovely spot by the way) around 9am and made the short journey to Ballycotton.
Got a call from Mark Davis just after I arrived in Ballycotton around 9.45am – another early bird, he was out inspecting the course. So we met up and I grabbed my gear and threw it into Mark’s car as he was parked at a family friend’s house right in the middle of the village. That became our race HQ for the day. We jogged around for a bit and then back to race HQ for a short while. Text message from Liz that her protégé Jim Maher had just arrived in Ballycotton – so Mark and myself went down to meet them. Even though it was still hours before the race, the time just seemed to fly from here on. We met a few of the Athenry guys wandering the streets at this stage – Mick Rice, Peter Delmer and James Lundon, all in good form. Positive vibes from everyone – just what you need on race day.
John McLoughlin and his brother Bernard arrived in Ballycotton around 2 hours before race start and decamped at our HQ also – we could put up the HP sign soon over the house! Michael Carroll also wandered down – that was all the HP runners except for Rory Martin. Didn’t see Rory all day – he claimed he was in Ballycotton and ran the race, but I’m not so sure :-). Mark, Jim and myself headed off for a warm-up around 90 minutes before the race. Plan was to do a 20 or 30 minute warm-up and then have a full hour where we hung around the start line to make sure we got a good position. We were each concerned about getting stuck at the back of 4000 runners on a narrow street with all chances of a PB vaporised. We warmed up on the hill just beyond the village – a lovely place looking out over the sea. Then headed back to HQ and got into the racers, etc and down to the start line.
We were too eager – there was no one at the start line that early, not even the stewards. So we sat on the wall for a while, chatted, jogged around, sat on the ground for 20 minutes at the entrance to the Bayview Hotel, jogged up/down the road with James Lundon for a bit. Asked by James what my target time was, to which I replied I hoped to break 60. “Not a hope Mick” said James knowledgeably. Just the motivation I needed – have to prove James wrong. By now, runners had started to gather near the start line, so we moved up there. The start was delayed for 15 minutes because of traffic on the race route – not everyone was there 4 hours before the race like the HP crew! The crowd on the start line was getting bigger now and the race stewards decided they would put up barriers now 10 metres back from the start – so that began a 10 minute process where the crowd inched their way backwards. I managed to maintain a good position about 3 people from the front of the line. Most of the Galway runners seemed to be well positioned on the start – Dave Dunne, Mick Rice, James Lundon, Brian O’Connor, Jim Maher, Mark Davis – all only a few metres from the start line. The race organisers reminded people several times that unless you were going to break 60, you had no business near the start line. A couple of girls were lined up just in front of me and I thought to myself ... “what are they doing here”. Just as well I kept those thoughts to myself as it was mile 7 before I passed one of them.
The clock ticked down to 1.45 and with zero fuss, the race was off. Being so close to the front was great as the race went off at pace and I didn’t notice much delay at all with dodging around slower runners. I saw Mark haring down the left-hand side, weaving past runners and very quickly disappearing from view – definitely on for a good time. I felt comfortable as we went down the hill, passing HQ with Liz looking at me curiously as I had said I’d throw a t-shirt and hat over the wall there but had left it at the start line instead. The first 2 miles were mainly downhill – I covered the first one in 5:51 and the second one in 5:48. Pleased with that as it was some credit in the bank for the 60 minute target. Somewhere between mile 1 and 2, Mick Rice and Brian O’Connor cruised up and past me, along with a Mayo AC athlete, Ronald Naylor. I focused a little harder and endeavored to keep their pace. I managed to stay about 10 metres behind them for maybe 2 miles or so – but then they seemed to move away from me or I fell back.
I covered miles 3 and 4 in 6:02 and 6:04. Around then TJ Whyte from Tuam AC caught up to me. It’s great when you recognise other athletes as it motivates you to try to stick with them – especially if you feel you are in or around the same ability. TJ was moving at a faster pace than me at this point but I was able to pick it up and stay with him. After a mile or so, I felt strong and moved ahead of him – didn’t see him again for the rest of the race. We were into a head wind at this point of the race and my 5th mile split at 6:12 – a bit of a drop in pace, but still under the 6 minute mile pace overall. A Mullingar athlete was loping alongside me at this point, taking 1 stride for every 2 strides I took. It was irritating me a bit as it felt like I was putting in twice the effort just to stay with him. I was able to pick up the pace and clock a 6:02 mile followed by a 5:58 mile, dropping the Mullingar athlete. Around this point of the race, the Sligo AC runner Lucy Brennan passed me. This focused me a little as I had beaten her in the Athenry 10k and felt I could do it again – but maybe that was an off day for her as the gap slowly increased. Somewhere along here, I passed Brian O’Connor from Athenry, who had passed me earlier with Mick Rice.
I clocked 6:03 for mile 8 – leaving me just a fraction of a second under the 6 minute mile pace for the first 8 miles. Mile 9 is the toughest mile of the race, hitting the steepest part of the hill back into Ballycotton. I knew I’d have to dig deep on the hill to break 60. But before the hill appeared, disaster struck – I got a cramp right across the base of my stomach. I’m blaming a small bar of chocolate I ate about 60 minutes before race start. The pain was intense and I had to ease off the pace a little without completely destroying my race. I started to be passed by a handful of runners at this point, including the loping Mullingar runner whom I had left behind earlier. Another runner pulled alongside me and seemed to just float up the hill. It woke me up a little out of feeling sorry for myself and the cramp eased a little. So I knuckled down and tried to stay with the guy ahead – but he continued to pull away. I clocked 6:20 for that mile and knew all chance of a sub 60 was gone. But the cramp was tolerable now and the hill lessened for the last mile, so I was able to pick up the pace again and hit 6:02 for the last mile. I was passed by 1 more runner on the last mile – again one I had passed about 4 miles earlier in the race. As I crossed the finish line, I clocked 60:22 – a little disappointed at being outside 60 but still pleased as it was a PB by over 6 minutes on my time in the Galway Bay 10 last September. All thoughts of getting one of the prestigious top-100 t-shirts had gone out of my head 2 miles earlier as I reckoned you’d need to go under 59 minutes for that. As I stumbled along the wall of the finishing chute, a race official pressed a t-shirt into my hand and I realised that I had made the top 100 - a brilliant feeling and a nice consolation prize for not breaking 60.
Congratulations to all the other Galway runners – several people had PBs on the day including Mark Davis 58:15, Mick Rice 58:28, James Lundon 65:46 and Jim Maher 66:32. A thoroughly enjoyable race and hopefully I’ll be back there next year.