Wicklow Way Relay 2014
So Near and Yet so Far..
The Dublin Mountains begin just south of Marley Park but it never ceases to amaze me that many Sportsworlders have never set foot in them. Mention some of Ireland’s great beauty spots such as Lough Tay, nestled in the Wicklow mountains beside Roundwood, and you get blank stares, followed by “they talk funny down there..”. Let me assure you that they stopped taking scalps in Wicklow about 100 years ago – it’s perfectly safe as long as you stay on the path – vere off the path and all bets are off.
With this backdrop you can imagine that it is not easy to find 8 brave souls to run a relay race from Marley Park South Dublin, to Shilelagh South Wicklow.
So why had I put myself in the position of organising a Team for the Wicklow Way Relay Race, again! Well quite simply it was easier to nod assent then try to give reasons against during my long run with Eanna in the Phoenix Park. You try talking and running that fast!
Luckily there are some fool hardy individuals that can always be relied upon. Eanna, Damian and Olivier were on board from the start – so I only needed four more – how hard could that be.
Part of the beauty of the WWR is that it is designed to be inclusive – Teams must include at least two ladies, and at least two over 40’s. This gives the race a really nice dynamic – as everyone has an important part to play. Of course it’s more challenging to find runners to suit these requirements and I’m never quite sure what response I’ll get when I approach the subject with potential candidates. Unfortunately some previous Stallworth’s (Ed, Ciara, Paul O’Connell) were not available – their excuses have been verified. Colm and Liam haven’t been seen in years, Paul Duffy tried it once and didn’t like it, and I know well not to ask Gareth.
Gavin has been secretly training in the mountains for a while and coach Damian was given the responsibility of signing him up – which he duly did.
Ruth gave very little resistance – she didn’t let on that she was a veteran of the WWR of many years till later.
When Mike mentioned to me that he’d like to try a mountain run sometime my ears pricked and I had the contracts signed in triplicate before he could blink.
I was due to run Leg 6 but unluckily jarred my knee jumping over the gate at Bushy Park so I had to get a sub just in case I couldn’t run on the day. Browsing the IMRA forum who did I see but James Brady pimping himself to any team that would have him – I grabbed him before he did something he would regret forever.
That left us stuck for one female and only days to go. A number of names were run by the committee but each one was rejected – some were too tall, some too skinny, some had the wrong colour hair… Eanna wanted Rachael and that was that. In the end he got his gal and we were a Team!
With typical Sportsworld exuberance Eanna declared that we could win this thing!! Like Arthur C. Clarke I remained sceptical. In the end we had a great day out, a great work out and great fun. I won’t bore you with the details – the runners can do that for me – read below to see how they got on.
Leg 1: Gavin Finlay
Kilmashogue Car Park to Curtlestown Wood
Overall Distance: 14.4km Total Climb: 556m
Course Record: 53:48(2009 Keith Daly)/Female Record: 66:19(2010 Lucy Darcy)
Gavin’s time: 61:25 (3rd position)
“Feeling slightly out of my of comfort zone I made my way to the start of the famed Wicklow Way Relay at Kilmashogue Forest car park at 6:55am. Up since 5am: porridge, toast, beetroot juice, coffee and my homemade glucose lemon ‘energy’ drink and I was ready to go.
Ireland in May. Lashing rain and foggy. This wasn’t in the script. But I was psyched for this. Love the mountains. Still not sure about running fast on them though.
A surprisingly subdued atmosphere at the start of the race; explained, I guess, by the ungodly hour and threatening fog.
7am: and we’re off. Settle into a comfortable pace up the first gentle climb. Felt quite easy at first as a lead group of three made a break: Paul Fleming (going rogue with an outfit styling themselves TT Racers), a Slí Cualann runner and myself. I noticed both of them were wearing road running ‘flats’. Interesting? Foolish or inspired, I thought. Slí Cualann is the Gaelic for ‘Wicklow Way’ (Cualann derives from Cualu I believe, referring to the land around Glendalough). Best stick with this lad so, despite his Saucony road runners.
Pretty relentless climb for a while here but nothing too hairy. I got cast adrift after around 25 minutes and found myself isolated in 3rd position. The fog wasn’t clearing and I started to feel a bit disorientated. You’re running with no scenery around you and only around 30m visibility in front of you. Reach a fork on the trail and for some reason I panicked and wasn’t 100% sure to go straight or turn right. Sh*te! Even though I had run this trail before and felt I knew the terrain I was paralysed. So I waited for around 2 minutes until the 4th runner arrived for reassurance. As it turned out it was the 5th place runner behind him who set us right.
Back on track. Picked up the pace here to make up for lost time. Flew down the rocky path, pounding the quads and lower back. Was looking forward to the next part of the leg – getting onto the Glencullen Road for a mile or so. Familiar footing. Managed to recover and knock out a swift 5:20 mile before reaching Boranaraltry Lane for a downhill to the start of the next climb. The fire trail uphill here was really tough I have to say. Recover and onwards under Prince William’s Seat but again no chance to take in the scenery. An extremely tricky rocky descent was up next. I began cursing my decision not to wear proper trail runners, as well regretting even doing this bloody race! But the beauty of mountain running is the natural challenges it throws at you; the wilderness; the ebbs and flows of it; and the chances you get to recover and pick up the pace and rhythm again.
After the ‘rocky stairs’ you’re into the forest trail and it’s gloriously downhill from here all the way to stage end at Curtlestown Wood. Collide into the trail barrier at full speed and in 3rd place. Pass the ‘baton’ to Sportsworld’s more seasoned mountain runner/goat, the great Éanna Cunnane.
Do it all again in WWR 2015? Bring it.
A huge thanks is due to Paul Mitchell for organising and captaining the team.”
Leg 2: Eanna Cunnane
Curtlestown to Lough Tay
Overall Distance: 15.1km Total Climb: 759m
Course Record: 59:26(2009 Gerry Healy)/Female Record: 81:07(2008 Aisling Coppinger)
Eanna’s time: 70:38 (4th position)
“Damian and I did a test run of the second leg of the relay on a gloriously bright weekend. The pace was relaxed and the route took us along sun-dappled forest paths and through fields of bluebells beside the Glencree. At Ridge Rock we stopped to admire the view over Powerscourt, marvelling at the beauty of the waterfall and at the ease with which we’d reached it.
In other words, it was nothing like the day of the race.
As Gavin and I drove to Kilmashogue at 6:30AM on Saturday, we ascended into thick fog that reduced visibility to 50 feet and muffled the sound of the rain that was already falling heavily. Though the car park filled quickly with other runners, the mood was subdued and as dark as the morning. I drove on to Curtlestown, knowing already that this would be a murderously tough run and hoping that Gavin would start strongly enough to keep us competitively positioned with the other teams likely to challenge for a place – Rathfarnham, local lads Sli Cualann, and TT Racers (essentially a stealth Rathfarnham team with ringers from Donore and DSD).
The second leg is one of the toughest of the Wicklow Way, as it climbs unrelentingly from Crone and loops over the barren slopes of Djouce, so the first challenge was whether to dress coolly for the climb or warmly for the mountain. I figured on going hard enough to stay warm, so it was down to the red&white singlet and up to the barrier that was to be the handover point from leg 1. Paul Fleming was first in for TT Racers, followed a few minutes later by Sli Cualann, and then Gavin. Mark Ryan was doing the second leg for Rathfarnham, so although I was off before him I knew I’d have to go out fast to avoid being passed in the early stages. However, a 3:14 first kilometre may have been a little too fast, and I ended up missing the turn down to the Glencree. Retracing my steps, I met Mark and tucked in behind him until we got to Crone and he opened a lead on the climb.
That climb to Ridge Rock was unrecognisable from the previous weekend: everything was shrouded in mist, and nothing but a thundering out of the gloom marked the waterfall. My pace slowed as the gradient increased, and soon I was grinding out 4:30 and then 5 minute and slower kilometres. Hills like this are as much a mental battle as a physical one; there’s simply no respite, and you retreat inwards, focusing on finding a rhythm that lets you cope with the discomfort. However, that rhythm was hard to come by: the ridge route that leads first up the hill and then sharply down to the Dargle was under inches of water and practically unrunnable in sections; the Dargle itself was in spate, a roiling tumult. But after crossing it, the real work began, because now the trail led up and again up, over first rock and then scree and moor towards the summit of Djouce, hidden in the fog far above. Mercifully the Wicklow Way leads left before the final climb to the summit, but unmercifully this meant crossing several stiles that broke my cadence and forced into consciousness how tired my legs were. But finally I reached the boardwalk, which meant the worst of the climbing was past and I could up the pace again. I hammered along the downhill sections, focusing on keeping upright on pitted, weathered boards that were never meant as a running surface, and I gritted my teeth for the last few ascents – I was knackered, but didn’t want to lose any more time after my missed turn earlier.
The view above Lough Tay is one of the most beautiful in Wicklow, but today the fog persisted so that nothing was visible until the last turn out of the forest, where I called for Rachael, waiting at the handover point with a look of determination. And then she was off and I was done, and as tired as I’ve been after any race I’ve ever run. But this one is different: the wild terrain, and the feeling of being both alone in it but also deeply connected to the rest of the team and to the other racers out on the barren mountain – it makes for an entirely unique and hugely satisfying experience. Gavin and I followed the route round, arriving too late for Rachael’s handover (unbelievably, she ran faster to Oldbridge than we could drive) but hearing of Michael’s amazing performance on leg 4, and then seeing Olivier’s storming finish on leg 5. James, and then Damian and finally Ruth took over and saw Sportsworld home to a close 4th place finish, with the team in contention for a place all the way. I’m already thinking of next year…”
Leg 3: Rachael Morgan
Lough Tay to Oldbridge
Overall Distance: 8.0km Total Climb: 126m
Course Record: 27:04(2003 Desie Shorten)/Female Record: 30:09(2010 Fiona Reid)
Rachael’s time: 30:57 (3rd position)
“As a late addition to the WWR team (“how hard can it be to run 8k?”), I hadn’t engaged too much with the detail of the race before heading off to the starting point for Leg 3 (Lough Tay) at 7 am on Saturday morning. After a quick warm-up, and largely ignorant of what lay in store, I waited with a group of other (mostly female) runners for our Leg 2 team-mates to come through. I didn’t have to wait long as Eanna came gliding down the woodland trail in third position. Paul had warned me that there was a fairly steep road descent but I completely under-estimated it in spite of his best efforts. Completely out of control, I headed off on my five mile Odyssey! After the ridiculous descent, we turned into woodland trails with sharp hills and descents. A steep climb up a bank on the right hand-side took us through a series of fields, two stiles and one steep descent through a stream before we came out again onto a road and a serious 1 k descent to the finish where Michael Cunningham was waiting to take Sportsworld through Leg 4. In true SW fashion, Michael took time to tell me he had left a bottle of water for me before heading off on this tough climb. We then headed over to Glendalough to catch Michael’s finish, but his great second placing meant that we missed it. We did, however, manage to catch Olivier in Glenmalure and see James off on Leg 6 Three days later, I am still walking down the stairs backwards and have a toe nail that is not long for this world. It was, however, great fun and one I will remember.“
Leg 4: Michael Cunningham
Oldbridge to Glendalough
Overall Distance: 9.6km Total Climb: 363m
Course Record: 38:25(2004 Wieslaw Sosnowski)/Female Record: 42:47(2009 Donna Mahon)
Michael’s time: 45:46 (2nd position)
“At the start of each year I keep saying I am going to do at least 3 new races this year but normally I just fall into the same routine of races I did the year before. So this year when I was asked to do leg 4 of the Wicklow relay I jumped at the chance and then thought about it later. Running the course before you do the race is vital not only to know your way, which is tough when you’re racing, but also to know the length and severity of the climbs and the downhills. The other different thing about this race is in a normal race you know how long you have to do your warm up or stretches, or anything else you have to do, but in the relay you have to be at the start of your stage a half an hour before just encase the previous runners have had an amazing race but they could also be delayed with the weather and poor conditions so you could be waiting at your junction for 20 or 30minutes more then you thought, either way when you see your team mate coming towards you then you have around 10seconds to get yourself together and go.
Leg 4 is a good leg to do as you have climbs and downhills you run on tarmac, forest, planks, rocks, offroad and finish on tarmac so you have a bit of everything and its one of the shorter legs. I think all of the runners suffered from phantom footsteps were you are sure another team runner is just behind you but I swore to myself I wasn’t going to stop on the climbs and I wasn’t going to look behind me. I was lucky I had a rival team just ahead of me and it makes it so much easier when you are chasing someone and catching them as it keeps you positive and takes your mind off any pain. The race flew by and I was happy with my downhill performance taking on board Paul Mitchell’s advice of disregarding any concerns of your personal wellbeing and just throw yourself down the hills, although I did wimp out when Rachael Morgan suggested standing in the ice cold river in Glendalough.
Well done to Paul Mitchell for organizing the event again which takes a lot of time and effort.”
Leg 5: Olivier Privat
Laragh to Drumgoff
Overall Distance: 13.6km Total Climb: 571m
Course Record: 53:49(2008 John Brooks)/Female Record: 62:05(2010 Beth McCluskey)
Olivier’s time: 64:50 (8th position)
“The race promised to be so exiting! I felt extremely proud and lucky for having been selected within the Sportsworld team. I enjoy road running, but above all I love mountain and trail running. We have got the chance to have such beautiful mountains on our doorstep, with fantastic scenery and wilderness.
I was eagerly anticipating the event. Our captain, Paul Mitchell, managed to gather some of the best Sportsworld runners and runneresses. The competition was going to be fierce, some of the best Irish athletes where among our contender teams. Paul expected us to fight for a spot on the podium. Ohhh, the pressure is on!
I could barely sleep the night before. I would wake up every hour by the sound of the rain pounding on the windows. It was going to be epic; as if those mountains were not hard enough to climb we would have to fight the elements. Thank god Gav’s got the first leg! He told me more than once that he loves running under the Irish drizzle. Would he consider that as an Irish drizzle? I am considering taking my rain gears.
When I got up Gav had already started. After a quick breakfast I was on the road to Glendalough and the start of leg 5. I was taking every opportunity to check my messages and the IMRA facebook page for the latest news. Gav had finished 3rd just a few seconds behind the second team. The conditions are wild at the top of those mountains.
Luckily the sky opened as I parked in Glendalough. Eanna had secured the third position and Rachel was on. Finally we might be fighting for a place on that podium.
Ruth is here to cheer me up, despite running later in the last leg.
Now the adrenaline is rushing. Jason Reid from Rathfarnham is there, waiting as well. I don’t usually run with these guys, they are a few classes above me!
The first TT Racer runner has arrived 5 minutes ago. She was in bits and gave everything she had. Michael arrives now in second place, sprinting 100m ahead of the Rathfarnham team. Man what a brilliant run for Michael, I now have the pressure on me with a second place to preserve…
No way it was going to happen, Jason passes me on the flat along the lakes, at a pace I cannot keep-up with. But now the race leader is just a few meters ahead of us, as if waiting for us! Did he get lost? What is he doing? He was meant to be well in front of us. The two of them are now running together and me trying to keep-up 50m behind. I manage to maintain the gap up to the top of Poulanass waterfalls, but I need to slow down a bit if I do not want to blow out too early in my race. It could have been the chance for our team to stay with the leaders but I am running in a different league.
Hey I still have that third place to defend, nobody to be seen behind but I have to push as much as I can to preserve it.
The climb to the col is still long but the views on the upper lake are just amazing. I still can see the two leaders relaying each other before they disappear in the distance and in the clouds.
Arriving at the col is surreal, I can’t see further than 50m, it is raining now and the Sportsworld singlets do no provide much protection against the wind.
Rain jacket is on and now it is downhill as hard as I can for 7km to the finish.
Out of the clouds and nobody to be seen in front or behind, I still need to maintain the fastest pace I can. The thighs are burning and it is hard to absorb the shocks. The views on the Vale of Glenmalure are just astounding, the sun is out now but Lugnaquilla is still in the clouds.
I have reached the last stretch of the trail, I emerge out of the forest on the public road and can see the first marshall. “Runner’s coming”, the last bend and 100m ahead James is waiting, hectic. I can hear Ruth, Rachel, Gav and Eanna cheering. The last meters, and I just about manage to encourage James.
In the end I didn’t really cause too much concern to the two leaders, they’re still looking very fresh. I still have the joy of finishing in third place.
In the end it has been such a great day. We just finished 5mins from the podium.
Looking forward to next year and hopping to make the team, as captain Paul promised to select another strong team.
Well done to all and congratulation to Paul for his hard work at organising the team.”
Leg 6: James Brady
Drumgoff to Iron Bridge
Overall Distance: 12.7km Total Climb: 566m
Course Record: 48:57(2004 Gerry Healy)/Female Record: 62:54(2004 Laura Flynn)
James’s time: 61:54 (10th position)
“I relay enjoyed this race. Yes, I did mean to write relay. This is an amazing event. If you get the chance to participate, grab it. A big thanks to Paul for his great organisation, communication and for asking me to participate. I really enjoyed being part of the Sportsworld team and the banter beforehand.
I was running leg six in this event. Starting from the Glenmalure Lodge to the making my way to Ironbridge (where I celebrated birthdays and camped as a child, true story!). I recced it the Monday beforehand, which was crucial. This isn’t an event you can run with you head down, you need to know exactly where you are going and there are plenty of twists & turns in this leg.
Olivier handed over to me, with the team in a fantastic 3rd place. It was great seeing Eanna and Gavin waiting at the Lodge beforehand having completed their legs and brought home the team nature of this event.
The run starts out flat but soon turns into an uphill struggle for about 3 miles. There is a sharp right after mile 2 that works its way up rock and muck. The rain the few days before did not help! There is very little relief on this leg and when it does come, it’s short but sweet. You make a sharp left and find yourself and a boardwalk. The more experienced trail runners probably avoid these altogether. Lesson learned for me; they are pretty slippy and it’s hard to gain traction and maintain your balance whilst trying to race.
You soon exit the woods and work your way alongside the road before crossing it for your final hill climb. Near the top of the climb I heard an ominous noise, a branch breaking on the trail behind me. One look over my shoulder revealed a ‘mountain machine’ of a man climbing up the hill behind me. The hill evens out for another sharp decent, jumping over stones and gullies. The mountain machine was hot on my trail at this point!
The trail evened out again for the final time before the last decent to the Ironbridge. I caught by the ‘mountain machine’ as we crossed the road for the last downhill section. I met Damian on the bridge and that was that! Sounds easy and fairly straight forward I hear you say.
I loved this race and I’d love to have the opportunity to run it again next year. I’ve learned a few good lessons from Saturday! Maybe next year there will be more than one team from Sportsword, but you can bet whatever team we put out it’ll push for a medal again.
For stats fans: 7.85 miles; 1.01.47 running time; Avg Pace 7.52 mins/ml; Elevation Gain 1652ft”
Leg 7: Damian Kelly
Iron Bridge (Aughavannagh) to Derry River (Tinahely)
Overall Distance: 21.2km Total Climb: 651m
Course Record: 74:49(2014 Tim O’Donoghue)/Female Record: 101:10(2003 Beth McCluskey)
Damian’s time: 90:48 (6th position)
“Well here we go for my first race report. I normally leave the race reports to Michael and Gavin, the historians.
Waiting on the bridge at Ironbridge is a great as you can look up the mountain while waiting for your team mate to arrive. In this case it was local man James Brady. James came in fourth place just behind the St Brigid’s man who had about a 1 minute lead on me. I then said to myself I have 21kms ahead and if I catch him and open a gap I can give Ruth a lead and hopefully 3rd place for the team. The 21k leg starts off with about 5k of climbing and getting close to the top I was starting to reel my man in, then on the first decent I caught up with him. Unfortunately there was a tree blocking the fire road from the storm back in February so I went to the side of it and ended up in a foot of water and being stung by nettles. I opened a good gap and was even given water by the St Brigid’s back up crew along the way which was very nice of them. I said to myself..second last climb ahead, if I can get to the top of this without seeing anyone we are home and hosed for 3rd place. One more glance back and Cormac Conroy appears from Sli Cualann. I knew we were in trouble as they had a sub 35min 10km man on the last leg. In my heart I knew 3rd place was gone. Anyway I finished my leg in 1hr 30 which was the aim and handed over to Ruth who ran a stormer to hold on for 4th place for the team. It was really a great day out in the hills and well done to all my team mates and to Paul Mitchell for putting the team together.”
(Now that he’s started with the report writing will we ever here the end of him?)
Leg 8: Ruth Kelly
Tinahely to Shillelagh
Overall Distance: 10.0km Total Climb: 283m
Course Record: 33:33(2008 Barry Minnock)/Female Record: 39:28(2011 Donna Mahon)
Ruth’s time: 42:57 (7th position)
“After a very enjoyable morning traipsing around the Wicklow mountains, here I was at the start of 10k leg 8 waiting for Damien, my turn soon, Paul and Olivier on hand to lend support. Out of the mountains now, more like rolling hills, not quite as flat as Bushy though. Excited atmosphere amongst the waiters, with 2 teams still in the mix for first and second position, and the next 3 teams including SW neck and neck at the end of Leg 6. The three of us soon had each other sussed out, the St Bridget’s runner was around my level, but Mick from Sli Cualann was a 34 minute 10k’er, though had a heart attack last year so would be ‘happy with 39 for this’. With the first 2 teams gone, Sli Cualann were next in, and immediately after, a shout from Olivier, who had gone down the road to keep watch, to say Damien was on the way, 20 seconds behind Sli Cualann. So off with my jacket, hand tap from Damien for the changeover, and off I went.
A hill to begin (of course), no sign of Mick away already, and no idea how much of a cushion we had on St Bridget’s. Climbing the hill (which wasn’t that bad really) wondered what would I do if I met Mick having a heart attack, no first aid capabilities, no phone, and only sheep around…..but the task at hand (i.e. trying to breath) brought me back to reality and I kept going. Rough grassy trail first, a few gates to climb, then a forest path up and down, and then road…tar….for the last 7k, not a real mountain leg at all. Hills up and down all the way but none too bad or too long, easier than waterworks. Strange trying to run at race pace with no one around, in front or behind, but all the time the fear of being caught and letting the team down so had to keep going. At 3k to go passed the spot where myself and Ciara (Foster) met sheep on the road, running ahead of us, a few days earlier when we were out doing the recce of the route. At about 2k to go passed the spot where the sheep finally stopped running, wondered if they got home. Could see Shillelagh (the finish) in the valley, not far now and more importantly a net downhill. Met two older guys on the road, one in a wheelchair, said hello (I know, clearly should have been running faster!), they said nothing just looked bemused at a lone runner in a club vest whizzing past on the country roads of Co Wicklow. Ok ‘whizzing’ might be a slight exaggeration. But aren’t we lucky we can run. And finally the last downhill, Paul, Olivier and Damien pitched against a wall at the bottom enjoying other peoples pain….and taking photos. Safe now, could ease down the last hill and to the finish. Team 4th, a good team time, and Mick still alive having run 36 mins. Turned out Damien had built a nice cushion on St Bridget’s so had a few minutes to spare…..if only I knew that at the beginning….ah it would have taken the fun out of it..
Great day, banter, scenery, bit of pain, competition and of course running! Thanks to Paul for the nod.”
Team Sportsworld ended up in 4th position, only 7minutes behind Sli Cualann.
Our Team time was 7hrs 48mins (almost 20minutes better than our previous record). Rathfarnham won the race in 7hrs 27 and the last team, Tommy’s Tumbler’s, finished in 28th position in a time of 11hrs 36.
We were So Near and Yet so Far from the podium! Needless to say the planning has already begun for next year – there is talk of selection committees and training etc. etc.
For those of you with absolutely no work to do you can continue reading to see how we did in previous outings.
2009 Runners Report – http://sportsworldrun.wpengine.com/news/imra-wicklow-way-relay-the-real-story/