After my win at the National 50km Championships in September, I was left with two contradictory inclinations. One on hand, I had completed my third 50km of the year and felt it was time for some recovery. On the other, I had been unable to convert my best ever run of training and fitness into a fast time so I wanted one more go. Ultimately, I opted for both, because paradoxes are always entertaining. I decided to enter the Irish 20km championships to see if I could make the most of my hard work, but at the same time I took plenty of time to rest and try to recuperate.
I was not wholly successful in either ambition. I did some excellent sessions and got some intense rest but also managed to under-train and under-recover and I caught a cold for good measure. Nevertheless, my training suggested I was in good shape to get a new PB for 20km and finally break the 100-minute barrier, even if I was not going to get the fast time I had aimed at.
The 20km has not been kind to me in the past. My PB was set five years ago in Lugano, Switzerland, when I did 1:43:59, despite feeling ready to get under 1:40. The following year I was sick in the national championships and put in a poor performance. In 2016 I came second in the national championships, just a couple of minutes outside of my PB, only to learn later that the course had been long and my actual 20km time would have probably been inside it. Last year, I was fit and ready for a fast 20km and started with my third fastest ever 10km time, only to be disqualified for my technique.
This time, it looked like I would again be victim to random cruelty. After arriving in Dublin on Friday, the winds gathered and in the evening I struggled just to walk to the shop without being pushed over. Thankfully, the wind did ease for the morning of the race but conditions were still not ideal with a noticeable wind for half of the 2km loop and showers of bitter rain.
The race started well, at a good pace, and I manoeuvred myself into a good group to work together and find some shelter from the wind. At 5km my time was around 24:30, nicely on track to get under 100 minutes.
After that, however, things slowly fell apart and I drifted back from the group, meaning I was alone against the full force of the wind. At 10km, I was just over 50 minutes and I just tried to hang on to finish and do the best I could. I continued to push myself to my capacity but this was not enough to catch the group again.
Despite this, it was only at 18km that my PB actually appeared to be in jeopardy. I tried to push on and expend my remaining effort but it seemed to make little difference. At this point, I was overtaken by a young Japanese athlete who waved his arm at me to go with him but all I could manage was to encourage him back with a “well done”. He got away and I struggled to the finish, relieved to see 1:43:37 – a PB…
By 22 seconds.
22 seconds in 5 years is not what I had wanted. If I had stuck to my training and the conditions had been kinder, I would have been aiming for a time ten minutes faster. Of course there are always positives to take, though. It would have been easy to have slowed down more and plod to the end, and easier still to have dropped out. Those 22 seconds were hard fought and, in truth, I’m proud of them. I certainly hope to improve my PB again very soon but I will remember those 22 seconds and how important it is to struggle and fight for every little thing you can get. Otherwise, you’ll get nothing.
The other thing I’ve learnt is that rest means rest and I will take it easy over Christmas, for a nice change, before hunting for some more worthy performances next year.