This was brutal but beautiful. All cross country races ought to be. None of this running monotonous laps around a GAA field on a bleak Sunday afternoon. Let’s have scenic courses flanked by trees and bends that sweep down and around and up again.
Avondale Forest Park is a gorgeous place. On a mild mid-Autumn day it’s especially magic. A special place to bring the family for a looped wooded walk and a sensational venue for cross country. Avondale House, originally built in 1777, was the birthplace of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91) – Home Ruler and the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the late 19th century. He also had one of the most luxuriant beards in modern Irish history. If only he could see his estate now playing host to Leinster’s best club runners. The 500 acre park is also regarded as the historic home of Irish forestry. Perhaps we could consider it the future home of or the “Croke Park” of Irish Cross Country.
In the day’s first Senior Race, Sportsworld Women’s team finished an impressive 3rd with the talented Lisa Madden – bouncing back with gusto after her Dublin Senior DNF last week – taking an individual Bronze behind Una Britton (Kilcoole) and Fiona McKenna (UCD). Caoimhe Daniels ran well and placed in the Top 20 (16th) with Aoife O’Leary (31st) and Deirdre O’Connell (55th), Katie Nugent (59th) and Maura Ginty (60th) bunching well towards the back. A brilliant team performance and good to see the club’s ladies representing on the podium again.
The Men’s race was a gruelling 10,000m (5 x 2k laps) through the “Great Ride” of Avondale (I thought that was Parnell’s adulterous lover!). The runners headed out down the centre of the “Ride” in what’s a furious first few hundred metres. Always hard not to get carried away here. Slight turn right and the course opens out to amazing views of the vale of Avoca. It bends back around into the first of the tough ascents. There was nice support around here before a sharp turn right onto an out-and-back spur complete with contraflow nods and waves before joining the lap again. Another hard and draggy climb here but mercifully not as long as previous years. While this was a hard course no doubt there were at least a few sections where you could recover and pick up the pace, particularly on the marginally downhill far side.
Perma-fit Gareth ran incredibly well from the gun and held on for 22nd place in 35:50 (an incredible time for 10k cross country). For a man who’s infamously apathetic towards XC, he’s getting better with age. I wasn’t feeling confident or racefit so went out steady hoping to be comfortably hurting at threshold later rather than sooner. Ended up feeling stronger than last week’s horror show in Santry at the Dublin Seniors and even managed a moderate kick in the last few hundred metres. Was there more in the tank earlier on? That question is always there I suppose. But with lacklustre training and motivation this year, top 50 was the best I could expect. The evergreen club stalwart Michael Cunningham was close behind in an impressive 49th in that (younger) field. Cross country debutante Conor Cavanagh (52nd) ran an outstanding race for his first effort. A bit more training and race experience for Conor, and he’ll do well in the future.
Despite a dizzy collapse after the finish line, this was such a joy to race: the low afternoon sunlight and Autumnal colours and perfect running grass and mud and the competitive field and energy and adrenaline of club racing with no watch and team camaraderie and cheering support. Special mention to Emily for getting me a Mars Bar to resuscitate me post-race!
Well done to all who raced and many thanks to those who supported us out there.
Gareth Murran 22nd 35:50
Gavin Finlay 46th 38:28
Michael Cunningham 49th 38:44
Conor Cavanagh 52nd 38:56
Full results here