The Agony and The Ecstasy – and then The Agony Again!

Last Sunday, 12th of June, eight of your brothers and sisters donned the red sash and went to battle for the greater glory of Sportsworld Running Club. The battle field extended 120km along the Wicklow Way from Marley Park in South Dublin to Shillelagh in South Wicklow. The terrain had its fair share of ups and downs, and twists and turns (many of them wrong turns) sprinkled over 105km of trail, track and fireroad. Some runners prefer the ups and some prefer the downs but everyone is blown away by the incredible scenery on our door step. Believe me, all you mountain running sceptics, when I say there could nothing more exhilarating then racing past Lough Tay on a bright sunny day – certainly beats running around the RTE carpark in my book – but each to his own I suppose.


The Wicklow Way Relay is a race of eight legs. The field is limited to 30 odd teams as traffic/parking congestion would be a serious problem on the laneways of South Wicklow if any more teams were involved. The race is eagerly anticipated by the hill running fraternity and is always over subscribed. This year the race attracted teams from both Holland and Spain. A number of restrictions are enforced to ensure a nice mix of old and young, male and female. For a team of 8 (the race can be undertaken with a team of 2) each team must have 2 Vets (over 40) and 2 Ladies (can’t be included in Vets). These restrictions can be hard to comply with and usually result in non-mountain runners being cajoled in to make up the numbers.

We had a tremendously successful debut race last year coming in 5 in a time of 8:05. The record time for the event is 7:17:21 and our time had been 26th fastest to date. When we began to organise for this years race we set ourselves the objective of breaking the 8hr mark. All the regulars jumped at being involved again and we got a number of excellent new volunteers including Lucy Darcy and Phil Kilgannon. Unfortunately as race day approached your correspondent, Paul Mitchell, suffered Achilles tendon problems and Helen White suffered a stress fracture in her foot. This presented serious problems as it meant we needed to find another Vet and another lady. I would have like to select other regular hill runners such as Jakub – but none qualified as either a lady or a Vet – so far as I am aware. Fortunately, Kieran Foley and Helen Dixon were willing, at short notice to fill the void. Because of the withdrawals we had to juggle the team around to give manageable legs to the debutants. I’m particularly grateful to Colm and Liam for agreeing to swap their legs at short notice for the benefit of the team.

And so to the day. I awoke somewhat nervously at 6am, wondering if Lucy Darcy was going a) to find her way to the start, b) manage to stay on track, c) manage the ascents (and worse for road runners the descents) and d) arrive at the end. My fears evaporated away when Lucy bounded out of the woods at Curtlestown, a beaming smile from ear to ear. She had run a fantastic leg, smashing the previous female record.


Paul O’Connell was a little slow to get going as he couldn’t decide which hat to wear, and then of course the laces needed to be checked again. Once he was moving he motored a long nicely and managed to catch a number of runners on route. He ran this leg last year so we didn’t fear that he would get lost.

Ciara Foster was next up. We didn’t want to say but had suspected that she ran pretty conservatively last year. Well this year she really let rip, knocking 5mins out of last years time. Lucy and I passed her as she was bombing down the road past Lough Tay – she looked the really deal with the sunglasses. She passed several runners on route – and we were now making real in roads on the lead.

Debutant Kieran Foley was waiting. He seemed a little nervous standing at the road side waiting for Ciara to appear – it was as if he had never seen a mountain before– and he coming from the foothills of the Ballyhouras– go figure! He included a short detour on route to Glendalough but fortunately didn’t lose much time as he realised his mistake quickly. While on detour 2 runners came through and we were back down to 6th. On his debrief I asked him how he found the hills. He replied that the MOUNTAINS were brutal, so hoping to focus on the positive I asked if he enjoyed the downhills?, he said “Oh God they were a killer on the ankles”. But what about the scenery I asked…? I’m not convince that Kieran is a convert to “mountain running”, but I very grateful that he helped us out and put in a very strong leg.


Old hand Liam McFadden was ready and waiting at Glendalough. He’s in great running form and we knew that he would put in a strong run. In the event he did fantastically well passing 3 runners on the road and we leapt into 3rd place. We were beginning to get excited.. could it last?


Colm Kennedy has been burning up the triathlons this year and if current progress continues I think he will win one or two next year. Leg 6 is tough enough in that it’s unrelenting up and then straight down. He ran a very steady leg with the second fastest time on the day. Rathfarnham who were leading by 30mins at this point got lost and came in 10mins behind Colm. Up to 2nd, 10mins down on Boards A, are we getting excited or what?


Philobiwan volunteered for the toughest leg, a brutal 22km with 650m of climbing. Unfortunately the force was not with the Jedi Knight on Sunday and he ended up turning a challenging 22km into a daunting 35km trot. As we waited on the bridge and realised, as each runner came through that Phil was hopelessly lost we selfishly hoped that he’d be able to get to the end on his own steam. All the excitement of potentially winning the race was now switched to dread at the thought of having to scour South Co. Wicklow to find him. Much to our relief the club captain managed to get to line and tagged Helen. I think it’s fair to say that he left it all on the track on Sunday. If there was a minor regret it was when our friendly rival in Rathfarnham remarked that he didn’t feel so bad now, having only lost 35mins!


Helen Dixon who had been fretting about the pressure of having to fight for 1st or 2nd place could now relax and enjoy the trot. It wasn’t any shorter or flatter but the competition had been extinguished. In the event she had a ball and ran a solid leg to bring us home in 11th place.

In the event we had a great day out. Every one gave their utmost and had a thoroughly enjoyable race. I certainly had great fun zooming up and down the highways and byways of Wickly with my able assistant Lucy. I now know all the places where the Wicklow Way intersects the road network – one of these days I might actually walk the thing. One final word, Helen White, is responsible for foisting this organisational nightmare on my shoulders. I hereby nominate her as Chief Bottle Washer for next years’ race.

The race report a seen by each runner

Leg 1: Lucy Dary

Overall Distance: 14.4 km Total Climb: 556 Course Record: 56:00(2007) Female Record: 75:30(2005) Lucy’s time: 66:19

“Now there’s an adrenaline rush before you set foot near the event. This is not your everyday run-of-the-mill race, this is something else altogether.

  • 04:10am:….beep,beep,beep, that’s the alarm, time to get up, shower, dress…downstairs for breakfast…this is way too early to eat but it has to be done.
  • 04:45am: check kit bag once more ,just to be sure.
  • 04:50am: 1 more glass of water & out the door.
  • 06:05am: arrive at the car park, it’s bright, dry, sunny, the birds are singing & a beautiful light cloud of mist covers Dublin city. Not another car or person in sight – at least for a few minutes anyway. What a view….through the mist the whole of Dublin bay can be seen, stunning.
  • 06:10am: more people start to arrive. We start chatting, seeing who’s done this before, who’s a 1st timer like me, talking bout various parts of the route, etc etc, the usual pre-race chat & banter. Now there is a real buzz in the air, the anticipation, mystery, the excitement & the nerves of what lies ahead. Will 7am ever arrive so we can get going?
  • 07:00am: after a brief few words from the organisers we are finally off, yesss.

As the race began I recalled the advice that Colm & Liam gave me on Thursday eve, “don’t get carried away & try going out fast from the gun, it’s a long way & a few tough hills to be climbed”. Yep they were most definitely right there, straight into the 1st hill, hill! that’s not a hill, that’s a mountain ,at least that’s what it felt like to me. Now the mist cloud has lifted, the sun is well & truly up & the heat already!. The views are breath-taking no-matter which way you look. Off we go nice & steady into the climb, the speed merchants were nearly out of sight immediately, just round the next bend we might get a tiny breather, was what I was thinking, oh no!! think again!! we climb & climb & climb, wow, this is un-real, it’s so beautiful, which country are we in, these were the thoughts in my head, which distracted me from the climb. Ha, the down-hills are another task, negotiating at some kind of speed where to put your feet for secure landing, no looking around now, concentrate – I couldn’t stop laughing to myself as it is a skill in itself, one which I discovered I am not so good at….yet!

My how time really does fly when you’re truly having fun. Colm did this leg last year in 65m40. He reckoned I should be close to that. We’ll see. After the end of the 2nd climb I thought I must be bout 30–35mins into this now so I glanced at the watch, bad move, 57min had rapidly passed by, oh no this means I’m near finished. My finish time was 66min16. Close Colm!

It finished way too soon for me. It was truly a fantastic experience, one I hope to get the chance to do again. It is so very different to road racing. When I finished & tagged Paul O’Connell, (who was doing the 2nd leg), then he decides to remove his jacket, reset his watch & then finally take off – was brilliant. What a buzz, all the 2nd leg people waiting patiently for the 1st legers to come in so they could get going, then there was the drivers taxi-ing too & fro, Sportsworlds chauffeur was Paul Mitchell who unfortunately for him but fortunately for us was un-able to take part this year due to injury, but he did an excellent job of looking after the rest of us with transport & refreshment so big thank-you Paul.

The journey back to my car seemed to take quite a while, you really don’t realise how much ground you cover in a short while. After changing & moving the car I then had the opportunity to tag along with Paul for the rest of the day & my gosh was it worth it. Got to see some of the most beautiful countryside, some parts are like a picture postcard, beautiful lakes, stunning colours as the sun shone on the mountains, rocky & rough terrain along with a bit of road running but that was minimal & the view of the hills/mountains that still had to be climbed, wow. No photos could ever do justice to what I got to see. As well as all that we also got to see all the change-overs & hear different stories from other teams & a few detours were made by mistake, how a few lead positions had changed because of a wrong turn, how times were down due to the same reason, how some people wanted to keep on running, others were delighted to be finished, I could write all night about that one day.

As I have said already Paul was there to greet us all as we finished & get reactions / opinions from us. All I can say is I totally loved it. It was amazing, probably one of the best experiences & one that will most definitely stay with me. One of the harder bits to get my head around on Saturday was the fact I had finished before a lot of you were even up out of bed – now that was weird. And Paul O’C was finished leg 2 before training started. If we were fast enough we’d have joined the track session….not.

My first hill run, but most definitely not my last.

Leg 2: Paul O’Connell

Overall Distance: 15.1 km Total Climb: 763m Course Record: 61:02(2004) Paul’s time: 75:53

“I was up at 6.30 and on the road to Curtlestown a bit after 7. I arrived to find a lot of teams already there, and team boss Mr Mitchell arrived to check I was ready to go, he having dropped Lucy off at the start of the first leg. With clear blue skies and a ten mile leg ahead of me the main decision was which hat to wear. As Lucy arrived the yellow hat with the hole in the back got the call up, and I set off in tenth place thanks to the great effort Lucy had put in. The first section loops towards Knockree youth hostel and then drops down to the Dargle river, crossing it the route goes through Crone Wood and up towards Powercourt. I caught up with three others on this section. Once over this first climb there is a nasty drop and the second large climb up to the brow of Djouce mountain. I could see about 4 others a head of me here, but the recent flu meant there was nothing in the legs to close the gap. I was glad to meet the Boardwalk since I knew it was an easy run for the last 4km, with only the odd step and gust of wind to avoid when belting downhill. Did the transition to Ciara and wasn’t waiting long before my lift arrived to take me back to the start. Eight minutes slower than last year, so hopefully I can return to the 2009 form next year.”

Leg 3: Ciara Foster

Overall Distance: 8km Total Climb: 126m Course Record: 27:04(2003) Female Record: 30:09(2010) Ciara’s time: 33:18

“Once again this year I ran the third and easiest leg of the Wicklow relay. This year there was no waiting around, by the time I had parked the car, ran up the hill to the start, the race was already on. I was just taking off my 50 layers (you never know with the Irish weather), when I heard Paul O’Connell shouting, “nineteen.” I chucked my clothes into a bush and ran up to the gate, tagged Paul, and I was off.

There are lots of nice down hill bits in this 8km run … love the downhills. (If anyone knows of a downhill only race I can enter, let me know) This year however, as opposed to last year, there seemed to be more uphill’s, and no, the route hadn’t changed, it’s just that this year I knew where I was going, so I wasn’t chit-chatting to the girl beside me, or taking it easy because I had no idea how much further I had to go.

No, this year I can say that I actually ran in the relay as opposed to half-ran, half-jogged it. It seemed as if the uphill bits were longer and tougher than I remembered, but that’s what a bit of speed will do to you!

The route is pretty straight forward; it starts on the down hill, along a steep tarmac road, and then turns right into the forest where you follow a gravel track, which starts to climb uphill gradually, for what seems like forever. I caught up with one runner here and passed two others. You have another right turn at a T-junction, continue the slow climb, and pass through two gates. At some point you have to watch out for a sharp right turn up into the forest for a steep ‘mountain goat’ climb that comes down the other side, where you a take a left back out onto the gravel track which you follow for a short distance, then turn off down a narrow path cutting through some trees, over a stile at the end, and through a field of long grass, (loved that bit), passed another runner here, over another stile, through another field, another stile, then out onto a proper road taking a right at the next junction, then you’re on the home straight which is mostly down hill until after the bridge where it cruelly and at the last minute decides to start a very gradual ascent, luckily before it gets steep its time to pass over to the next runner, in this case Ciaran.”

Leg 4: Kieran Foley

Overall Distance: 9.6 km Total Climb: 363m Course Record: 38:25(2004) Kieran’s time: 54:30

“I took part in the 4th leg from Oldbridge to Glendalough. Being a complete novice to mountain running I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Lucy, Paul and Ciara had gone before me and all had done really well. I really wanted to do my best for the team and felt really good and was up for the challenge. At the start of leg 4 there was already quite a gap between the runners and it then became clear to me that I was going to be all alone out there and I started to fear that I might lose my way. Unfortunately after about 3km into the race I took a wrong turn and according to my garmin this 9.6km leg ended up being just over 11km. I finished in 54:30 but if I had stayed on course I would have finished in more like 47 minutes.

Having never raced over mountains I cannot really compare my experience to anything else or any of the other legs on the day. I can only say that I found the mountains to be brutal but beautiful. It was wild and stunning up there. I was fortunate to come across some deer about 2 miles into the race which brought a smile to my face and helped distract me from the pain I was under, but only briefly! Leg 4 starts at the bottom of a daunting hill that runs for over 2 miles. There was no easing yourself into the run. It was a baptism of fire! There was a bit of everything during this stage. Steep never ending climbs followed by break neck down hill slopes. There were wide open fields on the peaks and narrow trails through forests with creeks and wooden bridges. I now realise that mountain running is a completely different beast and I hold the utmost admiration for the people that do these races on a regular basis. I was delighted to be out there with the team on such a beautiful day and despite the pain I really did enjoy the run. If you were to ask me if I would do it again, I would say definitely yes, without a doubt. Sorry about taking the wrong turn but thanks for the introduction and well done to all!”

Leg 5 – Glendalough to Drumgoff : Liam Mc Fadden

Overall Distance: 13.6 km Total Climb: 571m Course Record: 53:49(2008) : Liam’s time: 63:15

Alarm went of at 8am on Saturday morning and with it I was ready to head for the Wicklow hills to help out my Sportsworld team on leg 5 of the Wicklow Way Relay. Having not done much Hill running this season I was looking forward to the challenge that lay ahead and having had a recce over it 2 days previous I knew what was ahead of me.

Colm and I arrived at Glendalough fairly early; we got a quick Phone Call for the Captain Mr Mitchell that Kieran was on his way and expect him in 40 minutes, with this I did a quick warm up before heading over to Transition on the Green Road. It wasn’t long before the 1st team arrived and left transition, ten minutes later eventual winners Boards had changed over, having know Kieran was in 4th / 5th Place and only minutes down on Boards I started to get nervous waiting to see him appear over the Bridge, but instead of Kieran or any runner all that appeared was 3 bus loads of tourists out for there casual stroll in Glendalough, disaster I thought to myself, I’m going to have to get past all these people as the first km was all along the lake and these people wouldn’t be push on 3.30 minute/ km more like 1 hour 30minute Km’s. With that 2 runners changed over and a few minutes later Kieran appeared and I was off.

The first 100 metres were grand no tourists but the next few minutes was up on grass verges and roaring at people to move over , eventually getting to the bridge at the upper lake I knew the tourists wouldn’t be heading the same way as me, straight up the hill for about 1 km, at this point I never even thought of trying to catch anyone and just ran at a steady pace for about another 2 km on the uphill section till out of the trees I could see a competitor in the distance, right I said he looks to be struggling on this hill lets catch him and within a short period off time I passed him and headed on for the last 2.5 km of uphill. After another 1.5km I passed another competitor and with this I knew we were now in 3rd Place, so for the last 9km which was mostly flat or downhill I ran as hard as I could to make as much of a lead on the chasers as possible and give Colm an advantage to build on in the next leg.

The downhill section flew by and with it I was back on public road and 100 metres from handover. I seen Captain Mitchell and he was delighted that we were now in 3rd Place, My job was done and handed over to Colm.

Leg 6: Colm Kennedy

Overall Distance: 12.7 km Total Climb: 566m Course Record: 48:57(2004) Colm’s time: 59:45

“The first Saturday after the June bank holiday and it was time for another crack at the Wicklow Way Relay. We had been talking about it for last few months and the day was finally upon us. This year I had been allocated Leg 6 instead of the injured Paul Mitchell. The great thing about this was that, despite the hassle of having to recce another leg, I didn’t have to get up until 8am. It was poor Lucy this year that had to endure the 4.30am wake up call!

Leg 6 was a 12.5km stage with approx 550m of climbing much the same as Leg 1 that I ran last year. The stage ran from Glenmalure to Ironbridge. Eigthy percent was on fire road, with about ten percent on tarmac and the remainder on forest trail.

I arrived at Glenmalure, where I was greeted by an over enthusiastic and slightly touched top hat wearing marshall (you don’t see these type of lads on the cross country circuit, that’s for sure), with about half an hour to spare. Liam had left Glendalough a half hour previous in 5th position. I sat and waited. The first man to reach us was the Rathfarnham man who had run a great leg and extended their lead to 16 minutes over the Boards A team in second place. Next to arrive was the Sportsworld support car manned by Paul Mitchell along with Lucy Darcy who now that she had finished running was working in the role of main cheerleader for the afternoon. Next thing to be heard was a shout that the next runner was approaching. Much to our delight, it was Liam, having made up two positions on his leg. We were now only 13minutes off 2nd place. I was away.

My route started with about a 400m downhill road section. I sprinted it so hard that I actually ran past the first turn by a few metres. As I turned onto the fire road, the gradient changed drastically as did my pace. From here on up it was a constant 2km slog to the first peak. I pushed as hard as I could, constantly checking the Garmin to see if 2.5km would ever come. It did. From here I had a 1km fast downhill section on a good surface. I ran as hard as I could here, as the downhills were where I could make up any time lost by my atrocious snail like climbing abilities. At 3.5km, it was time for some more torture. I turned right onto a steep mucky and rocky ascent. It felt like I was hardly moving. Finally I emerged on the next fire road. Again this was uphill but it was a much more manageable gradient (it actually felt comfortable after what had just preceded it). At 6.5km I reached the top. 2km of downhill lay ahead – sound! I increased the pace. At about 7.5km I passed the cheering squad, with its newest member, Liam, in tow. This gave a boost before I turned off the main road for the final climb of the day. 4km to go. The last climb lasted 1km and had only one steep section. Summiting I knew I now had a 3km sprint downhill to Ironbridge. The only objectives here were high knees and praying that your feet hit solid ground when they landed. Thankfully I stayed on my feet. I reached Ironbridge in just under the hour mark (almost a minute behind Mr Mitchell’s time from last year – gutted!) and tagged Phil. With a half marathon ahead of him, I didn’t envy him.

Lucy, Liam and Paul were immediately on hand to update me on proceedings. We had made up 3 minutes on the Boards team and even better, much to everyones amusement, the Rathfarnham man had gotten lost. We were now in 2nd position with a ten minute lead on 3rd place – but could we stay there …………?

Leg 7: Phil Kilgannon

Overall Distance: 21.2 km Total Climb: 651m Course Record: 81:10(2008) Phil’s time: 127:00

“Well, what started out as a glorious day scampering through the trails between Ironbridge, near the beautiful Glenmalure and the idyllic Hamlet of Tinahealy, descended into farce as I took the road less travelled and yes it made all the difference. Six of my team mates stormed through the Wicklow Way, setting me up in second place with a chance to make a daring assault on first place and hand over to give Helen Dixon a glorious shot at coming home first. All was well as I followed by idiots guide map to the Wicklow Way, seeing all the expected landmarks. I can now recall however the point at which things started to unravel. I took up the Ballycunber Trail, taking a right turn, which it would seem was a shade hasty and early. My surroundings seemed to match my guide but when there were fences instead of gates and the signs disappeared, my heart started to sink. It’s one thing to mess up your own race, it is quite another to blow the efforts of seven teammates and the Svengali Sherpa – Mitch up in smoke. It’s a compounding disappointment that I hadn’t experienced before. Anyway I was too far wrong at this stage to turn back. Pointing my finger into the wind I barrelled downhill hoping for the best. As 90 minutes passed my quads were like granite and my back was caving in. When the bottom of the mountain eventually came, my heart soared as I saw Tinahealy GAA club. Alas the adventure was not over. There were three roads out of Tinahealy. After going down the wrong two I eventually saw Lucy, a sight for sore eyes, legs, back and feet – who guided me home. After two hours on the road Lassie and the Mountain rescue helicopter were being prepped for action. I think summer had turned to autumn by the time I handed over to Helen, in ninth place. And that my friends is how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Leg 8: Helen Dixon

Overall Distance: 10.0 km Total Climb: 283m Course Record: 33:33(2008) Female Record: 43:13(2008) Helen’s time: 50:02
“I arrived with tonnes of time to spare at Crossbridge on Saturday…….I was rather worried about the fact that I didn’t know the route I would be covering in the race and wanted to see how much I could figure out in advance.  I had memorised the page of directions for the 10km stretch the evening before but past experience of my navigational abilities gave me cause for doubt. I identified the handover point at the end of leg 7 where I would be due to meet Phil. One other runner – Andy from Donore – was there at that stage and, having established we were both in the same boat, we set off to suss out the first 1.5km of the route which involved various requirements not to end up in an adjacent farm. This short recce was well worth doing but, if anything, reinforced the view that a complete reconnaissance of the route would have been by far the best plan!
Back at the handover point a few other runners and the leg marshal had arrived. There was great excitement about the fact that the leading team Rathfarnham had gone astray and were now back in third position. The handover point was on something of a blind corner so there was immense excitement each time a leg 7 runner rounded the last bend and I didn’t have long to wait for Phil to come through (even having taken a lengthy detour!). Off I set, way too fast as usual, up the first uphill dirt trail section and on to the boreen. Over about 3 or 4 gates (and back over one that I mistakenly took into a field) and then eventually out onto a fire trail. I was overtaken by a UCD runner at this point but happy to know I was on the right route. About 4km, we came out onto the road and then the memory test of the left and right junctions began. Eventually, I realized I was on the steep, long downhill into Shillelagh at the race finish. Round the last corner and there were Paul M and Lucy appropriately cheering like lunatics on the bridge.  It’s a fascinating race. Definitely not the fastest team that wins. It’s a massive organisational and logistical exercise too but really brilliant fun.”

Leg 8: Helen DixonOverall Distance: 10.0 km Total Climb: 283m Course Record: 33:33(2008) Female Record: 43:13(2008) Helen’s time: 50:02“I arrived with tonnes of time to spare at Crossbridge on Saturday…….I was rather worried about the fact that I didn’t know the route I would be covering in the race and wanted to see how much I could figure out in advance.  I had memorised the page of directions for the 10km stretch the evening before but past experience of my navigational abilities gave me cause for doubt. I identified the handover point at the end of leg 7 where I would be due to meet Phil. One other runner – Andy from Donore – was there at that stage and, having established we were both in the same boat, we set off to suss out the first 1.5km of the route which involved various requirements not to end up in an adjacent farm. This short recce was well worth doing but, if anything, reinforced the view that a complete reconnaissance of the route would have been by far the best plan!