Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dublin Athletics Board League - Match 1

London Marathon, Hamburg Marathon, National 10k just down the road. Yawn. Santry was where the real action was today with Round 1 of the Dublin Athletics Board League for the youngsters of the region. And mobbed the place was too with large fields in most of the events for the younger age groups in particular. Never mind the standard of competition (and the open nature of the event allows all to compete, long may it continue) it was a great afternoon's sport.

Crusaders were fairly well represented, though with only one boy! And young Philip Murphy was a credit to the club in his first ever outing - well done Philip. There were some good results for the otherwise all-girls team. Most notable were - Isobel O'Leary 2nd and Clodagh Ferry 3rd in their sprints, Emily Shiels 4th and Niamh Ferry 5th in long jump, Sarah Maher 4th in her 500m. And we had other sprint finalists such as Orla Murray and first-timer Eithne Branagan, with the other girls all giving it a great shot. (Grainne McGuill allegedly cleared 1.30 HJ in the deserted indoor practice area - funny how your best jumps always come when no one is watching!)

And a word for the excellent Dublin officials led by Sheila Brennan. There are a number of those officials who seem to be involved on a non-stop basis, even appearing at the events in Nenagh and Magherafelt. Today things ran as smoothly as could ever be expected with armies of youngsters and their coaches and parents roaming around, anxious not to miss their next event. I was eventually collared to lead the ball throw event for the younger boys. In this instance the projectile was a sliotar such as is whacked around with hurleys in this country, whereas in Jersey and England it would be a cricket ball, or rounders ball for the girls. And let me tell you that keeping 25 under-11 boys under control is not my forte, but we got through the competition without too much trauma.

Due to pure idleness I missed my long run today. The only good thing about this is that I have no racing commitment until 1 June. On that day I am captaining a relay team in the Cork Marathon. There are five of us and none of us know each other from a bar of soap having signed up for the relay via a popular athletics internet forum that we all contribute to. So that's something to look forward to and it means that I am setting my alarm clock for 6.30am tomorrow with a view to reviving my running form a little.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Post-Easter progress

It’s been a funny old week. After a few days downtime not feeling so good I took to the track last Sunday. Weaving in and out of the DSD crowd who commandeer the home straight on Sundays I got in a good 40 minutes or so of intervals. The last one of 90 seconds was a big effort. After just failing to make the full 400m (watch out Jeremy Wariner) within that time I lay gasping desperately like a fish for several minutes propped up against the brand new and expensive metal pole vault pit cover.

My subsequent morning runs however tell me that I’m still not 100%. Of course the mornings are now totally bright and often sunny in stark contrast to those bleak-ish winter ventures. Development continues, albeit now very slowly, in the Docklands. Always there’s a little progress here or there to interest one. Just off Hanover Quay we have a fairly typical situation now where a large hotel has just been completed but this will now presumably be mothballed until more propitious times come along. All over Ireland are thousands of unsold complete or half-complete developments. They reckon it will take a couple of years to burn off this surplus even once the market loosens up again. Construction is not the game to be in right now.

Between Macken Street and Spencer Dock work is progressing at either end of what will be the new Samuel Beckett road bridge. From what I know of bridge-building, once the support structures are in place on either side of the river the bridge itself will be thrown across in five minutes. It’ll be great for cross-town traffic but will make life less pleasant for the runner.

Surprisingly small attendances down at Irishtown since Easter. In Jersey we were used to a big influx with the new school term. (I remember one particularly spectacular evening when nearly 50 young ladies turned up for my junior girls’ session and we had to decamp to the nearby cricket field for some space).

It’s the first of the Dublin Athletics Board junior league fixtures at Santry on Sunday so we’ll see how that goes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Moseley Abu

Not my game, rugby. Educated at a soccer-playing school you only got to play rugby if you couldn't get on any of the footy teams. Therefore I don't quite recall how I got to take part in my one and only match. I must have been in the backs as I don't remember scrumming down. My hazy recollections amount to discovering the ball in my hands once or twice and immediately hurling it a long way away, in whatever direction I didn't care, so as to divert the attentions of the big boys on the opposing team.

But here in Ireland they are mad for it, like they are for their soccer and GAA (not athletics regrettably). The enthusiasm has not been dampened by the recent Grand Slam where Ireland showed they had the biggest balls.

In Galway town, early in the afternoon of the epic decider against Wales, I saw a bar advertising the game on TV - along with 100% of bars in the two countries of course. But this one offered 'A free pint if Brian O'Driscoll scores a try'. I wasn't there when Drico dotted down late in the first half but ever since I've been wondering how many punters were in the bar, and whether or not the gaffer waited for TMO confirmation before paying out!

And now Leinster play Munster in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup at Croke Park in a fortnight's time. The scramble for tickets is astonishing given the 82,000 capacity. No one is in any doubt that Munster fans will get their hands on many of the Leinster allocation - they are past masters at this after years of success around Europe. But it is the enthusiasm and optimism of the Leinster fans that amazes me. Unless something extraordinary happens the Red Machine will yet again throttle the life out of the aristocrats of Leinster as easily as you would your granny, having ascertained her Will was in order.

But much more personal to me is a little match coming up at Headquarters (Twickenham) tomorrow. Back in 1979 I was at Twickers to see Moseley, then a major club from Birmingham's suburbs, narrowly lose the John Player Cup Final to Leicester. This was long before the game became professional. When it did Moseley handled it badly and fell headlong down through the new English leagues. Only in recent years have they clambered back somewhat. Today they hold their own in Div 1, the second tier of English rugby. A couple of weeks back they unexpectedly beat the no.2 team in the division, Exeter, in the semi-final of the EDF Energy Trophy. Tomorrow it will be like old times as 80 coaches leave Birmingham to see Moseley take on Leeds Carnegie, the runaway division leaders and overwhelming favourites, in the final. Whatever the outcome it will be a day that few of those 1970's fans will ever have expected to experience again.

Edit (Saturday) Moseley 23 - 18 Leeds Carnegie!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No voy a Wexford

When Radcliffe or Gebrselassie announce their withdrawal from a race the promoters must surely hurl themselves around the walls cursing and swearing and tearing their hair out - before gathering themselves and declaring to the world that 'they fully understand the situation and sympathise with Paula/Heille and look forward to welcoming them in a year's time.'

Tonight I feel the organisers' pain as I announce my non-participation in Wexford and Armagh this weekend, both of which I have entered. Simply put, for whatever reason, I have felt low and worn-out this week and I've done no running since Monday. It would be crazy for me to roll up at the Wexford Half not certain of what shape I'm in.

However I'm really not that fussed (although Wexford represented a sizeable investment - their entry fee has taken some criticism and I hope the race does it justice) as neither race was a particular key target for me. I'll just re-focus once I regain my form.

Down at Irishtown it was a damp evening tonight. But the virtual total absence of our young athletes was bemusing. I hope they're not turning into fair-weather performers, in which case the future is not good for them.

But if we had a result tonight it was probably concluding that both Sarah (16) and Brian (14) probably don't have a javelin career ahead of them. Oh, and that Sarah's Spanish needs a bit more work.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going to the dogs

So how's my running going? Well.....I just don't understand those runners who habitually work long hours, have a commute, have family commitments etc and yet who manage to get in high mileage. They are truly dedicated to their sport and they have my admiration.

Over the last week or so I've been working rather longer hours than usual - earlier starts, later finishes, but nothing that you'd call extraordinary. But I've found that my running has just stopped as a consequence. (Not to mention my club night coaching about which I feel very guilty).

Anyhow, with the Wexford Half coming up next Sunday I needed a kick start. With Irishtown Stadium being closed (Easter Saturday, don't ask) I ventured in to adjacent Ringsend Park. Although I had misgivings about this due to the large dog population it turned out fine. I thought an intervals session was in order to get my legs moving so I borrowed this one from my brother - 4.30min, 4.00, 3.30, 3.00, 2.30 with 2min recoveries then 3 x 90secs with 90secs recoveries. I believe it's the first time I've done an interval session by time. It's quite fun as there's no pressure as to speed, but nonetheless you want to make it worthwhile. So with the mile jog to and from home I considered that a useful morning.

However my body does not recover well from speed sessions and yesterday was a pretty gruelling 8-mile run/walk. However it was the first time I'd tried the Grand Canal paths along the southside, as opposed to the more familiar Royal Canal. And interesting it was too, through the business districts out into the 'burbs - Baggot Street, Leeson Street, Charlemont, Portobello, Harold's Cross, Dolphin's Barn and finally turning around at Suir Road. Dublin with its best face on in the sunshine with even the alkies on their benches putting on cheery faces. A pity I wasn't in rather better shape to appreciate it all.

And this morning was even more hopeless as I recorded five of the junkiest miles I can remember. All that can be said in favour of junk miles is that they are better than no miles.

So now I plan to do maybe a couple of short tempo runs in midweek but otherwise live cleanly and properly until Sunday. Must go shopping and stock up on carbs, also fruit, veg, nuts etc. I've been very lazy about food recently. I know what I ought to be doing and I just need to start doing it a bit better.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ronnie Delany - Legend

Back in the day, English bobbies, notebooks poised, would invite speeding drivers to wind down their windows with the phrase 'What's your name then Sir, Stirling Moss?' In much the same era the Irish, if fed up of being urged to fetch this, fetch that, hurry up would often complain 'Give me a chance, who do you think I am, Ronnie Delany?'

The man became a legend overnight in his native country by winning the 1500m gold medal in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. He remains a legend to this day, still chipper and smart, living and working in his home city of Dublin.

Ronnie was born in Arklow, Co Wicklow, in 1935 but the family moved to Dublin a few years later during the War years. They lived at St John's Road, Sandymount - many times I've run past there up and down Sandymount Strand. The young Delany was no running prodigy in his early years but nonetheless was a sporty lad and there were (and are) no lack of sporting facilities in that part of the city. His indiscriminate enjoyment of all sports he credits with building the athleticism that was to stand him in good stead later.

He attended O'Connell's CBS primary school on the northside, and recalls how he used to run from Amiens Street (now Connolly) Station up Buckingham Street to the school in the shadows of Croke Park. His first running success was indeed within the famous stadium, leading off his school relay team to victory.

But it was only when he was 17 that Ronnie discovered athletics, joining his successful older brother Joe at Crusaders AC, who in those days trained at Sandymount. With encouragement he gained early success as a half-miler at College and Youth competitions. But it was only when, in the summer of 1953, he became the first Irish schoolboy to break 2 minutes for the 880 yards that he realised he had real talent, and he started to take running seriously. So seriously that he threw up a coveted cadetship with the Irish Army as it would have interfered with his growing ambitions to become a successful athlete.

After more success in 1954 including breaking the senior national record Delany was offered a scholarship at Villanova University, Pennsylvania. It was here that he came under the wing of coach 'Jumbo' Elliot. Delany became a miler and for the next five years had unprecedented success 'on the boards' on the US circuit with a dominant Villanova team. He was selected to run for Ireland in the 1956 Olympics and joined up with the rest of the team when they touched down in New York.

The race that defined Delany is captured on the videotape that was only seen in his native country several days afterwards. In a high-tempo 1500m final no more than 20 metres covered the field as they came to the 200m mark with Delany near the back. But with an incredible turn of speed he comes on the outside and takes the lead as they come into the home straight, and holds on to win with arms outstretched (he'd practised that) in a new Olympic record.

He continued to race extensively in the US, and also in Ireland and Europe during the summer months. This constant racing took its toll and, increasingly troubled by injury, Ronnie retired in 1962 at the age of 27. Along with the revered athletics promotor Billy Morton, Delany was a catalyst in the building of the new national athletics stadium at Santry.

Since those heady days Ronnie has had a successful business career and has led a fulfilled family life. He acknowledges the fact that being an Olympic champion is a privilege, and gives readily of his time. He is truly a legend and one deserving of the label.

Edit - as an interesting postscript you may like to visit and scroll to the end for a unique story and photo connected to Ronnie's Olympic victory.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Magherafelt Mornings

So into JJ's car (with daughter Ciara crashed out in the back somewhere) at just past 6am with the only other vehicles in sight being local cabs with their 'for hire' signs forlornly shining. And after an incident-free and fast run up through former bandit country we are the very first arrivals at the Meadowbank Stadium in Magherafelt, County Londonderry.

Once the staff arrive and open up we have our first look inside. And what a fantastic place they have there. Newly built it is just huge inside, big enough to house a full-sized soccer pitch. Generally it will accommodate all manner of sports but today it is the last day, the relays day, of the All-Ireland Indoor Track & Field Championships.

A 5-lane, 300 metre flat track surrounds a huge infield where high jump beds, shot circles etc are lost in the vastness. There are spectator facilities on three levels and full catering facilities, though they are stretched today. As one would expect the changing and shower facilities are excellent.

What is more, there is a full-sized outdoor tartan track as well which doubles today as a warm-up facility. The only thing lacking outside at present is spectator facilities, for which there is room if the money and desire is.

How on earth could the Republic not have had the imagination to provide one of these, or anything like it? Truly we reap what we sow.

But we are so early that I avail myself of the changing facilities and trot off around the local lanes for 70 minutes - 7 miles I suppose though I am Garmin-less. A few miles over to the east I catch a glimpse of the great expanse of water that is Lough Neagh. As everyone knows, this was formed when Finn McCool lost his cool and hurled a huge clod of land at a Scottish giant. It landed in the Irish Sea where it became the Isle of Man.

Back at the stadium the Crusaders U13 girls have checked in - their heats are first up. But almost disaster time! By not realising the call room procedure we are almost eliminated before getting onto the track! I don't know how I'd have faced Moira (who has not travelled). But our familiar and kindly official from Dublin who's in charge of the call room allows our girls to scamper over to join the other teams.

The girls (Ciara, Rachel, Grainne, Orla) run and hand off nicely but to no avail - we finish 4th in a fast heat clocking 58.18 and, although there were one or two DQs flying around it is the end of the road, but not before having finished 7th fastest in Ireland.

Some time later it is the turn of the slightly younger U12 girls Niamh, Olibhia, Isabel and Emily - not forgetting faithful reserve Juliet. Once again we are unlucky to catch a fast heat and despite a creditable 61.14 we are 9th fastest.

But the girls are pleased with themselves and we are proud of them. In years to come when Crusaders are a real force in athletics once again it is this year's young athletes that will have shown the way.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Discus time

An OK week running-wise. My 10-miler on Monday has been followed by three morning 4-milers. Tomorrow I hope to get at least a few miles in during a road trip to Northern Ireland.

Two weeks to the Wexford Half Marathon. In truth I've not been doing much different in preparation for this. I suppose I'm becoming to regard a Half as just another Sunday long run, albeit at a rather greater intensity. I've not as yet got a focal point for this year's training. I doubt if I'll crank my training up for a marathon. I promised that I'd never do another one. And, although you can never really say never I'm quite happy to pick and choose some nice shorter races around the island of Ireland.

It's been a nice week at Irishtown stadium as some better weather kicks in. With the indoor season out of the way we can grab discus and javelin. These are totally new events to most of our young athletes and the young ladies in particular have taken to the discus with enthusiasm. As a coach I get huge satisfaction in seeing the progression of the young ones - from the point where they have no idea how to hold or release the implement to seeing them perform competent throws which will give them a head start in their schools' competitions. Hopefully one or two will press on to specialise in throws.

Tomorrow it's up at cock crow to hit the road for Magherafelt in Derry, which is going to be a drive of at least three hours there and back. Our U12 and U13 girls have qualified for the All-Ireland Indoor Relay Championships. So, although either team will do very well to get out of their heat we travel with high spirits to fly the Crusader colours in the far north.