Ruairi O Hagan: Plenty of miles but even more smiles

Ruairi O’Hagan, Watergrasshill AC runner, Runners Diary Podcast Cork City Marathon Leader, envier of Martin’s writing prowess and renowned sore nipples owner tries to steal Martin’s glory by writing a blog of his own….

Roar’s Race Reports – The Great Railway Run, April 16th 2023

Ruairi at the start of the race, channelling his inner Fonzie. Pic Graham Miekle
I’ve been reading Martin’s blogs with great enjoyment over the past number of weeks, and recently thought to myself – there’s surely room for another blog from another small, bearded, handsome man? What would I write about though? I tried to write about my training, but it ended up just being “I ate a load of pasta and ran a load of miles and now my legs are ouchy”. I then thought I’d write a race report, and seeing as Cork-Carrigaline was on the horizon I kept my powder dry for one of the longest races on the Cork calendar, and decided to scribble down a few words about that. So, here we are.
I haven’t raced much this year, as my Saturday long runs have become the main focus of my week, and as I work on Sundays I don’t really like racing on Sundays. I made an exception for the Great Railway Run though, and was looking towards it with an even mix of anticipation and dread. It’s 25k, 15.5 miles, from Centre Park Road to the Lyons Club in the heart of Carrigaline. A good test ahead of the upcoming Cork City Marathon.
I had been struggling with some niggling injuries in the lead up to the race. My old friend Mr Shin Splints called for a visit and decided he’d stay, while not long after another old friend, Mr IT Band Rubbing Off My Knee and Causing Tremendous Feckin Pain, decided to pop by as well. They’re the type of visitors that call to your gaff empty handed, eat you out of house and home, and leave their dirty dishes lying out on the table. You want them to leave and they just stay, not reading the room, loudly asking what’s for dessert while kicking off their shoes and sprawling themselves across your favourite couch. Bastards.
My shin splints issue I assumed was down to my last pair of shoes needing to be replaced, they’d seen a lot of miles since January and needed to go. It’s not you, it’s me, I lied to them as I threw them into the back of the wardrobe, ignoring my wife telling me they should go in the bin if they’re dead. The hoarder that I am though, I looked at my runners and said “I can’t quit you” and left them in the wardrobe, just in case I need a pair of exhausted, dead runners at some stage in the near future. I mean, I might, like?
A call to Damian at The Edge saw me emerge with a couple of new pairs, the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3s which The Runners Diary had secured for all the marathon leaders, and the new Asics Gel Cumulus. The Sauconys would be for my long runs and speed sessions, while the Asics would be for the day to day easier runs.
I’d broken in the Sauconys on a long run last week and I thought they were fab, grand and light with plenty of support and plenty of response. A lovely shoe. The Asics are an absolute delight too.
A trip to my physio Mark O’Sullivan the Friday before the race was hugely beneficial as well, as he put everything back where it should be and worked a lot on my IT band. As I have a staggeringly low pain threshold I called Mark every name under the sun for 45 minutes while he worked on my tired old legs, but he’s well used to that by now.
I have to admit though I was nervous heading into Sunday’s race. While I had covered the distance and more in long runs over the past few weeks, I hadn’t logged too many miles in the week building up to the race, as I opted for the exercise bike instead of the roads to try and rest up my shins. While I felt ok on Sunday morning, I was worried that the pain would flare up on the way to Carrigaline and I would have to slow down significantly, or walk. Or break down and have to call it a day. Hopefully outside an open pub. Not being able to finish though was a nagging thought in the back of my head all week.
My coach Steve Rooney (The Legend, to give him his actual title) text to say to rest up on Saturday instead of going out for a few miles ahead of the race. I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to do the plan he had set for me this week, a 10k waddle around Watergrasshill on the Tuesday being the extent of my running for the previous seven days. Sticking to the exercise bike was frustrating, even though I was able to catch up on Star Trek Picard on the nights I was on the rothar, the numbness in my arse from the bike matching the numbness in my heart as I saw my friends rack up the miles on Strava. I suppose I had to listen to my body, instead of the voice inside my head that was saying “get out and run, you lazy git”, and by the time Sunday came I was glad I did.
I always enjoy the buzz of a start line, the nervous anticipation lingering in the air, the smell of Deep Heat wafting around the place, Vaseline being applied liberally, a quick nervous gawk… but enough about my pre race routine. There’s a terrific atmosphere at the start line and after a few chats with friends from other clubs I’m off for a warm up with Jo-Anne and Laura, fellow Watergrasshillians. My shins are sore, but seem to loosen up as the warm up goes on, so I’m a bit more confident as 9.30am creeps into view.
Ruairi with Watergrasshill AC teammates Laura Murphy and Jo-Anne Cosgrove. Pic Graham Meikle
Martin and I have a quick chat about our new Sauconys (they get the seal of approval from both of the Runners Diary’s small, bearded, handsome marathon leaders). I tell Martin I’m a big fan of his blogs, but he refuses my request for an autograph, asking me instead to contact his agent. A quick team photo with the Hill crew, some last words from Coach Rooney, a quick shuffle up to the start line and the wait for the start of the race…
My plan for this year was simple – just go faster than last year. In 2022 while training for the Cork CIty Half Marathon I had covered the 25k in 2.38-ish. I didn’t really have an exact target in my head for Sunday’s race, given my lack of running in the lead up and the niggling injuries. So if I was a little faster than that, I’d be happy. Hell, if I finished I’d be happy.
The race starts, and we’re off. Everyone seems to be in good spirits as we head off on our trek down the Centre Park road, to take in Blackrock Castle, Harty’s Quay, Passage, Monkstown and Rafeen on our way into the lovely town of Carrigaline. As I had run this race last year I knew what to expect – grand and flat for 11 miles, hilly (very feckin hilly) after that. I’d better keep something in reserve for those hills, I thought.
The Watergrasshill AC crew at the start line. Pic Stephen Rooney (The Legend)
After a steady start I catch up with some of my Hill team mates, Noreen, Cathy and Denis. We’re all chatting away, happy out at this early stage. Noreen and I quickly fall into a rhythm, and comfortable at that pace, I sneakily decide Noreen will act as my pacer, unbeknownst to her. Noreen is a terrific runner so I knew I would be in good hands.
The miles tick down and the race is… mostly uneventful. My pace is good, I’m feeling good, the water stations are perfectly spaced out, my gels seem to be doing the trick. I’m… enjoying this? Noreen is great company and we’re chatting away as we make our way down towards Rafeen, and that enormous, monstrous hill I know is looming.
We get to the turn at Rafeen, and Noreen, a renowned trail runner, gives me some words of advice, and we tackle the hill. The hill, in my head, was steeper than Patrick’s Hill, and longer. I’ll need oxygen and a series of ropes and pulleys to navigate this, I thought. A quick trot past some cottages and the hill looms into view…. and it’s nowhere nearly as bad as I had it worried myself about in my head. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s steep and it comes after 17k of pretty much flat running, but it’s not bad. I mean, you get used to hills when you train around Watergrasshill. The clue is in the name. It’s not called Watergrassflat, like.
Noreen O’Keefe dragging Ruairi to the finish line. Pic Olwyn Post
Pat Walsh and his Pat Walsh Running crew are with us at the hill and I dig in to climb it, determined not to lose them. Pat has them running like a well oiled machine, their feet lightly grazing off the floor as they stride effortlessly towards the summit. I get to the top, wheezing, cursing, dragging my feet, ready to call it quits, but ultimately happy out with the effort. There’s another downhill section and another climb, but I’ve broken t
he back of it now. A quick glance at my watch, I didn’t lose too much time on the hill, some quick mental arithmetic… If I can maintain this pace I’ll finish around 2.20-ish….
The run into Carrigaline is fairly lumpy, with some nasty, sharp, uphill drags. There’s one right before the finish line which seems particularly cruel. Like that one at the end of the Dungarvan 10. You’re looking forward to the finish line, then BAM. A hill just for bants. You get to the top of that one though, you can see the finish line, you can see all the finishers milling around, and you can see the clock. A last burst for the line and I check my watch. 2.18.21 – a whopping 20 minutes off my 2022 time, averaging 5.30/km or 8.51/mile with a negative split. Absolutely delighted! Strava would later tell me I also ran my fastest half marathon, which I was very happy with indeed.
Noreen and Ruairi cross the finish line. Pic Stephen Rooney (The Legend)
I thank Noreen for all her help in dragging me around with her. Pat Walsh grabs us for a photo – we’d had some craic on the route. Pat later captions the photo on Facebook with “as Noreen is so nice we won’t charge them for all the pacemaking we did for them!” I’m pretty sure it was mostly the other way around! That’s what I love about the running community in Cork – just the bitta craic before and after and on the route, the camaraderie with runners from other clubs. No BS, just people out for a run and everyone helping each other along.
Pat Walsh tries to invoice Ruairi and Noreen for pacemaking. Pic Pat Walsh Running
I meet Martin at the finish line who finished about two hours before I did, and looks incredibly fresh, like the extent of his physical effort was taking the bins out from the back garden to the footpath. Fellow marathon leader Joanne finishes shortly after I do and we get a quick photo. We’re all tired but happy. I’m enjoying the finish line buzz, before I get the “come on, a cooldown shuffle, two miles and we’re done” shout from my team mate Jo-Anne. We get two miles done at pretty much a walking pace but with a running motion, but we’ve logged 19 miles each that Sunday. A good day’s work.
Martin, Joanne and Ruairi at the finish line. Pic: the person Martin handed his phone to at the finish line
My wife and kids are at the finish line at this point. They’ve missed me crossing the line due to my prediction of 2.30 being way off, but the kids get to go to the park and aren’t at all arsed that their dad has just run a 20 minute PB on the Cork-Carrigaline Route.
My performance in the race came at the perfect time for me, at a time when niggles were adding up, my mileage decreased and doubts about my ability to run 26.2 miles in June increased. It’s given me confidence that I will be able to do it, and perform well on the banks of my own lovely Lee on June 4th. As I write this on Tuesday I haven’t been able to go for a run yet due to the pains in my legs, but I know they’ll subside and some time on the exercise bike will do until I get back on the horse. And that will be at Ballintotis on Thursday night – one of my favourite races last year, and one of my favourite post race spreads of the year too. Easily top three. (Hagan’s blog on the best post race spreads in Cork coming soon. Maybe.)
And that’s what running is all about – the tea and cake afterwards. Shur why else would you be running?
Posted in CCM, CCM Leaders.