We have two reports to wet your appetite for the XC season ahead. Bruce and Maura give their take on last weekends Dublin Masters. Both had excellent races so read on.
Peter Knaggs approached me as we were about to take to the line for the start of the race and asked me would I be happy to write today’s race report. Caught completely off-guard, I politely agreed… so here goes…!
I’m a Sportsworld member for a full year now, I made my debut in the red and white singlet back in January 2019 at this exact race. I’m relatively new to the running scene, prior to spikes and muddy fields I spent my free time playing hockey mostly as well as a bit of adventure racing and triathlon. I’m typically introduced to most Sportsworlders as Jean Wilson’s husband so if there was ever going to be a running club… it could only be Sportsworld!
After navigating my way northside I found a car space very close to the finish line and the new high profile Sportsworld gazebo. It was a beautiful January day, dry and sunny, just perfect for racing around the lovely St Annes. Met Myles with his stash of race numbers and safety pins and then it was time to warm-up; which takes substantially longer these days. The odd shout out to the girls as we crossed paths before heading back to the gazebo to strip off and don the spikes, still caked with last years muck.
Down to the start line. There was a crowd of about 300 men with all clubs well represented. Grand national how are you. We shuffled our way towards the start line. The chatter stopped when the man with the gun started to talk! We were advised to avoid the metal GAA posts – there was only going to be one winner there. No “on your marks” or “get set”, off went the gun and the stampede ensued. Managed to avoid the spikes and sharp elbows up to the first corner and that sharp left turn down through the game of thrones tunnel of trees. The atmosphere was electric, the girls with their race done as high as kites roaring us on. Out onto the soccer field and I could see the leader, a 50m gap at this stage already –needless to say I didn’t see him so clearly again until the medal ceremony afterwards! Some running.
The 6km course comprised four laps (the women ran two) but you don’t get to see many runners other than those you are immediately beside/behind. I gave the puddle in the soccer pitch corner a wide berth before heading down through the trees towards my favourite single track section with the infamous log. All of the sections under the trees are very firm and dry, more trail than cross country. Up through the finish line for the first time and a shout “three laps to go”, so I do my best to settle into a steady pace. By lap 3, Myles wants me to pick up five or six places…dear god easier said than done! Plenty of Sportsworld encouragement all around the course and I managed to pick off a few thankfully and hold them off which didn’t happen last year! The Tuesday evenings are clearly paying off (my wife will be delighted).
After the pain in my chest subsides all the lads gather for a team photo, some with their fourth lap still to do! There was a great turnout of 35 men. At the time, the girls were rumoured to have team silver, then word was that they may have taken gold.
Back to the GAA club for tea, a few biscuits and prize giving. Sportsworld had a fantastic day with what seemed like a podium finish in all of the age groups across both the mens and womens teams. The girls won team gold ( Ciara Foster, Ruth Kelly, Maura Ginty and Lorna Quinn) and the men took bronze. I was delighted to learn I was the fourth scorer for the mens team, in the elite company of Karol (who was third overall), Andrew and Gareth. My first cross country medal, wahoo. Liam Lenehan also got an age group podium. The Women over 50 team were also on the podium (Eileen Rowland, Breda Browne, Ann Higgins and Eileen Lavin) and individual podium finishes for Maura Ginty, Ciara Foster and Ruth Kelly, chapeau ladies.
A great day out for all. Under starters orders for the challenge in Gowran next weekend for the Leinster Championships, no pressure. #
This is probably the largest women’s XC participation event in the country and to be honest, it really has it all. Nice and snappy 3k, no hills to speak off, absolutely outrageous tour de France like support and perfect fixture date as damn near impossible to find an Emily-proof excuse – like who organizes a christening, hen party or orchestra recital on a Sunday at the start of January?
This Masters scene is all relatively new to me as I was more concerned about novice/inters and indeed am still awaiting that crucial elimination from National Inter which is my life focus now. In any case, for all you casual fans, in recent years SW women have won o35 team gold, bronze, gold and silver in the years 2016 to 2019 respectively – with last year being a narrow loss to Raheny despite our 4 scorers finishing top13. Interestingly 2015 was the only recent year we lost out on a team medal – and had won team silver and gold, gold in the previously 3 years. In 2012 there were only 28 women taking part and the next year 51 – so fair play to organizers Raheny for building this up to about 200 today.
So we rock up as usual to Emily for the race numbers & strategy and get a list of ailments and injury and well, we certainly wouldn’t have been classed as favourites. I was kinda happy and confident though – Ruth was there who is a magnet for bling, and here was Ciara Foster warming up as if she had never left us. Team depletion also meant that I would be a scorer (last year I was 20th).
Start of XC race is one of those few moments in life where you are in flow – the mind can not process anything else but survival for like 200meters. Then you steady yourself, look around and try and figure out what’s after happening. Generally, for me the realization is– uh oh, I am beside Annette Kealy here… there will be some unholy payback for this insanity.
Well, today, I ended up beside Ruth Kelly and baby, I felt good. Gilding past us was the gazelle-like Ciara. This was the first time we had run together since around 2013. Turns out like personality, people don’t really change their run style – hers is easy, fluid and fast – running near her (or indeed alongside her, as some supporters recalled) was like being transported in time.
I dug in happy out with the new company I was keeping. I figured that I would be able to broadly sustain it for the duration.
So the normal XC craic of pain-cry-face and Emily advising (shouting) about who I needed to fend off, keep together with, or go up to, really just did not materialize. I think she was as surprised as me, so I was just getting “good run” type comments with me thinking “yeah, it really is – isn’t it?”
Obviously, my pace strategy of “broadly sustain it”, would turn out to err on the side of reckless and I was savagely overtaken by a Raheny singlet on the final straight. Now in my defence, I had heard her but thought she was another girl who I had passed in my glory first lap. If I had known… well, there is nothing that makes us keep it together more than the shout of “Raheny girl”.
Though when your luck is in, it’s in. We won team gold from Raheny on countback with Masters newbie Lorna the crucial decider. And fun fact – I was actually the newest member of the club sports world on the team. Girls may go off for a few years with babies, travel or hassling Dolores off Fair City – but the Sportsworld XC scene will always be there for us with its warm, cosy welcoming fields.
The win was sweeter as we denied Raheny the clean sweep of club medals. They had gambled with team selection and a different strategy here would have won them both female golds. Our o50 team won bronze, another ridiculously consistent medal showing here – bronze 2017, silver 2018 and bronze 2019. It was great to see Breda Brownback with a championship medal around her neck.
Actually what really made the day was the circa 25 Sportsworld women lining up, with girls like Anna and Olive returning after long boring injuries along with the reliables such as Eileen leading the team home for the third year in succession and Ruth with her eight top 10 finish in succession. Gleaning motivation, inspiration and idle gossip from all angles. Start of the year, optimism, racing – life itself. Seemingly that all epitomized Maeve Devlin, the Raheny club stalwart who died suddenly over the holidays. Dick Hooper paid tribute to her at the start line, some didn’t know her but she sounded like the best of everyone lined up combined. A round of applause and we were off.