The Europeans as told by Killian Lonergan

With Joe’s texts reminding us over and over again of our meeting time at the airport and more importantly not to forget our passports there was less worry about airport mishaps than usual! Colm’s pint sized bag was the only surprise – how he managed to fit a weekend of running gear, not to mention ordinary clothes and toiletries into that, we’ll never know!

With Club President Paddy Marley having made the effort to come to the airport for the send off, the ‘team’ was in place – Athletes, coach, Noreen Keane and Mick Kearney.

After the quick two and a quarter hour journey to Madrid we landed on time and with no hiccups to this point, we knew something had to give. We didn’t have to wait long! The RFEA ( Spanish Athletics Federation ) had arranged a bus to transport all arriving teams the 300km to Caceres, the city hosting the competition.

It was to leave the airport at 7.15pm. After having checked in with their representative at Arrivals we had about 25 minutes until departure. Knowing it would be another 2.5 hours before a stop allowed us to eat, we split up to find the food and water required to tie us over. As promised, all were back at our meeting point at 7.10 so we could go to the bus.

As we headed down the corridor towards the ‘pick up’ point we met the RFEA rep walking towards us. Watching as he put his hands to his head we knew something wasn’t right! Somehow, we hadn’t made enough of an impression with him, as he had let the bus leave the airport without us!

As there were no other planned pick up’s at the airport that night, things didn’t look good. While he tried to reach the bus driver on his mobile we imagined what a night in Madrid was going to mean. Fortunately the bus company finally got hold of the driver and after 20 minutes out the road he and the other teams turned around to come back for us. You can imagine how our fellow athletes looked at us as we loaded onto the bus for the now 40 minutes extended journey!

Just over 2 hours into the ride we stopped off for 30 minutes. The hotel was going to be finished serving food by the time we got there, so this was to be our dinner for the night. Imagine a ‘boor’s nest’ type diner, with fresh meat handing off the ceiling, with pancakes, omelettes, chocolate and beer all served in the same place. All the teams settled in for some food – while our resident card shark, Senor Kenneally, cleaned up on the one armed bandit – turning an initial euro into over 15 in less than 10 minutes. We could use those talents elsewhere if the club’s finances ever deteriorate!

Another two hours down the road and the 4 star hotel we were to stay in for the weekend appeared. Fortunately we were quickly into reception and promptly managed to get our room keys in a few minutes enabling everyone to hit their beds minutes before midnight local time.

Breakfast the next morning was a pleasant experience as we were greeted with far more than the standard continental offerings. Local fresh fruit, along with cereals, fry up’s and bread were available. Joe gave us instructions of the plan for the rest of the day – the team arranged to meet for a run to the course before lunch. Joe, Noreen and Mick scouted out the route. The 2km distance turned out to be closer to 7km but as we were in constant contact with our experienced reconnaissance team, we planned accordingly. The team took off in the direction of the course, with Cian acting as navigator, map in hand. After 25 minutes and a few unplanned public pit ups we all arrived at the course – having taken the somewhat scenic route which necessitated climbing over at least 4 barbed wire fences!

The initial reactions were all positive as the course was as firm and fast as any European course we could have imagined. Flats would be the order of the day – if anyone had brought them! We all did a lap of the course and noted its demanding twists, inclines, declines and flat hard surface under foot.

The 15 degree temperature had us sweating more than usual and half the team didn’t feel like making the return trip to the hotel by foot. Joe and co. were still in situ and they decided to fall back on plan b – order a taxi! Three took off for the run home and sure enough were heckled by locals as they ran along the hard shoulder towards the city – oh sorry, they weren’t locals, they were our own team-mates and coach telling us to push on up the hills. At least we would have a good excuse on Sunday evening if things didn’t work out well!!

After eating and showering we were left to our own devices for the afternoon. Some headed down town to sample the local coffee shops, others toured the World Heritage ‘Old City’ while others lazed around the hotel.

After another stomach filling dinner and the first sighting of the Spanish favourites we agreed to converge in one room that night for some team bonding. Two hours later and minutes after Rocky had completed the comeback of his life against Ivan Drago we dispersed to our own rooms for a comfortable nights’ sleep.

After a 20 minutes shake out on the morning of the race we met up for breakfast – though the fry up was once again on offer, it wasn’t openly digested by the athletes. At least that’s the party line we’re sticking to! Joe passed out the required numbers and champion-chips for the race, making sure we all had our spikes and water etc. before we left the hotel for the last time.

Joe, Mick, Noreen and athletes all boarded the 11.30am us for the 10 minute bus ride. Gary once again amazed us with his lack of self awareness by using a local supermarket’s plastic bag for his spikes and Clonliffe gear! This was one athlete determined to let his feet do the talking!

The barren car park from the day before was almost full as we arrived – ten minutes to go before the junior race. DSD girls were racing for the Irish. With a good crowd the whole way around the 2km loop we dispersed around the course to check that no sand, man made obstacles or otherwise had been added anywhere since yesterday.

The big screen at the finish was an excellent way of following the races. With intermediate splits been given it was quite easy to see how well the Dundrum girls were getting on. Meanwhile a randomly found champion chip close to the Clonliffe area was quickly labelled as Gary’s.

The strength in depth of the senior races was clearly evident when former world champions Fernanda Ribeiro and Olga Yegorova were outside the top ten at halfway. The Dundrum senior team were holding their own but their late journey in the day before can’t have helped them.

At this stage Joe rounded us all up and directed/dragged us to the warm up area. The heat was on and Joe was sweating more than any of us! Numerous discussions over the weekend had taken place where Joe had drilled into us that a top 6 team position was possible. We bandied around the possible and probable but left it at ‘if we all run good races’ the results would take care of themselves.

The last few minutes had arrived and we all reached for our Clonliffe vests – Mark’s wasn’t to be found! With Joe carrying another one, that wasn’t going to be such a problem; but with no spare number available, panic was about to set in. Oh, “what’s your number again Gary?” Ah, the missing vest had been located. As Gary slipped it off and located his own we all headed towards the start area. A few autographs later, strides completed and TV crew having passed by we were off!

5 laps of the 2km loop were the order of the day, and with Clonliffe and DSD fans out on the course cheering us on it didn’t seem we were too far from home. The pace was fast from the start and with a clock giving everyone their splits after each lap we could all see after the first lap that the pace was as hot as the weather! In fact after the 2nd lap we were lying in 4th place in the team standings.

10,000m on and we all crossed the line short of breath, full of lactic acid, and wondering how we had done. The big screen had been feeding the spectators the results as we passed each lap so it wasn’t long before news filtered through that we had finished 5th. Our best team result in almost 20 years. Joe, Mick and Noreen were delighted and as we ran into DSD folk it was once again evident what a great fraternity athletics is. Olympic 10k bronze medallist Zersenay Tadesse was the overall winner with European 5km Champion and reigning XC silver medallist Alberto Garcia in 5th. (

Of course each one of us took positives and negatives away from the race – all of which we hope to use to good effect during the defence of our National Title on Feb 25th.

We arrived back to the hotel and after another fine feed, coupled with texts and calls home, a rough plan of action for the night ahead was drawn up. Some hit their beds for some well earned naps, others went down town for some R&R with the local.

Back in the hotel some of us were fortunate to catch the entire Men’s race being shown on the National TV Channel. After re-living the race once more we were more than ready for the night ahead.

The call soon came in from DSD to see if anything was planned. Despite Joe’s insistence that he was going to pull out the Lotto Tickets at the table before the DSD folks left, it wasn’t long before we were the only one’s paying up another 2 euro to the fund! After walking to the old town and grabbing pizza and drinks we found ourselves once more co-hosting the celebrations with DSD. With two sets of bronze medals in the bag they were deservingly full of joy. With Gary providing the highlights of the night well into the wee hours it was another memorable night.

Next morning we were up early for our rendezvous with some DSD runners. It wasn’t long before talk turned towards our head to head at Nationals and if that hour was anything to go by the results will go down to the wire once again.

We soon got ready to board the bus back to Madrid – this time scoring a bus with tables for ourselves. Nearly 4.5 hours later and with the promise of free accommodation from our new Luxembourg friend ( though his flat was in Grenoble ), or indeed are looking for entry to their world class half marathon we hit the airport in full spirits.

Our final surprise was when we were met at Dublin airport by Paddy, Noel, Johnny and Padraig. There was a notable sense of pride in our achievement and a small amount of regret perhaps that they hadn’t made the trip this year.

Next year’s Euro Clubs are scheduled for Marseilles in France, and with Aer Lingus operating direct flights from this April; it’s up to the 8 athletes toeing the line on the 25th of February. Hopefully the committee will soon be planning flights and accommodation for next year’s Euro Club XC Championship!