One of the most impressive responses to the situation in which we find ourselves has been the way Crusaders have rallied to face the weekly challenges that have been set by coaches Susan Walsh and Brendan Glynn. We are now in our second lockdown with less than 10 days to go before any adjustment and we keep our fingers crossed that we may see at least a limited return to group training from 2 December and, who knows, a return to Irishtown Stadium. Time will tell and maybe we shouldn’t be overly confident. The one thing that is clear is that it will be some time before any proper racing is likely to take place and we already know that the Liffey Valley-organised Tom Brennan 5k on New Year’s Day, together with the Raheny 5 miler at the end of January, both of them iconic events which herald the start of road racing for any year, have announced that they will be virtual in 2021.
In the meantime, we have our weekly challenges, which are an incredibly welcome distraction for the more than 80 runners who regularly take part in them. Indeed, the WhatsApp group, where everyone can sign up for each challenge, has 140 followers, well over a third of the club’s membership. Moreover, it’s also been great to see newcomers to the club participating together with long-standing members.
Without any proper racing taking place, be it cross country or road, there is no time like the present for making the most of what we have in order to experiment with technique and focusing on strength & conditioning, generally staying as healthy as possible. Several of us subscribe to online Pilates and yoga as well as undertaking some conditioning exercises which generally do not require any equipment, other than body weight. Together with the Tuesday sessions that we are given by Susan and these other aids, the challenges help to provide a benchmark as to where we are fitness-wise and it is gratifying to see that even though many of us are having to run solo with no competitors around us to push and pull, we are still able to post fast times, some of us even achieving PBs. The challenges are also so helpful in keeping us really motivated at a time when we might otherwise feel down.
What has also been great fun to see is the ingenuity of many of the runners to seek out fast routes, avoiding crossing traffic as much as possible and taking into account weather conditions. Several have taken full advantage of the helpful topography of south county Dublin whenever the wind has been blowing in the right direction. Those living within 5k of the Phoenix Park have also found some fun routes. Additionally, it’s been great to see how many athletes, not only Crusaders, have returned to run on what remains of UCD’s historic track in Belfield. Only 200m of it remains as a recognisable track (from half way down the back straight to half way along the finishing straight), but even with an asphalt-covered carpark taking up the remaining space it is just about possible to discern the outline of what had been there before. There are small potholes in places and that part of the track that remains can feel a bit slippery when wet as it has been worn down by so many years of use (or neglect!), but it is a real delight to be able to access it. Using Belfield for the challenges is a decent alternative to some of the fast downhill routes that are otherwise available to us in the area, but which put a lot of strain on the quads!
So, onto the challenges (we’re now into our second season!) which we have been following since the end of October and the previous challenge, both solo and relay, of the virtual Dublin marathon. We started out with an individual 3k time trial to determine team composition for the next challenge. There were some truly impressive times produced by that, allowing Brendan and Susan to put together 21 teams of 4. Each team had to decide which of its runners would attempt 3k, it needed two, and which would instead run the mile, the remaining two.
The competition was frenetic and over the 9.2k cumulative distance the teams were separated by only about 6 minutes. Indeed, the first 11 teams came in only 3 minutes apart and several overall were separated by 5 seconds or less. The challenge involved not only getting the right balance in its composition but also having each team figuring out the best plan of attack. It was a tribute to the organisers that the competition was so close. The winning team in this first challenge, in a combined time of 34:44, was a Spanish-Irish combination of Cristian Vilchez Ceballos, his partner Esther Requena Ferri, Paula Bradshaw and Alma Hanevy. Congratulations to them. The second placed team, which finished in 35:51, included Warren Swords, Kevin Kavanagh, ladies captain Rebecca Fleming and Evelyn Neary, and they were followed in third place, just 17 seconds back in 36:08, by a team comprising Eileen Glynn, Damien Keaney, Conor McGuinness and Rory Goldsmith.
The first 3 male athletes on the 3k leg were Warren Swords (9:43), Eoin Fitzpatrick (9:54) and Eugene McDonough (10:30), with the fastest females being Catherine Thornton (10:50), Orla Drumm (10:56) and Alma Hanevy (11:26). The fastest miles for the challenge were recorded for the men by Maurice Kelter (5:18), Luke Davis (5:19) and by Conor McGuinness (5:35), whilst, for the women, the fastest three times were recorded by Mary Horgan (5:49), Fiona Shine (6:12), just ahead of Esther Requena Ferri (6:14). Well done all!
The next challenge was a blind 5k time trial, where we all had to predict our times and then see how we actually did without consulting our watches until we had completed the distance. For some of us it meant planning a route and then having our watches beep at the end. Several ran further than the prescribed distance, but it is always possible to extrapolate the actual time for 5k afterwards. Again, some of us ended up with personal or seasonal bests. In any event, there were a number of extremely close predictions, several within 10 seconds of their targets, but the winner by far (who predicted the slightly odd time of 24:38 and ran 24:37!) was Alan Kavanagh. Talk about knowing your body! Weather conditions on the Saturday were also really helpful to fast times as there was practically no wind on that day.
The blind time trial enabled Susan and Brendan to fine tune team composition further. It is clearly a fine art, if not a science!
The latest completed challenge took place a week later and finished this weekend. It involved 21 teams of 4 again, and again the distances were mixed. One runner had to complete 5k, 2 runners were required to run 3k, with the 4th running the distance of a mile. Again, we each had to determine who ran which distance, a challenge in itself!
The fastest team of the challenge, which finished in 47:58, comprised runners who had appeared separately on the podium previously, although not on the winning team. Conor McGuinness and Kevin Kavanagh were joined by Margaret Foley and Darran Lovely. Eileen Glynn, Diarmuid Byrne, Cormac McGuire were the next team, coming home in a combined time of 49:45, with the third placed team of Michael Fitzsimons, Ciara Lynch, Gian Piero Allerta and Aoife Cowhie, a further 28 seconds back in third place.
It is great to see so many different names generally on the podium, a testament to the team selection!
So, the fast male runners of the 5k leg were Adam Flanagan (16:50), Eugene McDonough (17:45) and Cristian Vilchez Ceballos (18:00). The fastest women were Orla Drumm (18:07), Catherine Thornton (18:46) and Alma Hanevy (19:43). The fastest male runners of the 3k leg were Dee Lawlor (10:26), Conor McGuinness (10:32) and Diarmuid Byrne (11:35), 1 second ahead of Kevin Kavanagh. The best times recorded by our female runners were by Mary Horgan (11:10), Niamh Corby (12:03) and Aine Kenny (12:08). Finally, the fastest mile times for the women were recorded by Fiona Shine (6:26), Rebecca Fleming (6:30) and Margaret Foley (6:55). For the men, Eoin Fitzpatrick ran 5:12, followed by Paul Dempsey (5:23) and Barry O’Neill (6:42).
Again, we saw some personal bests, one notably being recorded by Tanja Narancic who broke 13 minutes for the first time, running her 3k in Kilbogget Park in a time of 12:56 behind Fiona Shine who also ran her mile so well. Many congratulations to everyone who took part all around the country and to those finishing on the virtual podium.
The challenge was typically an enormous success. Only 11:30 in total separated the 21 teams, with the first 17 only 5 minutes apart over a distance of 12.6k.
Our next challenge is a predicted 8k time trial. Bring it on!