Thursday, April 16, 2009

Guest Article...Kilnaboy - A Classic Race That's a Rite of Spring

The following article appeared in the race booklet for the 2009 Kilnaboy race. I'm sure it will be of interest to anyone who has an interest in the 10 mile races in Munster but didn't manage to make it to the Kilnaboy 10 this year. It is reproduced here by kind permission of John Walshe of Ballycotton Running Promotions.

Over 20 years ago writing in the Irish Runner, Dick Hooper – who once held the record for the Kilnaboy ‘10’ – gave this definition of a classic race: “to become a Classic you must also become an institution, in a way nothing must change. It’s just that you stay at a peak forever … and everyone will assemble because they know that on this date, at this time of the year, this is the place to be.”

Using this yardstick, the Michael (Sonny) Murphy Memorial ten-miler, which this year celebrates it 25th anniversary, certainly (as today’s jargon would put it) ticks all of the above boxes.

I must confess that prior to getting to know of the event, the name Sonny Murphy and his exploits in far-off Los Angeles in the Olympic Games of 1932 meant little to me. Even the name of Kilnaboy wouldn’t register either until members of that club started making the trip to Ballycotton in the early 1980s.

Back then, entry to the village wasn’t as restricted as nowadays and the race didn’t start until 2.30pm. Yet it wasn’t unusual to see a mini-bus of red-and-white striped athletes trying to negotiate its way up the main street just as the starting gun was being fired. Suffice to say it was just as well no chip timing mat had to be crossed at the start to guarantee a time in those days!

No doubt these intrepid travellers also left a few leaflets announcing the birth of another ten-mile race and so, on Sunday April 12, 1987, my East Cork team-mates and myself took the road to Clare. I can’t remember too much about the day, only that we came home with a team prize, but the diary shows a time of 57:50 for 22nd position out of the 126 finishers.

For the next few years, other races took precedent and it would be 1991 before I would compete there again, and I glad to say I haven’t missed a race since. That was the year the afore-mentioned Dick Hooper won in a time of 50:40, just 14 seconds in front of Paddy Murray from Mayo. My 56:36 was good enough to scrape into the top ten, but maybe it’s no harm in mentioning that the course then was a tad shorter than it is today.

I remained under the hour until 1996 when the evitable slowing process set in, although two year later I was just 21 seconds outside of the magic barrier. Those trips of the early 90s hold their own special memories for me for a variety of reasons, and therefore it’s easy to see why Kilnaboy ranks as my favourite racing destination on the calendar.

Numbers taking part then typically hovered around the 85 to 100 mark and were generally made up of club standard athletes. In 1999, having picked up my first serious injury in a long career, I still had to be there even though it took me all of 81-and-a-half minutes to get around and I had just 13 other runners behind me from the 114 finishers. Of course nowadays, with the advent of the John Buckley Sports/Munster Ten-Mile Spring Classics Series, entries have soared to near the 300 mark.

The course itself can be quite demanding – but then, as a certain running advert used to state ‘nobody said it was going to be easy’. The first half lures you into an expectation of a fast time but then you hit Corofin and the short, sharp hills take their toll and there is also the final climb to surmount as you pass the welcome ‘400 metres to go’ painted on the road.

But what is it that makes this race so special? First of all there is the unique landscape and surely there is nothing lovelier than running through the Burren in early springtime. But most of all, the event has retained its friendly charm and distinctiveness, especially evident in the warm welcome for each and every runner. It is here that you can truly say that “nothing has changed.”

You know, on your arrival as you turn right past the ruins of the old church that the helpful stewards will be in place to guide you into the car parks; that Vincent, Margaret and Jason McCarthy, along with Sean Roche and the rest of the Kilnaboy crew, will be there to greet you; that inside on the wall of the local school will be a display of photographs from the previous year; that James Sexton will be hurrying about with camera in one hand and mobile phone in the other; that Gerry Hayes will be positioned at several points around the course dispensing words of encouragement; and of course when you finish that the local ladies will have lashings of tea, sandwiches and cakes at the ready.

So you can see why the Kilnaboy ‘10’ is now such an established ‘Classic’ – after 25 years it’s hard but to be anything else. The race also gives a glimpse of brighter days ahead after a long and harsh winter. And you can certainly take pride if you have been successful in completing the four ‘Spring Classics’, from the cold and wet of January to the sunshine and promise of April.

In a way, like Easter Sunday itself, the race is a celebration and a rebirth for all those fortunate enough to experience it.

You could even call it a ‘Rite of Spring’ - long may it continue.

- John Walshe (East Cork AC)

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