Ballycotton 10 2014 Race Report
I travelled to the ‘Ballycotton 10’ this year as one might revisit the scene of some half-forgotten teenage adventure. When I first turned-up at this famous race in 2002 I was fairly new to the scene and ended up being completely absorbed by the whole affair. When I walked the streets of this beautiful seaside town I believed that I was amongst like-minded people. I remember having an overwhelming sense of belonging; of having come home; a feeling that was only ever replicated for me at the Dublin City Marathon. Over these early years I travelled to both of these races in what can only be described as ‘pilgrim-mode’.
I was a running innocent abroad around that time, and happy enough with that to be fair. Quite quickly, the ‘Ballycotton 10’ came to mean an awful lot to me and – although I’m slightly less wound-up about particular races these days – I was certainly looking-forward to running these famous roads again. Reading back through my old training logs, I can see that I’ve run this race on eight previous occasions but haven’t made it to the starting line since 2010.
In short, I suppose, I wanted to go back to five years ago and see what it felt like. I wanted to know if I could still kick it like I used to.
If indeed we were once ‘Kings’, I wanted to know if any of that magic might remain.
Over my early ‘Ballycotton Years’ I’d been lucky enough to get to know the track’s famous Race Director John Walsh a little. As the race grew in popularity, he struggled to deal with the craziness that went along with that. He’d gently shake his head and quietly ask us all to remember that there were other good races around the place, and that some of them might even be just as good as his one. He was right of course, but we didn’t want to see that at the time. We were hooked.
In 2002 I fell in love with Ballycotton. From the moment I arrived there I knew that I had met my people. Ballycotton understood me. Over seven subsequent years, the love affair had evolved. Then, that initial infatuation evolved to a point where I was, perhaps, in danger of taking it all for granted. I took it as my right to return each year, to smile as I shook the same hands and to run the beautiful country roads around the town.
There wasn’t a point at which I consciously decided that I wouldn’t run the race anymore. A combination of family and running-related circumstances conspired to create what would eventually become a five year gap. I had always planned to get back on the horse, and this was the year when it happened.
On this occasion, a friend of mine, Ray, had been kind enough to offer me a lift. His generosity meant that I could relax and gather my thoughts as we slipped away from home and through the early morning fog. We moved quietly away from Athenry, through the rest of Galway, on to Limerick and then, eventually, into Cork. As we drove, the rest of Ireland woke to their usual Sunday routine, but, for a lucky few it was Ballycotton Sunday.
Quite a few injuries have passed under the bridge over the last five years and so it was in the spirit of a recovering Marty McFly that I found myself emerging from the back of Ray’s car in a field just outside of Ballycotton Village roughly two hours before race time. The first time I’d been here all the world had seemed new and each race was a fresh adventure. It was good to be back.
My first impressions were that nothing much had changed in the last five years. Everything looked just about as perfect or imperfect as it had been before. I was home again. I believe that Ballycotton offers what every runner really wants; which is, an opportunity to test themselves against a fair course without distraction. Anyone who finds fault with the race organisation here needs their bumps felt and a new pair of glasses. If you’re capable of running a fast time, you can do it – and many do. If you want to run semi tourist-style – you have that freedom. If you’d like to walk-jog your way to freedom – that is your prerogative. All possible styles of pedestrianism are accommodated and most are encouraged.
My personal weapons of choice this year were to be closely-paced miles of the six minutes and ten second variety. Training had been on a shaky but decidedly upward curve, and I reckoned I could bash these out for a while. What exactly a ‘while’ constituted I would soon find out. When the balloon went up, we all charged down the hill like one big lycra-clad lunatic wave, towards our individual destinies. The start at Ballycotton is always manic; even more so than other crazy races. The first mile is survival city. Staying vertical and continuing to make forward progress are the orders of the day. If you don’t bust the bank before you leave town and you’re probably doing ok. There’s no room for subtlety in the first mile.
My strides evened out after about ten minutes. I knew that I was a hair’s breadth ahead of the clock and so I concentrated on keeping the same tempo. At this point in the race it’s generally wise to elevate your gaze from the heels of those in front. Any immediate danger of death by trampling has surely passed and it’d be a shame to pass by all of these rosebuds without gathering even a few.
Familiar landmarks came and went. Gradually the early miles ticked by. The halfway mark was passed in 30:37 and the 10km point was sighted in 38:07. In all honesty, the second half wasn’t that enjoyable. I know, of course, that the later stages of a hard run are not really meant to be a pleasant experience. I felt like I was slowing down a lot. The needle was way up in the red. Even as I struggled, I was still managing to pass one or two other unfortunate souls who must have having an even tougher time that I was. As always, the price for early exuberance is high, but shared adversity is a wonderful thing. We all ran along and suffered together.
Photo Credit Gearóid Ó Laoi
I was still somehow hitting miles in the low six-minute range. Somewhere near the end there was a 6:24, which was a bit of a shocker at the time and I had to make one last big effort to get back on track. I was hugely entertained in the final miles as I ran alongside a woman who seemed to be fuelled almost entirely by a combination of spite, aggression and badness. She was hilarious. If you can imagine a pissed-off, running, Tasmanian Devil in pink leggings you pretty much have the picture. Having her alongside in final miles helped me forget my own troubles and I got over the finishing line without further incident. Of course, I made sure to run past her in the last little bit. Who said Chivalry was dead?
I was more than pleased with my finishing time of 1:01:44 (105th). I hadn’t threatened the leaders on this occasion, but of course there’s always next year. It had been genuinely nice to be back; to be a part of the Ballycotton scene once more. Hopefully it won’t be my last lap around the famous course, but if it happens to be, I have some more happy memories to add to those from earlier years.
As I walked back to the car I met more familiar faces. One of my heroes, Irish Runner Editor Frank Greally, was by the roadside, smiling, encouraging and, knowing Frank, probably gossiping – a man after my own heart. I saw uber-blogger Thomas Bubendorfer making his way home as well. We shook hands and swapped some ‘war’ stories. Thomas is the only Irishman I’ve ever met who was born a German and inherited the best of both.
And so, I was done. We went home the way we had come and we all enjoyed that exhausted feeling that comes from an honest day’s work.
As John Walsh has reminded us before, there are other races.
Of course there are, but there’s only one Ballycotton.