So my journey to the WWR 2022 began back in 2019 when I was roped in to run the relatively easy leg 3 to cover the female category needed to complete a team. I had a great day and really enjoyed the comraderie of being on a team (without having Emily shouting at me )…..then COVID came…..but I stayed on the Sportsworld IMRA group in the hopes that if the WWR ever came around again they would again be in need of a slightly unfit female. The call finally came and I tentatively put my name forward…..and somehow I managed to volunteer myself for leg 1 without realising the difficulty and the
very early start.
So following a very fitful sleep (waking up on the hour every hour) I made it to the start line for 6.30am on a very warm Saturday morning. I had managed to get out for 2 recce runs so was very familiar with the route but having split the run in two for the recce’s I didn’t quite grasp how steep the uphills were.
The run starts in Kilmashogue carpark with a constant 3km climb. Finally there’s a relatively flat section across the mountain and a technical downhill to the road. A nice 2k flat road section before it starts to climb again. The climb again is another 3-4km uphill with no let up. I found this section tough as I had only previously done it on fresh legs and it was steeper and longer than I remembered. Once I got up the top though I knew I could let loose and go for it all the way down the mountain….but alas the Waldron clumsiness came to pass…..I tripped spectacularly, banged my need and went into the gorse, leaving
myself with some lovely war wounds. Once the shock of the fall wore off I somehow managed to race down the mountain, a little disappointed with my time but glad to again have been part of the team. The day didn’t end there though, the logistics of getting the rest of the team from their starts and finishes made it a long but very enjoyable day. Helped by the lovely weather and the great company. I might have to hang around the IMRA group for another year, just in case, for WWR 2023.
Leg 2: To Lough Tay – Michael
As with most races this was the first running of the Wicklow Way since Covid. The race is on a Saturday and it really needs people to do a recce run before the race so although the race is popular it is hard sometimes getting a full team in time. The race is limited to 35 teams mostly because the handover legs need areas for runners to park their cars. Thankfully Wicklow has not been turned into one big carpark so parking is limited so team numbers are limited.
The race day was exceptional warm, it made for amazing views and no slippery rocks but it made a tough run even tougher. Sibeal had the early 7am race start and after she flew down the hill with blood streaming from her leg and handed me the GPS tracker I was off. It would of taken 5 seconds to check if she was alright after her fall but there is no place for sympathy or compassion in the Wicklow Way Relay team event.
I got Leg 2, Curtlestown to the back of Djouce, 9 miles with around 2000ft of climb, maybe I should of done more hill training. I have done this leg before and thought I knew the route but at one small junction the road had been changed and the WWR sign removed. I’m sure it wasn’t another team who removed the sign, 99% sure.
The route is downhill at the start to Glencree River and then up to Crone Woods. You over look the Powerscourt Waterfall and luckily at 8am in the morning there are not many people around. You then head down the technical Glensoulan Valley before running up again to the base of Djouce.
Luckily you don’t have to go to the top of Djouce but by this stage you feel you already have. At the back of Djouce you are running on railway sleeper boardwalks. Your legs are tired at this stage but you really have to concentrate. Boardwalks are meant for walking on not running and one trip can be quiet painful. Finally the end is in sight and Olive is waiting with food and water along with Sibeal and Naoise. 2 legs done and 6 to go.
Leg 3: To Oldbridge – Olive
“Is that Michael?” says SIbeal, and sure enough it is. Hot morning handing out above Lough Tay and the stunning Luggala. We have been keeping an eye on the tracker, but also taking photos. SIbeal has come direct from her leg bringing sustenance and good humour and is only now getting patched by Naoise after her sliding tackle with that course. But here comes Michael, flying down the hill, light and fast as if he just started. I suddenly feel the pressure I’ve been suppressing all morning, Grab the tracker with no niceties and run up the sharpish short ish uphill to get this stage back onto the Way. Its an uphill start on gravel track. Fairly steep but not technical then crest the hill and a descent towards car park. The steepness here broken by well worn , irregular, log step downs. Dry weather helps. Meaning there’s no additional slippiness but still requiring concentration.
Shortly on into a cool and sheltered forest. The boardwalk has been a source of concern but is dry and in good condition and with the place blissfully to myself I find a nice rhythm here landing with a some force on my left foot. Not my good leg but as I’ve developed overnight shin splits in my right leg, this is , sustainable, I calculate, for the short duration.
The boardwalk navigates my next turn left and then its 50 metres to the carpark, I pass a walker and say hi. Alas, this does not count as the valuable “making up a place” because she’s clearly just out for a walk.
Skirt the gravel track at the carpark and I feel I’ve covered the first Km in a decent time, Though my watch doesn’t register it. Nip across the road here and a fire track stretches out ahead. Probably the longest uphill on this leg but gentle by wicklow standards. My strategy is to conserve energy on the uphills, navigate carefully and lash into it from 6km when it’s all downhill and straighforward. I’ve realised I failed to switch on my watch at the start and as I’m depending on it for navigation it adds to the mental calculations.
Happily, navigation wise its straightforward now til 5km. Broad Firetrack and no real shelter from the sun or breeze have me struggling on the relatively minor uphills. (Expecting a downhilll course and meeting even small uphills is as psychologically gutting as doing laps)
I’m pleased to make the turn at 5km. I’m not finished congratulating myself on this when I get to an unexpected junction and realise my watch is telling me i’m 250 metres off course. Consult my paper map, look at the signs…but find that no map is much good if you’re already off it. A kindly walker comes along and directs me back. I’m dismayed to think that the only incline I’ve actually managed to run up in full is not on the official course. Back I go, find the turn just ahead of a runner in blue about 100 metres behind me. Consoled not to be last at this point I dip down into the welcomingly more sheltered rough & rocky track. Again the dry day here keeps this spot from being slippy. About 150 metres of this and i arrive at a stye. Clamber over this and its open field with a nice decline. After the heat and hardness of the firetrack, this soft even surface is a delight. I finally lash into it but am disappointed to find myself too wrecked to even haul up the final slight incline to greenroad . I glance back. The runner in blue also appears to have stopped. On the road for the last 1.5km and another decline and i go all in again. Probably the fastest 3km ive done in my life but a little short of what’s required to be competitive in this race. Liam-my lift back to the start- goes above and beyond and is out to meet me and run me back the final 50metres or so (without him i would’ve been walking again as the darn thing ended om a tiny incline!). TIm is bouncing on the line and gone in a flash at the handover, but has kindly left me much appreciated bar and water.
Mildly disappointed in the overall time and my uphilll efforts given such a favourable downhill to uphill ratio but on the day just glad to finish it at a run. I remind myself I ended up the team almost by default and what a happy accident for me and what a privilege to be part of it.
THen my leg is over, and the day is about driving up and down Wicklow on this beautiful day to provide lifts, support or just be a general nuisance at every handover. Exploring WIcklow, watching the tracker and the Whatsapp and meeting the various runners and supporters at the handovers, now able to relax. We all convene again in Shillelagh with the other teams to cheer in Jose – ( who’s last minute agreement to join the team meant this could happen! ) and watch the prizegiving. The sun, the flapjacks (thanks SIbeal!), the chats and just hanging out. Back to Glenmalure for something to eat and drink before finally, reluctantly, saying goodbye to the team and the day. It’s one of those days I don’t want to end. Driving down and an eerie but beautiful zeppelin of fog creeps across the hills before as we descend toward Kilmacanogue. My head knows I’ll likely never get to repeat this experience but my heart spins to Magic Future Time….Next year, I’ll train on hills, find a way to do a reccie and knock 10 minutes off that time.
Leg 4: To Glendalough – Tim
Distance: 9.3k Climb: 333m Terrain: Forest trail, Fire Road, Field, a little rock
I love running in the hills. Especially on a bright Spring day. I had somehow made it onto the team, as potential (and much faster) recruits proved difficult to come by. This would be my first event whereby my performance would actually be relevant to a team’s final standing. It felt great to be part of such a fun event, with a wonderful team of friends.
My leg 4 (of 8) was from Oldbridge to Glendalough. I parked up at Glendalough Visitor Centre (€4) and got a lift back to the Oldbridge start. I was in plenty of time and enjoyed the atmosphere, as the lead runners came through. It was great to see Liam (Leg 6) there to greet Olive, on her finish line, and to wish me a good run. We enjoyed ‘dot watching’ the trackers as Team Sportsworld (#8) powered through the course, in the form of Olive.
Olive was closing in rapidly. She had a decent lead over the runner behind her – just over 2 minutes, I subsequently found out. This was good. I wouldn’t be under pressure from the get go. On the other hand, the runner in front of me was over 5 minutes ahead, so no one to follow. I would need to keep my slightly ineffective eyes peeled for little Yellow Men. (The sun is getting to me ??)
The transition was smooth. Thanks Olive. But the hill for the next 800m was not a nice start. Quiet road for about 2k, then a beautiful route of trails. Although Leg 4 is net downhill, there is more uphill running than downhill – just that the downhills are steeper – and a little harder to run because of this, as I try not to be constantly ‘braking’. There is little to no flat on this leg, except for the last few hundred metres.
It was proving to be a lonely, if lovely, run. The occasional hiker to say hi to. A look behind me showed no one encroaching into my solitude. There are 4 tough kilometres – Nos. 1,3,4,7. The second k was the quickest…with the final 1.3k being quick for me too.
Just as I crested an incline, with 1.3k to go, I saw a vision. The red top of a Tinahely Tri runner. I could see that I was closing in fairly quickly. We had a few words and I took strength from Sibeal, Michael and Olive before me, and free-wheeled along the trail and down to Glendalough. I finished strongly, and the handover point was a little earlier than I had expected. Without my glasses on, I initially struggled to pick out the eagerly awaiting Paul, but another smooth transition and Paul was off to see Liam at Glenmalure.
My goal was not to get lost; not to fall; and try to maintain my position. It was great to gain one place (to 28th). Analysis of the draft results show that I was 22nd fastest of 35 on my leg. Leg 4 is the 3rd easiest, if we rank by leg winning times. I gained over 7 minutes on the runner that was immediately ahead of me… and pulled ahead 7 minutes from the runner behind me. I left Paul with a big gap to close though. I thoroughly enjoyed the run. A leisurely change of clothes and I headed to Shillelagh finish. A big thanks to Captain Michael for all the organising and for the whole team and support crew who made it a special day. A brilliantly organised and fun event. I’d love to do it next year again..
Leg 5: To Glenmalure – Paul
Following marathons in December and April I was looking for something a bit different to kick start my running again following a bit of a lull. So when Michael sent around a WhatsApp about the Wicklow Way Relay I jumped at the chance. I had done a few IMRA races last year and really enjoyed them (even though I couldn’t walk for a week after the Ailing Abyss). Having read the race report from 2019 and the battle between Sportsworld and Who Loves Short Shorts I was looking forward to it.
I was assigned leg 5 and decided to do a recce the week before. The route follows the Wicklow Way from Glendalough to Glenmalure and is 13.5KM basically going up for 8km and rapid descent for the last 5k.
The Saturday was a beautiful warm day and I arrived in Glendalough at around 9.15am. It was a bit early but I wanted to avoid all the crowds and traffic that usually occurs in Glendalough on a nice day. The race itself is super chill and all the runners for leg 5 were gathered awaiting the arrival of the leg 4 runners. There was some drama though as the runner from the favourites to win, TT Racers, had gotten lost and fell on leg 4 and handed the advantage to their rivals Rathfarnham.
Tim arrived having run a great leg and I was off. I ran quite hard for the first 2k which is relatively flat and this was a big mistake as I spiked my heart rate and couldn’t get it back down on the following climb so this slowed me down a bit. However you can make up a lot of time on the steep downhill into Glenmalure so I took the brakes off, turned the brain off and let the downhill take me. I handed the tracker off to the mountain goat that is Liam Lenehan in Glenmalure and I was done in literally every sense of the word. After recovering (thanks Olive for the water and muesli bar) I caught up with the rest of the team that were there, swapping war stories.
This is a great event, run along one of the most scenic routes in Ireland. If you get a chance I would encourage you to try it if you haven’t already done so.
Leg 6: To Iron Bridge – Liam
There is nothing like team sports and for me when it comes to running with Sportsworld, representing the club on a Cross Country Championship team or the Wicklow Way Relay team is as good as it gets.
Leg 6 for me doesn’t just start at Glenmalure Crossroads and finish at Ironbridge about an hour and 10 minutes later. It begins when you leave the house early on race day to do your share of the dropping off and collecting logistics (nice driving Olive) and ends with recovery grub and a beer when your your 8th leg man or woman crosses the finish line in Shillelagh. José got the best cheer of the day as he strode into the picturesque Wicklow Village.
The atmosphere and drama on the day is super – eyeballing the other teams and your direct leg competitors as you wait for your man at the handover stations, cheering all the runners, passing out on your leg, not getting passed out, wrong turns, times, gps tracking, competition, doing well relative to other teams. The WW Relay has everything you could ask for in a team race. This really is racing and even when you find yourself all alone up the side of a mountain you still feel and know you are racing, doing it for your team. Amazing!
This was my third time to race Leg 6, If you add in the 3 times I have reccied the route it should not hold any surprises for me but something always crops up when you are racing the mountains flat out – missing a turn, going out too fast or too slow, the look of the route changes from year to year with deforestation and of course the weather. Last Saturday was baking hot but I have raced it in misty rain and cold too. And the WW route itself can officially change if the powers that be decide so. You cannot daydream and enjoy the scenery too much or you will either fall or get lost or both!
How did my own leg go? – successful handover of GPS tracker from a flying, incoming Paul and I am off down the hill from Glenmalure with roars of encouragement from Karol, Jose and Olive. Over the Avonbeg river and Cloghernagh Brook and up its switchbacks, onto and up the steep boardwalk of lower Slieve Mann and up, up to the top of it. 6k of continuous climb under my belt. Half my half litre of water guzzled, make sure to keep some for later. Hard down fire tracks all the way to Military Road with a tricky boardwalk and heather kilometre before you reach it. A downhill crossover on Military Road, three quarters way there but then just when the legs and mind are really under pressure comes a steepish drag almost all the way to the top of Carrickashane Mountain, followed by a crazy narrow stony and sharp descent to the Mucklagh Hut. More fast downhill fire track leading me to a final surge down a rocky gorse bordered trail to the Iron Bridge over the Mucklagh river and a gasping handover of the tracker to our top man Karol (our third time so no confusion, right to left paw!). Done – I am in one piece and coherent as I debrief Sibéal (while gobbling down several of her homemade flapjacks), Olive and Michael.
On the day I ran well. never stopped, hiked a few short stretches to save energy but kept my cadence, passed out 4 competitors and didnt get passed. Matched my time from the last staging in 2019. Proud of my own and our teams efforts. A great day out and a great day to be on a Sportsworld team. Thanks to my teammates and especially to Michael who pulls it all together for us.
Leg 7 : To Crossbridge – Karol
Fail to prepare the night before, prepare to wash your Sportsworld singlet one hour before setting off to Wicklow. Lucky it was great drying weather… but a little too warm for running.
I laced up for leg 7 of 20k, the longest section from the remote Ironbridge by the river Ow in Aughavannagh, to the uphill finish at Crossbridge near Tinahely. This leg is becoming a tradition for me having ran this section two previous times and twice relieving Liam of his running duties.
Liam looked raring to go at Glenmalure and ran a solid leg, making up a couple of places over his route. After taking the GPS tracker from Liam, I set off with my precious fuel of water from the bridge. After a brief run on the road, there was a quick turn up a fire road, then briefly onto road again before turning off right up the longest climb of the route up through a 3k tunnel of pine forest. I managed to track down two runners here as the fire road slowly meandered to the top.
Then started a 2k descent out of the forest onto road again for about 3k where I went into autopilot keeping her lit as they say in hope of catching other runners. Not having the shade of the trees, I could feel the great drying weather getting the better of me and leaving my water bottle almost dry. As I hadn’t reccied the route recently, I’d forgotten how long it took until you turned down into a rollercoaster like technical descent down a bumpy sheep path near Moyne.
This is roughly the half way mark where you cross the road to a new mountain area. You gently skirt around this section of road again with some descents and long drags up that saps your energy followed by a fast sharp descent down to a river ford.
From here it’s the start of open countryside and running through farmland. It’s a beautiful part of Wicklow with a great view of the green valleys across the way. There was a tough rocky uphill climb from the ford, demanding all your strength. I past another runner on this ascent who seemed a sorry sight, too broken to muster any talk.
There was a brief respite as you climbed over the first of many gates where the course flattened somewhat greeted by many sheep amongst the buttery gorse. The route then turned right up the field to another gate to scale over. This was another hard climb and uneven ground to upset your rhythm.
After a couple of false dawns, the route levelled off and veered along the mountain and I could see Mangan’s Wood below in the distance to the right. I passed down through a cut forest and onto a fire road where I met another runner who was in better shape and able to share a few words of encouragement.
There was a fast descent through the picturesque oak trees of Mangan’s Woods turning to the right to a nice flat 2k grassy boreen that farmers use. There are 4 gates you have to pass through and the last time I ran most were left open but there were a few hikers coming in my direction and seemed to have closed them all so it turned into a slight steeplechase.
Nearing the end of the boreen you could hear the road below and see the far side of the valley where the leg 8 begins. There was a sharp left descent down to the road and I made sure to keep a little in the tank because as soon as you hit the road below you traverse the new steep section of the WW which cuts up through the hill. There you travel up steep wooden steps, too many to remember until you turn up right onto road for the final push of 300m up the hill to the final change over. Trying to squeeze out every last drop of energy, I finally caught sight of Jose and handed him the tracker.
Apart from the thirst, I felt glad to have run this section again and it was great to be on the relay team with the seven other Sportsworld members. Well done to Sibeal, Michael, Olive, Tim, Paul, Liam and Jose on their individual runs. Everyone arrived home in one piece. It was great fun getting together at the finish line in Shillelagh and sharing our experiences of the day. Thanks to Captain Michael again for making it all happen and to Jose, Sibeal and Liam for the lifts. Looking forward to next year.
Leg 8: To Shillelagh – Jose
I got into the team for the WWR the last weekend before the race. I won’t lie, it took a bit of arm twisting. Not because I didn’t want to do it but because I didn’t feel I was in shape to be on the team. However, reluctantly I said yes to leg 8 (Cross Bridge – Shillelagh), the last section of the course – No pressure at all. About 10K. Mainly downhill – I was told.
Being the last runner means that you spend all day, checking the WWR tracker app and the WhatsApp group. Looking at your team gaining or losing positions, worrying every time the GPS goes off track or stalls… only to breathe again when it picks up the signal and the Sportsworld balloon jumps ahead again in the tracker app. The good thing is that you don’t do it alone, as you drive from one section to the next to cheer at your team, bringing the bags for those who just finished their legs or providing lifts. The one thing it makes this race different to any other one is that is not just about running, it’s also about the logistics, getting people to the start line, getting them back to their cars, bringing their bags with a change of clothes, a bottle of water or some food… it really is a team event. And every other team is the same, so each start/finish point is buzzing with people.
Leg 8 was after all, about 10K and mainly downhill. It starts on a narrow trail, running alongside farmland. After a couple km and a few gates, you arrive to a quiet country road and the course is all on tarmac from there on, with a few ups and downs where one could really pick up the pace if you had the legs for it. I didn’t so I just focused on making it to the end with a few glances at the beautiful scenery.
The race finishes outside the pub in Shillelagh where all the teams gather to see the last runners arriving. A very friendly atmosphere, everybody chatting about the day. Who passed who, and where. Tells of falls or near falls and the many wrong turns but everyone smiling. After a quick prize ceremony, we went back to Glenmalure Lodge for a few more chats and a bite to eat, basking in a glorious afternoon sun in the Wicklow mountains.