Ras na hEireann

For those who (like me before I was selected) don’t know – this is an international cross country race held for the 41st time just outside Drogheda north of Dublin.

Following a cold, wet week in Edinburgh a select group of intrepid travellers met up at Edinburgh Airport at 5pm on Saturday 27th Feb to fly to Dublin in search of international cross country glory.

On arrival we were greeted by our driver, Declan who whisked us off to the very salubrious Best Western Boyne Valley Country Club Hotel in Drogheda to find our own dinner & relax for the rest of the evening. The Ras na hEireann holds an annual senior international mens & womens cross country race on the Sunday immediately following the Armagh road race, so we were hoping to get to chat to athletes from overseas. Unfortunately, they all stayed in Armagh until Sunday morning, so we had to content ourselves with the not unpleasant task of getting to know our own fellow team members better.

The morning of the race dawned cold & bright. With the race not scheduled until 3pm, I ventured out first thing for a short run to explore our immediate surroundings which were very pleasant – looked like commuter belt heaven! With such a late race start we left it as late as possible to go down to breakfast. Even eating at a leisurely pace ,we still had plenty of time to use up before the 12 o’clock pick-up, so I put my feet up & soaked up the sunshine in the hotel room, whilst the other girls went wandering in search of a local shop.

At 12 we all sauntered to the waiting mini bus and headed off on the short 20min drive to the Oldbridge Estate on the other side of Drogheda which is the well preserved (& much prettified) site of the historic Battle of the Boyne. The estate is set in some very attractive parkland, with the majority of the race course being on some open fairly level ground. We arrived at the culmination of the under 11 boys race to find a very vocal commentator entertaining the crowds who’d all paid 5euro (2 for children) to enter the park – imagine them trying to charge spectator entrance fees in Scotland???

Arriving very early meant we had time to walk in a leisurely fashion around the course to check out the hill which we’d have to blast up twice (4 times for the guys), wander round the estate & get a hot coffee before we even had to think about warming up. The mens race took place as we were getting ourselves warmed up so I only saw parts of it, but the Scottish team were 3rd overall with great runs by all. Derek Hawkins was 4th, closely followed by younger brother Calum in 5th, with John Newsome not far behind in 12th. A great result from such a young team in a field which included internationals from USA, Poland & Finland.

All too soon (how does that always happen?) it was time to don my first ever sticky race number, strip down to race kit & line up to await the start on my 2nd 4K race of the season. The first flat km lap started fairly fast & furious, but soon settled down to a fast but manageable pace. Scotlands Elspeth Curran & Rosie Smith headed the field with a small group of us following closely behind. Concentrating hard, I consolidated my position as we began the longer lap & went up the hill for the first time. Sensing that the women in front of me were tiring, I strived onwards to get myself into a strong 3rd place from which I never looked back. Elspeth pushed on the hardest in the final lap to win by a clear margin, with Rosie & myself following her to win a decisive team gold for Scotlands women.

Underfoot conditions were mostly very good with the biggest muddy patch on the steep downhill towards the end of the lap, which almost claimed a few victims. After the rock hard course in Callender Park the previous week, I was glad of a bit of underfoot cushioning!

One of the best bits of going on an international trip is the being looked after. After a cooldown we were whisked back off in our minibus to have showers in the nearby rugby club. It didn’t appear to be quite finished… The women had use of a spare mens shower room which had nice hot showers & plenty of room, but also contained loads of big tyres for rugby training & a pretty mucky floor – not quite the 5star experience that you might expect!

Suitably re-dressed we went back to the house tea pavillion where all the other international teams were waiting for us, to begin an unexpected & very tasty 3 course dinner (yes, international athletes do eat real food). Following the dinner were the team medal presentations, prizegiving & speeches by the outgoing (41st year) race organiser. We women received enormous towels & the guys a holdall each & spent quite a bit of time working out how on earth we were going to fit them into our luggage for the flight back! Our flight meant that we missed out on the party – we just saw a few minutes of the Irish music & dancing before we were whisked away again.

Would I recommend the international experience, Ireland or the Ras na hEireann? The answer to all three is definitely yes. I feel privileged to have had this great opportunity & would urge others to work hard to earn the chance to do the same.

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