As is the nature of these damned COVID times we live in, there was much uncertainty in the build-up to the event around whether it would actually go ahead or not. This was made all the more challenging with the introduction of the local lockdowns in Kildare, Laois and Offaly in early August which were then followed by tightened Government restrictions on a national level from 18th August, a move which in particular from a race perspective prohibited outdoor gatherings of more than 15 people (down from the previous level of 200). While the easy option would have been to cancel the race there and then, credit to the organisers who decided to wait it out for the next key Government update on 13th September before making the final call. Thankfully, the event did not need to be cancelled in the end, with participants notified on the Monday that the race would proceed as planned on the Saturday.

Two separate races were held on the day, with a 10k in the morning and the half marathon a few hours later. This annual event is now in its 10th year with monies raised used to develop and support health and fitness facilities for the local community of Louisburgh, Co. Mayo.

Understandably, race day 2020 was much different from those that preceded it with a number of measures introduced to ensure a safe environment for all. These included no changing rooms, shower facilities, spectators or the famed post-run feast (something I could have done with afterwards and look forward to the next time!).

Conditions on the day were ideal for running, with the sun out, a relatively cool temperature and little to no wind – more on that later. Runners were moved to the starting line at 1.30pm. As I waited for the gun and with a few butterflies in tow, I suddenly felt something in my shoe and decided it was best to tackle it there and then as opposed to it potentially annoying me for the duration of the race. As luck would have it, just as I managed to get my shoe off then so too did the starters gun go off and away the field went. Twenty seconds or so later and with the rest of the pack now firmly in the distance and the race marshal directing me over the loudspeaker to get moving, I finally got started. While weaving around other participants is not an ideal way to begin, and starting last not necessarily something I’d recommend, I did however find as the race progressed that it gave me a nice lift at times to pass the occasional runner here and there.

The Clew Bay course itself begins at Louisburgh GAA club and from there traverses a series of winding country roads, taking in a variety of landscapes including mountain views, bog land, farm land and the sea. Given it was my first race proper and therefore not really having much to compare against, I did however find the course to be quite hilly and certainly much more than I had bargained for.

In terms of my own performance, while new to the running game (one positive at least to take from lockdown) I felt I had put in a solid few weeks since the return to collective Sportsworld training and was therefore hoping to run a time of 1:30 or better. To achieve this, I needed a race pace of about 6:50 minutes per mile. While I pretty much stuck consistently to that pace for the first five miles, for the next three that followed I felt like I was moving well and started to attack the course a bit more. Things started to change considerably from about mile nine/ten onwards however when you turn for home at Killeen Cemetery. From this point on it was a completely different race, running in to a strong wind (the course now taking you closer to the sea) and what seemed like a never-ending set of hills.

My mile times started to drift out from there until about the last quarter mile or so where I managed to muster up some strength and sprint for the finish line.

In the end, I made it in in just under the 1:30 mark, finishing with a chip time of 1:29:28 (and gun time of 1:29:54 – due to aforementioned messing around with my shoe). Nothing spectacular, and plenty lessons learned, but all in all I was happy and particularly so as I managed to achieve my goal. Hopefully with a bit more targeted training and perhaps a flatter course, I can shave some time off that further down the line.

It was great to get my first competitive race under the belt and was a privilege to be able to do so in these most challenging of times when far more races (and all the rest) are being cancelled than going ahead. Finally, hats off to the organisers for what was a thoroughly enjoyable event and one where the health and safety of all those in attendance was very much to the forefront throughout.