Conor Kenny has dusted down his old programmes from the Terenure 5, formerly known as the Dublin 5 Mile Classic. Each year there where articles and features written by some of Sportsworlds finest so Conor has kindly offered to transcribe these articles and give them a second wind! It also ensures that club members contributions are archived and not lost or forgotten
First up is an piece from Conor on mountain running which featured in the May 2002 race programme.
By Conor Kenny
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less travelled,
And that has made all the difference”
To the non-runner struggling to understand this unnatural obsession, runners are either heroic, patriotic Olympians or merely, slightly sad, get-in-your-way Sunday morning ‘Joggers’. The ultimate in fame or “Ah God Love them” victim. There’s no in between and, if you’re not famous, you join the latter label instantly: “There Darling, look at them, you should be out there ‘jogging’ too”
The joy of running is not in winning. If it were, we mere mortals would have retired ages ago. No, running is a magnificent engine that creates fun, memories and even the occasional medal. Even the ‘finishers’ medal’ can create a treasure chest of memories, trips and PB’s.
On the way to the start
It’s a funny old sport. A season that last 52 weeks of the year, a sport that carries on regardless of the wind, rain or storm. It’s a race against ourselves, a physical battle that tests our mental strength and not just in a race. It’s the ultimate mid-winter Angel & Devil debate; “Stay in, it’s cold and wet. You’re tired, you deserve a rest. Come on, you’ve worked hard, relax, what’s the rush? Go tomorrow”. The seductive voice is rudely interrupted by the strict voice that says “Get your ass out the door, drop the excuses and go lose some weight” – Eventually ‘Reasonable Voice’ enters the fray. “Oh Go On, go, you won’t regret it” Thing is, you never do. You go (mostly!)
Lots and lots has been written about winners, elites and so on but, this little piece, is about the regular, middle of the pack runner, who falls in behind the winners and pace setters. It’s in these private personal battles that my best memories have been born and they are as fresh today in my head.
In 1999, after running in the Irish Mountain Running Association leagues, I decided I’d have a go at the ultimate race on their annual calendar, Carrounthill, Kerry.
It’s a terrifying race. No marshals, no aid, no markings and no supporters. Its 4 miles straight up and 4 miles down. It tests courage, strength, will power and more. The climbs are horrific and the descents utterly frightening. There are no paths, just loose stone.
Eric, a good friend, was given a highly edited invite to join me. Kerry, June, a bit of a hill and a night out after. Before he could think about it “I’ll pick you up, I’ll drive” He agreed to come. Now, I should tell you that the reason this race is held in June is because it has the record of visibility and, they added, the fewest casualties and fatalities. Carrounthill is not to be messed with.
The night before, Eric couldn’t understand why I was a little on edge. He said “How long is the race tomorrow?” I said “Oh, about 8 Miles” Eric never spoke after that. Later that evening, we drove in the mid summer dusk to look across the lakes at this beast. It was beautiful but it was surreal. The idea of ‘running’ any of it was hilarious. You know what I mean by ‘hilarious’? Nervous laughter that looked like we’d overdosed on Botox.
It’s about a 10 mile drive to the start. Each mountain seemed bigger than the next. Eric kept saying “That one? Surely not ‘that’ one?”
We drove through Killorglin without a curtain moving, passed the Gap of Dunloe beaming in the sun. Around a few twisty bends and “Sweet Divine Jesus, that couldn’t be Carrounthill, is it?” It was.
The start was the most frightening ever …. Ever. The entire entry for this ‘Irish International Championship’ event was 38. No women, all men. Almost everyone wore international tracksuits boasting of Olympic selection, National honours and more. Eric and I wondered if our Sportsworld tracksuits fitted in.
A friendly face, Vivian O’Gorman, was officiating. Vivian is a much better hill runner than I. Knowing the answer, I asked Vivian how tough was this. He smiled, said “Very” and continued on his way. There was no point warming up, we were doomed.
John Lenihan is a World Champion Mountain Runner. He has been undefeated on this beast for 14 straight years and one of the most modest men you’ll meet. I was in awe of this legend as I lined up with Eric and the other 36.
John Lenihan descending. World Mountain Running Champion
The start was simply a vertical slope. Lenihan was away like some clockwork toy making mincemeat of the hill. Those of us at the back, about 8 of the 38, blew up after 100 metres and walked. There was just 4 miles of sheer climbing ahead. This was going to be some challenge.
In time, I got a little rhythm going. After all, here I was taking on this most daunting of challenges – me and just 37 others.
An hour into the climb I looked up at the vertical peaks that still lay ahead. It was soul destroying not to mention the physical pain. I considered giving up. Just then, like some Messiah emerging from the clouds above, arms flailing and feet dancing, came Lenihan on his descent. His speed was a dance, this was a World Champion mesmerising us mortals. He glided from jagged edge to jagged edge and one wrong foot spelt enormous danger. I paused, on all fours, to watch. He looked across and gave me a smile and thumbs up. I couldn’t surrender now. A DNF is nothing. I scrambled on.
The final ridge
I tried hard to catch the 2 ahead but I couldn’t. I stayed with them all the way to the summit vowing to take them on the descent. Not far behind me was my friend Eric, a tough cookie beavering away. The gap was small.
The final ridge is the stuff of nightmares. An undulating, uneven rocky path links 2 ridges. It’s about 2 metres wide. On either side, unguarded, the drop is over 1,000 feet.
On either side, American tourists, in full mountain climbing gear, stared in disbelief as these wild Irishmen, in shorts and singlets, ran as fast as they could along this treacherous trail. I don’t think they knew what they were cheering, a remake of Braveheart perhaps?
Nearing the summit
I’d never been to the summit of Carrounthill. It was breath-taking. A simple metal cross and dry stone hide marked it out. More tourists sipping from flasks, more cheering and time to turn.
The descent was a rollercoaster. Full throttle, no fear, throw yourself forward. Just go. It was time to catch those 2 guys.
Quickly, I caught one, then another, then 2 more. It was exhilarating. It was my Chariots of Fire, my Olympics. I fell twice but that was just an inconvenience.
From 36th overall, I was heading for 32nd. That would do me.
About 2 miles from the finish, there’s a soft sloping boggy ridge. It gives your feet a break. I eased up a little hearing (or so I thought?) a manic kind of roar. It grew louder. I chanced to look over my shoulder. Closing in fast was a flame haired 6’2” Kerry runner who was really angry that I had overtaken him. He passed me at the speed of light and looked me in the eye and roared.
It scared whatever life was left in me straight out. Worse still, he then raised a clenched fist as the final tribal stamp of his superiority.
As he continued his incredible speed down the soft boggy ridge he forgot to take a sharp right hand turn that would lead him home.
Alas, I couldn’t find the energy to shout after him. He disappeared into oblivion and I finished in 32nd.
But, that’s not important or even the point of this story. Read on.
My time was 2 hours and 15 minutes. Decent compared to others. I was satisfied. The clock kept ticking and every few minutes the 33rd runner, the 34th and so on came around the final bend.
At 3 hours and 5 minutes, the last runner was in. But where was my friend Eric? He was only 100 metres behind me at the summit.
The Stewards looked impatient and that turned to worry. I started to fear the worst, this mountain had claimed too many.
Ten minutes after the last runner came in, Eric came around the corner looking relaxed. Rather than rush to congratulate him, I unleashed my anxiety “What the Hell happened to you? You were only 100 meters behind me and now it’s an hour?”
His reply made a powerful mark and taught me a precious lesson.
“Nothing happened me Conor, nothing at all. I got to the summit, saw the beautiful views and met some of the Americans taking shelter. They gave me some tea and asked me what was going on. I told them. Then I told them I must go and came down”
Race reporter Conor Kenny & Eric Golden
You see, Eric enjoyed his run that day and I was to learn why.
That night, he gave me his view;
“You see Conor, I was never ever going to win the race. I probably won’t ever see the summit again so I thought I’m going to stop, take in the view and enjoy it all. It’s that simple and I had a lovely day”
Eric took the road less travelled. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t have learnt a valuable lesson and you wouldn’t be reading this today.