Ryan Cleary gives the inside track on Race Walking

Thanks to Ryan Cleary race reports on his two recent internationals: June 16th 2013 saw the Annual Small Nations Match between Ireland, England, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark and this year’s hosts Holland. The small Irish contingent consisted of 2 Junior Women, myself as the only Junior man and 2 Seniors. We arrived on Saturday the 15th in Eindhoven and took a short train trip to Breda: the race venue. The Men’s 20km race was the first to start and an hour later the Juniors were sent off together for a 10km race. We raced an 800m lap in “Park Valkenberg” near the town centre.

I immediately moved to the front and began building a lead. Feeling strong, I continued working well through the first half. As anyone who has raced any long distance will tell you there is always a rough patch. Mine began around half way and the cushion I had built up was being chewed up by the enlish athlete in 2nd. Eventually he began to build a lead of his own and as we came to the last lap he held about 10-20 metres. This cued a sprint over the next 800 metres to go for first. I had found a second wind and with 500 to go I had not only caught the leader, but made a move for home and opened up a large gap.

Kicking so hard for home from so far out took its toll and as I came onto the final straight I began to tie up. In walking, an athlete can be disqualified on the final lap of any distance by the chief judge for appearing to break constant contact with the ground or not straightening the knee. As I neared the finish line I was focused on maintaining technique at high speed after 9,800m, which is a very difficult task. Thankfully I managed to hold first and won by 5 seconds in 48:51. I later discovered that Ireland won the team event by 1 point from the English team after wins from myself and Olympian Colin Griffin in the seniors and high placings from all of our other athletes.

After a long evening nap we were presented with our team and individual awards before spending the evening in Breda and returning home the following day.

Saturday the 29th saw top class international athletics return to Ireland. This time was for the Dublin Grand Prix of Racewalking in St Anne’s Park in Raheny which featured top class athletes like Erick Barrondo, the Silver Medallist from the London Olympics. I was taking part in the 10km race for juniors, just 2 weeks after competing in Holland. From 9:30am the athletes doing the 50km race were going. During this 4 hour race, all other races were sent onto the 2km lap. The Juveniles were the first to go as they competed in 1, 3 and 5km events before the Junior 10km and Senior Men’s 20km races were released together. I found myself being pulled along by the seniors as I went through the first lap at a pace that would have led to a big PB.

I realised that the pace was high after that 9:10 2km, so gradually tried to relax and settle down. A few strains began to take their toll on me as I became stranded in the middle of the field. I worked my way to one of the 50k athletes from Guatemala and began to push myself. The tough conditions took its toll on all the athletes, many of whom were chasing standards for various international competitions.

I had pushed through a rough patch after a fast start and began to see the light at the end of the tunnel when I took the bell at 8k. I began pushing from this point and, at the turn, I could see the finish line and the arch 1km down the line. This last kilometre was slightly downhill with a bit of a tailwind so it was perfect for a strong finish.  I used this to my advantage and had a strong finish to complete the race in 50:27. Although a bit off my best it was a strong performance considering the short turnaround time from the Small Nations in Holland.