In 2018, after a big 10k effort in the Lakes, Blessington, I swore I’d never do another 10k. Yet, the morning of 16th April 2023 I’m driving towards Phoenix Park National Championship with Marie and we are asking each other who’s idea was this anyhow? Between yawns, she’s blaming me and I’m blaming Val, and Val’s in Bushy Park lining up for cake and not around to blame anyone. In spite of our reluctance, we’ve done some preps; Marie’s moved her weekend ‘wine night’ from Saturday to Friday and I’ve pinned the number to my singlet the night before and played Sia’s “Unstoppable” a few times round the house.
The previous afternoon, Carmel – Our Lady of Abolishing Our Last Excuses – has super-kindly driven round to all our houses to hand deliver our numbers. She has also delivered the excellent news, that “they’ve taken the hill out of it”. Now, I’m not familiar with the hills of Phoenix Park as we tend to avoid them on the Sunday LSRs so I don’t critically evaluate this information but pass it straight on to anyone I meet.
In the carpark, we meet Catherine (who can’t decide if it’s warm or cold) and Trevor (who seems to be thinking it’s warm). We head off towards the start in dribs and drabs. I come upon Carmel, tying her bike to a tree, part of a plan to belt it back to the Meet and Train Bake- off in Bushy Park when we have this thing done. Then Anna Maria – who’s definitely in the “it’s cold” camp and wearing about 7 layers. We just have time to discuss injuries – past, present, future and imaginary – that will come between us and a National Medal today, before she mooches off to bag drop. Finally Maria Finnegan and Audrai arrive from somewhere and just take the bull by the horns and do an actual warm up up Chesterton Avenue. None of us feels quite right, but sharing this on the trot has the effect of making me feel better.
We rejoin the crew at the startline – up the front in unfamiliar territory, and then it’s off. Emily’s put the fear of god into me Thursday night, warning me not to stop or jog or be looking around me. So I’ve a strategy to stay out of trouble; find a sustainable pace in the first km (whatever that is is on the day) and stick with that . And then if Emily pops out from behind a tree, I’m covered. It’s a pleasant surprise to find the pace on the day is 4:45 per km, which might scrape a new PB if I have a push left for the end. But for now I focus on the moment, sticking to the middle of the road to avoid the ankle mushing fall off of the camber. Eileen runs up alongside me. I’ve done several events alongside Eileen the past 2 years and always enjoyed the chats. But today we keep a studious 2 metres apart and keep the race faces on. You can’t disrespect a 10k national championship!
All’s good to 5k. Wave after wave pass me but I’m used to this from meet and train and for once I’m running my own race. Humidity is high. Even in shorts and singlet I’m melting and then we turn into what seems to be…could it be?…a hill. Now anyone who studied the course might have expected this, but I took Carmel’s word for it. Turns out they DID NOT get the land movers in and the hill is where it’s been forever – and it’s the longest hill in the world with at least 3 false summits. I see my pace drop to 5 minutes, then to 5:20, climbing for 2k and still the hill just won’t stop. Emma catches up and we exchange a few breathless condolences before she pulls ahead.
Eventually we are back on Chesterton Avenue and things level off but with about 3k to go it’s too soon to push it. We turn onto Furze Road and I’m surprised to see the Finish gantry, with my watch scarcely over 8k now. So it’s safe to push on, but even as we do, the announcement is coming……the course is short, the National Championships are cancelled.
The Sportsworlders reconvene over the line. There’s some disappointment and frustration, a modicum of outrage, a few of us belatedly saying we should have just kept running, might have got a Strava PB, but dems the breaks and someone else is definately having a worse day right now! We meander back towards the visitor centre, seeking sustenance and passers-bys who will take photographs of us.
Andrew Brett (first man home for sportsworld in 29:15) is claiming he’s earned a place in the Sportsworld record books by evening time . Aoife O’Leary (first lady home for sportsworld and 6th lady overall in 31:47) probably has enough places in the SW record books as we hear no such claims.
The post mortems start on the walk back, the more people we meet the more information (or misinformation) we piece together. Discussions are continued in the visitor centre over coffee (I think the committee of investigation had it largely wrapped up by 1pm) while some of us hot foot it back to Bushy Park to catch the last of the meet and train.
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