This is one of my favourite races (that’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that it’s one of my very few race wins back in 2013) That was three years ago though and I was in better shape back then so this time around I didn’t have any real expectations going into it. That being said there’s always a little part of you that hopes that no one fast will show up, or if they do maybe they’ll get lost or slip into the canal or something… Anyway that’s enough of a glimpse into the nasty side of my mind. Lets move on.

The race is an unusual format. It’s a point to point trail race run along a canal. We park and sign on at the finish and are bussed out to the start which is advertised as being 21k away but somehow always ends up a little further.

I started near the back of the very small field and spent the first kilometre working my way to the front of the main pack. By the time I got to the front there was a handful of guys gone clear and the first two had at least a couple of hundred meters lead. If they stayed at that pace I wasn’t going to get near them. Looking at the guys in front of me I reckoned that I could manage a top ten and possibly a top five. That would be a result I would be happy with given how tired I’ve been since Ironman Fortaleza and the fact that I’ve done almost no training. 

It was around that point that last years winner, Larry Havens pulled alongside me and started chatting. We hadn’t started hard but were moving through a couple of runners that had started faster. I felt really comfortable at this stage, no real surprise there as we were only 1k into a 21k race. If I was under pressure by now it would turn into a long day.

By the 2k mark the initial lone leader was being reeled in by the second place runner and I knew that he had started too fast. I recalculated my possible finishing position by one place. Already myself and Larry were comfortably catching the front two and by the 3k mark had taken over the lead. It was only as we were moving through I realised the second placed runner was Oliver Kearney. As we passed them they jumped in behind us and I kept the pace nice and even. I was moving considerably faster than I’d expected to but judging how easy it all felt I was confident I could hold a similar pace to the end.

At around the 5k point we crossed the canal and there was some construction works going on at the bridge. I mistakenly headed straight into the construction as Oliver shouted to cross on the canal lock. I vaulted a wall and squeezed through the fencing blocking the bridge and by the time I rejoined the trail on the far side I’d opened a gap and couldn’t hear anyone behind me. 

I briefly considered hitting the gas but then I figured that taking an advantage because of the crossing would be bad etiquette. There was also the fact that we were still 16k from the finish to consider. So I didn’t speed up but I didn’t wait either. I thought that if the gap stayed as it was without me taking advantage of it then so be it. 

Larry and Oliver had other ideas and it wasn’t long before I heard footsteps and breathing closing in behind me. I was not at all concerned with their reattachment onto the back of my train as I felt good and the lads seemed to be happy to let me set the pace. Both of these facts had me yet again readjust my expectations of the outcome. 

I tried not to get too carried away and start counting my prize money just yet. Pride coming before a fall and all that….

Not too long afterwards the sound of footsteps was gone. Just like that. I wasn’t sure what had happened. I didn’t know if they had just slowed or stopped to pee or tie a lace or fallen in the canal. There certainly wasn’t a splash but all of a sudden I was faced with an opportunity. Albeit with another 11k still to go. 

So I hit the gas. My pace dropped from somewhere around 4:35/k to just over 4 min pace. Holy shit I thought, this is as fast as I could manage to go in the 5k Parkrun a week ago. I tried to remain calm and aware of my body and how I felt. My breathing grew heavier and my effort rose to a level that I thought I could hold for a couple of kilometres without blowing up. I also reasoned that to catch me the lads would have to be running sub 4 min k’s which if they did would cost them later.

I clocked off what seemed like a mile but was probably less when I heard footsteps and breathing closing in from behind. Then it was alongside and then Larry went straight onto the front and kept the pace high. 

Shit I thought, this is not good. I slotted in directly behind him while himself and Oliver then insisted on having a chat. I was breathing too hard to take any part in it so kept my head down and grunted occasionally when I thought I was being asked something. I gradually recovered and the pace again settled to somewhere around the 4:30/k mark. 

It’s probably important to mention at this stage that I’ve been in a bag of shite ever since my last Ironman just over a month ago and every run has been at somewhere around the 6 min/k mark or slower so I didn’t really know where all of a sudden I was getting these 4 minute k’s from or how long the ability to knock them out might last for but neither was I going to look a gift horse in the mouth so I kept on trucking with the lads and hoped for the best. 

Myself and Larry swapped the lead through the next couple of k’s until we got to the detour section. At this point we left the canal and hit a road section for a couple of k’s. Larry saw it fit to take this as his cue to step on the gas. I was staring mesmerised at his feet when I noticed that they seemed to be drifting away. I checked in with my breathing, legs and lastly my garmin to make sure I hadn’t slowed and sure enough I hadn’t. 

I pushed and closed the gap with a little effort and just as I did Larry started to stretch the elastic again. This happened several times as we approached Maynooth at one point a gap of over 20 meters opened and I briefly though that was game over before I mentally kicked my own arse and pushed myself hard back up to his shoulder. 

We came through Maynooth and rejoined the trail along the canal and again myself and Larry swapped the lead. Any thoughts of counting prize money had long since evaporated and my main aim now was not to get dropped but then the pace settled a bit again. 

I didn’t know if that was all Larry had or if he was just testing us. I was busy thinking that I would have a go at 4k. No maybe I’ll wait till 3k. Yeah 3k sounds better my legs are tired now but I reckon I’ve probably got a bit of a kick left when another fast, hard kilometre by Larry had me reevaluating my attack strategy.

 I had almost settled on going for broke at 2k. But that last hard kilometre had left me hurting more. Then the pace dropped a little and suddenly without any warning whatsoever I was gone off the front at somewhere around 4 minutes/k pace again. I didn’t decide to do it, more a case of my legs took over the controls and decided to see how things were feeling.

It took less than a minute for Larry and I presumed Oliver to work back up to me and I immediately backed off a little. I and my legs both knew now that I didn’t have 5k of harder running left. 

I was heading into survival mode and I thought to myself that if I lasted to the 1k mark then I’d have one more go. Larry had other ideas however and spent the next 2k knocking the shite out of us. The elastic would stretch as he surged. I would dig deeper, breath growing ragged and pull myself back to his feet. No sooner than I got there he’s accelerate and again a gap would open and the elastic would stretch a little further and I’d get just a little closer to letting him go before the sound of Oliver hard on my heels spurred me on and I’d get back in contact. 

We got into what I reckoned was the last mile and I was tying up really badly and Larry opened a gap and I pushed and held him at ten meters. Then it stretched and I was cramping and my legs were seizing up. The gap stretched and then I could hear Oliver breathing hard and ragged coming from behind and he passed me with about 800m to go. It was all I could do to keep running and in those last 800 meters I lost about 25 seconds. 

In the end I finished third and was only mildly disappointed considering my expectations at the start. I was much more delighted to discover that I could actually still run. I was also reminded just how much I enjoy racing and resolved to do more of it in 2017 regardless of my fitness levels.

Lock up the year is one of the my favourite races and one of the best kept secrets on the calendar. Because of the small field it gives runners like me a chance to race for a win where I wouldn’t normally get near the real runners.

If you’re interested in checking it out they have a closed FB group and if you find it and gain access it’s well worth putting on your list for 2017. Tell them Rob sent ya. 

You can follow my training blog right here as I document my training as I attempt to qualify for Kona again.
You can read how I made the journey from smoker to Kona here

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Rob