Race report by Fergal Duffy

Photos from the race Facebook page. For full album: Click here


Saturday morning 1st October in the capital of culture. The Galway Bay 10K starts just over a half hour hence at 10.30. While the other racers limber up at Nimmo’s pier in the Claddagh, one disorganised Sportsworld member is running out his door five kilometres away up the Rahoon road.

I run up Bishop O’Donnell hill, down Taylors hill, cutting across to lower Salthill via a network of alley ways and finally down Grattan road on to the Claddagh. I arrive at the bag drop at 10.26. I throw my bag at the poor young fella behind the fence and do my strides (sprint) up to the start point. There’s a large crowd lined up so I jump a couple of walls and approach the start line from the front, skipping the queue. I’ve arrived with two minutes to go to the start.

Race reporter Fergal in the thick of it

I spot a familiar red and white singlet ahead of me, it turns out to be Will Greensmyth. His calm and relaxed demeanour is the polar opposite of the nervous wreck in front of him.  We shake hands, wishing each other a fast one. I realise I’m surrounded by slender athletic looking people. I slink my way backwards from the ticker tape until I see a few lads who have divided their free time a bit more evenly between the running club and the pub. I stop next to two lads who are wearing singlets from the Manuela Reido foundation, started by the great Shane Lennon to keep her memory alive. I shake their hands and say “fair play lads”. Her death is a tragedy that haunts the people of this town. I hope her soul is at peace.

One minute to go to the start. I realise I’m wrecked after my dash to make the start line. No time to think about that now, ten, nine, eight…. the nervous energy builds and we’re away. We pass the Claddagh hall on the left. Some of my old rugby friends are gathered there. The boys are en-route to Monastery field in Clifden to play Connemara in the Connacht Junior league. My sister has grassed me up to one of my mates for running a race in Galway wearing the insignia of a Dublin running club. I get appropriate abuse- hissing, boos and a few pebbles thrown at me. Given that I have been known meet criteria for involuntary admission under the Mental Health Act for depression whenever Galway lose a hurling game, and probably went through a full manic episode when Connacht beat some bunch of Nancy’s to the Pro 12 title, I really should have chosen my attire more wisely. “Dublin has him now” is the comment that stings the most and brings a big laugh from the boys. We head out on to Grattan road. Someone says “go on sportsworld”. Clearly there is someone else from the club here for a race besides Will and I. It’s someone that doesn’t know my name, but that doesn’t narrow it down very much. I appreciate some encouragement having run an orchestrated gauntlet of abuse.

Two kilometres in and I meet some more familiar faces. It’s my best mate Sean (more of a brother really) with his wife and two daughters, the youngest of which is my Godchild. I have a fan club of three who are cheering for me. Sean is looking on with a dejected look on his face. We’ve trained together for years, “torture buddies” his wife calls us. We’ve done well over a hundred races from adventure races and marathons down to 5k’s and countless training sessions. He is not back to full training following an ablation to correct atrial fibrillation. An international class oarsman in his heyday, he looks on jealously as I run up the road waving at my second family. I know how lucky I am to be able to run the race. I thank my lucky stars. He has chosen that spot on the route because he knows the 8K mark where I lose time over the 10K distance. When I pass this point again it will be the 8K mark and I’ll be suffering.

But for now all is good. It’s the part of the race where the frantic start is passed and you settle into a rhythm. We turn left at the end of Grattan road and we hit the Salthill prom. It’s a beautiful morning. The sun is shining and there’s a light cooling breeze blowing from the north. The Clare hills to the south come into view. The hills of Connemara rise from the bay on the opposing side. It’s difficult to distinguish the clear blue of the sky from the clear blue of the Atlantic at the mouth of the bay. This may well be because I need laser eye surgery, but for now I’m in my element. This inlet has inspired poetry of bards and songs of troubadours. The views carry me happily to the end of the prom past some more familiar faces. Feels like home.

At the end of the prom comes the only undulating part of the course. A slight incline brings us out of the seaside town and up Gentian hill. We pass the Galway bay golf club and the caravan park on our left. We will be turning down into the caravan park soon. First we must get over Gentian hill. On the far side we meet the race leaders coming back in the opposite direction who have taken the 360 degree turn down near the Barna road. I see Will coming back up the incline towards me having rounded the farthest point from the start line. He’s working to maintain his place near the front of the race. I expect maybe a nod of acknowledgement as he passes. “Good stuff Fergal boy, keep it going” he says as he passes. I’m going down the hill but haven’t the breath to respond in kind. To encourage a club mate at that point in the race says a lot about the naturally reserved Limerick man. Gent.

Soon after, I’m around the turn myself and away up the hill that leads back towards the prom. We dip right off the main road and down through the caravan park on to the embankment. A short run along the embankment leads us back to the prom with four kilometres left to race. I’m starting to struggle. I’m regretting my sleep in and missing the 411 bus into town. The negative thoughts creep in. I try to focus on the seascape. It’s magic is somewhat lost on me at this point. I try to concentrate on form and to breathe with more purpose. I want to quit. In my mind, I split the remainder of the race into segments. Getting to the turn for Grattan road becomes the focus. Once there, I focus on getting to the point where I know my second family are. As I approach, Sean can see I’m struggling. The 8K hoodoo strikes again. If he was racing he would step on the gas about now, knowing I would not let him get away from me on pure bad mind. “Come on” he says. This is not encouragement. He knows when you’re feeling like that in any sporting event you just have to put mind over matter. He expects me to show a bit more toughness than what I’m managing as I pass. I’ve been told off. I try to lift it but there’s nothing in the tank.

We round a corner and the finish comes into sight dead ahead. To the uninitiated we appear to be near home. But a hard right takes us into a famine memorial park, the groans of people who didn’t know this diversion was part of the course ring out. A few drop off. Purely psychological, they thought they were nearly home. Out of the park and on to Grattan road and again the finish is in sight. One more surprise, as we hit the nine kilometre mark. We turn out on to the access road to Mutton Island sewage treatment plant, pretty appropriate for the way I’m feeling at that point. Halfway out the access road another 360 turn and back down towards Grattan road again. We turn and the finish line comes into view. It’s no mirage this time, we’re here for real, six hundred metres to go. The race announcers voice gets louder on the tannoy. A slight left, a final push and the torture is over.

Someone puts a medal around my neck and I enter the refreshments tent. Will is at the cake stand and I ask how he did. “Ok, thirty eight something”. Wow, I think to myself, what would he consider a good time? He’s doing justice to the lovely spread of cakes from O’Hehir’s bakery as we talk. He says he and Siobhan, who has won the ladies race at a canter, are making a weekend of it in Galway. His mother is from the town and his uncle lives up the street. Neither Will or Siobhan look like they have just completed a race while I feel like I’ve been dragged backways through a bear pit. Sickeners, these athletic types. I spot an Erdinger beer stand. To hell with these cakes, I’m away. It turns out to be alcohol free Erdinger. I’ll try anything once. I’ve read somewhere beer is actually quite nutritious except the alcohol is a diuretic which leeches the nutrients out of your system. So alcohol free is dioralyte with a foamy head. The job. I take two.

Outside the tent I meet some more heads I know and have the obligatory chats. I meet Sean again. I tell him I’ve done a shade over 43 minutes. “Not bad, were you struggling worse than usual though at 8K?”. I don’t tell him about the 5K I ran to make the start line. Maybe it’ll sound funny in the pub later and I won’t get a slap on the head for being stupid. (It doesn’t and I take my punishment). My Godchild has no hug for me today. I am sweaty in her defence. She takes the beer out of my hand and spills it on the grass and puts the plastic cup in the bin without saying a word. Alcohol free or not, I guess you still look like a lush with a beer in your hand at 11.30am. She tells me what she wants for her birthday next week. Fair enough. Maybe I’ll get a hug then.

With the dust having settled, Will is awarded Man of the Match for a great run and the sportsmanship award for encouraging a lesser light at a tough point in his own race. He has placed 17th in 38.52. The real stars of the show with due respect to the aforementioned, are the organisers. It was a great race on a beautiful course with beer at the end (albeit alcohol free and taken off me by a soon to be four-year-old). Hopefully next year there will be more than two to fly the Sportworld flag in the 10K race in this wonderful corner of the world. Having learned my lesson about lining out to represent a Dublin club, I’ll be wearing my Manuela foundation t-shirt even if it means Eoin stings me for another race report. I’ll be trying to improve the 49th place finish for a 43.09 time.

Sportsworld Results

10k Race
17th William Greensmyth 0:38:52
51st Fergal Duffy 0:43:13

Half Marathon
4th Catherine Bambrick 1:30
5th Andrea McNamara 1:34:11