IT was the toughest and craziest course that Darragh McElhinney has ever tackled.
Steep inclines. Rolling hills. Mud pits. Sand pits. Water pits. The course for the World Cross-Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark last Sunday week was vicious.
The 18-year-old Glengarriff athlete finished 53rd in the U20 men’s race but considering that his focus had been on the indoor season and his main target is the 5km on the track at the European Athletics U20 Championships in Sweden in July, it’s understandable why he didn’t devote his entire attention to the world cross-country. Plus he is also studying for his Leaving Cert exams at Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí in June.
But while his final placing won’t live long in the memory, the course will. It would give Takeshi’s Castle a run for its money, Darragh told The Southern Star.
‘Hands down, it’s the hardest, craziest course I’ve ever ran,’ he said.
‘At every major international cross-country championship, every team goes to the course at 10am on the morning before to jog the course and get to know it. We said we would jog one lap. Every other time we would jog four or five miles around the course. We did one two-kilometre lap and we said there was no chance we were going around that again until the race because it was draining. No matter what pace you went around it, you’d be panting by the end of it.
‘You start off with this massive hill, from the start of the field up to the top of it. When you get to the top there were a load of rolling hills. The down hills were really steep, there was no flat part then and it was really steep uphill straightaway, then down and then up. Then you have a really long downhill down to the bottom along with the mud pit, sand pit and water pit. When you got down there was a really steep hill up the roof of the Moesgaard museum that almost brought people to a standstill.
‘I have never seen anything like that before and I don’t think any training could have prepared me for it. But at least if I ever have to run it again, I’d know what to do.’
At the European Cross-Country in The Netherlands in December Darragh finished 16th and, perhaps, he might have finished better than 53rd last Sunday if he had focussed entirely on this event, but he is looking at the bigger picture.
‘For the last six months or more the focus has been the European U20 5k in the summer. Every step I have taken since January has that in mind. That’s the main goal,’ explains Darragh, who smashed the Irish junior 5000m indoor record in February. As well as the All-Ireland schools and a few other meets ahead of the Europeans, Darragh will spend his Easter holidays on a warm-weather training camp in Portugal. Then, one month after his Leaving Cert in June, it’s the big one: the European U20s.