The penultimate race of the ’22-23 series and on Sunday morning about 20 Sportsworlders make the trip deep into rival territory,  Crusaders’ home patch at Irishtown Stadium.  Having gathered some numbers and courage  in the carpark, briefly assessed which teams have a qualifying complement of 4 runners, we head in for a snoop around.

Inside, the tea is already being prepared.  We march in in our red jackets, like some very unsubtle intelligence operatives, ostensibly “looking for the loos”, and find ourselves very impressed by the Crusaders setup.  They have a great space overlooking the stadium,  lots of gym gear and even an indoor track complete with padded end walls for when you just can’t slow down after your sprint.  Val and Punam, pros that they are,  get straight to work on their warm up by sprinting into the pads a few times while rest of do a sneak preview of the biscuit selection.  It would be easy to be intimidated (even by the biscuit selection), but as Val says, other clubs may have the gear but Sportsworld have the (nationals) medals.  Having run all but one XC and M&T race of the season so far Val has a way of saying the right thing to put fire in the belly before every race.

Thus fired up, we set out determined to try and find the actual race course by heading towards the sea and following some high viz people through a housing estate.  Unlikely we’ll be earning medals today with about 30 percent of the teams missing and another 3rd not long in from a night out.   Nonetheless, any team race brings out something in the least competitive of us.  Shauna takes an ultimate hell week approach to her warm up by jogging over in a puffa jacket with a heavy backpack, so it’s not really a surprise when she later mentions her legs feel a bit like jelly.   Less gungho, I do the reccie run with Deirdre and Amanda, glad of their wise choice not to incorporate the hill in our warm up.  “The Hill” is the one nod to cross country on this otherwise park-run type course, a short, sharp ascent through some bushes.  “It’s narrow up there”, someone comments, “so there’ll be no chance of passing anyone” .  As I can’t recall passing a single person in  my last 3 races I register instead that this will be  a chance to run wide and clumsy and  hold people up.

A few strides later, a pep talk from Emily that blows away all notions of “taking it handy”,  the traditional photoshoot, and we are lining out.  I push out front.  Again, my ingenious plan here, with Aoife and Niamh missing off our team today, is to try and use the narrow course to slow things down as much as possible.  Off we go. Amanda, Deirdre and myself still in the front 5 after 500 metres and a bit of panic setting in, even though the pace does feel a little slower than usual.  Another 200 metres and I can feel the build up behind me and by the time I hit the 2nd kilometre a small river of runners have passed  and I can only settle in and try and hang on to my pace and my breakfast.  Down the path along the seafront, the wind mercifully low, cheers of encouragement from Emily, Kimberley, Anne Marie and Myles.

I arrive at the hill gasping and have to surrender to walking it, dropping another 3 places in the process but regaining them on the subsequent downhill.  The end is almost in sight when I feel my heart threatening to pop out my mouth and have to pull up. Unfortunately this is 10 metres from Myles.  He offers me some words of gentle encouragement along the lines of “what the hell are you doing? *$’#!  200 metres to go!” . I quickly see the wisdom of his argument and scarper off again.  There’s time from one final sprint.  I try to catch the lady 20 metres ahead but she somehow senses the rhino charge and responds just in time to save her place.

Over the line and a token of 81 or 18 is placed in my hand.  As the only time I’ve finished top 25 in anything is when there were only 25 runners, neither makes sense just yet.  On the far side of the tape I find Deirdre McGing stretched on the grass (still breathing), recovering from a well earned first-over-the-line for Sportsworld team B in 11th place.

The Crusaders team A win easily, packing 3 of their 4 athletes into the top 10 finishers and coming away with a cumulative score of 32.

My selfish concern is for Sportsworld Team A –  today comprising myself, Anne Sweeney, Amanda &  Val   – our cumulative score of 124 and a qualifying team for 3 out of 3 races so far keeps us in the game, just.   But it’s hats off on the day to Team C (Deirdre McGing, Shauna O’Callaghan, Marie Bradley & Maria Finnegan) who pip us with a score of 118.

It seems that everyone has put in a huge effort. We take more photos, do a quick headcount and head back to the Stadium for tea, cake and biscuits.  Anna Maria has sustained hand wounds from a fall during the race but is being incredibly brave, not only finishing the race but going on to hold her own tea cup and biscuits, which fairly epltomises the no surrender spirit of the league.

Well done to all the runners and big thanks to the lovely people Crusaders for letting us into their facilitiies and feeding us on the day.  That said, it’s race faces back on for the final event in Abbotstown March 12th.