My most recent posts have been somewhat disappointing from a running perspective, so it is with some considerable relief that I am able to report something positive on that front.
Seven weeks ago I was contacted by Ferrybank AC in Waterford to guest in the steeplechase for them at the European Champion Clubs Cup. As Irish League champions they would be representing Ireland in the B tier of the competition in Belgrade. At that stage I was just recovering from my 'bought' of anemia, and I happily said I would, knowing that a competition abroad was exactly the motivation that I needed.
Little did I know then that I would be completely sidelined for 2 weeks due to a dog bite and subsequent infection. Anyone that does sport knows that two weeks off, just five weeks before the start of the season is disastrous preparation. There were times, when the infection didn't look to be clearing up and I wasn't managing to get any track sessions in, that I thought I wouldn't be able to travel at all.
You can imagine my delight then when race day finally arrived on Saturday, that I was able to put in a half decent performance. The time I ran (11:28), is not going to get Ireland's top chasers worried, and the chances of me achieving the qualifying time for next year's Olympics haven't increased any, but I am very happy with my fastest season opener in seven years. Given the far from ideal buildup, this for me is a very positive result. My hurdling and waterjumping was the best I've ever done, and given that I've only managed 1.3 track sessions so far this year, I'm pretty optimistic that come August my personal best, which stretches back to 2004, stands danger.
The team finished second overall and have earned promotion for Ireland to the top tier of the competition next year. Most of the athletes are in their late teens and early twenties (I was the oldest by almost 9 years), and they show great promise for the future. It was really nice to be part of such a great team performance.
We didn't get to see much of Belgrade, though we did endure the long straight road between Budapest and Belgrade twice in the past few days. The hotel, and the food they provided, didn't give us the best impression of the city, but even if all that the Serbian capital gave me was a reminder of the sheer joy of racing over barriers then that's enough for me. Finding a bakery that serves the nicest pastries in the world was merely the 'icing on the cake'.
The weekend also reminded me of the challenges that face the travelling athlete. Long journeys, far from ideal food and dealing with hot weather, are just some of the challenges that athletes face as they travel the world in search of that perfect performance. Good planning, and taking control of situations as they arise can help overcome these minor barriers, and at the end of the day, spending a few hours at border control is a small price to pay for getting to do what we love on a daily basis.
Five weeks ago I had 3 holes in my right calf. There was nothing that I could have done to prevent that dog from biting me. I can't help but think that I was lucky though, and that it could have been so much worse. Had that dog actually liked the taste of my calf, I might have had a lot more that a few holes to worry about. The pure pleasure of running could have been taken away from me in an instant. Most people don't realise what they've got until it's gone. I was lucky. I got that wake-up call before it was too late.
In other news, I've recently landed myself a job in London. While that means the altitude adventures will be put on hold for a while, it also means that some day I'll actually have enough money to continue with the research for the book. The thought of living and working in London has always scared me, but now it's just another little challenge that I have to face. From Monday next, I will be working as High Performance Sport Manager at the University of East London. With it will come a number of challenges, but it's up to me to make the most of the situation. The chance to live close to the Olympic Stadium in the build up to, and during, the Games will be a once in a lifetime experience. Once I have found somewhere to live, I will be taking bids for floor space for the last week of July, and the first week of August 2012.