Tralee parkrun coming up roses

Three laps of the Green, boy! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Colin Park)

Three laps of the Green, boy! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Colin Park)

For the last couple of years my home town of Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland, The World has been gripped by running fever. The Tralee Marathon, first run in 2013, has been a great success, and is now complemented by a schools running programme and a regular series of shorter races.

And now, almost inevitably, Tralee has its own parkrun. The first Tralee parkrun took place this weekend, and I was there to take part.

Just as the Tralee Marathon was an immediate hit, I’m glad to report that the inaugural Tralee parkrun was a success too. Exactly 150 people, of all ages and speeds, turned out on a bright, crisp morning in the Town Park (or “the Green” for some locals). And of these 150 I finished 5th overall and first in my age category, with a time of 19:58 – just nipping in under the 20-minute mark.

What’s more, this was my first race in Tralee since my school sports days.

The Tralee parkrun course comprises three laps of the park, starting near the Ashe Hall and going clockwise along the church side, then the Presentation girls’ school side, then past my old secondary school, CBS The Green, then along by the Siamsa Tíre theatre, and back around the Ashe Hall. To make up the exact 5-kilometre distance, on each lap there’s a short out-and-back detour behind the Presentation school and beside the old athletics field. The course rises noticeably going up to The Green school but gives it back with a descent on the Siamsa Tíre side.

I enjoyed the Tralee course, but for a parkrunner wearing a no-nonsense PB-chasing game-face it mightn’t be ideal. A three-lap course means the faster runners will have to overtake the slower ones and the walkers. That out-and-back detour has a 180-degree turn around a traffic cone, which will slow you down a little.

But even a PB-chasing curmudgeon like me knows that parkruns are as much about the socialising, participating and not scaring other park users as about the fast times.

That’s easy for me to say when I’m feeling happy after a good run. My recent time of 20:47 at Tymon parkrun in Dublin was a post-Christmas workout that was slower than my real form. A sub-20 minute 5k is closer to my current capabilities, and I hope to make sub-20 the norm during 2015.

The thrill of a race in my home town obviously helped. I blasted out hard at the start and had to remind myself to settle into a more sensible pace. As an imperialist I was glad that the three-lap course allowed me to make splits in miles, 5 kilometres being roughly 3.1 miles. I finished the first lap in around 6:30, or 19:30 pace, but I factored the fast start into that.

On the second lap I had to pick my way past some walkers and slower runners. One pair of people I passed let out a sigh and an “Oh God, we’re so slow!” – whether that was good-humoured self-deprecation or genuine demoralisation, it made me feel a little guilty. I also felt awkward thundering past some of the older people shuffling towards the back gate of St John’s Church – I have no problem with bowling over other park users in Dublin parkruns, but how dare anyone do it to my native OAPs! Anyway, no one gave out or shook a walking stick in anger.

Fearing I’d get frustrated if I checked my time and was off sub-20 pace, I didn’t look at my watch at all on the third and final lap. I was still feeling a little post-Christmas sluggishness and that led me to think I was working harder than usual in a race. Still, as I came to the last few hundred metres a voice in my head convinced me to sprint for the finish. I can remember the voice saying that if I didn’t, “you’ll be sorry”.

And so I blasted off around the back of the Ashe Hall for the run-in.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I crossed the finish, checked my watch and saw that I had sneaked under 20 minutes for a time of 19:58. The voice in my head was right: a 20:01 time would have left me devastated. Kids, ignore what your juvenile parole officer says: always listen to the voices in your head.

Well done to the organisers and volunteers who got the Tralee parkrun off to a great start. I’ll give it another go on a future visit home – although before that I may be doing a longer race in Tralee. More on that soon.

Posted in 5 mile, 5k and parkrun, Tralee | Tagged | 3 Comments

My first cross country race: BHAA Eircom CC 2015

Click image to visit the BHAA website

Where it’s Hallowe’en every day (Click image to visit the BHAA website)

If only because I managed to eat my own weight in barm brack afterwards, my cross country debut was a success. Last Saturday I ran the BHAA Eircom CC 5-mile race in 34:09, for a good time in every sense.

(The BHAA is the Business Houses Athletic Association, who organise a series of short races hosted by local companies in the Dublin area. The BHAA Eircom CC results are now online. And barm brack is a type of fruit cake usually eaten at Hallowe’en but which the BHAA serve up in industrial quantities post-race all year round. Now read on.)

I had entered to enjoy the buzz of a new running experience, and with the expectation of mud, cold, exhaustion and a tough slog of a race. In all those counts I wasn’t disappointed. The mud was at a minimum, though – a few nights of hard frost had left the ground quite firm, so any mud on the course was generally at surface level rather than up past the ankles.

Still, I was surprised at how many people wore ordinary running shoes instead of spikes. I didn’t see any slips or falls but some of the tight, churned-up corners must have been quite hairy for those in smooth soles.

My brand-new pair of spikes worked a treat. I felt sure-footed all the way around, and the lightness of the shoes helped me lift my feet off the sticky ground with less effort.

The 5-mile course comprised three laps of Cherryfield Park in west Dublin and combined football pitches, parkland and a grassy trail. There were two small climbs, each perhaps only 7 strides in length, and apart from those the course was flat, firm and fast. Spikes of 5mm did the job.

To warm up on this bitterly cold morning I did a light one-lap trot where I could check out the course and stick up some mental Post-It notes to self. The corners and trail section were narrower than what I was used to in road races. To cross a tarmac path on two occasions we would run on a green felt mat that looked like a Subbuteo pitch, but my short spikes were okay on them – I didn’t have to use the clomping, sliding walk you’d use when crossing a road in your football studs.

Given the novelty of the situation and the challenges of your typical cross country course, my expectations were slow. I decided to use the first lap to get the feel of the course and find some running room; after that I would see how I felt. My road 5-mile PB is 33:29, but for my first off-road race I would have been happy with sub-40 minutes. (A muddy field invites a bit of sandbagging.)

I’m glad to say that I had an uneventful race and I ran at what felt like a consistent pace all the way around. My fears of getting spiked were unfounded. The surface felt fast and my spikes were comfortable.

And I had the deep, deep pleasure of moving up steadily through the field. After the first lap I remember only one person having the audacity to overtake me, and no one passed me at all in the last 800 metres.

After I finished I was tired to the bone. This 5-miler through the fields seemed to have the same effect on me as a marathon. I changed into my spare pair of running shoes – were they really so heavy compared to my spikes, or was that the tiredness? Summoning one last effort worthy of a cross country finishing straight, I shuffled across the road to race HQ, where coffee, biscuits and and barm brack waited.

Barm brack aside, the organization was excellent – I noticed what looked like Dublin Marathon race director Jim Aughney at the trigger end of the starter’s electronic pistol. My only gripe would be that the 5-mile race was billed as the ‘men’s race’, and was preceded by a 2-mile ‘women’s race’. This gender gap wasn’t so strictly enforced; some women ran in the longer race, although I saw no men in the shorter race. But it looks bad and sounds patronising; I can’t think of any reason why a cross country can’t consist of one mixed single-distance event, like at road races.

Anyway, I enjoyed my first cross country race and it won’t be my last. The BHAA will be bringing their barm brack roadshow to some more Dublin fields between now and April, so if I can’t have Christmas every day then at least I can enjoy some extra Hallowe’ens.

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

Spikes on for cross country


The runner’s version of a nail-studded baseball bat

After all these years of burning tar, I’ve decided to go off-road and take my running into the fields.

This Saturday morning I plan to run in the St Enda’s GAA Eircom CC in Dublin. The race is part of the Business Houses Athletic Association (BHAA) series – and it’ll be my first-ever cross country race.

So why am I taking up cross country running now? Well, for the novelty of it, really. I’ll still keep up my usual road training and racing, but I’d also like to vary my running. I figure it can only do me good.

If I’m going to start running cross country, I’d better be equipped. And so last Saturday I headed along to my local running equipment shop to get me a pair of running spikes – another first for me.

Having asked around online, I understand that the course for Saturday’s race is usually quite firm and not too soft or muddy, and there isn’t any torrential rain forecast for Dublin between now and Saturday morning. Short spikes of 5 mm should suffice, then.

And so this week I’ve been breaking in my new spikes with a couple of short, light jogs for a few minutes in the garden. Also, this morning I took my spikes for a hard session around the football pitches in the nearby park – ten minutes warm-up, ten reps of 90 seconds fast and 90 seconds recovery, ten minutes cool-down.

I’m glad to report that the spikes felt great. Despite this morning’s strong winds, I ran well for the fast reps and the light shoes helped me lift my feet. The 5 mm spikes were just right – not sticking in the ground but still giving me a secure grip. One of my concerns about cross country is that I’d skid on mud and get injured, so this morning’s run reassured me greatly.

Another concern about racing in spikes is that I would get spiked – either by myself or by some Rosa Klebb near me. But a cross country course in a field should be wide enough to give enough running space to everyone – right?

Even with the prospect of wet feet, numb fingers and exhaustion down to my bones, I’m looking forward to my first cross country race. I’ve been ploughing the same furrow of road running and annual local races for a long time, so it’ll be good to do something different.

Ireland has a great tradition of cross country running, with international success in recent years for Sonia O’Sullivan, Catherina McKiernan and Fionnuala Britton. And then there’s the greatest Irish mudlark of them all, two-time world champion John Treacy – here he is in his most iconic victory, through the mud of Limerick racecourse in 1979 to retain his world title:


Posted in Cross country, Gear | Tagged | 4 Comments

Women’s marathon stars line up for London 2015

If you think the men’s field for the 2015 London Marathon on 26 April is impressive, check out the women’s line-up. You could say that it’s even stronger than the men’s.

Of the four marquee contenders, three are former London winners and three (though not the same three) have personal best times of under 2 hours 20 minutes.

Last year’s winner, reigning world champion Edna Kiplagat, returns to defend her title. Her namesake Florence, whom she beat into second place in a sprint finish down the Mall, will try to avenge her defeat. London winner the year before, Priscah Jeptoo will also be gunning to regain the title and demonstrate how an awkward running style is no bar to speed or success. And then there’s Mary Keitany – twice winner of London, reigning New York champion and in PB terms the fastest of the four.

Competing with that illustrious quartet are other noteworthy athletes such as European champion Christelle Daunay of France and 2014 New York runner-up Jemima Sumgong of Kenya.

For me, Keitany and Edna Kiplagat would be slight favourites, but after that it’s hard to call between those two. Whatever happens, it’s shaping up to be a right old battle on the streets of London.

All that’s missing, says you, is the world record holder.

Ah, but she will indeed be there. For this year’s race will see the return of none other than Paula Radcliffe, three-time London winner and world record holder.

In fact, Radcliffe holds both world records at the women’s marathon. Yes, there are two.

Her 2003 winning mark and world record at the time, an astounding 2:15:25, is considered to have been run with the aid of male pacers, a practice which world athletics’ ruling body the IAAF subsequently tried to discount for record purposes. The IAAF then adjudged the ‘true’ world record to be Radcliffe’s almost-as-impressive London 2005 winning time of 2:17:42.

After much controversy, the IAAF compromised by calling Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 the ‘mixed gender’ women’s marathon world record and her 2:17:42 the ‘women only’ record.

However you look at it, Radcliffe is by far the fastest marathon woman ever. Of the London 2015 field only Keitany has got within a minute of the slower of those two record times.

But Radcliffe won’t be challenging for this year’s London Marathon title. Now in her 40s and ravaged by persistent injury, she aims to make this her valedictory race before an adoring home crowd on the course she dominated.

Whether you like it or not, all the attention at this year’s London Marathon may be dominated not by the winner but by the longest lap of honour in athletics history.

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Paris and me

No time to admire the sights in the Paris Marathon (Photo: Marc Caraveo / Wikimedia Commons

Taking the scenic route: the Paris Marathon (Photo: Marc Caraveo / Wikimedia Commons

Paris is in the news these days for sombre reasons – fatal terrorist attacks and mass public gatherings in response.

For eight and a half years Paris was my home. I can’t say that this affords me any special or profound insight into those recent events, only that Paris was on my mind anyway; I moved there on 12 January 2005 – ten years ago today.

The previous October in Dublin I had completed my first marathon. This success, along with the structure brought by training and planning, gave me the confidence and impetus to try something new in my life, and to act on something I had been thinking and talking about for a while. (There is no truth in the rumour that events in that first marathon forced me to move abroad and lie low for a while.)

Strange as it may seem now, when I moved to Paris I didn’t pack any running gear. You can only fit so much stuff into a knotted handkerchief on the end of a stick. Also, maybe when I finished that marathon I thought I had ‘done’ running – ticked it off the list and moved on to the next item. But the bug would soon follow me to France, and eventually I had some great running experiences in Paris.

Apart from a two-year spell in the city centre, I lived most of my Paris days in its western suburbs. In Asnières, for my first four years, such was the novelty of seeing someone out running on the streets that local kids assumed I was American. (The American runners in Paris were mostly to be found doing laps of the Jardin de Luxembourg in the city centre.)

After that, for my two-year city-centre interlude when I briefly came in from the west, I was between the Boulevard Saint Germain and the Musée d’Orsay – fashionable for sure but not a running stronghold either. But Meudon, to the west again for my final two years, was more used to runners – the annual Paris-Versailles race passed through there, up its steep Route des Gardes.

Whatever my address in the Paris area, I always lived just a street away from the Seine, and so my running was focused on the river and its islands. My local route in Asnières during 2006 and 2007 brought me onto the Île de la Jatte, an island celebrated in art and also home at that time to another runner, a short and short-fused Frenchman called Nicolas Sarkozy. In the centre of Paris I found some running room along the right bank of the river, from the Louvre up to an island past the Eiffel Tower called the Île des Cygnes, to make perhaps the most spectacular running route in the world.

And Meudon also had a river island, the Île Saint-Germain, where I would do the occasional lap – or even fall in with runners on the Eco-Trail de Paris trail race, which followed Meudon’s riverbanks to finish at the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower itself is something of a focal point for running in Paris. The 20 Kilomètres de Paris race starts and ends there – I did this race twice, clocking just over 90 minutes on both occasions. Beside the tower are the Champs de Mars, an excellent spot for running, and the municipal running track at the Centre Emile Anthoine. (Caution: this track is 50 metres shorter than a standard track, so don’t get overexcited if you’re blasting out faster laps than usual.)

Speaking of which, that was another advantage of running in Paris – municipal running tracks that were free to use. When I lived in Meudon I was a warm-up jog away from two tracks in neighbouring Issy-Les-Moulineaux; in the spring of 2013 I loved to get up at sunrise for a Daniels threshold session with the track to myself.

In fact, I’m beginning to think that Meudon is the greatest running area in the Paris region. As well as the scenic riverbank routes, tough hills and public tracks, I lived near a huge forest that had traffic-free tarmac roads through it. I have fond memories of my long runs in Meudon.

So much for the training; what about my races in Paris?

Well, I ran the Paris Marathon three times. Two of those – in 2007 and 2012 – were among my best marathon performances. Alas, the 2010 edition was my worst marathon, due mainly to me not preparing properly. But at least I did better than Joe Strummer in the 1982 Paris Marathon, who apparently ran in it and finished nearly last.

In recent years the Paris Marathon has swelled to almost 50,000 runners and raised its profile through star-name competitors like Kenenisa Bekele in 2014. The crowds and atmosphere may not compare favourably to other city marathons, but it’s a great experience. Just don’t drink the free red wine at mile 22, unless you want to visit the bushes at mile 22.1.

As well as the Paris Marathon and 20 Kilometres de Paris, I ran the Semi Marathon de Paris twice, finishing in around 1 hour and 40 minutes both times. However, I never warmed to this race – literally in 2006 when it was a bitterly cold day, and metaphorically in 2010 when there was overcrowding at the start and finish areas.

But I have plenty of good running memories from my time in Paris. Running helped me to discover the city and make it feel more like my home. Paris mightn’t be the easiest place to live, but I made it a great place to run.

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First parkrun of the year

Taking the parkrun torch: Tymon Park in Dublin (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / / JP)

Tymon time again (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / / JP)

Today I had my first post-Christmas test – a return to parkrun.

With a view to blowing off the Christmas cobwebs, not to mention burning off the Christmas junk-loading, I headed up to my nearest parkrun, at Tymon Park in south-west Dublin.This would be my first race of 2015 and as I’m working towards the Tralee Marathon in March, I added a ten-minute jog before and after to make it double up as a good lactate threshold session.

Runners today at Tymon, and probably at most other parkruns in Ireland and the UK too, had to contend with strong, cold winds and surface water on a few parts of the course. On top of that, I was carrying my Christmas kilos – and those are kilograms, not kilometres.

Happily, I had a great run. My time of 20:47 wasn’t spectacular (a minute slower than my parkrun PB, in fact) but it was enough to get me around as the 6th finisher overall and first in my age category.

The wind made things difficult for everyone, as parts of the Tymon Park course are quite exposed. However, the middle kilometre is sheltered by trees, so that gave us a chance to husband whatever energy we had left.

A more difficult obstacle was the series of impromptu water jumps along the course, where the sodden parkland was overflowing onto the path. This broke up the running rhythm and forced some runners to take a chance by veering onto the muddy grass. But smart runners will have looked ahead to see how those further up the path picked their way through – and besides, it was better just to run through the water than chop your stride and sink into the water-soaked ground.

So that’s how my parkrun turned out today. I felt I kept up a strong, consistent pace for each kilometre, and I enjoyed the mental and tactical challenge of running against the testing weather and course conditions. In kilometre 3 I dropped a runner who was trying to keep pace with me, and in kilometre four I overtook and left behind someone else – this gave me a great thrill. Alas, on the run-in to the finish I wasn’t able to reel in the person around 10 seconds ahead of me.

Still, it was a hugely enjoyable and satisfying run.

I’ll do another parkrun in two weeks time, probably at a new location for its inaugural event. And before that, next weekend I’m planning to do a race which will be a new running experience for me. More on that in due course…

Posted in 5 mile, 5k and parkrun, Dublin | Tagged | Leave a comment

London Marathon 2015: Field of dreams in men’s race

Bring it Lond-on! (Image: London Marathon)

Bring it Lond-on! (Image: London Marathon)

When Kenenisa Bekele is in the starting line-up of a race but not even among the favourites, then it must be some line-up. Such is the case with the 2015 London Marathon men’s elite field announced today. (The women’s elite field will be revealed at a later date.)

The headline from today’s announcement is the showdown between defending champion Wilson Kipsang and world record holder Dennis Kimetto.

Once again the London organisers have assembled a star-studded men’s field. Ten sub-2:06 athletes are confirmed to be tearing along the Queen’s highway on 26 April. Up there with Kipsang (personal best 2:03:23), Kimetto (PB and world record 2:02:57) and Bekele (PB 2:05:04) will be 2014 Chicago Marathon winner Eliud Kipchoge (PB 2:04:05), last year’s London second-placer Stanley Biwott (PB 2:04:55), and Emmanuel Mutai (PB 2:03:13), the London winner in 2011 who has now become something of a serial runner-up in major marathons.

Despite the depth of the field, Kipsang and Kimetto are the clear favourites. The two Kenyans, who train together, have already kicked off the good-natured pre-race trash talk on Twitter:

Of course, all we need is that neither of them get injured.

With no Mo show this year, British interest in the London Marathon men’s race will centre on Scott Overall (PB 2:10:55) and the fascinating human interest angle of reformed smoker and tippler Steve Way (PB 2:15:16). Also toeing the start line in London will be Commonwealth Games champion Michael Shelley of Australia (PB 2:11:15).

However, home fans may have something to wave flags about in the women’s race, if Paula Radcliffe can return from injury and make good on her wish to run the 2015 London Marathon as a valedictory race. But that’s for another day.

Posted in London, Marathon | Tagged | 4 Comments