After a good breakfast, I hit the road shortly after 10am. It was dark and raining so hard I could hardly see out of the windscreen, but by the time I reached Mallow it was glorious sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. Things were looking up. On the Ennis by-pass more driving rain. Ireland! I was getting tired, only 25 miles to go as the roads got narrower and narrower. At least the way was well sign-posted so I had no problems finding the place.
As I pulled into the field which was acting as a temporary car park, a car was being towed out. Not a good sign. After a bit of slipping and sliding and plenty of wheel spinning I finally managed to park the car about 30 yards from the exit. Not too bad as I cast my eye around and didn't fancy the look of the cars parked at the bottom of the hill.
The action was taking place across the road in another field. I entered the field I realised the underfoot was bad and was going to have to get across some "soft" ground. I went for the firmest looking bit of terra firma. Yikes! Foot completely submerged. Too late to question what possessed me to wear my newest runners. Once I got through I looked up the hill to where the course was. A few tents and flags dotted around the place and not a sign of a blade of grass top be seen because of the mud. It looked more like the Battle of the Somme, but at least it wasn't raining. The juvenile races were in progress. My race was second last on the programme, so the course would be in a nice condition by then.
Started my warm-up. Was going to run a lap to get to know the course. Got to the top of the hill where there was a gap in the ditch to get into the next field. Not a chance. Instead I found some firm ground on the side of the hill, ran up and down a few times until the freezing wind and rain came, then made my way back to the car, turned on the engine and heater and did the rest of my warm-up there. Eventually, made my way over to the start area. A few more runs up and down the same hill and then back for shelter from the elements until we were called to the start.
It was an uphill start and off we went on the gun for 5 laps – 8K in total. I got into my running at the rear of the field, you don't get many middle-of-the pack road runners doing these so I expected this. Quickly, I found my feet were completely submerged on each stride as I struggled to find any traction. My first thoughts were "somebody's having a laugh here", this was followed by fleeting urges to drop out just 30 seconds into the race. Besides, I drove too far just to drop out, I was going to stick this one out to the finish. I was also on the Cork team today, although I forgot to check if I mattered since I was so far down behind as I looked on in admiration as the leaders rather quickly pulled away, seemingly skimming over the surface. My usual tactic in cross country of constantly scanning the 5 yards in front of me for the firmest piece of ground was pointless. There was no avoiding this one as a I felt every kilo of my 85KGs as a dragged myself around the course, a few times nearly coming to a complete standstill as I sunk so far into the ground with my knees almost touching it as I struggled to get myself out of it again. I passed a few that did drop out but I was determined. On the third lap, I discovered a new tactic where there was some firmish ground under-perimeter wire for much of the lap. Yes, if I leaned to the right and stayed tight to the wire I could just about get a piece of it. The others immediately ahead were trying to stay wide on the other side which was further away, in an attempt to find traction. I tried that for two laps – it was an exercise in futility. So here I was like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, risking friction burns across the thighs desperately trying to make progress. It worked. I started to find some pace and over the remainder of the race picked up 4 places. I finished 32nd out of 41 finishers. In the end Cork didn't have the numbers to make up a team, so my effort didn't matter. Nevertheless, I felt strangely satisfied after a worthwhile effort.
I wasn't going to hang about here any longer. Instead, I was going to visualise my warm down on the way home. I quickly made my way back to the car, scraped some of the mud of my legs to find the tops of my socks so I could peel them off. I threw on my tracksuit and a dry pair of runners and waited for six "volunteers" to push my car the 30 yards out of the field and I was away. Arrived home by 6.00pm where I spent most of the evening cleaning myself up after my days exertions.
Without doubt, it was the most difficult conditons I ever had to experience in what was almost my last cross country race ever....almost!