This is the real story of what happened on the IMRA wicklow way relay, as told by the runners. Its long, like the relay.

Leg 1: 14.4km, 556m ascent – Colm Kennedy

After 3 snoozes and 30 minutes cursing myself for saying I would do the first leg, I eventually dragged myself out of the bed for breakfast – the time – 4.30am. After breakfast and an hour of surfing the net I headed off to Kilmashogue car park, the start of the race. I arrived at 6.15 in an empty car park and the panic started – where was everyone else!!? I tried to contact race director but to no signal. I sat tight. Luckily within a few minutes others started to arrive so I began my race prep. This actually involved sunscreen – yes, believe it or not it was sunny at that stage in the morning. Unfortunately, this didn’t last too long. As I returned from my warm up the hail started – sound! I took shelter in the car for the last few minutes. (Cheers to Paul M for the encouraging text telling/warning me not to get lost! – ha ha!). At 7am, after a short briefing from Joe, the race began. The first 3km were straight up on fire roads and man made trails. The first 5 competitors took off as if they were running down hill and soon disappeared into the distance. I settled into the second group of about 7/8 runners. As we passed the 2km mark I started to fade towards the back of this bunch and we started to spread out. This was a frustrating feeling. Fortunately once we got to the top of the hill it was time to get my own back. On the descent to Glencullen Road I managed to catch 1 of them and on the 1.5km road section to Bonaltary Lane I got another 3. Then it was in to our long ascent 3.5-4km – I think (by this stage I was too wrecked to be even looking at the Garmin!). Again 2 runners passed me on this one and built up a sizable gap. On the rocky descent I caught the first of these and as we entered Curtlestown Wood I could see Rathfarnahm out in the distance but disappointingly I was unable to close the gap in time. On reaching Glencree Road I tagged Paul O’C and gladly let him continue the chase!! For me it was into the warmth of Eoins car and back to Kilmashogue.

Leg 2: 15.1km, 763m ascent – Paul O’Connell

I was chatting with eoin and woddle when colm arrived. Eoin spotted him and advised that i should start, it was good having someone with the technical details of relays on hand. The first 2/3 km’s are on road/trails as the course descends it way to crone wood. This compresses the actual climb into an even shorter distance. Working up the forest roads from crone, you hit the open mountain side with views of powercourt waterfall on the left as you head towards djouce mountain. The weather that was threating all morning, started to lightly blow, and as we climbed height, it seemed to match the runners for intensity, blowing a full gale as we hit the top. Crossing the open grass/bog land created some eeiry sights, as the runners in front and behind came in and out of view as the clouds blew by.

The top of the climb is indicated by the presence of the boardwalk which on a normal day should have allowed me some chance to make up some time, but the combination of the weather, wet nail studded train sleepers to fall on and random steps built into the track enforced a more cautious approach to the final 2km descent to the hand over (reckon i was only on 90%). Got to the handover point and ciara was ready to go, she seemed nervous, eoin wasn’t on hand to tell us what to do, i thought i’d better wish her luck, ‘Good luck, Ciara’ and with that she was off.

Leg 3: 8.0km, 126m ascent – Ciara Foster

Leg 4: 9.6km, 363m ascent – Liam McFadden

From 7am on Saturday morning all that was in my head was don’t get lost, don’t get lost, don’t be the one to mess it up. I was at my race start at 8.15 am not bad only 1 hour early. But to my surprise I wasn’t the only one there. By 8.30, 80% of the field had arrived and numerous rumors were spreading of this team and that team getting lost on leg 1, Thankfully the only report I had on Sportsworld was that we were in 5th / 6th place and were only 15 minutes behind the leaders.

So at about 9.15am as per Irish summer weather the heavens opened and that was it for the rest of the day. Perfect conditions for running. And at 9.30am the first runner appeared at the transition, so with this it was que to start warming up or should I say trying to stay warm. 2 more teams changed over and it was almost time to go, 4th team into transition and about 2 minutes later Ciara appeared still full of running, with this off with the Tracksuit top and hand out for change over, duly forgetting to tell Ciara that her gear was in my bag on the side of the road. Apologies Ciara.

The start of the run was a “lovely” 1km up hill on road at a grading of 1:2 or there abouts, After that it leveled out for about 1.5km and here was the one and only time I seen another competitor on route about 1km ahead of me, after the 2.5km on road it was sharp right at house and on to steep fire road and over 4 gates and eventually onto hill terrain. With the early rain it left the underfooting slightly slippy but not too bad. Having only recced the route once I was still conscious of not getting lost and probably lost a little bite of time due to this. Just over half an hour running I thought right hills over and flat out down hill to Glendalough but having forgot the steepest climb was actually 2km from finish I was kindly reminded when I turn right out of a forest and straight in front of me was a nice steep rocky path for 400m, after this I knew it was all down hill and only another 5 fences to clear and through the Glendalough Car Park over the Bridge and handover to Helen and my leg was done in 47.17. Time was good enough for 4th overall on the leg but has room for serious improvement for next year.

Leg 5: 13.6km, 571m ascent – Helen White

Took over from Liam who had a super run over leg 4 and headed of down by the lake with Glendalough on my right, soon started to climb some steps first(Knackered at this stage already) then a long steady climb for about 45 minutes on a Stone track which took me right to the top and across some sleepers onto a boggie track.

Through the woods and down a very steep Rockie descent, onto a track turned left and started the long descent down through a forest. Some tree felling added some nice variety along the way with a few hurdles to get those weary legs over, still on the descent going well??.

Some added signage comes into view very confusing but managed to navigate through and continue, then the dreaded miss judgement more confusing signage, didn’t get it right this time and head off up a hill and round a corner and noticed long track in front.
Now the old legs were telling me we should be finished at this stage, so on seing the long track in front I decided to turn back to last junction and take the proper way and was i glad to see Paul Mitchell stand on the road ready for the take over.
Best of luck Paul and off he went.

Leg 6: 12.7km, 566m ascent – Paul Mitchell

Very little sleep on Friday night. Normally, in cross-country season, I just have to worry about trying to keep up with the back-markers, now I also have to worry that I’ll be standing on a bridge, 100km from Dublin, and no one is coming. All night questions – what if he get’s lost or she doesn’t turn up or whatever. Eventually decide not to think about it any more.

Colm texts me early – a moral boosting message wondering what the hell has he got himself in to. I’ve absorbed all the anxt I can at this point so I tell him to get on with it. Colm has a tricky route but I know he’s recce’d it so I’m

pretty confident the train isn’t going to come of the rails before the first station.

Rain is lashing down in the morning. Ed arrives at my house in a taxis looking like he’s been celebrating a major land-deal in Reynard’s all night – well at least he’s here – wouldn’t like to be doing a half-marathon on a tricky stomach myself. Interrogate him on the way down as to his evenings activities – he assures me he was tucked up in bed early watching the Clint Eastwood movie, Pale Ride, hmmm.

Drop Ed off at the Iron Bridge – truly the middle of nowhere – it’s damp and it’s along time before his leg will start – we’ll do this differently next year. Make my way back to Glenmalure and wait in the car. A few hiker’s appear in full combat outfit, including the obligatory ski poles – My cousin who walks Mount Brandon most days in smart causal calls this new species ‘Gortex Man’.

Team cars start zooming in 30mins or so before the first runners are expected. Gerry who’s normally quite chatty is a little uptight this morning – he tells me that our team is doing quite well – he’s preoccupied with Clonliffe’s attempt to break the 7hour mark – so I let him at it. The leading teams now have their runners in position, flying up and down the road doing warm ups. I sit tight in the car. Eventually after the first 3 go through I venture out to do a little jog out the road and to go for a pee. I’ll be back to this spot 3 times before Helen appears.

Standing under a tree, grabbing as much shelter as I can I peer up the road through the gloom – no sign of Helen. Check the watch again – no sign. Other teams now appear around me. Stay calm – she’ll be here any minute. 5th place appears at the top of the hill – it’s not Helen. But wait there she is directly behind. The train is still on the tracks and off we go, calling at Iron Bridge, Tinnahely and Shilelagh.

Leg 6 is almost entirely on bohereen. The first section is all up hill at a steady gradient for 500m or so. As I enter the forest path I’m beside the 5th place runner. I’ve been trying to assess his level over the first 200m. If he is a strong runner I want him in front so that I can use him to drag me up the hill. If he’s weaker then me I want to drop him quickly so that he can’t feed off me. Decide to go for it. I hear him behind me all the way up the hill – is he just waiting to jog up beside me, thank me and zoom away? No, I think I dropped him in the first 100m but was afraid to look around.

When I did my recce I got stuck behind a flock of about 100 sheep and had a chat with the farmer about the price of hoggets at Hacketstown etc. This time the road was clear. Getting to the top of the first section was slow steady painful work and all about pacing. Too fast and you could blow up in the first 1km, too slow and you’re loosing time. I was on my own the whole way so it was like an individual time trial. Descending as hard as I could to the Aughavannagh Road, I had a quick peak behind – no sign of life.

The second climb is a sharp 100m on very rough forest path, nearing the top I was pretty tired. Took a quick look over the should to see if I could ease back a little – to my horror a runner was only 40m or so behind. Bob is a good runner having done many marathons so I knew it was going to be a fight to the death to keep him back. Cresting the hill I gave it everything on the descent – a particularly rough mountain road – expecting to be overtaken at every point. The surface was wet and slippy however and it turns out that Bob has a more highly developed sense of self-preservation than I. It was runaway-train stuff all the way to the Iron Bridge – no more looking back – lean forward and force the legs to keep up with the rest of the body.

The bridge appeared in beautiful sunshine, a very welcome sight. In the last fifty metres I noticed Liam who had come out to cheer me on an pick me up – Thanks Liam. On to the bridge the unmistakable sartorial elegance of the Sportsworld vest. Ed, the consumate professional, is running away at great speed, hand back for the batton. One last blast and I just catch him to slap hands before he heads off on a half marathon. Next stop Tinnahely.

Leg 7: 21.2km, 651m ascent – Ed McEntee

Friday 8:00pm outside Keogh’s – phone went – Paul M. (the G’vnor) wanting to know if I was clear on the plan and the route for the following day and what I was doing outside a pub – after 5 minutes of trying to explain annual financial reports, reporting deadlines and need for a few pints to release stress the phone went dead – enough said the G’vnor was in no mood for excuses – all he wanted was results.

Saturday 9:00 am – taxi to rendezvous with the G’vnor – drive to Wicklow – going through final plans, checklists and route maps one more time – apparently there were other members of the team out in the mountains at that time but direct contact was impossible – we were on a need to know basis and had our instructions.

Saturday 10:30am – dropped at a wet and deserted car park at Stone Bridge – was told to be ready in 2 hours I would meet my contact and embark on my leg, all I needed to remember the number 29.

A car arrived shortly after and I was offered shelter for the next hour – after that more cars arrived and people started to congregate. The runners started to arrive over the brow of the hill, individually, the marshal, sensibly was asking for numbers and taking times from within his car with the window rolled down. Shortly after the G’vnor appeared over the hill and storming down tagged me in a very professional handover and off I went.

The run itself I can only describe in sketchy details. First part was mostly climbs, first time I have been happy running up the side of a mountain – it was good to be moving after standing round in the rain – up through a forested area and down the other side – the views over the glen were spectacular – made one short detour, though quickly (2 mins later after nearly running over a deer – no, I didn’t ask it for directions) realised my mistake and was back on track – unfortunately had been overtaken (dropped from 5 to 6) by a yellow shirted guy who was moving at a fair pace , which made it more of a race towards the end. Plenty of water hazards and gates – in some places was almost a steeplechase. The route had some spectacular views which took the mind of the constantly damp feet. Marshals on the major junctions were great with water and encouragement.

Finally after another sodden descent onto the final road leg to the end – hook round to the right and just 400 meters to the end of leg 7 – up hill – b*%$?!!! . Trying my damndest to catch yellow shirt over the last 50 meters- look up and see Paul Duffy jogging down the road towards me – not a technique you often see the Olympic track relay teams undertaking – tag Paul, turn him around in the right direction again and a good shove to get him going. When I asked Paul about this novel technique he replied he thought I looked tired and wanted to shorten the run for me – these young wiper snappers no respect for veterans – think it is acceptable to use mind games to psyche out the opposition in a race but would draw the line when using them on your own team mates in a relay. Fair play to Paul who regained the lost place in the final leg to reinstall us in 5th and probably saved me from a serious talking to by the G’vnor.

Made it to the end of the final leg to witness Paul finishing the relay to claim 5th for Sportsworld, he looked very impressive with blood streaming down his knee sprinting to the finish (not so impressive when we learned he had not done this leaping a river or crashing through a thicket but during warm up on a flat road).

Well done to all the girls and guys on the team (especially those on the earlier legs who did their legs and then followed us round to provide support, baggage handling, enco

uragement and taxi services) – 5th is a great result for a first outing. Many thanks to Eoin who was ready to run but stepped aside to allow me to run and who did most of the co-ordination.

Lastly a big thanks to IMRA for organising this and getting the balance right between competitiveness and fun – a great day out (in spite of the weather).

Leg 8: 10.0km, 283m ascent – Paul Duffy