This was my fifth time heading out to the sleepy county town of Armagh, Northern Ireland; for arguably the best road 5k in Europe. As always the event provided phenomenal hospitality and organisation from a great group of volunteers at Armagh Athletic Club. Athletes from the US, Home Nations, Poland, France and Ireland made up probably one of the best fields the race has attracted.
Usually combined with the tail end of a fully fledged cross-country season, this was the first time I aimed to target the race as a key marker heading towards the track season. Training has been consistent, but not without a few issues. The last fortnight mileage has been halved with aqua jogging topping up the volume to manage a niggle on my achilles.
The race takes place over five laps of the 1,030m Armagh ‘Mall’ lined with fairly lights and thousands of supporters, a truly unique race setting. I set out cautiously in a melee of athletes as the first 200m was a ferocious sprint to the first bend, I must have been outside the top 25. So much was the ferocity of the opening exchanges, dead last went though 1km in 3:01, and as an athlete from Swansea put it ‘I thought I got out well, until I realised the revving behind me was the back-marker bike scraping up the stragglers!’.
Once I found my place on the back of the lead group it was just about letting those middle km’s pass by without doing anything silly; staying tucked in and out of trouble. Triathlete Jonny Brownlee kept the pace true with some help from the American athletes. I never found myself on the front of the pack, but gained in confidence as athletes started dropping off towards the final lap with 1000m to go.
At the top of each lap there was a little rise of 10-20m, and I felt I kicked off this well and moved into 7th with 400m to go. Doing a few sharpening track sessions helped me finish well to secure 4th place in a new 27-second PB of 14:01.85, three seconds beyond winner, America’s Joe Stilin in 13:58. Ending up sandwiched between an Olympic Triathlon Medalist and a European Steeplechase Medalist was beyond the expectations of my finishing company, but sets me up to race among the best in Europe for my debut on the track over 5000m in a few months. I guess a little bit disappointed to lose out to Olympic Bronze Medalist Jonny Brownlee by 1.6 seconds, but that was probably the closest I got to him all night, so fully deserved. (if only it was 5.1km!)
The organisers believe it could have been the best road race Ireland has ever seen; with 56 breaking 15 minutes, and 96 athletes breaking the 16 minute barrier. Results are here
The race video can be seen here, just skip to 4:30:
An encouraging start to 2015, and more importantly a testament to the consistency of training and strength, drills, core work over the last four years. I’ve never been an athlete for super high mileage, but continual analysis of how training is managed has ensured injuries/illness have been kept to a minimum and the improvement continues to come.
Next up I am back on the tarmac for a road 10k, a good opportunity to test an increased volume of intensity.
Thanks for reading!