Last Saturday morning my sleep was rudely interrupted at 6:45am by a text message from Colm Kennedy. In a Satre-esque moment he posed the question “what am I doing here?”. Snuggling into my duvet I replied “JUST DON’T GET LOST!!!” and fell back to sleep.
The highlight of the IMRA calendar is the annual Wicklow Way Relay. The race is a mammoth relay of eight legs starting at 7am just beyond Marley Park and arriving some 8hours later in Shilelagh on the Wicklow-Wexford border. As the name suggests the race is run along the Wicklow Way, a marked hiker’s route meandering up hill and down dale through the central mountainous regions of Wicklow. For most participants the run is undertaken in a jovial, have-a-go, spirit and there is a great sense of fun and camaraderie between the runners and teams. That said it is a race and every runner expresses their competitive instincts by trying to beat the guy beside them – and of course no one wants to let the team down. “Don’t Get Lost” is Wicklow Way Relay 101.
The course record is 7hrs17mins to cover the 105km/3900m climb. This year two teams, packed with some of the best runners in the country, Clonliffe A and Rathfarnham A, were entered with the set goal of breaking the 7hour record. Unfortunately they both failed due to navigational errors and the race was eventually won by Clonliffe in 7:24. On our debut Team Sportsworld did a very creditable 8hr5mins and finished in 5th position.
Back in April, Gerry Brady suggested I put a Sportsworld Team together, saying encouragingly that we might come 3rd and then on reflection revising our chances downwards to a – well top 6 anyway. So I posted a notice on the Sportsworld Facebook page to gauge interest in the event. As new MEP Joe Higgins might have said it was like hurling against a haystack – no replies. To be honest when I realised the shear scale of the race I was quietly pleased because I recognised the amount of organisation involved in entering a team. As the race day approached the level of gentle badgering from Gerry Brady and Mags Grennan increased, and every IMRA race I entered I heard from one of them about how much Helen White wanted to do the race. Until Helen enlisted Emily in her cause I thought I could escape with a smile and nod – saying yes that would be a great idea – while having no intention of doing anything about it. With Emily on my case there was no escape so and I was duly appointed Team Captain (aka Chief Dogsbody – thanks Helen!)
Once there was a declared Sportsworld Team the mountain troops rallied to the cause. To complete the 8 man Team (requiring a minimum 2 ladies and 2 VETs) we were delighted to welcome three new recruits, Paul Duffy, Ed McEntee and Ciara Foster, to mountain running. Paul Duffy and Ed McEntee like nothing better then gliding around a mucky field so there were no worries about them. Ciara was an unknown, but I’m glad to report she took to it like the duck to water (and there was plenty of water on the weekend) running a brilliant 3rd Leg keeping us well up the field.
Leg 1: 14.4km, 556m ascent – Colm Kennedy
Leg 2: 15.1km, 763m ascent – Paul O’Connell
Leg 3: 8.0km, 126m ascent – Ciara Foster
Leg 4: 9.6km, 363m ascent – Liam McFadden
Leg 5: 13.6km, 571m ascent – Helen White
Leg 6: 12.7km, 566m ascent – Paul Mitchell
Leg 7: 21.2km, 651m ascent – Ed McEntee
Leg 8: 10.0km, 283m ascent – Paul Duffy
The job of the Team Captain is to pick the team members and to communicate the organiser’s instructions to the members. Because our entry was late, it was rushed and I gave no great consideration to who did what leg – save to say that everyone was relieved when Ed offered to do the 22km Leg 7. The race is unmarked and there are no marshals pointing the way. It is the Captains main responsibility to ensure that the team members have familiarised themselves with their leg before the race. Unfortunately I failed in this responsibility and I would say that this is the main reason we lost out on 4th position. Even those of us who had recce’d the route made small mistakes which cost a little time here and there. This team can give 4th place a really good shot next year with just a little more careful preparation.
Regarding organisation there are two main things to get to grips with 1) the routes and 2) the rules. I can safely say that I now know the Ordinance Survey Maps of Wicklow like the back of my hand, I know the gradient on every hill, I know the quickest way between hamlets that three weeks ago I didn’t know existed, I know where you can and can’t get mobile coverage, and I know that I have no intention of looking at the Wicklow Way again for at least another year. The rules are not onerous but it is a key requirement that the race passes off with out having a negative impact on the local communities. Communicating the routes/rules to each team member is a time consuming task but now that there is a quorum of us who know the race it will be far easier to organise a Team for next year.
The race is a wild exciting gallivant through some of the most beautiful parts of Ireland (after Kerry or course). It has a lot of the buzz of a Tour de France without the helicopters (and the bikes for that matter). First the Team Cars arrive, then the semaphore signals from the hill tops – THE LEADERS ARE COMING! The Leaders zoom in and out in a flash – did I dream it or have the leaders already gone through – text messages fly – we’re 5th, we’re 2mins down on Crusaders, Helen is on her way, were 5mins up on someone else. Time to take the rain coat off. Where’s Helen, should be here by now, hope she isn’t lost, stay calm, phew here she is – I’m off. Catch the 5th place runner in the first 200m. Hurdle the gate into the forest. He follows me up, up and up. I can hear his foot steps on my back – drives me on – I want to stop – I want to collapse – got to keep going for the team. Up, up and up. 40m from the top of the last hill – Thanks be to God. Quick peak over my shoulder – on no! – Bob Lawlor is only 40m behind me. Keep going – got to give Ed the best chance. Guess correctly that Bob won’t be able to descend very well in his sneakers. Over the brow – very steep rocky descent – go for it – spread the arms like wings – close the eyes – keep the legs turning – afraid to look behind. Down, down, bounding down. See the Iron bridge, see Ed, he begins running away from me – can’t catch him – one last sprint – slap hands – he’s gone – collapse – it’s over….- That was great! – Let’s do it again next year.
The Wicklow Way Relay is a fantastic, fun race made all the more enjoyable by my enthusiastic team mates who all ran exceptionally well and didn’t get lost! Well done all, 5th position is an excellent debut. Thanks to Paul O’Connell for helping with logistics and for Eoin O’Brien who gave up his slot on the team because we needed to squeeze a Vet, Ed, in.
Gerry Brady’s race report.