Monday, June 29, 2009

Ireland's Travellers

I touched in my last entry on Travellers, that social group in Ireland that are nomadic and who are generally looked upon with suspicion (at best) and actively disliked by many.

As a child I used to spend a lot of time, usually the summer holidays, in West Cork. Dad was one of a family of 12 and the cottage in which they all lived was a mile or so outside the town of Dunmanway. It was perhaps 150m or so off the main Bantry – Dunmanway road. One summer a group of gypsies or tinkers (these were the days long before political correctness caught on) set up between the family residence and the main road. To a young English boy they were more than a bit scary. In those days they had proper gypsy caravans – horse-drawn and multi-coloured with wooden steps leading the way into a mysterious interior. Dogs barked, the men shouted and quarrelled. At night fires would glow giving this strange band of people an unearthly aspect.

But if I was apprehensive that was soon put to rights by Dad. He would greet them cheerily, often by name, and would often stop and chat – maybe share a joke and a fag or accept a drink. Very quickly I realised that although these folk were quite different to us they were nonetheless friendly, especially to those that offered friendship. From that time I would no longer be fearful as I made my way to and from town.

Times have changed of course. The horse-drawn wagons have gone, replaced by camper vans or cheap caravans. No longer are these people able to pull up where they wish. They are confined to halting sites which are far and few between and with each one proposed (I believe there is a legal obligation on councils to provide such sites) there is tooth and nail opposition. Their old trades (tinsmithing etc) have died out. They are susceptible to hereditary diseases and have a low life expectancy. Whilst our Travellers embrace their nomadic existence as part of their culture and raison d’etre their life is far from easy.

But they remain, happily in my opinion, part of the Irish landscape. But what a pity we can’t take them back to those horse-drawn caravan days with their campfires on lonely country roads, scaring the bejaysus out of timid English boys.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Yesterday (Sat) there was an educational but fun afternoon at the ALSAA sports complex hard by Dublin Airport. A group of seven runners from got together under elite athlete (let's continue to call him) Tingle with me shadowing and sticking in my oar when I felt competent to do so. Amongst the group were a couple of lads who I got to know in Cork, namely Woddle and kevinkilbane. The idea was to introduce the group to some track & field practices. These included dynamic warm up, stretches, drills, speedwork, basic plyometrics etc.

It was interesting how a few of the boys, all of whom are useful distance runners, were initially all at sea with the drills in particular. Much as young athletes are when they first turn up for athletics. And in the first run-through of the speed module most arms stayed resolutely by the sides as the legs tried to accelerate without their assistance. But in all cases improvement was dramatic once the group understood what was required. All in all a very useful couple of hours.

Whilst I could just have made it to Dunshaughlin for the 10k I gave it a miss this year. And this morning (Sun) I had the option of getting an early train down to Tullamore to watch the national junior and U23 t&f championships. Instead I ignored the alarm and settled for my Sunday LSR instead. Another warm Dublin day - best make the most of them while I can. Today I reinvestigated the way through to Poolbeg and today took the turn I missed last week. Pigeon House Road snakes its way through an industria-scape of container parks, overhead gantries, warehouses etc. To the right a halting site. Ireland's Travellers (one can't call them gypsies these days) do not have the best of reputations. But from my experience any trouble attached to these folk is kept mainly in-house, just as the various stabbings and shootings in and around Dublin are generally confined to the members of rival gangs. Your average punter would be very unfortunate to be caught up in any such unpleasantness.

Anyway this interesting (in its own way) thoroughfare eventually brings one to the Shelley Banks, half way out to the Poolbeg lighthouse. Instead of heading out that way I turned inland and took a path through the Irishtown Nature Reserve - a rather grand name for a couple of acres of land left free of development. The only sign of any 'nature' was a sign warning of poison put down against the local rats. But onwards to Sandymount where the sun was suddenly replaced by a magnificent sea fret bringing the visibility down to 10 metres or so. Trotting along the beach I got a lovely feeling of isolation, accompanied only by Steve Runner via my iPod. I'd settled into a nice though slow rhythm and thought I might push this run out a bit today. So on through Blackrock Park, along the little alleyway to the DART station, behind Blackrock village and onto Seapoint where the bait of a sports drink in the little shop there awaited before the turn for home.

I couldn't resist the beach again on the way back, though by now it was becoming somewhat dog-infested. But in fairness I've found Irish dogs to be remarkably well-behaved towards runners with none of the aggression routinely displayed by their Jersey cousins and their gormless owners ('He's only playing', 'He won't bite' etc). This time I went back via Sean Moore Park. There are a couple of massive cruise ships tied up at the docks right now - the Ocean Princess being one. These look all the more magnificent looning out of the sea mist. And so upriver to home. A most relaxing 13.59 miles in 2hr 32min for 28.4 miles on the week.

And 2048 calories apparently. Best put a few of those back later. With Dublin's footballers playing at Croker, Mulligan's will be packed this evening. However I've discovered Doolan's on Grand Canal Street, a typical 'old man's pub' where they are rather startled to see a stranger but who serve you an excellent pint for €4.10.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Early riser

Ha ha! I woke up this morning and looked at my watch – 8.23! God I’ve slept through the alarm. Jump out of bed…and realise that my watch is still in stopwatch mode from last night – it’s really only 6.05. Too late, I’m awake now and it’s a chance to get out the door on what is the most gorgeous summer morning.

My standard morning run is four miles. Today as I approached Sean Moore Road I had time to spare and thought I’d extend my run a bit around Sean Moore Park. Then a woman runner ahead of me went onto Sandymount Beach. It looked so inviting I decided to follow. The upshot of all that was a 68-minute run at, I guess, 10-minute miling.

When in marathon training I used to push out one of my midweek runs like this but I’ve not done so in a while and it was good.

This Saturday evening is the Dunshaughlin 10k, a very well organised traffic-free race over to the north west of Dublin. I raced a nifty (for me) 50.30 there last year. However on the afternoon I have a coaching event on at Santry and the logistics of getting from there to Dunshaughlin without a car are not easy. We’ll see.

As for other races I think I might go for the Cork Half Marathon being held at Blarney in September. The same weekend is the inaugural Dingle Marathon and Half Marathon. But much as I love the Dingle Peninsula I’m not paying €60 to run out to Dunquin. Next time I’m down there I’ll do it for free.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dublin Juvenile T&F Champs - Day 2

Yesterday's sun gave way to an intermittent drizzle at Irishtown today. But it didn't put a dampener on proceedings (see what I did there?) The action was hot on the track and was generally too hot for the young Crusaders who were somewhat thinner on the ground than yesterday.

Much of our success in these early days is coming in the throws. And the unforgettable moment of the weekend was when our U12 shot girls had a full house on the podium with Isabel O'Leary, Niamh Ferry and Olibhia Collins. To crown a happy and camera-clicky moment Aine the announcer led a chorus of Happy Birthday to Niamh.

Ciara Barry and Rachel Maher are excellent young athletes but no way should they be picking up javelin medals. JJ Barry, a former national hurdles champion, commented that he never dreamt that he would have a javelin medal in the house. Earlier Rachel had taken part in the high jump. On Tuesday she jumped 1.25m in practice and was not pleased to be stopped from attempting a PB with me telling her to save it for the weekend. I added that - having cleared 1.25m then 1.30 would follow quickly. This old owl was proved wise when Rachel grabbed silver with her 1.30.

These young Crusaders are a level-headed bunch and any successes they have are met with genuine pleasure. One who is having more success than most is Alix Hughes. She picked up silver in jav and gold in shot (with a PB if the jumping around meant anything) to add to her discus gold of yesterday. Neither is she a slouch on the track and showed plenty of self-belief when, after qualifying for the 200m final as fastest loser and being told that success in the final would be not coming last, she announced her intention to win! She came 6th.

Once again I will have missed other high spots as I was concentrating on flying javelins most of the day. But we'll tot up the medals and All-Ireland qualifiers once the results are published.

A Curious Milestone

Up at cockcrow this morning for my long run - this club athletics involvement is playing havoc with my diurnal rhythms. Anyhow, on with the Garmin and iPod and off down the river on a mizzly morning. And hey bridge-watchers - the Samuel Beckett has been swung across the river to the north bank and Spencer Dock. It seems to fit and it must be the first time the engineer that drew up the plans has slept peacefully in two or three years. What if had been half a metre short of reaching across? It is not scheduled to open until next year. Presumably they need to test it to make sure that the fecking thing doesn't collapse into the Liffey, taking all and sundry with it, on its first day of operation.

Plodding along I decided to carry on along Pigeon House Road - where I would normally turn up Sean Moore Road, to seek out the way to Poolbeg. Only to come up against a dead end at the end of the industrial estate there. But hanging a left down between a couple of industrial units brought me out onto Sandymount Beach. And once again I chose the sand to run along being in a very slow mode. On through the DART level crossing, through Booterstown and onto the end of Blackrock Park where I turned again for home. I'm running extremely conservatively at present, very much in base miles style as I seek to find some semblance of form. For me of course speed is very much secondary though, like anyone else, I am keen to record a respectable time when it comes to racing.

On the way home I stopped to examine a real, old-tyme milestone. I must have run past it fifty times without really noticing it. It must be pretty much near its original spot as it shows the figure 4 on one side (to Dublin) but the 3 on the other side had me puzzled. It is three miles from there to Dun Laoghaire but whatever the worn letters said it wasn't that town. It was only hours later that I realised it must be in fact Kingstown, the old, British name for the port of Dun Laoghaire. D'oh!

So there we were - 10.88 miles in a shade under two hours. 22.9 on the week. Maybe I need a Half later in the year to work towards to persuade me to up my game a bit. But at least I'm sorta enjoying my running again.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dublin Juvenile T&F Champs - Day 1

Action all the way at Irishtown today - once the stadium had decided to open up at 10am for a 10am start. Dublin CC don't cover themselves in glory in the way they manage the centre. The control and organisation of the day otherwise went smoothly with an experienced cadre of officials assisted by various people hooked in from the clubs - me included.

Crusaders have around 50 youngsters in action over the two days. Today they threw themselves into their events with their usual enthusiasm. For some of the newer ones it was a baptism of fire, especially on the track. Even for some of the 'old hands' i.e. those that have been with us for the 10 months or so since the Open Day that kick started the junior section, it was not all success by any means. And the club has a big part to play in helping those young athletes to continue to enjoy their athletics when they are not winning.

But we had a steady stream of finalists and even medalists. Isabel O'Leary found herself on the podium for long jump and (I think) 60m, with hopefully more to come tomorrow in her throws. Niamh Ferry and Emily Shiels made their sprint final. Orla Murray was third in long jump. Alix Hughes returned from her 80m final to take her last five discus throws in succession and won the gold.

There may have been other successes but I was skipping around the outfield after discuses most of the day. As I have said before the Dublin throwing talent pool is low. Most of that talent lies with Phil Conway's older Crusader lads, though Raheny and Fingallians are doing their best to raise the standard. Sarah Fleming - not throwing well at present, had a free pass in the U18W shot and discus with little opposition apart from Niamh McCarthy. We've not seen Niamh at Irishtown for many months, but she is nevertheless throwing very nicely and put out a best 28-metre throw today to progress to Tullamore together with Sarah.

Fair play to Dublin - they keep alive race walking in these championships. This arcane branch of the sport is relatively strong in Ireland with two senior athletes competing at world level. Today however a total of four girls turned out. The first two were just about passable but the last girl on the track looked as if she was walking down Grafton Street with her shopping. Reminded me of how we at Jersey Spartan used to encourage our athletes (including my poor daughter one year) to fill up spare time at the Hampshire Championships by picking up cheap medals in the walks.

So onto tomorrow and what may transpire.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dublin Juvenile Relay Champs & Team Competition

The weekend was an undoubted watershed in the life of Crusaders AC, especially the junior section. On a gorgeous Saturday morning at Irishtown I counted no fewer than a dozen coaches in action. Many of these have just completed the entry level course and are showing huge enthusiasm to get involved and to learn. It all means that the young athletes can be split into smaller groups and can get more focused attention. It was all highly pleasing.

Compare with only a few short months ago when at one time we were reduced to one, maybe two coaches trying to deliver a quality session to a mixed group.

So onto Santry on Sunday lunchtime for (1) a little combined events team competition for the U10s and U11s and (2) the Dublin Juvenile Relay Championships. And for the whole of the day the distinctive white and red of Crusaders was prominent. (A year ago this meet will have taken place without a single Crusaders athlete). Medals abounded and there were so many high spots and only a few tears. Successes were greeted with great group acclaim and defeats were accepted with good grace. Picking out names on such a good day wouldn’t be right but the high spot was probably the win by the U12 girls’ team. The tragedy was the boys’ U11 race when, with a win well on the cards for a talented quartet, the baton went down at the first handover.

So we ended up with several teams qualified for the All-Ireland finals next month and we’ll look forward to that.

Most of my day was spent watching the action from the judges’ stand and out at the second handover zone waving green and red flags. The only downer on the day was my having to endure an aggressive and ignorant tirade from a Metro St Brigid’s member which lowered my good opinion of his club. Fortunately my officiating colleague persuaded me not to find another, more novel, use for my flags.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


A popular running podcast is entitled Running From The Reaper. As I type I imagine - after my downbeat post below, that my personal running reaper has decided to chill, sit down, have a fag and leave me alone a while longer.

After an OK-sorta early morning week of 2.5 miles (Mon), 3 (Tues) 4 (Thurs) and 4 (Fri) I set off with some trepidation for my long run this morning. Grumpily I had to haul my lazy ass out of bed early doors due to events happening at Santry later on. A warm morning and humid with thunder in the air. I trotted off very cautiously with a view to a standard 10 miles, downriver to Blackrock. On my iPod I had Phedippidations 190 - A Longer Life With Purpose. A nice episode, and spiced up again with further feedback on Steve's recent tirade against Jim Carey and Jenny McCarthy because of their stance against the MMR vaccine. And for all of Steve's spirited defence of his position (which I tend to agree with) I'm not sure he has come up with the facts to convince the waiverers.

But how pleasant is it to be just plodding away along Dublin Bay, the sun shining warmly on the ships out in the bay, Howth Head to the north and Dun Laoghaire harbour down the coast, and my hat dripping sweat. It is a long, long time since I have felt 'in the zone' where everything is effortless. And it didn't happen this morning either. But at least I finished up my run nicely tired and satisfied rather than feeling like I'd been in a train crash.

And I have finally put aside my Asics Gel Cumulus with about 1250 miles on the clock, and have broken out my new pair. I have had a little knee niggle and, just in case everyone else is right and I am wrong, I am playing safe. Annoyingly the niggle is suddenly less apparent...

Maybe I am wrong - unlikely but ...

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Connemara was 11 weeks ago and I ran a good, aggressive race. And quite honestly it was the last time I ran really well. I have struggled along fitfully since, more or less managing my maintenance miles but without really feeling good. My two races since (Adamstown and Cork) have been very moderate efforts. This morning was a low point. After a lazy few days resting a knee niggle I set off for a routine 10-miler only to turn around after 1.5. Nothing there at all, no energy, no enthusiasm, nothing. I suppose I'm particularly concerned looking back at what has happened in the past.

A few years ago, still fairly new to running, I was training for what would have been my first marathon, the new Jersey Marathon. I had entered (and as a consequence still get their e-mails to this day) but suffered a pretty catastrophic running collapse. After two fairly tough back-to-back runs in training I suddenly found I was pretty much unable to run. At first I figured my body was telling me to back off a bit. But this went on for months. I'd set off hopefully only to grind to a halt a half mile or so down the road. Time and again. Just occasionally it was better and this kept me trying. Eventually, to my relief, things got better and I recovered totally.

A couple of years later this happened again, for no reason that I could figure. This time I got a battery of medical tests done - and was amazed at the good results, which didn't help my problem. I looked at dietary issues, food allergy stuff etc all to no avail. Again I'd have the odd run where I believed I was OK again, but they were false dawns. The day before I left Jersey for good was a similar story as I abandoned my farewell run. Two days later, on Christmas Day 2007 in Birmingham, it suddenly all came right with a great long run. Since that time, after arriving in Ireland, I've been fine and enjoyed my running. Not all of it has been great but only on the rare occasion has it been a disaster.

So things aren't quite that desperate yet and maybe this will turn out to be just a bad patch.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Dublin T&F Champs - Hurdles & Hammer

Low key was an understatement as these two events, universally hated by meet organisers, were played out at Santry this evening. (The main body of events take place at Irishtown in a couple of weeks time).

It is increasingly obvious that too few young athletes in the Dublin region have an inkling about technical events - i.e. those that are not pure running. This is no fault of the youngsters themselves but of the lack of both coaches and facilities. Those clubs with these particular advantages can expect to produce successful athletes over a period of time. However we at Crusaders, who have enviable resources, are a very young club as far as junior athletics is concerned.

Nevertheless several athletes made it through to the All-Irelands - Ciara Barry (U13) and Alix Hughes (U14) both securing fourth place in the sprint hurdles. Grainne McGuill and Orla Murray gave it their best shot but the hero was Matthew Behan who crashed and fell at the first but he picked himself up and got going again to finish the race.

Over at the barely populated hammer circle Sarah Fleming (U18) was hampered by an ankle problem and did not throw well, but well enough to progress to Tullamore. Alix Hughes was surprised to be swinging an implement lighter than she had been training with but did well enough to finish just 10cm behind her only opponent, finishing her series by taking on and completing a nice turn. Liam, one of Phil Conway's boys, was due up next and has no doubt progressed. However I was long since headed for The Yacht at Ringsend by that time.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cork Marathon Relay

Gorblimey, thank goodness for sunscreen and peaked caps. For one day a year Cork City gets blessed with Mediterranean weather. The trouble is it's always on Marathon Monday. There was significant carnage yesterday amongst the full marathoners. Those that managed to complete the full 26.2 have my total awe and respect. The state of many of them who crossed the finish line left no doubt as to how difficult the conditions were. Many others sensibly dropped out rather than risk serious damage whilst dozens of others required medical attention.

My previous ill-fated attempts at the Cork Marathon were in similar (maybe not quite so warm) temperatures and I'm beginning to think now that this was more of a factor than I previously had thought.

But this year it was happily just the 5.9 miles for me - from the quays in town out to the final relay handover at Model Farm Road. I walked that section of the course the day before. This proved to be a good move as I realised it is in fact a tough-ish little run that I ought not to be taking lightly.

I was guesting for Boards AC, an offshoot of the internet forum - specifically the athletics/running/triathlon sub-section. We had two teams, mine being the slower B team. It was fun putting some faces to nicknames over a pint in Dan Lowrey's the night before!

On race morning I was up early to meet our second leg runner blind_hurler who had driven down from Waterford that morning, to hand him his race numbers etc. Then back for the 9am start in St Patrick's Street, by which time it was already getting warm. A minor panic when my lead-off runner Funkyzeit rang to say 'it is a 9.30 start isn't it?'. But he not only made the start but ran a stormer to bring Boards B to the first handover ahead of our elite colleagues. Meanwhile I made the short journey over to where I would pick up the wristband as the race came back to town. There we were able to greet the leaders as they came through. A clean handover saw me set off around the quays and out along the South Ring before turning off across the roadbridge to Turners Cross. Already it was becoming a battle - I'm not running at all well plus the sunblock was running into my eyes making things decidely uncomfortable. But there is no option, especially in a team situation, but to battle on as best one can. Beyond the Cork City FC ground the route hangs a couple of rights into quiet suburban roads, through Ballyphehane and down to the Lough. I started enjoying myself a bit - my eyes had cleared, my running had settled a little and the crowd support aroung the Lough (and indeed beyond) was superb. Loads of applause, high fives from the little ones, sponges (I forgot I had glasses on so they got a wash at my first go with a sponge), garden hoses played onto the runners. Out onto the Wilton Road and left onto Model Farm Road for a final mile to where I found my teammate Rainbow Kirby. RK has (I learnt the previous evening) dropped her weight from 15st to 11st in her first year of running - astonishing. And after my moderate 53 mins she was to bring us home in a shade outside our stretch target of 3.40. (The A team were a touch outside their 3-hour target).

At this point, 19 miles into the race, there were many runners struggling big-time. And as the shuttle bus dropped us back into town (previous thoughts of jogging back in having been abandoned) there were still many just starting into the second half of the race, destined to suffer for several hours yet.

But for Boards AC it was a cool drink in Scott's and later, for me, a great Indian at the Eastern Tandoori with my good mate Deirdre.

The photos show me in the early stages of my run (in the background to the right), and Robinph in his Boards AC singlet who now has some explaining to do.