At the start of this week, I was in a somewhat sombre mood as I journeyed home from my sixth European cross country championships, in Hyeres, France. The weekend was an enjoyable two days away, in the company of several talented individuals. It was fantastic to experience firsthand the success of the Irish senior female team in winning yet another medal at this event. However, on a personal level, the trip can only be described as a disappointment, in terms of my individual result and that of the senior male team. The night before the race, there was an atmosphere of optimistic expectation amongst the six of us. There was, and still is, no doubt in my mind, that this was the strongest Irish European cross country team that I have ever been part of. Or at least, on paper, we should have been.
Three weeks had passed since the Irish trials and training had been steadily improving. At the trials, I went in underprepared, unknowing what level of fitness I had retained throughout my month long, post-marathon break. Flying over to Hyeres, I knew that while I was nowhere near my fittest, I was still capable of producing a half decent result. It was to be another competition, where, instead of approaching the race with an attitude of smashing it out of the park, I was going in less ready than I would have liked. And in the European cross, there is nowhere to hide. Any hint of poor fitness is shown up glaringly with your name drifting down the results list. It was the type of course that should have suited me well and in top form, I would have relished the opportunity to compete over the twisting terrain. However, it was not meant to be. After the efforts of the Berlin marathon and the subsequent break required for my body to heal and recover, the European cross country was more a welcome, unexpected bonus, rather than a particular target for the year.
Perhaps that was part of the reason for the poor performance of the team. With three recent marathon runners on the team, it should not have come as a surprise that we did not perform as well as we might have hoped. With the Olympics next year, this race was not the main focus for any of us. With a battle for selection in the next few months, there are undoubtedly much more important races to come. The British team always perform well at the European Cross, and are usually a good benchmark to compare Irish performances against. There is no reason why we should not be able, at the very least, to contest for similar positions as them in the race. This year, however, there was a major discrepancy between their results and ours. Since I have returned home, I have read some comments about how poor the Irish male team performed. However, the problem lies not with myself and the five other athletes in Hyeres. Believe me, whenever you pull on the Irish vest, you run as hard as you can and fight for every place until you cannot fight any longer. Rather, in my opinion, the problem lies in the depth of distance running in Ireland. It is the lack of athletes ready to commit to the training and hard work necessary to achieve any level of success in this sport.
In top form, I think I deserve a chance to compete against the best in Europe, but at the level of fitness that I had three weeks ago, I doubt I would have even made the top ten at the British trials. A statement that is proven by the results of the race at the weekend. Hopefully, with the Olympics finishing in August next year, it will give all the top Irish athletes time to recover and then complete a solid block of training prior to the European Cross. Everyone on the senior male team returned home with a point to prove. The team result last weekend was embarrassing. The six of us are all better athletes than the results suggest. For me, it is a fitting end to what has been a below par 2015. Time and again, I have raced this year when not completely ready, for a wide variety of reasons. I was always trying to chase fitness, rather than feeling strong and ready to perform. I just hope that in twelve months time, I will not be sitting here writing similar words. As the lyrics to this month’s song title continue…’It’s back to the real world. It’s back to the ground.’ I have work to do.