The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
When we think that the 5km series cannot improve year on year, it continues to happily surprise. This year set a number of new records: more entrants, more finishers, pretty much more of everything. It was the 6th year of the series and there have been 33 races completed successfully (2006: 4; 2007: 5; 2008-2011: 6 each).
The entry process was, as usual, frenetic when it opened back on Friday, 18 March on-line. The vast majority of people who wanted entry, received it, but there were still many people disappointed. Nearly 750 eventually got through, the very maximum that series coordinator, Mick Rice, and the 6 organising clubs, felt it was possible to safely cater for at each of the venues. Entry cost was E30 – a veritable bargain for the multi-race no-frills series.
The series started, as usual, in Athenry, proceeded onto Tuam, then Craughwell, then Claregalway (CRH). It took a slightly new turn after that, with Dangan (GCH) next, and the final race in the series in Loughrea, with the “afters” being held in The Lough Rea Hotel. The courses were mostly the same as 2010 with only Claregalway and Dangan changing slightly.
I find it hard to remember, at this remove, the weather conditions of each race in detail :-(. Not without resorting to viewing the various photographers’ images of the races, plus the finish line videos taken by Red Tag Timing’s John Cunniffe anyhow! It rained before, during or afterwards at Craughwell, Loughrea and GCH if I recall correctly. Athenry had an amazing first-evening turnout, with 541 finishing around the now traditional course. The process of putting numbers into people’s hands was dealt with efficiently by the local club in the Newcastle Community Hall under the watchful eye of race director, Frank Burke.
Tuam produced another sizzler on their second-year course with more finishing than in Athenry the week before. The town’s Big Dig threatened to derail this course but Patricia & Brendan Monaghan and their crew were very happy to find that the wide-scale street dig avoided the circuit around Gardenfield that week.
Craughwell’s course was wet but it did not detract from some very fast times being recorded at the Tony Nevin-directed event. A series record of 561 finished that damp evening. Elvis made his now yearly appearance, upping the ante a little on his 20:40ish time of 2010. He ran minus his sideburns this time, which slowed him down last year.
Claregalway and race director Andrew Talbot decided to turn the tables this year, more specifically their course, by pointing the race in the opposite direction to last year. It made the first two km very difficult time-wise (uphill start towards Oranmore on the main road) for everyone but it did make catching up over the last three km easier, finishing with a very fast final km from the Claregalway GAA grounds up to the finish outside the new business park.
Dangan was next up but the weather wasn’t good that evening for GCH and race director, Eamon O‘Donnell. The race started on the main pitches and finished in the green area next to the Regional Sports Centre. The course went out in the direction of NUIG and through Corrib Village, looping back and under Quincentennial Bridge and back by the footpath alongside the Corrib. By the time of the loopback, the field was well and truly spread-eagled and it made the last few km much easier than it would ordinarily be.
Loughrea was the scene of the final race. I recall it pouring cats and dogs (and probably other furry animals too) up to about 6 or 7 minutes before the 8PM start. Those who waited to warm up until the torrent passed off made the right decision. A few of us weren’t as lucky. Most had received their specially commissioned series technical tops by then, from the race HQ and race director, Barry Beirne, in the back of Gaelscoil Riabhach. In all, nearly 440 people qualified for the top. Very few people ran one, two of three races with the vast majority of people running most of the races to qualify for that much coveted black on fluorescent orange-coloured technical top (tagline: The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step).
The series ‘afters’ party was held in The Lough Rea Hotel and a good time was had by all who attended. Matt Bidwell was the star of the series winning all 6 races, with his club-mate Ruaidhri Geraghty second in the four races he ran in – his stepped back from his own club’s race. A goodly number of people ran PBs during the series with many recording very similar times across all 6 races.
The excess of E9,405 from this year’s series was again donated to the Galway AAI county board for the advancement of both adult and juvenile athletics in the county.
All three previous 5km series stalwarts remain standing after the 2011 series. Much kudos is still due to Gary Doherty (Athenry AC), Jim Maher (HP Running) and Tony O'Callaghan (Craughwell AC).