Two years on from when he first caught covid and Chris O’Brien is still having difficulties tapping into top gear. That has meant that in shorter distance races he hasn’t perhaps been able to hit the heights that he did previously. He has got closer though, finishing a matter of seconds over 40 minutes at the Lordshill 10k in July.
Instead of making him give up on his running goals though, it’s just forced him to reassess them and adjust them accordingly. If the speed is not there, the endurance still can be. In races of a longer distance, where speed isn’t required so much and it’s more about strength and stamina, Chris can still excel.
Last year he had a go at the Run the Sea 50k ultra which starts off at Moors Valley Country Park and works its way to Hengistbury Head via the Castleman Trailway, down to Sandbanks and then all the way along the promenade. Chris completed the course in 4 hours 23 minutes that day.
This year he was back again with a revised target of under four hours. In fact, his target time would have been even quicker but he got a chest infection at the end of June which put his training back a long way. He was still aiming for a top ten finish though which would be terrific result if he could make it happen.
Not leaving anything to chance, Chris had ran the first 26.2 miles of the course three weeks earlier so he knew exactly what he was capable of. That took him just over 3 hours 17 minutes so he was hoping to reach the marathon point in around that sort of time in the Run the the Sea ultra. That was around 7:30 minute mile pace.
In the actual race, his pacing was remarkably consistent again and he did manage to reach the marathon point in just over 3 hours 17 minutes. So that was so far so good for Chris. He still had close to five miles yet to go though. He was aiming to get to 50k in somewhere between 3:55 and 3:58.
It began to get tougher after that and his pace did wane a bit but he kept going and dug deep. The 5km he found super tough as his legs just didn’t to move, perhaps due to the marathon effort he’d put in three weeks prior.
Rallying well though, he managed to get to the 50k point in 3:57 something. That left him with just the additional 400m or so to get through before reaching the line. With a final finishing time of 3:58:54, he’d done it! He’d completed the Run to the Sea ultra in under four hours and that was reason for jubilation.
That was also enough to see him place 8th in the overall standings, so he’d achieve his goal of a top ten finish as well.
Although the marathon time was way off his fastest time on what was essentially a pretty easy course, it was probably the best he could have hoped for really under the circumstances and was pleased with the way he won and the consistency of his splits. Even the ones right at the end when he was struggling were mostly only just over 8 minutes per mile.
Adam Fieldhouse won the race in 3:31:44, with Bournemouth local Sam Davis taking 2nd in 3:35:17. Oliver Rant was 3rd in 3:43:39 and Ross Adams picked up the first MV40 prize, finishing in 4th place in a time of 3:52:16.
Tom Rees finished first MV50, crossing the line in 6th place with his time of 3:56:42. That meant Chris had taken 2nd place in the MV50 category.
Emma O’Toole was the first female to reach the line, completing the course in 4:16:10 which put her in 13th place overall. Julia Donovan was 2nd lady and first WV40, reaching the line in 4:21:04. That put her in 16th place overall.
Jess McNally was 3rd female and 23rd overall in a time of 4:28:06. A total of 446 athletes competed in the race, with the slowest of them taking just under 9 hours 26 minutes.
After the race, Chris recovered with a trip to Sorrento for his 20th wedding anniversary which started with a visit to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvio. It was a stunning location but found that staying in a hotel situated at the foot of a cliff wasn’t perhaps the best way for his legs to recover.
He was soon brought back down to earth though by the wet and muddy conditions at Bryanston for the second fixture of the Wessex Cross Country League season. He did okay in that though and felt pretty strong considering it was a couple of weeks on from his 50k foray.