The 26th Annual Warriors Run Strandhill, Co. Sligo 28th August 2010

Last Saturday morning, leaving the Flat Earth Brigade, in bliss, running flat laps of Tymon, a number of us adventurous sorts headed west. Our goal was the annual Warriors Run Festival in Strandhill, Co. Sligo. ( ) The Warriors Run is an epic skedaddle from the beachfront at Strandhill, up Knocknarea, round Queen Maeve’s tomb, and back to the beachfront. The total length is 15km, 9 of which are on normal roads and the remaining 6 on trails around the hill. The hill itself represents a climb on over 300m. However that’s not the whole story as the roads themselves undulate wildly with many exhausting climbs on the way back to town. If you ever wanted an easy introduction to hill running then this is it. The race is very well marked and is run along the lines of a typical road race. And with as many as 800 runners you are always going to be in good company.

Practise makes perfect and this can clearly be seen in the professionalism of the Warriors Run organisation. The event was very well marshalled, there was ample parking near the event and registration was quick and easy. There was great local involvement and large numbers of well-wishers cheered at every bend in the road. The route was very well marked and even our expert route marking tester, Philo, was unable to find the flaw which would have allowed him to do a few extra practice loops of the hill. In the event we all stayed on course.

Due to a catastrophic Achilles injury your correspondent has been out of commission since the start of May. All activity that aggravated the injury had to be stopped – running, walking, swimming, cycling… Slooowly the inflammation subsided and the tendon began to heal. One after another the races I had hoped to run passed me by. Since last year I’ve wanted to race the Warriors Run – I couldn’t let it go – even if it meant walking. Although still not one hundred percent, by the end of July the inflammation was considerably reduced and the pain had subsided. I tested the water with a 2km run in Ceannt Park and while I didn’t experience any significant pain, I did feel the calf and tendon tightening – I decided to rest it a little longer. In the weeks before the event I did a couple of 2 to 3 km runs and a little hill walking. The tendon complained a little but no severe pain. On top of my concern for the tendon was the realisation that my body was not used to running and all the muscles from the flexors to the calves grumbled – even on the shortest runs. However I couldn’t risk training as it might inflame the tendon. “Kids, Do Not Try This At Home!!!”

As we approached Sligo the distinctive Cairn at the summit came clearly in to view. A little debate ensued as to whether it was really only 300m to the top, as the realisation of what lay head came sharply into focus. Undaunted (there was never any serious thought of turning back), we continued on to Strandhill.

The weather was typical seaside weather, gusting wind, patchy sunshine and squally showers. The waves on Strandhill beach are incredible and it’s very much a surfers paradise. Even though I have swam many off-shore triathlons I would have been nervous heading out in to these breakers. After registering we scored a couple of tasty chicken salad baguettes from a French Boulanger called Caca Milis. Worth the trip on its own and I secretly thought to return the next morning for the pain au chocolat. Beside the bakers is The Strand Bar, which is the epicentre of the Warriors Run festival and it’s there we bumped into the locals Trevor Sweeney and Triona Higgins.

The race starts outside The Strand Bar. By three o’clock a large crowd had gather along the straight uphill drag out of town. I don’t know many runners to see but I recognised Maria McCambridge and Barry Minnock beside me. Completely unfit and with a dodgy Achilles I felt like an American tourist in Pamplona. Hopefully I wouldn’t be gored by the 800 runners behind me. Six..Five..Four..Three..Two..GO!

Phil, Paul and Trevor raced away with the leaders. I struck out at a steady pace, avoiding rapid acceleration, and drifted back to a position in the fifties or sixties. My only concern was to manage the body to get through the race in one piece. After about 3km we were on leafy country roads and I was moving freely enough at my own pace and not suffering any pain in the tendon. The sun had come out however and I was overheating. The organisers had water stations every 500m or so and these were very useful as I was able to pore the water on my head to cool down. By the time I turned off the road and on to the mountain path three red Sportsworld jerseys were visible ahead about 200m up the mountain. My lack of fitness really told here as I could only walk on a track that four months ago I would have easily run. This was probably for the best as my lack of fitness prevented me from making the tendon injury worse. Apart from my discomfort at being unfit the hill section wasn’t difficult and passed relatively quickly. That said it was a great feeling to see the cairn and I picked up speed as the ground levelled off. The surface was a little uneven and I skipped by several runners who were carefully picking their way across the hill top.

And then the fun began! At first I was disappointed to see a paved path down the other side of Knocknarea. I prefer rough ground as I am a good descender and would gain many places on a rough descent. My mood soon improved as I saw the runners ahead slowing down and mincing about as the path cascaded over a number of rocky sections. The secret to descending on this terrain is quick feet, strong legs, good balance and attention on the ground ahead. Don’t worry so much about the path beneath you as selecting the easiest path ahead of you. Leaping over these rocky sections with gay abandon I must have passed twenty or more runners on the descent. It was a real blast.

As I reached the road again I assumed that the race was pretty much over and that it was an easy 5km downhill to The Strand Bar and a pint of Arthur. I couldn’t have been more bitterly mistaken. My lack of fitness was really troubling me now. After plodding for what seemed like 5km I saw the 5km to go sign, followed by the “Push It” sign – ‘f**k that I grumbled to myself. The real problem with the route back to town is that you are faced by long straight, lonely uphill drags into a considerable wind followed by short, elevation losing, descents. At 3km to go I was really struggling, the needle was in red and the engine was sucking in the dirty petrol from the bottom of the tank. There was no sign of town, the sea or anything to give me the comforting sense that the race was nearly over. It seemed like each time I crested a hill or rounded a corner there was another hill and another corner. I kept going, one foot in front of another, plodding on and on. By the time I crested the last hill overlooking town I was too tired to feel the elation of seeing the finish line. With 500m to go Paul O’Connell gave me a cheer which I didn’t have the strength to acknowledge. Crossing the line I headed straight for the sea and submerged myself for 10mins in the most delicious cold North Atlantic water. For the record the Sportsworld crew performed brilliantly.

The runners and riders were;

5th Phil Kilgannon (59:55)

8th Trevor Sweeney

10th Paul O’Connell (1:01:25)

72nd Paul Mitchell (1:13:52)

6th Catriona Higgins (1:19:30)

There are many other stories that could be told if I was writing a novel of our adventure. There was the Mitchellete hairdo (a cross between a mullet and a Mohican). There was dancing the night away in Trevors tiny shoes (my toes were scrunched up for a week). And then there were the stories that I dare not even mention. Talk to me privately for the inside on those….

In the days after the race I was in considerable discomfort from all the muscle strains in the legs. This has now passed and I’m moving freely again. Needless to say the tendon was not pleased and has been set back to where it was about 4weeks ago. I’m hoping to be back for the 2020 Cross-Country Season. All in all I’m delighted that I took part in this wonderful event. All the talk in the car on the way home was on organising a club outing for next year.

While I have the oxygen of publicity I’d like to congratulate Helen White for an excellent 2nd Place(W45) in the World Masters Hill Running Championships, Poland.