IMRA Aughavannagh Sunday 16 April 2023
Distance: 23.31k Climb: 1,246m Terrain: Fire road; Bog; Peat Hags; Rocks;
Participant and Reporter: Tim Murphy 4hrs 38mins
This race had a lovely, ‘intimate’ feel. A band of 13 early starters gathered in the mist at Drumgoff. At registration there was a full check done to ensure compulsory kit in place – most importantly a hard copy map and compass. GPS navigational aids are not allowed for Championship races. We were then ferried by car, 4k away, to the start line at Aughavannagh Bridge, for an 11:00 start. Strangely enough, none of us opted for the gentle warm up run to start line. The main field, of a further 27 would start an hour later, and chase us down double quick.
First up was a 5/6k steady climb up decent fire road. I had examined a gpx file of the route from 5 years ago. I had also examined my detailed East-West map. A fork in the road brought two options. I followed the crowd, and hung right. A little later, I noticed that a guy had gone ‘off-route’. The lady behind me did likewise. It was a good decision by this pair. No huge gains for them, but enough to put me solidly in last place. The rest of this section is easy, navigation-wise, but I tried to keep someone in sight, as I knew we would soon be coming to the part of the course that I was most worried about…the approach to Lugnaquilla.
The last time I was on Lug..was at the end of a 55k hike…covering 18 peaks…it had been raining all day…I was soaked…shivering…and lost, with zero visibility…. It was getting dark and my phone got smashed when I fell. When we set off at 11:00 today, I was apprehensive, because Lug was again in clouds and the approach to Lug was off-trail. At the start of the race – “Be very careful on Lug…10m in the wrong direction and you go off a cliff”. And I am the mountain runner who is afraid of heights…and can’t navigate.
But… as the beautiful vista of Lug opened up…so too did the mist rise, and the sun came out, in resplendent form. I started to strip off…layer by layer. I had caught up with short-cut-lady and so decided to follow her at a tricky decision point. (I think I avoided the South Prison (cliffs) as a result – phew – although this might be a shortcut for those fearless of heights ??). This was a grassy climb, on all fours. I would have been better off taking a less direct route I think. I got pretty scared as this ever-steepening and ever-lasting climb continued. My arms got a good work-out. This kilometre took me over 35 minutes. Short-cut-lady was out of sight. But wow… was the view fabulous in the Spring sunshine… snow to my left… I felt great that I was still alive; re-grouped and hit the top of Lug nearly two hours after starting.
Now for the fun bit… 😊 navigation was easy, because just as I pulled my map out, the race leaders had caught me up and showed me the way, as one by one they went flying past me. This was slightly downhill…soft terrain…mucky… and involved jumping from grass clump to mud dump. After a couple of k, the terrain became harder to negotiate, climbing up some peat hags and jumping down… resolutely at the back of the field. By the time 14k was reached, my kamikaze efforts resulted in me regaining ground, as I caught up with a couple of runners. This was short-lived, as short-cut-lady led another to the right, whereas I stupidly stuck to my ‘pre-planned’ and as it turned out… much longer route. Back in last place again. 20 mins later I hit the Military Road checkpoint…and end of the ‘big loop’ that constituted the Short Course (which one person stayed at).
Oh my… the home-baked flapjacks available were the best that I have ever-tasted, Sportsworld Cake Sale excepted ! I also gorged on Haribos and banana…and refilled my water with 0.5l, my initial litre having been thankfully enjoyed. There was just myself and another lady left… so we could eat as much as we liked. We were given the option to finish, and be credited with the Short Course. We looked at each other and decided to continue…after all, this was the bit that I had recce’d.
The climb up Fananeerin Ridge was a lot tougher than I had remembered it the day before. Along the top was fairly hill. Myself and my ‘buddy’ walked most of this. Croaghanmoira looked fabulous and distant and imposing. At the end of the ridge, it was tempting to head straight for the finish and leave out the ‘up and back’ to Croghanmoira. However, somehow, we could see people again… albeit they were coming down…and we plodded on. Getting nearer the top now and ‘short-cut-lady’, about 10 mins ahead, says hi again…and we can even see someone else walking ahead of us. We get to the top. I know there is a lovely, nearly 2k, downhill finish.
We ‘fly off’ and make good ground. The gentleman ahead of us has picked up pace…and I enjoy trying to catch up with him, whilst also sticking with my ‘race buddy. We just about catch up, but don’t get too competitive about it…to cross the ‘closed finishing gate’ in last place, of the long course finishers. We had closed the gap to ‘short-cut-lady’ to 4 minutes.
The refreshments at the end were great…the cheer we got was great… the organisation was great… the weather and views were great… the camaraderie was great…. the course route is great. It is 10 years since this route was raced. I am sure it won’t be 10 years before it reappears. I’d highly recommend this… (with recce beforehand). This route is very doable for all Sportsworlders. Give me a shout if anyone is interested in running/ walking either the short loop …or the longer loop…or the full route…in the coming weeks / months. Happy running all…