Black Mountain 2009

When the chatter started about Black Mountain, a 787m climb over 15km I didn’t engage in the banter that normally goes with trying to psyche oneself into entering such an event. Paul O’Connell and James Shanahan were the ringleaders – talking the whole thing up – sure how hard could it be? For the record neither of these gentlemen actually made it to the start line. One of them, it’s reported, going so far as to throw himself in front of a bus to get out of it.

We are now, already, three months into the IMRA calendar and the races have thus far been really enjoyable while at the same time getting progressively more ‘challenging’. Even the grass wall that was Crone Woods (3 weeks ago ), where `we clawed our way to the top on hands and knees and paraglided down catching the thermals with our Sportsworld singlets did not completely dampen our enthusiasm. My own abiding memory of that event is of Tullamore Cross Country Ace, Liz Cuskelly, on her first foray into mountain running, standing on what afficiondo’s call a ‘Technical Descent’ (read shear drop), looking completely forlorn, pleading with any one who’d listen (no one) to be careful, as we flung ourselves, lemming style, over the edge. That was a 470m climb over 7.5km. It was murderously difficult so I wasn’t keen to do another almost twice as big.

Despite my reservations I once again allowed myself to be cajoled in to it and so found my self up on the beautiful Cooley Peninsula last Sunday morning in glorious crisp Spring sunshine at the foot of the Black Mountain. My travelling companions, Jakub and Eoin were in good spirits and once they had gone through there elaborate and comprehensive ‘vaselining’ rituals we headed off to the race start. On our way up the road to the start we bumped into club mate Helen White who had turned up for her mountain running debut to what she had thought was going to be a 7km loosener…!?!!

The race starts on a section of the Tain Trail (Queen Maeve, Cuchulainn etc. etc.) and merges later with the route of the Puc Fada (Hurlers will know what I’m talking about). The route is out and back over a number of small peaks culminating on the top of the Black Mountain. At which point you turn around and head back to the start. The first 2km from the start are a gradual ascent on good fire roads. At the end of the fire road there is a stile beyond which extends the open hillside. The route does not follow any particular trail that I could determine but was well marked on the day by IMRA volunteers. The Black Mountain race is considered a good introduction to ‘classic’ Irish mountain running, resembling somewhat the conditions to be faced latter in the year by Irish Championship runners on Lugnacoille, the Galtees and the Big Kahuna Carrauntoohil. This translates to bog, marsh waterholes, bracken, rocks ledges and worse. (Not sure we’re ready for these monsters yet but we might have to try.)

From the gun the serious racers set off at a pace designed to split the field. The rest of us watched in awe as they disappeared up the road. By the time I got to the top of the first major climb, crowned by a an ancient Cairn, I was completely shattered but was able to recover on the down slope, picking-off some of the people who’d passed me on the way up. Across the bog to the Black Mountain I put a bit of distance between us only to be caught again as I made may way up to the summit. Turning around I could see Jakub close behind and shortly afterward I passed Eoin as he began his ascent. We now faced back toward the series of hill tops we had only just traversed. Coming down from the Cairn I lost my way only to be passed in a flash by Jakub and three other runners. Tracking these mountain goats for dear life I recovered as we crossed the bog to the stile. By the time we reached the stile I had just regained the lead over my three companions and vaulted the stile hoping to fool them into believing I was as fresh as a daisy and that they had no chance of catching me. It was now a straight race down the fire road to the finish. Jakub and I did best getting there well ahead of the other two –due in no small part, I’m sure, to our hard winter slog on the roads around Rathfarnham Bank.

All in all an extremely enjoyable day out, in great conditions, to a part of the country I would not have thought to go otherwise.

For the record..
1.Peter O’Farrell Rathfarnham 67:26
7. Paul Mitchell 78:31
8. Jakub Splawski 79:06
16. Helen White (2nd by 14s in Women’s Race) 82:54
29. Eoin O’Brien 93:33
46. John Fitzgerald 103:42
56. Charlie O’Connell 146:02

Good luck to our runners Eoin, Paul and Ed this Sunday at the Wicklow Way Trail Race, Lough Tay to Johnny Fox’s Pub, 771m over 22km.

Report by Paul Mitchell