28 November, 2009The traffic was tolerable, the map and directions were spot on, the evening was balmy: it was looking good for this year?s Sorrel Hill race. Then, a sudden fright. One name glared out from the list of officials and volunteers: Jonathan Doyle. ?Wasn?t he supposed to be in traction?? ?I thought he was still finishing the Wicklow Way race.? ?Who the hell let him out here?? The panic in the car park was palpable. Whatever could go wrong, would go wrong. Perhaps a mass detour, an accidental 20k race instead of 10. Perhaps nobody would finish, and the officials would be left to spread out and round up survivors, while Doyle chortled to himself. Perhaps everybody would break a limb.
In panic, Alan Lawlor sprinted out from the off, clearly trying to get away from whatever fate would befall the pack. Apart from Alan, it was a relatively gentle start. In the absence of the usual front runners, it seemed nobody quite knew what to do. Still, it soon settled into a steady clip along the slowly rising road. Then a sharp left into the forest, and a tricky, slow trail with a healthy incline, ducking the odd branch and stumbling over the odd root, while dipping in and out of an awkward ditch aside the path. The wise amongst us noted: this is where the Curse of Doyle will likely strike.
Out of the forest and right onto the start of the thankless path to the top of Sorrel. A couple of styles over barbed wire slowed progress, and the gentle looking path was deceptively rutted, testing ankles. By this stage, the front pack had spread well out. Tim Charnecki and Gerry Lalor were within sight just ahead of me. Alan Lawlor and co were strung out over quite a distance in front. Behind, it sounded like a bit of a gap to the next bunch. The race seemed very clear from here: make it up the not-too-steep climb to the peak without being caught, and then bale down again in the hope of maybe picking up a place in front. Easy!
Sorrel may not be too steep, but it is long and gruelling. I gained slowly on Tim, but by now we both were alternating walking with brief spurts of a slightly faster movement that bore a vague resemblance to ?running?. Still, no rasping breath behind me yet. The top came, and I could see Joe Lalor pressing some dubious looking drink into Gerry Lalor?s hands as he rounded the summit marker, the effect of which only became clear a little later.
I rounded the summit seconds behind Gerry, and then plunged into what is a tricky and frustrating descent, with the double challenge of having your feet find the path while avoiding the people on it. ?Keep right?, I shouted helpfully, until one ascender pointed out that my right was their left. I stopped shouting.
Down from Sorrel and back ? slowly ? along the thankless ?straight? to the top of the forest path. Some weeks, this would be fun ? ditches, tree roots, small sudden drops ? but this week it felt more like work. Feet burning and stomach churning I threw myself down the ?path? between the trees, though a number of times I found I wasn?t on the path and was frantically jumping bushes and tree trunks. One last, sudden jump out onto the road (nothing like a jump to knock the momentum out of your run), and then that last, gruelling, foot-scalding stride down to the finish. A few furtive glances back ? nothing in sight. Ahead, Gerry Lalor had gained places (remember that mystery drink?), and whoever was immediately in front of me wasn?t going to be caught either (it turned out to be Aaron O'Donohue). First over the line, almost three and a half minutes ahead (a sobering thought), was Keith Daly.
Did I mention the view? Apparently it was wonderful.
Back to the pub, where it briefly seemed as if the Curse of Doyle would bypass us and strike France. But they held out, despite Portugal?s frantic opportunism in the dying minutes. Maybe the curse has been defeated. Maybe it?s not contagious ? it just afflicts Jonathan himself. Or maybe it was just good disaster management by the ever-excellent race organisers.
Who knows. He claims he?ll be back in action at the Sugarloaf. Best to give him a wide berth, just in case.