Sunday morning, 7:15am and the alarm blares. Crap, it’s here. I groggigly rise and go straight to the window, I can see the trees swaying but it’s dry. I shug and put the coffee machine on while making a bowl of porridge. Maybe this is getting too detailed…
After a 50 minute drive I arrive into Charleville with “Survival” by Muse blaring in my car, it’s my go-to pre race song and always gets me pumped up, I smashed my passenger window with my fist (may or may not have happened). I notice a few runners warming up and the wind really looks like it’s making things tough for them so I just pretend I never saw it and I park up near the race HQ.
I headed into get my number, chatted with some clubmates and collected my number before I headed off on a 20 minute warmup. I was feeling good enough on the warmup, the wind was not going to be helpful at all today but nothing I could do about it only stick with the plan. Got back to the race start with about 5 minutes to spare and the first drops of the day started falling, the clouds in the horizon were dark so no doubt this was going to be a wet one.
Pre-race plan as advised by the coach was to hold around 5:30 min/miles and stick close to Maria McCambridge. I was apprehensive about this as I felt I wasn’t quite there but I got a little boost hearing similar advice from some clubmates so I said why not just go for it. You might say there was nothing to lose really but in hindsight this is a race that is probably the best indicator of my potential performance in Frankfurt so it is in a way important to get a good result to assure myself the training is going to plan. I knew there would be a good group of us around a similar target so if there was ever a race to go for it from the start, this was it.
Miles 1-3 (5:20, 5:33, 5:32)
As we were standing there waiting for the gun, the rain really started coming down and I couldn’t wait to get going. Bang on the hour of 10 and we’re off. Good start, field was nice and spread out, was feeling very relaxed over the first mile and was able to have a quick chat with some of the runners alongside me. One thing I noticed straight away in the first mile was my grip (or lack of it) on the now wet road surface. I don’t know if it was just my shoes or if everyone had the same experience but I eventually figured out that running on the more uneven surface worked better for me but overall this didn’t have a huge impact. A good group had formed now of maybe 10+ and just ahead with a bit of a gap opening up was Maria McCambridge and a couple of pacers. The group seemed happy to let her go on and I worked in with my Leevale clubmate as we settled into a good rhythm and ticked off the first few miles comfortably.
Miles 4-6 (5:33, 5:37, 5:34)
It was a pretty monotonous stretch here but we had good shelter from the wind and I was happy how it was going. I was aware of a large group just behind us and I knew it was inevitable I’d be seeing them soon. Myself and the clubmate worked well together over this stretch sharing our time at the front even though there was little need for the sheltering, it was a mental thing more than anything. We hit the 5 mile mark in 27:35 and that was PB #1 of the day (ran 27:47 in Enniscorthy back in June). Feeling pretty good at this stage and as I knew we were coming into the village of Kilmallock I thought back to this time last year when I was already feeling the heat and had to back off from my clubmate. As we came into the village, the group behind merged with ours and suddenly we had a supergroup. I was happy enough to fall to the back of the group for a while and take a little breather before we made the turn back towards home.
Miles 7-9 (5:34, 5:31, 5:40)
Hit the 10k mark in 34:20 and that was PB #2 of the day. Around halfway through mile 7 we made a turn out of the village onto a narrow country road. I remember this patch being tough last year so I was glad to be in a group this time. We straight away got hit with a headwind here but it was to my relief more of a temporary gust and overall today I don’t think the wind had as big an impact as we imagined. By this time the rain was hammering down but I don’t think any of us really gave it much notice. I had a moment to glance around the group and was impressed at how strong everyone was looking. I distinctly remember feeling great around mile 8, I had worked my way back up to the top of the group and we were all moving very well, everyone doing their fair share of work. Mile 9 was when I finally started feeling the heat and questioning my ability to sustain this pace. Next target was get to 10 miles and see what’s left. I started noticing little gaps on this mile and having to close them quickly, early warning signs that I was really tiring.
Miles 10-11 (5:40, 5:46)
Mile 10 was really starting to hurt. The negatives were creeping in and with over 3 miles left at this pace, it felt like a mammoth task. I was sticking to the back of the group but almost resigned myself to the fact I’d have to let them go. Breathing was becoming laboured and the legs were tiring but I really feel my mental attitude here let me down a lot. I remember before the race I had even mentioned to a few people I’ll get to 10 miles and if I blow up, I blow up. This basically just gave me permission to throw the towel in if things got hard and they did get hard but doesn’t every half marathon get difficult at this point. I hit the 10 mile mark in 55:31 and that was PB #3, again possibly another reason why I started getting soft. As we hit the 10 mile mark we were on the return stretch of the outwards route. It was about halfway through this mile I hit the lowest point. The group was now pulling right away from me and I was out on my own. I felt out of steam mentally and physically and I assumed I wouldn’t even PB, I’d just run home easy. For some reason though, I didn’t actually slow as much as I think I did, though looking back on Strava, there’s about 30 seconds where I dropped close to 6 minute miles. The group now had about 200 yards on me but it wasn’t getting any bigger. I hit the end of the mile and saw 5:46 pop up, not as bad as I expected.
Miles 12-13 (+0.1) (5:45, 5:45, 0:37)
I suddenly felt incredibly pumped up, the legs felt better again and I swear to god I am so glad nobody was around me because some of the motivational sh*t coming out of my mouth at this stage, would have made a great comedy sketch. I was shouting at myself to pick it up, to hold this all the way, come on Conor. If someone had have offered me 2 x 5:45 miles for the finish, I’d have jumped on their back. 5 minutes ago I was down and out and now I was back moving again, still focussed on the group ahead and determined not to let that gap grow. I was annoyed at myself for letting the gap even open but at least now I had some time to redeem myself. I also noticed ahead that Maria McCambridge was slowing rapidly and had now fallen back to my (former) group. Mile 12 suddenly ticked off and I had one mile to go, let’s dig deep and bring it home strong. It felt like the finish of a 5k but I was far off that pace, I was breathing rapidly, the rain now pounding down but I was moving well. I never looked at the watch over the last 10 minutes so I had no idea what time I was on for, I just wanted to see that line more than anything. There is a slight climb to the finish but I pumped the arms and was reeling in Maria very quickly along with another guy who had fallen off the group. I saw my coach who gave me a good shout and up ahead I saw my clubmate turning onto to the finish. I was delighted with how I came back and could afford a little smile as I rounded the corner onto the finishing straight and I gave it a good push for the finish. Maria McCambridge was now within touching distance but I wouldn’t catch her. At least I followed coaches orders of sticking close to Maria, might have taken it too literally in fact. More importantly, I looked up to the clock and was pretty chuffed to see it tick on to 1:13:27, official time of 1:13:29, PB #4 and the most satisfying of the lot. Given my struggles over the last 3 miles I could only be overjoyed with a 2+ minute PB.
I would have loved to finish with the group and held closer to 5:30’s but that really was my best effort and reflective of my current shape. I think possibly my coach knew that and figured if I just went out hard I’d still rack up a strong PB (and as it turns out, PBs in 3 other distances). When I think of it like that, I can only be pleased, many many positives to be taken from today. I’m particularly pleased how I (eventually) fought the demons during mile 11 and somewhat recovered to avoid a serious blow-up. To be so close to runners with 2:35 marathons under their belts has done my confidence the world of good. Though it’s a daunting prospect (and a potential 12 minute marathon PB), I’ve really got to be setting my sights on a similar target for Frankfurt. Overall a really great and enjoyable race (for the most part) and as a buddy mentioned afterwards, where would you find a half marathon where you have 10+ guys targeting 72/73 minutes and not even finishing in the top 10. The race has grown strength to strength through the years and I’ll most definitely be back again, it’s no doubt a PB course. I also think I picked up a team gold medal for the munster championships so another nice little bonus.