Posted by: summit2summit | August 5, 2021

IMRA Devils Glen – Aug 4th, 2021

Today’s race was Devils Glen, yet another brilliant event on what has been a really great calendar, so far. I had raced here 3 times in the past but the last time was almost 10 years ago so I was very happy to be back. The course is very similar to the likes of Djouce Woods or Glen of the Downs, not too much climb and very fast in parts due to all the very runnable trails.

I arrived down quite early, about 18:40 so headed off for a longer than usual warm up which turned out to be ~3.5 kilometres. It was towards the end of my warmup that I suddenly realised that I still hadn’t signed in! I made it up the registration desk just before it closed, phew! I was having great chats with Eamon Hodge and Richard Nunan and it was also great so see so many other faces, lots of new people and plenty from the old guard. Paul gave out his race brief and we were off!

Straight away I felt very sluggish. I had been for a short hike earlier in the day with my son and then did an hour walk in the park at lunch. I had also skipped dinner, so I was beginning to think that all this was working against me. As we passed the 1.5 kilometre mark I was already looking at my watch to see how long was left. I was not enjoying what seemed like an endless, 2 kilometre uphill start. When we got to the highest point on the course the path opened into wide downhill fire road which is far more suited to my strengths. I was able to pick off a few runners, but I was still in the mid-30s of the pack. We got back down to the forest road and I passed my car. I was thinking of just jumping in and heading home. Maybe nobody would notice?

Starting to get into the flow of things!

I got to the halfway point which was the centre of the “figure 8” course and was starting to ease into the race after not a great start. I saw Terry Mc Connon (TT racers coach) and he was shouting encouragement at me. He said Conor Nolan (a fellow TT racer) was not too far ahead of me. We then started a fast decent though some trees. Typically, I excel on the downhill parts so was able to pick off another few runners and get back up the standings. We got down to the riverbank and had a lovely section of running, only a few metres away from the flowing river. I was running quite strong now which was a completed u-turn from the start of the race. I started to pass a lot of runners, one by one. I soon got close to Alan Alying and passed him by. Then Conor Nolan, then a few others and then Becky Quinn and then yet more runners. Where is all this energy coming from I thought to myself!

At this point I was about 6 kilometres in, and I had just passed the first lady, Caoimhe Daniels. I knew there was some steeper uphill to come which does not suit me, so I was expecting a lot of the runners that I had just passed to pass me by. Only Caoimhe passed me by on a steeper section close to the 7 kilometres mark but then with less than 1 kilometre to go there was a decent and I was able to pass her back and get back into 14th position. I was able to open up a led of about 50m as we approached the final assent of the day. I was all in at this stage, giving it absolutely everything I had. I crossed the line in 14th just behind Pol, who is having a magnificent season. I was delighted to say the least especially after the slow start I had.

Course elevation

So, a big thanks to Paul and all of the other helpers. This was a great race and super well organised. Next up Howth and then the mighty Annagh Hill! 😊

Posted by: summit2summit | August 1, 2021

IMRA Ballybraid ACW Loop – July 25th, 2021

The last time this race was on was in 2016 and the last time I competed in it was 2015 (Ballybraid 2015). The race is a classic open mountain event with lots to do in order to get around the course quickly and efficiently (and lots that can go wrong too!). Typically, the race starts by the Glenmalure Lodge and heads up to Mullacor and then across the road to Kirikee and then onto Carriglinneen but for this year we were to do it in reverse. I was familiar with the route for the most part, but I did need to look over the map the night before, especially the part from the quarry to the 1st summit. There were a few other key junctions along the course that I wanted to memorise as they would be crucial to get right.

I was up early and left home at 08:30 and compared to previous days, it was a bone chilling 17 degrees. I pulled into the parking field and got registered and gathered the mandatory kit and set off for the start line which was about a kilometre away. Paul gave us a quick brief but there really wasn’t much to say, just hit these 3 peaks and get back here was the gist of it 😊. Straight off the bat was the option to go along the road or take a slightly shorter track to the left. There really wasn’t much in it so I just took the road option. It was warm at the start and we were all straight into a road climb for about 500m or so. It was here that the pack started to split up. Myself and Alan Ayling headed left early on after the quarry but another group ahead continued on before turning left and I could also see a third group going even further up the road before they started the tough climb up Carriglinneen.

As we approached the summit, I noted that my line was almost perfect. I saw Alan Ayling approaching the summit to my left and then, as I left the summit, I saw Mick Hanney running towards me. Alan and Mick are two strong runners, so I was happy to be ahead of both at this stage. After the first peak, I knew from looking over the map the previous night that there were a few waypoints ahead. There was a style to cross, a crossroads to pass through and then a right turn to make. The weather was lovely and clear which made this section easy to cover. Just before the right turn Mick passed me by but still no sign of Alan. Then, just before I summited Kirikee, Alan and another runner passed me. I was in 11th after summit two, but I knew we had a nice downhill ahead so was confident I could make up a few places. I also knew that people may take less optimum routes ahead as there were a few different options to pick from.

Approaching Carriglinneen summit

On the downhill I was able to pass Alan and the other runner to regain 9th spot. Just before the main road I was able to take a left turn along a new fire road to cut the corner and then jumped a fence to get onto the road. I noticed Mick out of the corner of my eye to my left who had taken a different route and I knew I had gained several hundred metres on him. I passed through the Shay Elliot car park and to my surprise the marshal told me I was in 5th. The navigation was fairly straightforward up to this point, but I just referenced my map to be 100% sure as I didn’t want to make any silly mistakes. I could see Alan not far behind me and I had just been passed again by Mick who is too strong for me on the uphill.

Shay Elliot carpark

By the time I hit Mullacor I wasn’t sure where I was in the race standings as a few runners I didn’t know passed me by, but I knew there was a very fast finish and a few critical turns to make which I knew well so I was in with a good shot of a strong finish. I took a slightly crooked line off Mullacor but quicky corrected this as I got the forest edge. I knew this area well from 2013 when I recced it alot for my Wicklow Round training, but the place was felled beyond recognition now, so I needed to make sure I hit the right fire road. I came across an old, abandoned hut that I remembered so I knew exactly where I was and knew that I needed to stay left here in order to be on the upper fire road.

Leaving Mullacor summit

I had passed Mick again and Conor Nolan was directly ahead. The terrain was fast downhill fire road which was perfect for me. I soon overtook Conor and headed for the next junction where the fire road kinks around to the left. I cut the corner at the bend and Conor was only about 15 seconds behind me. It was impossible to tell if all the runners ahead took the optimum route home, so I really didn’t know where I was in the race. We continued with the fast decent and I knew there was only one more turn to make to my left which took us onto the Wicklow Way and to the finish line. The last 3 kilometres were covered in just over 11 minutes! I crossed the line and to my surprise there were only 3 runners home making me 4th. I was delighted to say the least as there were some very strong runners in the race. Brian Furey was home in first place, so I was happy to get in less than 5 minutes behind him with ~400m less distance travelled 😉. Anyway, what a race and I was over the moon with my strong finish. Thanks a lot, to Paul and all the other helpers, it was one of the highlights so far this year for me. Next up is Devil’s Glen but the one I’m looking forward to most is Annagh Hill!

Posted by: summit2summit | July 23, 2021

IMRA Mount Leinster – July 17th, 2021

It wasn’t just the weather that was heating up this week but also the IMRA calendar. The races were coming thick and fast. Last week saw two of my favourite races coming back to back. The first of them was the Circuit of Glenmacnass (https://tinyurl.com/uahxwwhx) followed quickly by the Ayling Abyss and then to top if off, Mount Leinster was to be my 3rd race in 8 days.

The summit in the distance

The race was scheduled for midday and I had a bit of a drive, so I hit the road at about 10:00. It was a cracker of a day, almost too hot for racing. I arrived into the registration field at about 11:30 and got registered very quickly. I saw Mike Jordan and Mick Hanney knocking about, both no strangers to the Leinster championship races. Stuart Scott made a trademark last minute appearance too with just enough time to get registered! I had raced this event twice before so was comfortable with the navigation. Its one of the more straightforward courses you will come across, especially with the good weather we had. Liam Bowe gave us a quick brief and off we set. My legs could have been a bit fresher at the start, but I soon found a steady rhythm. Mick, Becky and I think Mike all passed me by on the fist kilometre. No surprise really as they are all very strong on the uphill. 

I was aware of a small short cut ahead but was not sure where it was exactly so my plan was to follow the fire road, but the runner immediately ahead of me did a sharp left into the forest so I made the split second decision to follow suit. It led us back onto the fire road and I was back ahead of Mick and Becky, but not for long. I made a mental note of where I exited the forest as the small shortcut may come in handy on the decent (which it did!). We got onto open mountain after about 2 kilometres. The heat was intense up to this point, but we did start to feel a gentle breeze which helped. The next few kilometres were just ‘sloggish’ and nothing much happened in terms of my race position. I could see Mike Jordan always a few hundred metres ahead, but I could not close the gap.

As we approached the rocky section close to the summit, the first of the lead runners started to pass me on their way back down. I think I was about 22nd when I hit the summit so was happy with the race so far as I knew I’d be stronger on the way down. The decent was lovely and fast, just to my liking. I soon caught a few runners ahead and broke into the top 20. As we got lower and lower on the mountain the ground became faster. We soon hit the solid tracks which lead to the fire road and I was in my element here. I can really get some fast running on these types of terrain. I had managed to catch Mike with about a kilometre and a half to go. As I passed him, I knew that I needed to take that shortcut again as if I didn’t, he would, and would get back in front of me. Luckily, the mental note I made at the start of the race paid off and I was able to find the spot at which I needed to enter the trees in order to cut the corner. (This was all within the rules btw 😉)

I got back onto the fire road for the last kilometre. I was in 17th now and I knew I could catch the runner ahead so with the last of my energy, I upped a gear and passed him and headed for the finish line to come in, in 16th place with a time of 1:17 (~2 mins off my course PB). It was seriously warm at the finish area, so much so that I could not hang around too long and needed to get into the car for some water and air conditioning!

Thanks a lot, to Liam and the rest of the helpers. The race ran seamlessly, and it was a pleasure to be racing down in that part of the country. Next up, Paul Mahon’s Ballybraid race 😊

Posted by: summit2summit | July 12, 2021

IMRA Circuit of Glenmacnass – July 11, 2021

The last time this race featured was almost a decade ago back in 2012 so I was really happy to see it back on the calendar for this year. Its one of my favourite races out there. Its raw open mountain stuff which you just can’t beat. I decided to do a recce for the race back on June 9th, but I had a horrible time out on the course. I packed food but no water and by the time I got to the summit of Tonelagee I was feeling the effects of dehydration. I struggled to the waterfall carpark and had to drag myself up Scarr. The rest was a shuffle shall we say… Anyway, at least I got to recce some of the shortcuts that I planned on taking.

Fast forward to the eve of the race. I learned at about 9pm that the start was altered so my planned shortcuts were made redundant! Out with the map it was and I quickly found some new options. Come the morning of the race, I left home at 08:30 and on the way it started to rain, which was not forecast until lunchtime. I may be in the minority here, but I was kind of happy it was raining and cloudy as it adds an extra dimension to the race in terms of your navigation and even the results too. After a quick registration and gear check, I headed up to the start line and did a quick run around of the shortcuts I had looked at the night before so that they would be fresh in my mind. Brian gave his race brief and off we went. Most of the pack ran off to the east but about a dozen of us took off to the west. We ran up a lane which led onto the main track system and then headed for the open mountain path. Myself and Liam Vines were at the head of this pack but once we got onto the open mountain some of the pack overtook us and disappeared off into the mist ahead.

We turned left just before Brockagh East and made our way towards Brockagh’s main summit. The visibility was down to ~50m at this stage and it was also the last time I saw Liam Vines as he pulled away into the distance. Mick Hanney cruised past me on this section looking very strong indeed. My uphill skills are something I need to work on as I’d say I was passed by about 10 runners on the Brockagh’s! After touching the cairn, we veered north and followed a much fainter walkers track. I felt comfortable with my nav up to this point and had a good awareness of where I was on the course even though I could see very little. I knew there was a big beast of a mountain ahead, hidden well behind the clouds. (Maybe a good thing it was hidden!?) We hit the lower slopes of Tonelagee and began our climb. It’s an exceptionally tough climb but you just must get yourself into a rhythm and keep pushing as hard as you can. I passed Mick Hanney just before the summit whilst commenting to him about the harshness of the climb. Once I touched the trig pillar, I saw a runner approaching me from Stoney Top direction. Luckily, they had realised their mistake and corrected it, or it may have been a long day out for them.

The run off Tonelagee is always a fun one, no matter what direction you come off it. We had a steep decent to begin and then it was a lovely springy gentle downhill run along the walkers track to the river crossing. I passed Becky Quinn on this stretch, but I knew it was not going to be the last time I saw her. Once I hit the river, I just dived straight in. I was already wet so why not! I got across and Paul Duffy and Joe Lawlor were there with some jellies and words of encouragement. I then saw Warren Swords out of the corner of my eye and he did not look like he was in a good place. (Maybe a few too many pints the night before 😉)

Glenmacnass River

I didn’t hang about and headed straight for the next climb. Becky then shot past me and bounded up the hill and off into the low cloud. I chose to go up to Kanturch and then onto Scarr but I know Liam and maybe others took a different route lower down on the mountain. It was raining heavy at this point and the wind was now in my face. I thought about my rain jacket again but I figured I had not long to go and I had some runners in my sights so I left it and continued with the racing. It was a tough enough climb especially after all the previous climbing but I knew I would be rewarded with an epic downhill all the way to Paddock Hill. I was able to pass two runners on this section. They were slightly doubting where they were going so I was able to benefit from this. (I did tell them they were on the right track btw!)

I was I a good place now. I had got all the hard nav and climbing out of the way and was very happy with all my lines so far. My map and compass did not have to come out once which is one of the benefits of good local knowledge! As I descended, I passed a lot of walkers. I was surprised to see so many out given the poor weather and I would say they were equally surprised at all the runners going by in t-shirts! Anyway, I got to Paddock Hill and I was almost there. I went down the old Wicklow Way route as it has less turns than the new section. Once I crossed the road my mind was already at the finish line and it was at this moment that I had a bad fall on the boardwalk just before the bridge. I was going around a corner at full speed and my feet just went from under me. It was one of those falls where you have a split second to think before you land and all that was going through my mind was that it was going to hurt! I picked myself up as I knew I had runners close behind me and I just kept on going to the finish line where I would then access the damage. (needed an x-ray of my knee the next day but luckily got the all clear 😊)

I crossed the line in 20th position in a time of 2:23:34. I had covered 20.34km with a total assent of 998m. Liam Vines was the only other person (that I know of), that covered less distance (290m less to be precise) so this just proves that a recce is very important! There was a great atmosphere at the finish line. Had a quick chat to Robbie Costello, Brian the RD and Alan Ayling before making my way back to the car to try and get dry again.

So, with all that said, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Brian and all the helpers. Its not easy volunteering for a race this long especially when its raining all day. It was a truly magnificent race and one I will be looking forward to doing again the next time its on.

My Strava

Posted by: summit2summit | April 13, 2016

IMRA Wicklow Glacier Lakes Relay – 2016

This race was originally dropped for the 2016 race calendar which ruffled a few feathers amongst some of the good folk of IMRA. The omission was pointed out by several fervent glacier lakers on a thread about the upcoming schedule and the very kind people on the committee were able to slot it back in, which delighted both myself and many others. I find it very hard to pick a top three list of my favourite IMRA events but this one has to be close to making that list. It’s got the relay element to it, the navigation can be tough, the weather can play a huge part in it and it’s generally just a beast of a challenge, whether it is you doing a single leg or the whole lot as a soloist.

With the event now firmly back in the calendar, I registered my team with Gerry. This year’s line-up was to be Brian Flannelly for leg one, Bernard Fortune for leg two, myself for leg three and Mikey Fry for leg four. We had a potentially winning team on paper but as the event neared, I could see some other strong contenders emerge. There was an orienteering team which were strong, Don Hannon’s team looked like a threat, especially with Suzanne getting a time advantage and then there were a few vet teams that were due to start a lot earlier than us. I knew we would do well but just how well was still a bit of guess work.

Our race kicked off at 09:40 with Brian setting off. Leg one had some big names so the top of that pack would be a nice battle. I was still at home at this stage trying to get updates on how the race was unfolding. My days of disappearing off to the hills all day are finished now that the little lad is knocking about the house 😉 Brian had a magnificent run and came in close second to Adrian Hennessy. Pacing is obviously not a factor that Adrian has to deal with and this sure did show when he came in 7th overall and ran each leg like it was his only leg.

Brian leg 1

Brian (leg 1)

Brian handed over to Bernard at the Wicklow Gap carpark and he set off up the service road. Bernard knew all the short cuts up to the top and knew his way over to Lough Firrib but was not 100% sure of the Three Lakes area. This is a notoriously hard area for navigation if the weather is down, but as luck had it, we had a smashing day with excellent visibility. Leg two had yet more big names and the competition was fierce. Bernard later told me that he tried hard to catch Ben Mangan but no matter how hard he tried, Ben was just unbeatable on the day. (Ben got a sub one hour for leg two which considerably beat the leg record I believe)

Bernard leg 2

Bernard (leg 2)

I had left the comforts of my home at about 10:30 and was due to arrive at Barravore at 11:20. I was not expecting to see Bernard until about 11:50. Upon arrival, I was busy chatting away with Gerry Brady (who was the brain child of the event), Liam Vines and Rory Campbell. Both Liam and Rory along with Peter Bell and Adrian Hennessy were due to tackle leg three, so I knew I had stiff competition. I realised I had better do a warm up so headed off up the Table Track. No sooner than I did, I caught sight of Bernard barrelling down towards me at serious pace. With that, I turned on a sixpence and darted back to the start line in a bit of a panic. I was not expecting Bernard for another ten minutes!

With a slightly pressured start I was off. I was fumbling a bit with the mandatory kit and getting it packed away. I had a map and compass but by looking at the day, I knew they would stay in the bag. I decided for two tech t-shirts and shorts and I broke out the big guns for my footwear choice, the INOV8 Bare grips! More on them later….

I got to the river crossing and crossed the ankle deep water. Once over the river there was a huge climb ahead. Having done Annagh Hill and Maulin this year, I felt comfortable with the steepness. I passed Jason Dowling along the way and said a quick hello. Once I levelled off I could see the lake which I touched with my foot. After that, it was off towards the ramp.

Near the top of the ramp, I know people opt to keep ascending and take a more direct line to Kelly’s Lough but I chose to go through the bottom of the bowl and then cross the walkers track at the 650m mark. This decision was purely because I am more efficient and traveling on flat or downhill and as soon as I start to climb, I tent to lose time.

After the walkers track, I kept right and ran hard for the lough. I saw IMRA stalwart, Joe Lalor to my left and Adrian Hennessy higher up to my right. After this initial sighting, I saw neither again until the finish. After Kelly’s, I descended to the river which I would handrail closely until Leolasia Brook. I knew at that brook that that was my marker to start to veer left a bit and pick up the faint walkers track that leads to the Zig Zags.

It was this point that I knew all the hard work was done. I was running at speed downhill on open mountain in glorious sunshine and was absolutely loving it. As mentioned previously, I opted for the INOV8 Bare Grips for footwear. For heavy duty open mountain wet and mud, these just can’t be beaten. Even though conditions were excellent overall, the ground was still quite wet but I was able to make light work of it. The only downside of the bare grips is that they have a very thin sole and I was soon to feel the discomfort of all the loose stones on the zig zags!

I crossed the style and powered on down to the head of the zig zags. I had not seen anyone else really so was not sure who was ahead of me or behind me. I ran as fast as I could down the tracks and emerged out onto the road. I knew there was only a kilometre to go so dug deep and ran hard all the way to the changeover point. I saw Mikey and hander over to him and then quickly fell in a heap! As soon as I got my breath back myself and Bernard headed back to the start/finish to see the outcome. I knew we were in second place but Mikey had about a 10/15 minute gap to close down so it was all to play for!

WGL leg 2 route

My leg 3 route

We parked up and made our way to the finish area. Gerry Brady was there and was eagerly awaiting Mags Greenan who was his leg four runner and Mikey’s target to beat. It was tense and we all did not know who was going emerge first. In the end, it was Mikey and he sealed the victory for ‘The Glacial Lakers’ and to make things even better, we smashed the course record by nearly 30 mins in a time of 4:05:55!

Gerry’s team came in close second and Ben Mangan’s team was in third. Adrian Hennessy took the men’s solo victory in an amazing time of 4h35 and Maike Jurgens took the lady’s solo victory. So overall it was a great day out and there were lots of happy faces. Special praise has to go to Rachel and her great crew of helpers for putting on such a cracking event. Like all IMRA races, they would just not happen without helpers giving up their time, so thanks again!

Until next year and maybe a sub 4 push 😉

Posted by: summit2summit | March 14, 2016

IMRA Annagh Hill Race – March 12 2016

This was my 3rd time to race on Annagh Hill so there was no question for me of whether it was worth the long drive or not. It was a no brainer. This race is nice because it is outside of where I normally compete so it offers something a little different in terms of the location and the terrain.

I was having a look at the route info about a week before the race and noticed the race was ranked 9 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. I knew there was a fairly savage climb at the start but I did not remember it being a 9 previously. It may be a soft 9 I thought to myself but how wrong I was to be! Mick Hanney and Bernard Fortune had plotted a beast of a route with the now infamous initial climb followed by a mix of bog, fire road, branches, fallen trees and puddles the size of lakes.

Annagh route map

Annagh Hill route

I arrived just in time for registration and quickly got signed in. I made my way up to the start line and did a warm up with Mikey Fry. Lots of familiar faces around at this stage and a very relaxed atmosphere, typical of any IMRA race really. Mick gave us our final instructions as we set off bang on midday on the nicest day of the year so far. We plodded along for a few hundred metres and then got stuck into the climb. It is just a case of sucking it up and trying hard to ignore the agony of burning calf muscles.

Annagh 1st climb

The ‘Wall’

I got to the top and was relieved to be running of flattish terrain again. That climb is really something! From the top we crossed the wall and passed Patsy McCreanor who was on marshalling duties. We are then on the long out and back stretch which is on a mix of fire road and tracks. It was a funny race for me at this stage as I had people in front of me in the distance (19 to be precise) but they were in and out of view. I looked back briefly and saw no one which does not tend to happen so soon into a race.

Annag straight

Doing my thing

After heading south west for a couple of kilometres we got to the end of the straight and veered right which would take us down one of the gnarly-ist descents! It was racing as I liked it most, right on the cusp of control versus out of control. I find if I just let loose and allow a small bit of ‘recklessness’ to come into play, that usually gets me down the hill rather sharpish!

There was still no one around me and I could not help but think, had I missed a marker or done something stupid like that, but I just ran on and was happy to see the next marshal soon afterwards. I was on nice fire road now with a gentle decline so I opened up the throttle as I knew I had some tough climbs coming up. I am much better on the downhills so wanted to maximise this section in case I was being chased up the next hill!

Annagh puddle

The water features

The next hill came into view and it was a tough hill so I just got into climbing mode and huffed and puffed up the hill. I had people ahead of me know for the 1st time in some time which was nice to see as they gave me more motivation to up my game and try and catch them.

We got to the top of this section and that drew a close to the back loop of the course. My legs were feeling good so I was able to run all of the next few kilometres uphill towards Annagh Hill. I got up the highpoint of the route after passing one more person. I was in 19th at this point. Alan Ayling, whom I’ve had some fantastic one on one battle’s with over the years, came into view but I knew he was too far ahead to catch and I was quickly running out of course.

I soon got back to Patsy who was around the 452m mark and he guided us left and onto the last section of the route. I heard no one behind me but still decided to give the downhill 100% as I just love the downhills! I had to duck under a few fallen trees and mind for all the branches but that is all part of the fun of it really. I took my last right turn of the day and powered downhill towards a group of volunteers and finishers and then turned left to cross the line 1:10:09 in 19th position.

Annagh finish line

Finish line

You can’t beat the feeling at the finish line. The adrenaline mixed with the exhaustion creates some buzz! It’s that feeling that keeps me coming back each week!

I have to hand it to Mick and Bernard for devising this route, for an 11K’er it really does have a nice blend of everything you could wish for. It is definitely a race that I will be back for. Many thanks to all the volunteers as well for giving up their time so we could all race. It was just a pity I could not hang around for the prize giving but parenting was a calling!!

Posted by: summit2summit | May 15, 2015

Wicklow Glacier Lakes Relay 2015

It all started with a mail from Tim Chapman to myself, James Clancy, Mike Jordan and Ronan Hickey. Tim had stated that he was going to give the WGL a bash with a solo attempt and was looking for an old .gpx file of the route. This was to be the seed that would be planted in my head that led me to enter a team into the event. After a few back and forth emails contemplating a solo attempt, Ronan had to bow out so that left the four of us. Seeing as there are only four legs, I suggested that we enter a team…

James and I were keen, Tim was due a new arrival soon and Mike had some plans so the latter two could not commit but I was adamant that I would pull four of us together and enter the race. As it turned out, Mike had to pull out. We still had three so no problem I thought. Then, Tim’s wife had the baby and with the event only around the corner we were down to two. Me entering the team was now looking unlikely, but I did not give up! I pestered lots of people, and to my Luck, Mickey Fry came on board. After then hearing that we only had three runners and that I was going to cover two of the legs, he suggested Ronan King. I did not know Ronan but after a quick chat he came on board. Alas, we have a team!

After a quick email to Gerry Brady, the event organiser, we were officially entered and could now concentrate on recces and logistics. Having done the event twice before as a solo, I knew all the legs well so could share out good advice to the team. Ronan was to tackle leg 1, James leg 2, myself leg 3 and then Mickey for leg 4. Early on I set the goal of a podium finish so we all knew what we had to do.

The 11th of April came around fast, after what seemed like endless turmoil trying to put the team together. It was a sunny day, not too windy either, a big contrast to previous years where the weather had been quite poor. Ronan set off on his leg and was soon disappeared off into the distance. Myself and James jumped into his car and set off for The Wicklow Gap. The thing I love about these types of events is not just the running part, but the buzz of following your team along the way and seeing how the event is playing out in real time.

After a few chats to the folk waiting at the gap, Ronan came in strong and tagged in James. James started up the access road which would take him up onto Turlough Hill where the fun of the notorious leg 2 would begin! Leg 2 is a tricky leg as more often than not, the mist is down and the lakes that need to be touched as part of the event rules tend to play a game of hid and seek. But as luck would have it, we had a very nice day and James made short work of his leg.

Ronan

Ronan

During the time James was running, myself and Ronan were making our way over to Barravore where we would watch James come in from his leg. It was nearly time for me to get going so the nerves were starting to kick in. I knew we were doing well so the pressure was on to do well in my leg. Just as the sun really started to beat down, James flew in and tagged me in. I took off like the clappers and began the fire road assent. I always find it strange when I am in a race but there is no one around me as tends to happen during these relay type races as the field spreads out over the course.

While I was basking in the sun, I could see a mass of dark and angry clouds coming my way fast. Things were going to get hairy I thought and with that an almighty hail shower erupted. At this point I was making my way up the step side of Fraughan Rock Glen en route to Arts Lough. The hail was like hundreds of needles lashing into my exposed face and legs. I was completely at the mercy of Mother Nature here but just had to suck it up and get on with the climb. After Arts Lough, I made my way up the ramp towards the spur. There were two guys heading up this spur but I knew my way was quicker so I ran below them and contoured around the spur and into the bowl shaped cliffs. The weather was back to blazing sun again and the visibility was just perfect. When you can see where you are going it just makes all the difference to your speed and confidence.

I came out of this bowl up onto the main spur that leads to Clohernagh and crossed it at about the 600m mark. I then headed in a south westerly direction as fast as I could hoping that Kelly’s Lough would soon come into sight. Soon after, I could see the water glistening so I locked onto it and ticked that off the list. From here, I knew I had a good downhill run ahead down along Carrawastick Brook.

After a short while descending I approached the top of the zig zags. Last time around, I tried to go in more of a straight line down them but this year I opted for speed so stayed on them for their entirety. After I zipped down them, I only had the road section to go but I was very tired at this point and I had to use all the strength I had left to power along the last kilometre or so to cross the line.

End of leg 3

End of leg 3

I tagged Mickey in and then quickly fell to the ground in exhaustion. I then learned that I had come in just 4 minutes behind Zoran Skbra who was in the team ahead of us. I was delighted to keep pace with them and not lose too much time on my leg. I knew with only one leg to go that we could get anywhere from 2nd place to 4th. It was way too close to call!

After I got myself back in some sort of order, I hoped into Mickey’s car and made my way back to Glendalough with James and Ronan in tow in James car. We all got to Glendalough and made our way to the finish line where there were crowds starting to gather. The nerves were flying now, I knew we did not have a chance for 1st but 2nd and 3rd were still well on the cards. All our hard work was paying off and we had a real chance to meet our pre-race goal of a podium finish. Richard Nunan’s team got in just before 2pm and clinched 1st place. They were soon followed by Joe Lalor’s team who clinched 2nd place. It was all down to the last podium spot. Who would come in next we all thought!?

I knew both Mickey and Adrian Hennessy would both be pushing hard for 3rd spot so it was impossible to call. Then, to my delight Mickey came into view and crossed the line securing us 3rd place overall and we had the added bonus of setting a new course record as the first two teams had early starts due to the age and sex of some of their team members.

New course record holders ;)

New course record holders 😉

This was a brilliant feeling, from getting a team on the verge of extinction entered on time and securing our pre-race goal all the while setting a new course record of 4:32:52, it does not get much better than that.

Once again, a huge thanks to my team and to Gerry for coming up with this class race and to all the helpers who made it possible. Definitely one race to think about as a team or a solo!

Overall results (using actual time of day and including time bonuses):

1 13:58:10 (Richard Nunan, Adrian Tucker, Zoran Skrba, Donna Mahon)

2 14:07:52 (Joe Lalor, Roisin McDonnell, Joe Lalor, Roisin McDonnell)

3 14:12:52 (Ronan King, James Clancy, Gareth Little, Mikey Fry) 4 14:19:11 (Adrian Hennessy)

Posted by: summit2summit | May 15, 2015

Ballybraid 2015

I had never run this route before nor had I really looked into it in any great detail until about two weeks before the race itself. From looking at the map, I was fairly sure I needed to do a recce as two of the peaks were new to me so I was unfamiliar with them and their surrounding areas. I had the day off on the May bank holiday Monday so decided to go and have a mooch around.

I set off from the pub at the bottom of the infamous Shay Elliot Hill and headed up towards the car park where the road levels off. I decided not to bother with the initial fire road and Mullacor sections as I knew that part of it well. I went through the gate and turned left and followed the track downhill where it veered to the right. This was to be the route I would take on race day but in hind sight, I think through the gate and straight is the slightly quicker option. I made my way up to Kirakee and then recce’d the best option to Carriglineen. After Carriglineen, there are several route choices, I picked the wrong one and got a chase off a dog for my troubles! Buy hey, I got the recce done and was looking set for race day.

The race start was at 12 which I liked. Not too much of an early start. I left home at 10:30 after breakfast and made my way to the pub. I arrived at about 11:30 and got registered. Then I had enough time to catch up briefly with a few of the other runners. There is always a great atmosphere before these weekend races which you can’t beat.

Paul gave us our final few words and at the stroke of midday we all set off towards the Wicklow Way. The start was nice and relaxed compared to some of the Leinster League races. We were only on the Wicklow Way for a short time before we peeled off and made our way up the track system. The climb here is a long one. It was pretty much all climb until we hit Mullacor about 4/5k after the start.

Pre race brief

Pre race brief

Just before we hit open mountain, everyone had pretty much found a good rhythm. I was a bit slow on the tracks for my liking but I knew I had a nice downhill section coming up so was not too concerned at this early stage.

As soon as I reached Mullacor, the mist was just coming in. I was fairly confident of the line I needed to take off the top so did not bother with a bearing and just took off as fast as I possibly could. I soon passed Becky Quinn and Barry Moore who had overtaken me on the track system so that put my mind at ease for my lack of uphill strength. The downhill section towards the Shay Elliot car park was lovely. It was a nice constant decent in bouncy bog and suited me well. I got towards the car park and I could see that I was gaining on some runners ahead.

I passed across the road at high speed as I knew there was a big bike race on and did not want to get caught out by a bike barrelling down on me! I crossed the gate and turned left. There was a runner looking very confused in front of me, looking back and forth at his map and the track but as soon as I passed him he took off in pursuit of me.

We headed up towards Kirakee on the fire road. We could not get quite to the summit as the trig pillar was just over a fence in a farmers field so I just touched the fence and did a 180 and headed back the way I came. There were two left turn options that will get you set up for the last summit but after my recce I knew the 2nd left was the best bet.

As I was climbing up towards Carriglineen, I could see Barry Moore and Becky Quinn close behind me and that sight kept the pressure on me. I could also see two lads not far off and then Dermot Murphy just ahead of them too. I knew we would all be close at the finish line!

We hit the summit and this is where your route choice really opens up. It’s one thing to recce it on a calm back holiday but it’s another thing to remember where you are going in the heat of battle. I veered slightly to the right where I caught the two lads. Dermot was next up in my sights. We were going at a blistering pace now, half in control, half out of control. The two lads veered right which was the way I knew and then Dermot veered left. I had to make a call and decided to follow Dermot.

As quickly as I made that choice I realised that I was about to pass Dermot and did not know the way ahead of him so I veered back right and popped back in line just behind the two lads. That zig zag manoeuvre had cost me some precious metres but I still had about a half a kilometre to go down some extremely step slope to make up for it.

I am a confident downhiller and coupled with the fact that I had on my INOV8 Baregrips, I knew I was in with a shot of some overtaking. I managed to pass one guy and was directly behind the next. The slope was crazy, unreal steepness when you are traveling at that speed. I was now more out of control than in control but just about hanging in there. I had been going flat out for nearly 15 kilometres at this point and the adrenaline was pumping. I knew the end was close.

We hit the road, with one guy just in front of me. The other was not far behind and I did not know where Dermot was at this stage. We were down to the last 200m with the guy in front still leading me. I decided to sprint and really give him a go right to the end. I was side by side at the bridge with the finish in sight. My body was screaming out in agony but I had no choice but to push on. We were neck and neck as we crossed the line and I was sure happy to take my foot off the gas and catch my breath the second we finished. I then learned I had lost the head to head by 1 second! 😦

Sprint finish!

Sprint finish!

As soon as I was somewhat composed I noticed Dermot Murphy in ahead of me. He had been in for good 30 seconds so I picked his brain about his route choice already thinking about next year’s race.

Tired but happy!!

Tired but happy!!

Overall I was happy with my race. I just need to sharpen up a bit on the climbs and there are one or two minor route choice changes that I will make for next time. The route was fantastic too. It is a real old school mountain running event whereby you are told the start/finish point, a list of summits and then given free route choice. That’s what it’s all about for me.

Cheers Paul and all of the helpers for a cracking day out. Until next year…

Posted by: summit2summit | May 15, 2015

The Wicklow Way Trail 2015

I woke up to a beautiful day outside, perfect weather for mountain running I thought to myself as I began to pack my things. I grabbed a bit of breakfast and then jumped in the car and set off for Johnny Fox’s pub. Upon arrival the traffic was manic. I thought the event must have grown to such an extent that we had taken over the whole area but I later found out that there was a funeral on at the same time which made things somewhat chaotic!

I got the car parked in the end and checked in with Dermot and got my race number. Dermot, the race director for the day was cool and calm, even with all the traffic chaos going on around him. A true veteran race director! After registration, I jumped on the bus to the start which is always a bit of craic. There were plenty of war stories being exchanged and there was a real buzz about the bus.

We got dropped off at Ballinastoe and began our warm up. This event always draws huge crowds so there were plenty of familiar faces knocking around at the start. I had a slight feeling of trepidation about the race as I was only back a few months after an extended spell on the side lines due to a broken ankle. I had not really run any distance in previous months and 25K was sure to be the longest I have run in the best part of a year.

WWT Start 2

After a few words from Dermot, we were off. There was little wind, it was not to warm and it was sunny. Perfect! The start was good, I got off to a steady pace on the uphill. I was shouting a few words of encouragement to the ultra’s who were passing me on their way to the half way point. I had done the ultra the previous two years, but this year I was very happy to only have 25k on my plate!!

WWT Start

The top runners had already headed off into the distance by the time I reached the boardwalk. After 5K, which had all been uphill so far, we turned right at the shoulder of Djouce Mountain. This section is lovely for running, one of my favourites in fact. After a stretch of narrow path, the track opens up into a nice wide grassy track where you can build up some nice speed. We got to the two styles at the end of this track and then headed downhill and crossed the river and began a short but steep uphill ascent.

There were not too many runners around me at this point as I was passing Powerscourt Waterfall. I was still happy with the race so far, I was going strong but all the while knowing that I still had a bit to go. I got into Crone Woods car park where there was a lot of activity going on around the feed station. It would have been nice to stop for a chat but I was in full race mode so just darted on through. After Crone, there is a lovely section along the Glencree River. The weather was still cracking so this area was extra scenic looking.

After the river, we started to ascend up towards Knockcree. I passed a few more ultra’s that I knew and knew that they would be starting to feel the distance in their legs at this point. I was again happy to be only doing half of what they had set out to do!

I got into Curtlestown where I was meet by Mick Haney and his kids. They were manning one of the aid stations along the route. I stopped briefly and grabbed a quick drink and a few jellies. I did not pack and drinks or food with me as I would be fairly comfortable to run 25K without, but in saying that the jellies were a welcome treat!

After this point I knew there was a long stretch of uphill fire road that leads to Prince Willima’s Seat. I was still feeling strong here so pressed on and attacked this hill section. I never stopped running and kept up a good pace so was happy with that. Towards the top, I passed a big bunch of scouts who were shouting words of encouragement at me. In my mind now, the hard part of the race was done and I was happy with progress thus far.

I hit the top of the rocky steeps heading along just below Prince William’s Seat. I knew I had about 3K or so of downhill fire road ahead so I decided to really go for it at this point. I notched it up a gear and got in some really fast kilometres and was able to pass a few other trail runners at the same time. My legs were beginning to tire but I knew I had enough left in the tank to make a strong finish.

Nearly at the finish!

Nearly at the finish!

I crossed through the last couple of gates and knew I was on the home stretch. The last kilometre is all uphill and a bit of a sting in the tail for trail and ultra-runners alike but I just had to suck that up and keep moving. I crossed the line and was delighted with things. This was a big test for me after such a serious injury and one that I passed with flying colours in the end. The feelings of trepidation I had earlier in the day were well and truly gone now.

I picked up another finishers mug to add to the collection and then basked in the sun for a while. After a few chats with some of the other runners, I had to make my way to the car as I had to get home to take care of a few errands.

Overall, this was a great day out for numerous reasons but the big too for me were the weather and the fact that I was back doing long-ish hill running after my injury. Happy days!

Thanks to Dermot and all of his helpers who without, so many people would not get to enjoy such a class day out!

Posted by: summit2summit | May 30, 2014

Wicklow Glacial Lakes Solo – April 2014

          This event got the better of me last year so I was really eager to make it right this year. Last year I underestimated the weather and got caught out soon after the start in full on winter conditions. I allowed myself to get wet before I put on some rain gear which resulted in me getting cold, a cold I would not recover from. I made it halfway and pulled out. If I had have gone on it would have been a dangerous move on my part as the hills were less than hospitable that day. So with that in mind I was determined to complete this year’s event without any hiccups.

The idea behind this race is very clever, the runners must traverse around the mountains and touch a pre-determined list of glacial lakes as part of a team or as a solo runner. It is much the same as an orienteering event except the lakes are used instead of traditional controls. What makes it more interesting is the fact that runners are given time bonuses based on things like age and sex. The idea behind this is to level out the playing field which it does nicely.

My start time was 09:40 which meant I did not have to get up at the crack of dawn which I liked! I arrived in at the Glendalough Hotel soon after 9am and signed in. I was chatting to a few of the other solo’rs and everyone was in a relaxed mood. We were discussing last year’s conditions which were beyond poor and comparing it to the relatively nice day we had above our heads.

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09:40 came around which saw us set off down St. Kevin’s Way. Although the weather was nice I was not taking any chances and had on running leggings and a big jacket. It’s a nice run along this section of the way and not long after we were on the road heading in the direction of the Wicklow Gap. It was at this point that the runners must leave the road and make there way to the first lake of the day, Lough Ouler. We all took slightly differing routes up the hill which was interesting to see but we all made it up to the col roughly at the same time. From here it’s a steep decent down to the waters edge.

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One lake down and six to go, with all still going to plan. There was a group of us all contouring Tonelagee en route to the Wicklow Gap car park. I decided to take a higher line and try and catch the main path a bit earlier where as the rest of the pack contoured a bit lower than me. The lower line turned out to be slightly quicker but ultimately we all got to the car park within a matter of minutes of each other. So that was leg one done and after no hanging around I was on my way up the Turlough Hill service road for the trickiest section of the race, leg two.

The service road is straight forward with a few shortcuts thrown in for good measure. At the top I bumped into Alan Ayling who was with a few others. We were running over the rough terrain towards Lough Firib when we meet Moire O’Sullivan who had gone awry in the heavy mist. She joined us and the four of us made tracks. We hit Lough Firib fairly easily and then dialled in The Three Lakes on our compasses. The conditions were very challenging at this point so I was glad to be in a group. The peat hags make it hard to follow a bearing and we were slightly off course. Alan noticed this and changed the direction of the group and not long after we were at the larger of the lakes. Another one down and things were still going good.

I split from the group here and made a run for the next checkpoint. This section of hill was still fresh in my mind from this year’s Art O’Neill challenge so I made light work of it. We hit the track head after some slip sliding in the mud and began the run towards checkpoint two.

After a brief stop to resupply I headed off to start leg three. I had now made it further that my ill fated attempt last year and was enjoying the race so far. I knew now that only an injury could force me to drop out. Myself and Moire crossed the ford and began the steep incline that would bring us up to Art’s Lough, the third of our seven lakes. It was a tough climb and there was little room for chit chat as the physical demand was that high. I eventually made it to the top and touched the lakes chilly waters. After that we headed towards the ramp that would skirt us up and around Clohernagh and towards Kelly’s Lough.

Moire had gone on ahead and opened up a gap on me but I was just concentrating on the terrain underfoot and making sure I was on the right bearing. The ground was rough in places but not that bad overall. I made it down to Kelly’s Lough and got that one ticked off the list. I took a small break at this point and got some food into me and quickly checked my trusty East West map.

It was a lovely run from here to the start of the zig zags and I enjoyed it a lot. I was getting tired but I knew I had the hard part over with. Just before I hit the zig zags I passed two hikers and then had a spectacular fall. I ended up on my back with my legs up in the air while sliding down the hill head first! I was able to swing my body around and lower my legs and then the grips of my runners got traction in the mud and I gracefully landed back on my feet in one smooth motion and was on my merry way once again.

I got down to the road and ran along to the last check point. I only stopped here for about 10 seconds and quickly stated my way up onto the fire road system. A really fresh and clean looking runner passed me by with ease and made me jealous. I was looking rather worse for wear and covered in mud at that point! I battled on however and was nearly at the gap in the forest which lead up towards Mullacor. It was then that the spritely looking runner passed me by again after having taken a wrong turn. It is so easy to do when you are in full race mode!

I got up to the boardwalk and made my way back onto the fire roads. My stomach was starting to give me trouble here and I had to make a ‘pit’ stop. I have never really gotten a good handle on proper sports nutrition and always just reach for the jellies and coke. Not ideal but it’s a case of whatever works for me……

I eventually appeared out into the upper lake area looking quite dishevelled now. I am sure I was a scary site for some of the foreign visitors! I ran over and touched the upper lake and made my way towards the lower lake which was to be the last lake of the day. I was tired now and looking forward to the finish.

I touched the lower lake and then all I had to do was make my way over to the hotel and the finish line. I crossed a bridge but this was not the optimal route looking back. When I got to the other side I found myself running in the opposite direction of the hotel! I had to scale a wall to get onto the road and ran the last few hundred metres back to the start/finish line.

I crossed the line in 5:57:28 which earned me a 5th place finish. I was delighted to make amends of last year’s race with a strong finish this year. I quickly got changed out of my muddy attire and into fresh clothes and enjoyed watching the rest of the field cross the line.

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Many thanks to Gerry for organising and creating such a unique event and also to his great band of volunteers who helped out on the day. Next year I think I will give this a bash as part of a team just to see what the other side is like!

 

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