My 10K race put on ice

Waiting to see what frozen race routes do in summer (Photo: Wikipedia)

Waiting to see what frozen race routes do in summer (Photo: Wikipedia)

All primed and charged for 10K racing action, I went to the Phoenix Park in Dublin this morning for the Aware Christmas Run.

But I left the Park without running a step.

It was a glorious morning; the pale winter sun turned the clear sky a shade of Mediterranean sea-blue. But down at ground level, conditions on the roads in the Park were icy – even strolling up to the start area at the Furze Road I had to leave the path and walk on the crunchy, frozen grass.

At that stage, half an hour before the start, I was fairly sure that there would be no running.

However, at the start area the race was still due to go ahead. The organisers announced that the 10K, the first of the morning’s two races, was being delayed by 30 minutes to see if the roads would thaw a little in the rising winter sun. Runners were also asked to abandon all thoughts of PBs and running fast – one pre-race instruction was: “Go slow, go slow, go slow!”

I didn’t fancy trading my 10K race for a paranoid shuffle over slippery roads. I was especially mindful of the shaded second kilometre where the sun would not have reached through to the ice, and the downhill third kilometre along the Glen Road.

And so, with a heavy heart but also the satisfying feeling that I was doing the right thing, I decided not to take part. Quite simply, I didn’t want to risk slipping and injuring myself, and even if I had run I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy myself.

Staying around to watch everyone else set off from the start would have been almost as painful for me as falling on ice. So I decided to leave the Park – with luck, before I could hear the race starting.

According to replies on this athletics forum thread, conditions improved during the delay and the race passed off without problems. But I don’t regret not running in it this morning – the fear of slipping on glassy roads or an unseen patch of ice would have stopped me from relaxing and enjoying the race.

I should say that the organisers did a good job this morning of keeping everyone informed of the conditions and the risks. This means that I could take an informed decision on whether or not to run – and the same goes for those who eventually took part.

Hopefully the Aware Christmas Run will return in 2015 and I’ll get another chance to run in it.

Posted in 10 mile and 10k | Tagged | 6 Comments

The 10 Ks of Christmas

Aware Christmas Run

Click image to visit the race website

I will measure out my Christmas in selection boxes and tins of biscuits. Yes, after a year of eating sensibly I’ll be treating myself with great gusto – and there’ll be none of this false politeness of “Oh, I couldn’t” and “Oh, go on, then”.

However, for my next race in my Christmas racing season, and my last race of the year, I’m not feeling quite as gung-ho.

The Aware Christmas Run is on in Dublin this Saturday morning. It comes in 5K and 10K flavours – last year I did the shorter race and this year I’ll do the longer one. But this week my legs have felt tired and heavy.

Last Saturday’s personal best run at the Donore Harriers Jingle Bells 5K has something to do with it. I gave that 5K a good hard effort and was well rewarded, but I still have that race in my legs.

On top of that, post-marathon I’ve been trying to get back into a substantive running routine. During November I eased my way back into double-digit and twentysomething weekly mileage, and now in December I’m aiming to run at least 30 miles every week. Races apart, my running has been deliberately slow and light – such is my effort to guarantee relaxing runs that I don’t even wear a watch.

But last Saturday’s 5K was a great opportunity to blast around a course and savour the feeling of battle fever in my veins. And I’m sure that, come Saturday morning or even Friday night, I’ll have my game face on again.

For one thing, Saturday’s race is in the Phoenix Park again – this time, on what is now the usual race circuit in the north-west corner, with the Furze Road as its epicentre. God, I love running in the Phoenix Park.

Also, at last year’s Aware Christmas Run I had a great day. Despite squally crosswinds I got in a good hard run for a time of 21:28. The event was as well-organised as any club race – a 5K and 10K on the same morning and course but with both races staged smoothly, without the congestion or confusion of some other double-event races.

And if you’re feeling charitable, then you’ll be glad to know that the event is in aid of Aware, an Irish organisation that supports people with depression and mental health issues.

But enough about the charity and do-goodery – let’s focus on the rock-hard running!

The course for the Aware Christmas Run is nicely challenging. It starts up Chesterfield Avenue, and if the day is windy then you’ll be exposed to some stiff gusts. You’ll get some shelter on kilometre 2 and downhill relief on kilometre 3 – but the last two kilometres are mostly uphill.

But at least you can look forward to that glorious finishing run-in on the Furze Road. Unless, of course, you’re doing the 10K, in which case you’ll have to go around again before you unleash your finishing sprint.

Far be it from me to be sandbagging before a race, but the combination of heavy legs, strong winds and a tough course means that I’d be doing very well to sneak inside my 10K PB of 41:59. A respectable show and a time in the 42 minutes would do me nicely.

And with all that hard running, I’ll be set up for a Christmas of relaxing and restoring lost calories.

Posted in 10 mile and 10k | Tagged | 6 Comments

Donore Harriers Jingle Bells 5K 2014

Donore Harriers, where Christmas running is  a mug's game

Donore Harriers at Christmas, when running is a mug’s game

Christmas is a time for giving to the ones you love the most, and for me that means giving to myself.

This weekend I started my festive running season by treating myself to a new 5K personal best time of 19:25. And as the 5K in question was the annual Donore Harriers Jingle Bells 5k in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, I also went home with a finisher’s mug.

(Results from the Donore Harriers Jingle Bells 5K are now available online.)

If you want the definition of a PB-friendly race, then it’s this one. Where most races in the Phoenix Park send runners up one or more of the fearsome hills along the west of the park, Donore Harriers have plotted a 5K route that sets off flat and finishes with a kilometre of pure downhill.

The mug was a surprise and a nice touch; it was the first time I had got one for a race. Irish runners will know that mugs are also the reward for finishers of the Ballycotton 10, that hugely-popular race in deepest County Cork which, by coincidence, launched and quickly sold out its online entries for 2015 the night before the Donore Harriers mug-fest.

That mug, filled hot coffee or soup, would have been most welcome before the race – a bitterly cold Saturday morning. Many entrants waited for race time in the warmth of the Donore Harriers clubhouse just outside the park gates in Chapelizod. Other groups of runners sat in parked cars near the start line, looking tense and quiet as if they were on a Sunday family drive that had descended into arguments.

But the winter sun helped warm the runners gathered in the start area, as did the festive pre-race atmosphere. Many competitors, young and old, came in fancy dress and Christmas-themed outfits. A small and perfectly-formed brass band parped out some seasonal favourites. And a herd of the Phoenix Park deer galloped nearby – the more fanciful among us could have imagined they were reindeer.

The start was on the Acres Road, between the football pitches and the Papal Cross, where races don’t usually go these days. I remember the 2004 Dublin Half Marathon starting and finishing there, but that involved finishing up the brutally steep road past St Mary’s Hospital.

The route for this 5K would be much easier – from the Acres Road up the main park thoroughfare of Chesterfield Avenue, then a left turn past the Ordnance Survey building. The final kilometre was down the Glen Road, normally in Phoenix Park races a tough penultimate kilometre of climbing in the opposite direction.

This less-challenging route had me hopeful for a decent time, but I was still uncertain of running what would be only my second sub-20 5K. However, my recent 10K personal best in the Run in the Dark had given me a boost, so my plan for this race was go out at four 4-minute kilometres and then use the downhill run-in to empty the tank and drive for the line.

With a klaxon rather than a jingle of bells, the race began. The field around me in the sub-20-minute wave spread out quickly, so I had plenty of space to build up a strong yet comfortable rhythm. I went through the first kilometre in around four minutes and one or two seconds – I was wearing my simple digital watch rather than a GPS watch, so I didn’t have exact splits.

In the second kilometre, up Chesterfield Avenue, I glanced to my left and saw that I was being tracked by a mere child – some 11- or 12-year old lad in a red football shirt. This kind of cheek to one’s elders is the sort of pre-Christmas offence that can get a child onto the naughty list, or at least into my bad books. So, for his own good, I blasted off and left the child to eat my dust. It’s a hard but valuable lesson.

At the end of kilometre two I clocked just a few seconds over eight minutes – bearing in mind the downhill finish I was still on sub-20 schedule.

Next on my mid-race hit list, just ahead of me in the third kilometre, was a guy with the exact same running style as the molten-metal villain from Terminator 2. His arms and legs were both bent at 90 degrees, and his hands were out straight and flat like two blades. And yes, he ran as if he were mechanical. Before I vomited from nausea, I had to kick on and get this guy out of my sight. Again at the kilometre marker I was just a handful of seconds over an even four-minute pace.

Thankfully, in kilometre four no objectionable creatures offended my eyes, and so I could concentrate on keeping up a strong pace. Coming up to the 4-kilometre marker, I glanced at my watch and saw that it was ticking towards 16 minutes. As I expected, that final kilometre down the Glen Road would be the making of any sub-20 finishing time, and I thought I would be cutting it close.

Blasting down the hill, I passed a knot of runners – how come they weren’t gunning for sub-20 too? No matter; fortunately I had enough space down the right of the road to overtake them and keep up my momentum.

At the bottom of the hill, with only a few hundred metres to go, we turned left to run in to the finish. There wasn’t a display clock at the finishing arch – afterwards the organisers explained that it had hit a glitch. Not wanting to lose valuable seconds by checking my watch, I drove for the line without knowing how close I was to my sub-20.

As I got closer to the finish I could hear the race announcer making up for the lack of a display clock by calling the finishing times of runners crossing the line. (It made a welcome change to hear the race announcer was a woman.) But I was confused; runners only a few metres ahead of me were being called with times in the 19 minutes and teens of seconds. I dared not relax or think of my own time. The line still seemed miles away; would I get there in time?

When I crossed the line my own finishing time wasn’t called, or at least I didn’t hear it. But when I looked at my watch it read 19:25, and it seemed so unreal that I was stunned. That would mean I had taken 19 seconds off my previous 5K personal best. I must have abseiled down that last kilometre in three and a half minutes.

But that doesn’t matter; it’s still a perfectly valid PB that fits my fast times for longer distances in this summer’s pre-marathon races. Let me fill my Jingle Bells finisher’s mug with eggnog and drink to that.

Posted in 5 mile, 5k and parkrun, Dublin | Tagged | 2 Comments

Slovember Nowonder


Bona drag (Photo: eBay)

November was a tough month for my running. I expected as much, but it was still a drag.

Following the Dublin Marathon at the end of October, I’ve had my usual post-marathon slump. Naturally, part of that is the need to go slowly and recover after a tough physical and mental effort – not just the 26.2 miles of the race but the 18 weeks of training before that.

But it’s tough to have a goal for a long time and then no longer have that goal. I find that if I don’t have an objective, my running becomes listless. Short races like 5K and 10K are good for briefly lifting the spirits but for more durable excitement I need a substantial target like a marathon. I’m not in the right frame of body or mind right now to plan for my next marathon, though.

The Run in the Dark 10K in Dublin a few weeks ago gave me a good lift – and a new personal best time. However, in a strange way that 10K PB got me down slightly. You see, this year I’ve had no problem hitting my targets for short events, but in the race that really mattered – the Dublin Marathon – I had a rough day and fell way short of my goal. A whole summer of planning and training and thinking, all ending in disappointment.

As a consequence, my runs this month have been mentally listless. Post-marathon mental fatigue, for sure – which is not necessarily a bad thing. After most of the year in battle stations, I need to clear my head and refresh it for whatever I do next.

So, I’ve been going at an easy pace. Apart from that 10K race I’ve done all my November running without a watch; this helps me to relax and forget about speed.

Also, I’ve been following the comfortable groove of familiar routes, but changing the odd road or section. Living near miles 16 to 20 of the Dublin Marathon course means that I sometimes end up running along the stretch where I had a bad time in the race. Going up Roebuck Hill on Saturday morning I saw the 35K mark still in white paint at the kerb. To borrow a Barry Davies zinger, it was like asking the body to return to the scene of the crime.

That said, it was a nice Saturday morning run. I followed my regular 10-mile loop but made a couple of variations. To get from Milltown to Clonskeagh, instead of following the riverside path I veered up through the quiet residential area, with its red-bricked houses and wintry pines. Then on my way home, I decided not to go past Milltown Golf Club as usual but to go along the Churchtown Road. Small changes, but enough to freshen up my head.

The large SuperValu supermarket in Churchtown was covered in festive lights and decorations. Christmas is almost here, and today is the first of December, which means I can be rid of this heavy month of November.

Posted in Training | Tagged | 6 Comments

Coghlan on top of the World

eamonn coghlan russian dmitriyev helsinki 1983

Hello there (YouTube screenshot)

The only athlete in the world today who’s a household name is Usain Bolt. In Ireland in the mid-1980s, when I was a kid, the role of proverbial runner was filled by Eamonn Coghlan.

Anyone running in the streets would be sure to get a shout of: “Go on, Eamonn Coghlan!” And if you were having races in the back garden or outside on the road, your mother would call you in for your dinner with: “Come in now, Eamonn Coghlan!”

If you knew nothing about running or the sport of athletics, you still knew who Eamonn Coghlan was. The Saturday afternoon sports show on Irish TV, Sports Stadium, would regularly feature Coghlan thundering around the multicoloured boards of Madison Square Garden for his latest victory on the U.S. indoor circuit. And our 3rd class English schoolbook included the indelible image of Coghlan, tanned and confident in the green vest of Ireland, at the shoulder of a weedy-looking guy in a red singlet, about to blast off for the greatest moment of his running career.

Today, unless you’re an ’80s kid, Coghlan doesn’t have the same high profile. His two Olympic final appearances ended in the agonizing failure and disappointment of twice finishing in fourth place, which means he has been overshadowed by the subsequent achievements of John Treacy and Sonia O’Sullivan. Dominating the American indoor athletics scene, which Coghlan did from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, doesn’t have the same cachet as international outdoor track success. And becoming a politician was, by the nature of politics, always going to earn him new critics.

But Rob Heffernan’s World Championship gold in the 50km walk in 2013 brought the spotlight back to Coghlan’s 5,000 metre world title, 30 years earlier to the day. As the Worlds have risen in prestige, so Coghlan’s victory seems more impressive, especially as today Ireland would do well just having an athlete in a final.

Also as impressive is the context of Coghlan’s 1983 win. At the start of that year, things were looking fairly bleak for him. His father and both of his boyhood coaches had died in a short space of time. His Olympic near-misses in 1976 and 1980 made him look like that most unforgivable of sporting figures – a serial choker. Despite his high profile and indoor success, his only major outdoor medal was as a distant second to Steve Ovett in the 1978 European 1,500 metres, and he missed the 1982 Europeans because of injury. Now turned 30, Coghlan’s career looked like fizzling out in frustration and underachievement.

Fortunately for him, 1983 brought the first World Athletics Championships, to be held in Helsinki.

After another successful indoor season, including a world indoor mile record that would stand unbroken for 14 years, Coghlan was in peak form heading to the championships. He qualified with ease for the 5,000 metre final; would he blow it again or would he finally win a major title?

Coghlan’s Olympic nemeses weren’t in the field. John Walker was running in the 1,500 metres, though he would move up to 5,000 metres for the following year’s Olympics in Los Angeles. Miruts Yifter had retired and was now definitely in his forties, if he hadn’t already been in 1980. But Coghlan still had to face strong opposition from the reigning 5,000 metre champions of Europe (Thomas Wessinghage of West Germany), Africa (Wodajo Bulti of Ethiopia) and the United States (Doug Padilla).

The final was slow and cautious. From the gun three Russians, Krokmalyuk, Abramov and the euphoniously-named Dmitriy Dmitriyev, went right to the front to control the race. And then for the next eight laps nothing much happened. All the while Coghlan stayed near the back of the field.

As Coghlan tells it in his autobiography, Chairman of the Boards, Master of the Mile, his plan was to bide his time, keep an eye on Wessinghage and conserve his energy until there were only four laps to go, at which point he would turn the final into a mile race. No one in that field could live with him over a mile, he figured.

Sure enough, with four laps left the field were still bunched after a slow first two miles. During the next lap Coghlan moved up stealthily towards the head of the pack. A kilometre out, Dmitriyev made a long strike for home, bringing Wessinghage, Bulti and Coghlan along in his wake. With two laps to go Coghlan was in the dreaded fourth place.

Coming down the home straight for the second-last time, Wessinghage and Bulti seemed unable to respond to close the ten-metre gap that Dmitriyev had opened, and so at the bell Coghlan set off after him.

Here Irish TV athletics commentator Tony O’Donoghue rose to the occasion. An athletics statistician who usually played second fiddle to more established sports commentators, O’Donoghue’s strength was in his track and field knowledge rather than his broadcasting style.

But as Coghlan’s race teetered between long-awaited success and another agonizing defeat, O’Donoghue captured in one carefully-weighted line the painful memories and growing excitement of Irish athletics fans:

“There is one lap to go and it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain cool and objective about the outcome of this race.”

Coghlan caught up to Dmitriyev with 300 metres to go – the same point at which his 1976 and 1980 Olympic finals fell apart for him. But this time Coghlan looked stronger and more confident; he wouldn’t be overtaken this time, nor would he throw everything into a hasty attack.

Before the race he had decided on the point where he would make his final sprint – coming off the last bend. Reaching the top of that bend and feeling on top of the world, Coghlan clenched his fists in celebration – with 150 metres still to run and while still in second place.

Then came one of the most famous images in Irish sport. As he drew level with the Russian, Coghlan looked into his face and smiled. For Coghlan, the World title was now a formality. At last he was going to win a major title. After one more half-celebration down the home straight, Coghlan claimed his gold, while poor Dmitriyev got no reward for his efforts and was beaten on the line into fourth.

Olympic success eluded Coghlan and there’ll always be people (usually on barstools) who hold that against him. But Coghlan’s World Championship gold was an impressive and much-deserved triumph.

You can listen to Tony O’Donoghue’s cracking commentary on the last lap of that 1983 World 5,000 metres final, and watch the BBC coverage of the race and medal ceremony below:

Posted in Irish athletes, Video, World Championships | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Run in the Dark 2014, Dublin

Out of picture: flashing red armband

By the dim light of my glow stick, my race number (Out of picture: flashing red armband)

Like a Romantic poet in an opium den, I put my hand to the brow and sigh. I grow weary of amassing post-race finishers’ medals and running tops. They lie about my feet like petals fallen from a dying rose, and serve nothing.

So that’s why, from now on, after each race I shall insist on receiving as my reward a luminous wristband.

I’ve started my collection with two that I received from tonight’s Run in the Dark in Dublin – one is a hi-viz affair with, at the touch of a button, flashing red lights, while the other is a wraparound glow-stick job.

As befits an innovative event that forgoes mere medals and t-shirts, these glow-in-the-dark accessories redefine post-race merchandise: functional (they light your way on evening runs), fashionable (all the cool kids now laugh at loom-band bracelets and wear these instead) and visible from space.

Also at tonight’s event, I picked up a new 10K personal best time. By my steam-powered 1980s digital watch I made it exactly 42 minutes. When the chip time is confirmed I hope to have snuck in under 42 minutes; after all, I dipped on the line.

(UPDATE: My official time has indeed been confirmed from 42:00 down to 41:59, which is clearly a whole minute faster. Kids, make sure you always dip on the line.)

Run in the Dark was held in locations across Ireland, Britain and the rest of the world, and if you took part somewhere I hope you enjoyed it. I hear that the route in Belfast was fairly tough – two laps of the hilly roads around Stormont.

By contrast, the Dublin course for the 5K and 10K was pancake flat: an out-and-back loop from the Custom House along both quays. The five-k folk cut across the East Link Bridge after Ringsend, while us tenners then took in a lap of Ringsend Park before reaching the bridge.

I shouldn’t be going on too much about PBs – though I shall – because it was a fun event in aid of spinal cord injury research. The recent squally rain in Dublin abated; tonight was dry, clear and slightly frosty. Drummers and fire jugglers and stilt-walkers all made for a carnival atmosphere at the start area. Groups of friends and colleagues turned up together for a fun evening out. (I hope none of the work groups were doing this as a team-building exercise, although I do recall one of them brainstorming their splits with coloured markers and Post-It notes.)

To the wail of car horns from a nearby street, where drivers were being held back by traffic police, the race began. We headed off from the Custom House, on the north bank of the Liffey, and headed downriver towards Dublin’s modern docklands area. After a straight opening kilometre, our first landmark came on crossing the spectacular Samuel Beckett Bridge. This was an impressive route.

Kilometre two was less impressive – up an unlit side street we took the race name a bit too literally, before squeezing through a narrow bridge at Hanover Quay. But after that we could spread out on the streets of Irishtown and Ringsend. By kilometre three I was travelling comfortably and noticed I was averaging around 4 minutes and 20 seconds per kilometre.

The extra loop for the 10K field took us past some residential blocks in Ringsend where young kids got a great kick out of seeing a runner dressed in an old-fashioned night-shirt and nightcap. It all added to the air of fun – I wasn’t even thinking of PBs or fast times or the like. Honest!

That all changed at the halfway point in Ringsend Park, where I saw on my watch that I passed through in 21:20 – almost exactly half my PB time of 42:39. That old battle fever caught a right hold of me – the game was on!

Once we left the narrow paths and tight corners of the park, I had space to pass runners and settle into a good rhythm. Only two weeks after a gruelling Dublin Marathon and I was travelling quite well, to my surprise. I got to the seven-kilometre mark in exactly 30 minutes, and I knew then that I had to have a crack at the PB.

Kilometres eight and nine were dead straight, so I built up a strong pace. For the final kilometre, though, we rejoined the 5K field, which made for a busy run-in to the finish.

By staying to the right while most runners hung to the left, I had enough space to kick on without having to weave or slow down too much. The line was straight ahead but in the darkness I couldn’t see the finishing arch – and in two different spots a good distance apart I heard someone shouting that we only had two hundred metres to go. I just kept the head down and drove for the line.

The congestion wasn’t too bad at the finish, so I was able to sprint and dip for my new personal best time. I really hadn’t expected to run so well, and I hope I don’t pay for it by getting run down or ill in the coming days.

Still, though, I had a great night, clocked a new PB and got me some impressive accessories. Back in the game, baby!

Posted in 10 mile and 10k, Dublin | Tagged | 7 Comments

Post-marathon 10K – a shot in the Dark

Click image to visit the event website

Click image to visit the event website

I’m doing a 10K race this Wednesday night, which will be just over two weeks after the Dublin Marathon – and I’m not sure how it will go.

The race in question is at Run in the Dark, an event with a 5K and 10K run, held simultaneously in various locations across Ireland and Britain on the night of 12 November.

Many participants will have been attracted by the story behind the race – that of Mark Pollock and his efforts to raise money to help find a cure for spinal injuries. There’s also the excitement of running on city-centre streets, plus the novelty of a race at night-time, which will be a first for me.

I entered this race well before the Dublin Marathon; places sell out quickly, but I also wanted to have something to do after the marathon. I thought it would help me get back into action and stave off the post-marathon blues.

However, the marathon didn’t go as well as I had hoped and planned. I feel like I’ve recovered, and since I resumed running last week I’ve felt fresh and nimble. But now I wonder how hard I could push myself in Wednesday night’s 10K, or if I should even push myself at all.

It’s all very well for me to plan on going easy and treating this race as if I’m just going around for the trip. As a means of dulling my racing edge, I’ve even considered not wearing a watch.

But I know me; as soon as I get into the start area my bloodstream will be flooded with adrenaline and I’ll instinctively get the battle fever. The watch stays on.

That said, I won’t be so light-headed as to try getting near my 10K personal best of 42:39 that I set in the 2014 Great Ireland Run. I won’t even be near the 44 minutes I clocked for the first 10K of the Dublin Marathon. I’ll probably just aim for a time of 40-something minutes, and if that’s 49:59 then that’ll do me fine. The P.B. can wait until the Aware Christmas Run in the Phoenix Park in mid-December.

However… what if a hard marathon two weeks beforehand is the perfect training run for a fast 10K? (That might be the battle fever talking.)

If you’re heading to the Run in the Dark races in Dublin on Wednesday night, see you there – I’ll be the one in hi-viz gear.

Posted in 10 mile and 10k, Dublin | Tagged | Leave a comment