Monday, August 31, 2015

Titanic 10k & Newry Marathon

In April, I ran the Titanic 10k for the first time and was hopeful of a sub-45 minute time. The course was relatively flat but because of the proximity to the sea, there was a quite a breeze blowing. My goal was to run even-paced and hit every km in four and a half minutes and as it turned out that is what I achieved.
The Titanic Quarter was closed to traffic for the duration of the race which meant there was plenty of space on the roads from start to finish; even the start wasn't too congested. For a change I got myself close to the front which meant I avoided the usual weaving around slower runners and got into a good rhythm early on. The first few km's took you past the Titanic visitor centre, film studios and office blocks, you then looped back on yourself and headed out to halfway. I was on target hitting 5km in around 23 minutes; I just needed to stay focussed and pick up the pace slightly. There was very slight uphill to contend with before another loop back took you towards the finish. I had a little left in my legs and sprinted over the last 200m or so and for only the second time ever got a sub-45min 10k time.
Dashing to the finish line...
My official finish time came in at 44:46, not quite a PB but very pleased with how the race had gone and it was nice to see the Park Runs (current 5k PB 21:11) and speed sessions had paid off.
One big grumble though; the organisation left a lot to be desired after you crossed the line. Water bottles were hidden around the corner and you had to help yourself whilst medals had to be collected a few minutes walk away from a shop-front. I was lucky enough to get my medal before huge queues appeared but there were plenty of runners having to wait around who were not that happy. Hopefully, this will get sorted out for next year as it certainly took the shine off what had been a well organised event.

On Sunday 24th May, I lined up for my first Newry Marathon and it was a bit of culture shock to line up at the start with only 162 other runners around me. The low key nature though made me feel more relaxed and hopeful of running a good race. I was familiar with some of the route as it also doubled up as part of the HM route, which I had run many times in the past. The weather was kind in that it stayed dry and it wasn't too warm. As is my norm these days, I wore the chicken hat and the yellow tutu.
At the start...

The first few miles out of Newry took you along the tow-path and then onto a main road towards Jerrettspass and Poyntzpass and it was here somewhere around the 5 mile mark that I came upon a runner from Monaghan Town Runners who was so taken with my outfit that he took a couple of photos (including a selfie) of me as I headed into the distance.

On through Jerrettspass and then it was tow-path all the way to Poyntzpass with a slight detour of some hilly country roads before heading back to the tow-path and the half-way point. The hills had taken me by surprise but I knew with flat tow-path ahead of me, I could get a bit of a recovery in before starting to push on towards the finish. It was a bit surreal running in a such a quiet marathon; no huge crowds around every corner and no hustle and bustle of having loads of other runners around you meant it became as much a mental challenge as a physical one. I found myself a little detached and ran alone for about 8 miles and although I was still running well, with nobody around me to either catch or keep pace with, I did find it difficult to stay focussed. The cheers at the water stations though spurred me over the last few miles and with Newry centre in sight, I was confident of at least a PB.
Still smiling...not far to go
Off the tow-path and heading into town the streets were full of supporters and cheers were ringing out for Mr Chicken and this galvanised me over the last stretch and here I am in full flight just before the turn into the finishing straight.
As I turned the corner, the clock was ticking towards 3:47 and a huge smile came across my face as after a couple of years of trying, I was going to get a new marathon PB. I'd knocked over 3 minutes off my previous best with a time of 3:46:25. As much as I love running big marathons, I have to say that the experience of a small low-key marathon was just as rewarding and I will certainly have Newry down as my 2016 Spring marathon (assuming I don't get into London). I believe the only thing that stopped me getting under 3:45 was the stretch on the tow-path where I didn't have anyone to run with but I'll learn from this and hopefully 2016 will be different.

Monday, April 6, 2015

From Seeley Cup 2014 to Omagh Half Marathon 2015

With Dublin Marathon behind me and a few weeks rest, I prepared myself for the last race of 2014 - Seeley Cup 10k. I felt I was in good shape and hopeful of a sub-45' time but on the day itself as I lined up I felt quite lethargic and not that focussed. I never got into a good rhythm and struggled over the first half of the race. I did pick up the pace slightly over the last 5k and finished in a respectable time of 46:57. I suppose the marathon would have still been in my legs but I always feel a little disappointed when a race doesn't go to plan.

In early 2015, I made the decision that over the next 12 months I would enter races I had never run before whilst revisiting a few favourites. I wanted some new challenges rather than stick to familiar races that I knew like the back of my hand. 2015 would be the year of races like Omagh Half Marathon, Newry Marathon, Titanic 10k and maybe the odd race in the South of Ireland. The plan was to train smarter and avoid over-training and running just for the sake of running. The Newry Marathon takes place at the end of May so my marathon training didn't start until mid-January and I aimed to follow the same schedule that got me to start line in Dublin. I have ensured that my training included a variety of sessions - long Sunday runs, tempo runs, hills and regular attendance at a local Park Run. Although, I have only been running the 5k Park Run every 3 weeks, I have seen my times get quicker and have brought my time down from 22:26 to 22:00.

My training from January to early March had gone really well and with a trial 13.1 mile run under my belt (1:48:00), I felt confident of running a good race at my first Omagh HM. Come the day though, there was pouring rain and howling winds; hardly ideal particularly on a course that had a few hills. Thankfully, as start time approached, the rain had cleared away but the wind was still blowing a gale. I should mention at this point, that as a matter of course, I always wear a yellow tutu during my HM's.
The start line was packed not only with HM runners but also fun runners and walkers; this made the start quite tricky as you had to navigate past people who were taking things very steady and some with pushchairs too. Why oh why can't organisers get the fun runners and walkers to start 10 minutes after the main runners have set off?
As this was my first Omagh HM, I didn't really know what to expect from the course, so I didn't really have a goal in mind other than to get close to 1:45:00. I got myself fairly close to the front and as the gun sounded realised I wasn't that far behind the 1:45:00 pacers. Without really pushing myself too hard, I was on the heels of these pacers within 2 miles and this filled me with confidence. I kept pace for 5 minutes or so but soon realised that I was going quicker than the group of runners, so rather than just stick with them, I pushed on and found myself amongst a group of 20 or so runners whose pace was more to my liking. The next couple of miles flew by and the sun even made a brief appearance but it was the wind that was the problem; I tried hard to position myself behind some taller runners in the hope they would act as some sort of windbreak.
Around mile 5, I dropped my gloves and then through mile 6, I took on some energy in the form of jelly beans BUT one decided to get stuck in my throat and for a moment I found myself choking but a mouthful of water cleared the blockage and I was able to continue without any lasting damage.

Spotted early on, running through Omagh town centre...

Once out of the town centre, the route took you down quiet country roads and these reminded me of the long runs I did back in Donaghcloney. I kept tabs with a number of runners from Milford AC and Newry City and even when they forged ahead, I didn't panic and slowly got back on their heels. I wanted to run my own race and not worry if people overtook me or if gaps started appearing. Despite the wind, I felt I was running very even paced and confident of getting under 1:45:00 and even the hills didn't seem that steep. The tutu was getting a few admiring glances and I received a lovely compliment from Patricia (Newry City) as she passed me around mile 9. At this point in the race, the rain started falling quite heavily and the last 4 miles were into a headwind. Thankfully, the last half mile was downhill and the final 0.1 mile was run on the gravel running track at the leisure centre. Round the last bend, I could see the clock in the distance and I was on course for a sub 1:43:00 finish. I was overjoyed, I had executed an almost perfect HM and had enjoyed every moment of it. My chip time was confirmed as 1:42:14 a PB and I think if conditions had been kinder, I could have got close to 1:40:00. I will definitely be running Omagh HM in 2016 and now I know the course, would be hopeful of running a quicker time. Now to focus on the Titanic 10k on Sunday 12th April.

The T-shirt to show I was there...