At training last Thursday, Myles sidled up to me and said “There’s a four mile road race next Sunday in Tinryland in Carlow just down the motorway. Why don’t you and some of the others in the over 50’s go and have a crack at it, Martin Keenan’s heading down”. “Never heard of it! Spell that for me, Myles” says I. “Just Google it!” says he. 

Apparently it was to be the 40thAnniversary running of a famous local race. Initially I thought, No, I’ll stick with the Phoenix Park but after thinking about it a bit I became a little intrigued about the race and the name. Tinryland, it almost sounded like a mystical place, something vaguely magical conjuring up an image of a castellated Carlow theme park. Understandably, since it’s Cross Country and Marathon season, the others wanted to do the club Cross Country session on the Saturday, followed by the Phoenix Park on Sunday but I opted instead to do an easy parkrun on Saturday and to head down as early as possible on the Sunday to Tinryland, the wondrous place.

Setting off from Dublin on Sunday morning, the race due to start at 1pm, it was bucketing down but the forecast was for the rain to pass over. By the time I arrived, Tinryland was bathed in glorious sunshine, a small little village 5k south of Carlow town. Definitely no awesome theme park here! 

I had texted Martin the day before to say I’d see him there as I thought I would be delayed by an earlier appointment. This was to be Martin’s comeback race after a protracted lay-off and he was keen to test himself under racing conditions. As he said himself with a smile “I’ve had more comebacks than Rocky Balboa but here we go again…” 

Things were shaping up well, the weather was good, I was wearing my lucky luminous orange-pink socks that Joe Byrne, who wears a pair himself, had kindly bought me in Decathlon in Spain after I admired his luminosity on the track. I’m convinced they give me at least an extra 10 seconds per km in races, evidenced recently by an improved time while wearing them in a race on Rathlin island. Weak evidence admittedly but I believe Nike suggest something similar with their 4% runners. I was also inspired by Diarmuid’s recent completely incompatible colour coordination at the Rathfarnham 5k, luminous orange-pink socks definitely do not go with Sportsworld red but y’know sometimes that incompatible colour tension creates a certain magic, right Diarmuid?

Having met up with Martin to catch up with him and discuss the course and race tactics, I wandered off to get a sense of the place and the history of the race. Tinryland is a small village near Carlow town with a proud heritage. On turning up toward the village, there is a memorial to the local people who fought in and supported the 1798 rebellion. I passed a sign that told me I was “being watched – do not litter”, though it remains unclear who or what exactly was watching me, the local livestock, perhaps?  

I chatted to former Tinryland National school principal Denis Shannon who seems to be quite the local legend for his fostering of athletics in the school and village. He told me of the strong tradition of athletics there over the years, where apart from the annual Rockford Rooftile race – which has had the same sponsor for all its forty years – it has also hosted numerous Leinster and National Cross Country events. He took delight at telling me how Dick Hooper in his prime used to come down regularly to give the Rockford race “a blast”. I told him that I ran for Sportsworld in Terenure but with the amount of red I was wearing he’d figured that out long in advance. “I know”, he replied with a rueful grin.

There aren’t many four mile races around these days, so it was a bit of a novelty to try to plan for this unusual distance. I tend to work in km, so 6.43km is the metric equivalent which was quite close to the 6km Dublin Novice Cross Country race distance I’d run recently in the Phoenix Park. So, I had some kind of yardstick to aim for timewise, the undulations of the cross country would be counter-balanced somewhat by the extra .43k of road. However, another local had told me about the steep hill at 2.5miles that went on for half a mile. That would surely slow me down some more. Then, Martin came back from his warm up and told me about the steep downhill at the start for the first mile. The plan was to spring quickly out of the blocks and bank as much time as possible before the hill. Although not a big race numbers-wise, while warming up, I could see there were some serious club (and Olympian) runners there, including Mick Clohisey and Kevin Maunsell. 

With not so much as a 3-2-1, we went off, haring off down the hill, my first kilometre in 3.25, very fast for me. I got away from Martin at this point but I knew he would never be that far behind. Over the years, Martin has been there and done that. I knew that even though I’m in a decent spell of form at the moment and he’s only just coming back racing, I would have all my work cut out to stay in front of him over the course of the race. I hit the hill feeling good, though had nobody immediately around me to latch on to or draft behind. Having run a lot of IMRA races this year, the hill didn’t slow me down too much and Martin confirmed afterwards that I stretched away a little at this point and also in the last kilometre. Martin was never far behind, though, and this may be the last time I’ll find myself in that privileged position of finding myself in front of him, he’s such a strong, experienced and seasoned competitor.

I finished in 24th place in 25.14 minutes with Martin just behind in 28th place, in 25.51 minutes, 2nd and 3rd respectively in our age categories. Certainly a 4 mile PB for me but then again, it’s not often you get to try for a 4 mile PB, is it?

We were both delighted with how the run had gone but it was particularly great for Martin to get back in harness again by getting a strong race under his belt and I’m sure he will go from strength to strength in the coming months. I’d better start getting used to watching his back from here.

Afterwards we retired to the Tinryland GAA club for a fantastic spread of sandwiches and cake – where my ‘strictly no cake diet’ since last Christmas was completely decimated. Check out the Rockford 40th Anniversary cake before and after I’d got my hands on it….

The prizes were handed out, Mick Clohisey 1st in 18.39, the second fastest time in the history of the event, no mean feat considering the quality of the runners who have raced there over the years, including our very own Myles Nugent. The first placed female was Annette Kealy of Raheny Shamrocks who finished in 23.27.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary, all around the hall they had pinned up the results of all the previous races over the years and it was fun to take a Sportsworld athlete spotting tour of all those historic results sheets. You really get a sense from years gone by how Sportsworld legends had targeted this particular race…among them, Myles Nugent 1993 & 1996, Paul O’Connell in 2001, Emily Dowling 1998, Kevin Curran 2012, Lucy D’Arcy 2008 & 2012, Mary Finn 2008, Phil Kilgannon 2003, Michael O’Grady 2003 and quite a few Sportsworld names I’m not so familiar with, though some of you longer serving Sportsworlders would be. I have all your times, ladies and gentlemen, if you want them! 

I was also particularly taken by a newspaper cutting they had put on the wall which detailed the 25th running of the event in which, incidentally, the Sportsworld women came second in the team event. The article went on to say “Despite the presence of some top Irish athletes in the race, the star attraction last Sunday was undoubtedly Oscar winning Actor Daniel Day Lewis. Competing for Parnells AC of Rathdrum, Lewis, known for his dedication for his film roles, also showed what a fine athlete he is and ran a very good time of 23 mins 34 seconds for the course, finishing 57th overall. The very large crowds on the day were definitely swelled when word of his participation became known before the race. There was a festive atmosphere with a drummer, a pipe band and music of various stages on the course together with the O’Donoghue School of Dancers at the finish line”. 

There was certainly no Irish dancing when we finished on Sunday and you probably get a little sense there of how the race has contracted a little since its halcyon days. Nevertheless, the race is a tribute to a local community and people like Denis who have given so much dedication to grass roots athletics over the years.

With that, Martin and myself, thanked the locals, bid adieu to each other and headed our separate ways. Home in an hour, put on some dinner and then a sublime full moon swim…but that’s another story. Tinryland had, in the end, been a wondrous place indeed!