Bernard Suits, a sports philosopher, once gave a definition for sport as being the voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles, which more or less describes what we have been entertaining ourselves with throughout the year. We have collectively fully embraced the predictive time and relay challenges that have been thrown at us and attacked them with gusto although no one was pressing us, and for the most part they have involved us running solo. The results have been fun to watch and have kept us in super condition for when racing ultimately returns.
From time to time we have been able to simulate an actual race and this was the case last Tuesday, when Mike and Susan organised 6 independent mile contests of differing standards from under 5 mins to 9 minutes per mile (and just for good measure added a 3k time trial for another group on top), on Irishtown track. The conditions were super. It was a bit chilly, but little wind.
But we should start with why the evening was organised in the first place. The week before, Susan required us each to predict how fast we would run a mile, and then run it, individually. That was a fairly typical challenge that we had seen before and the winner would have had the closest result to his or her prediction (running without looking at a watch). 43 athletes accepted that challenge and there were several winners, each only 1 second off their predicted times. Aine Kenny predicted 6:23 and ran 6:24, whilst Gian Piero Allerta ran 6:13, having predicted 6:14 and James Moran predicted 6:15, finishing in 6:16. Fiona Shine should get an honourable mention for being only 2 seconds out with her run of 5:58 versus a prediction of 6:00. Two others were on 3 seconds, Dee Ni Chearbhaill (6:47 finish versus 6:50 projection) and Esther Requena Ferri (6:02 versus 6:05 predicted). Just for the sake of information, the fastest female runners were Mary Horgan who was recorded as running 5:03 (but she admits there may have been a problem with the distance and she probably ran 5:20, still the fastest in the competition, for someone who became a mother only 6 months ago), followed by Orla Drumm (another recent mum) who ran 5:37 and Fiona Shine whose 5:58 earned her 3rd fastest. Among the men, the quickest was Ronan Moynihan who ran 5:22, followed by Dee Lawlor (5:24) and Cormac McGuire, who ran 5:37. Cormac claims he was helped by gravity on a favourable course, but his 5:48 on the track on Tuesday showed that he’s just as capable of running an excellent time without such aid!
So, Susan took those results and seeded everyone into teams of 4 for this last challenge (possibly the last of the year…but who knows?). The twist this time was for the combined relay teams, of which eventually there were 14 (so 56 runners in total) to predict their combined times, running with full awareness of pace, and also with the possibility of running in a racing environment last Tuesday. Results had to be in by Saturday.
The predictions were fascinating and, as it turned out, mostly reflected a consistent lack of confidence or difficulty in determining how much faster one can usually run with other athletes pushing and pulling around you. Among the 14 teams, the fastest predicted combined time of 24:10 came from team 1 (of Mary Horgan, Sam Carvill, James Moran and Niamh Corby), an understandably fast expectation. Team 14 were only 2 seconds behind in predicting a combined finish of 24:12 (with Ollie McGrath, young athlete Sarah McGettigan, Tanja Narancic and Sharon Woods). There was only a delta of 4:32 between the fastest and slowest predicted times, with team 12 (Fiona Shine, Conor Parle, Lisa Shine and Mairead Cashman) predicting 28:42 (and, in fact, they totally underestimated their capability and didn’t end up as the slowest team once the contest got underway).
On Tuesday then, many of the relay runners took to the Irishtown track to participate in the graded races. The maximum number on the track was 14, with the smallest field being 8, but averaging around 11, with the total number being 66 club members (along with another 8 in the 3k, won by Michael Kiely in 9:19). There were some super races and many of the athletes ran much faster than they had expected, most likely because of the competition combined with the benign conditions on the track. It was reported that several runners went out a little too hard, but everyone got round the 4 laps! One or two had really strong finishes, Sam Carvill in particular who was 30m behind the runner in front with a lap to go. Several may have achieved PBs on the night too. The fastest run came from young Crusader, Finn Boyle, who produced a 4:46 result and dominating his event. He was followed by Adam Flanagan, running 4:58 and Ronan Moynihan, 5:13. Mary Horgan showed that her predictive result was no fluke by finishing in 5:19 with another young Crusader, under 16 runner Sarah McGettigan in her first mile race, crossing the line in an excellent 5:26. On the night, the 3rd fastest female runner was Sarah Lyons who ran 5:42, showing considerable form in the penultimate mile race. Incidentally, Orla Drumm ran later in the week on her own, completing the distance in 5:21. On the night, Mairin Shine, coming off recent injury, worked hard to make her goal of breaking 8 minutes, missing out by only 3 seconds.
We had to wait until Saturday evening to work out which team had actually won the challenge, and as pointed out above, it wasn’t a case of being the fastest, but by being the most accurate!
In the final analysis, the difference in the predicted times of 4:32 was almost matched by the actual results. At the end, only 4:54 separated 1st from 14th, a tribute to the overall selection, and the fastest team was team 1, as expected, running 78 seconds faster than anticipated, in 22:52. The 14th placed team still ran just under a minute faster than the slowest predicted time. The average delta between the predicted and actual results was 40s, with 10 of the 14 teams running faster than predicted (on average by 28 seconds), and only 4 running slower (on average by 44 seconds).
It wasn’t until Saturday evening that the winner and runner up completed their challenge and the long-time leaders in the clubhouse, team 13 (20 seconds margin) and team 10 (23 seconds margin), were displaced. In 4th place came team 10 (Seamus Moore, Ciara Lynch, Margaret Foley and Hayley Glynn who ran 26:37 versus 27:00); In bronze medal position came team 13 of Finn Boyle, Tim Purdue, Darina Scully and Joanne McGlanaghy who were 20 seconds off in running 26:18 versus their prediction of 26:38; Runner-up place went to team 2 of Ronan Moynihan, Esther Requena Ferri, Barry O’Neill and Emily Glen. They ran 15 seconds slower than their predicted time of 24:12, finishing in 24:27. And the winner was team 4. The team of Eugene McDonough, Diarmuid Byrne, Aine Kenny and Evelyn Neary predicted a combined time of 25:58 and actually ran 25:47, a gap of only 11 seconds and producing in fact the 8th fastest combined score overall.
Congratulations to the winning team this week and to all who took part in this challenge and those that have been conducted throughout this extraordinary year. Hopefully, we’ve still got it in us to be competitive once everything reopens for us. If we don’t, it won’t be for lack of competitive training! Thanks to everyone who’s made this year a sporty one!
Your correspondent wishes you a merry Christmas and a happy and, above all, safe, New Year.