When Emil Zátopek said that “a runner must run with dreams in his head and hope in his heart”, he was warning against the distractions of success and admiration. But the sentiment fits for the long absence of races in our calendars during the Covid-interupted 2020 and 2021 seasons. Most of us will have struggled at various points with some combination of overtraining or undertraining, injury, a lack of motivation, isolation or just the plain old fear of catching or passing on the coronavirus so the buzz to be back racing was a common topic of conversation before the Tallaght 5K on Sunday.

It was great to be back! The weather played its part too. Sunday morning was fine, still and dry – as good a day for racing as November could ever deliver. I was already warm and loose from cycling out so a short warm up of one or two kms with a few strides had me ready to go by the time I ran into Myles who had a few tips on the course. All downhill bar the hill at about 3km and then a flat run in to finish on the track. Easy-peasy.

Paul Hamilton was the only Sportsworlder who had told me he was running, but a Strava report of a 31km run on Saturday gave me a hint not to expect him. The race was doubling as the Dublin Novice Championships so there were lots of Sportsworld entries but as the race had been rescheduled, who knew who would turn up on the day. I saw Carmel, Anne and Val warming up and gave them a wave before fistbumping a very in-the-zone Timothy Morahan near the start. I had time for a quick chat with Anthony, Declan and Bruce before we got the call and then we were off.

The first 200m were run in tight formation along one side of the Greenhills Road so it was a shock to check the watch at the lights in Tallaght and see that I was running at an unsustainable 3.30km pace. I eased off a bit and found myself running nicely a little behind Anthony who was setting a good pace for his group about 30 metres in front.

As we turned onto Castletymon Road, my group was flagging a little, so I made the decision to start bridging across to Anthony. This was going pretty well until Myles’ hill appeared in the third kilometre. This knocked my pace a bit but I dug in to get up to the junction with Greenhills Road without dropping off too much. I was still congratulating myself on a job well done when the actual hill appeared on a bendy part of the Greenhills Road. My pace and spirits dropped in unison and I struggled on this section. As badly as that section went, the 4km marker beyond the crest of the hill reminded me that there was still time to repair the damage by knuckling down for the 600m to the turn into the track. At that point, with a downhill ramp onto a 300m lap of the track, it was time to go all-in on a gut bursting dash to the line.

To look at me curled up and moaning on the ground after the finish, you’d be forgiven for overlooking my delight at my time. I was aiming at sub 20 minutes, so a 19.26 chip time was a pleasant surprise and a good benchmark to bring into 2022.

In all the chats and coffee afterwards, everyone was saying the same things. ‘Good to be back’ and ‘onwards and upwards for 2022’. Well done to Tallaght AC for putting on an excellent race, even if there were some murmurs of complaint at the single bar of chocolate on offer in comparison to the riches on offer in Raheny in January!

Special congratulations to Aoife O’Leary who finished 5th in the Women’s race and to Bruce Campbell who won the Men’s over 50 race.