A big congratulation’s to the Sportsworld Wicklow Way relay team who came 3rd this year!

On Saturday May 23rd they traversed over 100km in 8 legs across open mountains, trails and roads along the Wicklow Way!

Their race report of the event is below, enjoy!

All photos by Olivier Privat.

Stage 1: Gavin Finlay 14.4km Climb 556m

 Kilmashogue Car Park to Curtlestown Wood

This is one of the great running events on the calendar. Scenic, adventurous, challenging and full of team camaraderie, it’s a fantastic occasion. Returning to race Leg 1 again this year, I was hopeful of improving on last year’s time, not to mention nailing the route without any mishaps.

As a fan of running in the rain, I was slightly disappointed with the beautiful weather:) The start time of 7am would deter some but to be honest I was quite happy with the early rise and trying to get the team off to a strong start. Sadly, that start wasn’t exactly the best – I was mid-hip-stretch and with barely any warning, the IMRA official ‘fired the gun’. FFS. Jumped up, ran and settled in behind Fleming of TT Racers (essentially a rebel secessionist faction from Rathfarnham) and the mountain specialist, Minnock of RWSAF. Clearly, Minnock was going to win the leg so the goal was to secure 2nd or 3rd. Turned out Fleming was too strong on the day.

The climbs in this leg are fairly strenuous, particularly for a mountain novice like myself. Struggled a bit up the relentless climb emerging from Kilmashogue (a bit of uncertainty over this placename with the Department of Gaeltacht Affairs giving us Sliabh Chill Mochióg, the “Mountain of the Church of Saint Mochióg” and with Coillte suggesting it’s a corruption of Coill na Fumsaoige, which means “Wood of the ash”, or Coill na Fuiseoige, which means “Wood of the lark”). Anyway.

The rocky downhill towards Glencullen Road is a pain the neck (well, literally, a pain in the back) which reduces you to an awkward jogger anxious about his ankles. The young UCD pup (read: mountain goat) caught up at this point, capitalising on his technical prowess on the descent. No panic. We’ll make this up with a fast mile on the flat road.

Plunged down Boranaraltry Lane to build a lead on the UCD lad and then began the dreaded yet peaceful ascent to Prince William’s seat (which William is this now? Of Orange? Of Wales? Too tired to remember. Not relevant right now.). The Belfield man’s superior mountain engine was too much for me here and he opened up a good lead. Unlike last year, the rocky steps were dry; but it’s still a difficult and technical section, requiring confidence and a certain degree of educated recklessness.

 The final stretch down the forest track is fast and blissful. Just under 61 minutes. Delighted to see Damian at stage end and handed over in 4th place.

 Stage 2: Damian Kelly 15.1km

I was not looking forward to Leg 2 as overall there is 750Metres of Climbing in it, and even though I love Mountain Running I am not the best of climbers.

I was nervous waiting for Gavin to arrive from Leg 1 as I really didn’t want to give the team a bad start. Gavin had a brilliant run and arrived in 4th Place, I then took off on my 15km adventure with the odd glance over my shoulder to see if anyone was catching up with me. Then around the 5klm on the Flat Section along the river, the East Cork Lad arrived out of nowhere so with 10klm to go we were now back in 5th place.

 

Anyway to cut it short I got to climb up the Doujce.  No matter now many times I have run up I can never get to the top without taking walking breaks.  With 2klm left of the climb I had to walk, I have my own method of madness, this is to walk for 6 seconds and to run for 26 seconds.  I don’t know why but this seems to work for me and got me to the top.

Next was about 4km of descending on the Boardwalk which I love. I got to Stephanie in 5th place which I was happy enough with and then off she flew on Leg 3.

I would now like to give everyone a mention on the Team.

Stephanie

Brilliant run by Stephanie, not only did she keep us in the race but she had to run back to her car after her Leg, great Leg Stephanie.

Gavin

Again a brilliant start by Gavin, you will be really missed by the Sports World Mens Team, however I wish you all the best on your new venture to the States.

Michael

2nd fastest Time on his Leg 4 of the Day, a natural born Mountain Runner who really brought us back into the game with his brilliant Run.

Phil

Well what can I say about a man who has been injured and who has not been in training for the last few months, brilliant Run Phil you gave it everything you had and got the Team back into 3rd Spot.

Oliver

Great run Oliver and some great climbing.  I had the pleasure of visiting Olivers home Town Mende and meeting his family last year.  It’s only when you see where how far up in the hills from the town his family lives that you realize the man had no choice but to spend his childhood walking and running up hills.

 James Captain Supremo.

By the time James started it must have been 20 degrees and he had the longest Leg of the race at 21 ½ Klm.  He began in 4th place but I had made enquiries at the start of his Leg and knew he would probably catch the Wicklow Runner in 3RD Place.  The problem was Wicklow had a man on the last Leg against Aoife, so ideally he would have had to have given her a lead in order to give us a chance of 3rd Place.

I did Leg 7 last year and there is a killer of a 1km Hill at the end of the Leg.  I ran down to a vantage point to see James arriving over the Bridge into 3RD place. I then ran up to Aoife to tell her James was on the way and back down the Hill to give James encouragement to climb the Hill faster, in order to give Aoife a chance of third place.  It must have worked because he did a brilliant run and gave Aoife a 3mn 20sec ? lead on Garth from Wicklow.  Sorry for shouting at you James but it seemed to have worked.

 Aoife

Aoife a class Runner always shines through.  Most of us try our hardest to be Runners but Aoife is a natural, she did an amazing job holding off the challenge from the Wicklow Runner.  Even with the change of a 2km Up and Down Hill finish due to a Funeral, she still held on and finished in 3rd Place.

 What a fantastic Day and Result.

PS I did tell the lads I would keep this short as Race Reports are not one of my strongest things.

Many Thanks

Damian

Stage 3: Stephanie Bergin 8km

I left Dublin at quarter past seven on Saturday morning and arrived at the Lough Tay for Leg 3 of the Wicklow Way relay just after eight to an empty car park. I was getting a bit paranoid at this stage as to whether I had even ‘recced’ (these mountain runners have a language all of their own!) the right route but within half an hour, the place was buzzing with the anticipation of the handover with the runners from Leg 2.

Leg 3 is the easiest leg of the Wicklow Way relay and has more downhills than uphills. Rathfarnham came through in first place at the handover point and Damian followed very shortly in fifth place. And so I was off. The start of Leg 3 had changed this year from previous years, we had to double back on the runners from Leg 2 for a few metres and then take a right turn onto a new trail. The start of the trail is uphill with the same incline as Mount Everest apparently (never let the truth get in the way of a good story!) and I thought I was having a heart attack getting up it. Luckily, a downhill section quickly followed and I was back to loving running again.

The trail then went through the woods to the road. Once we hit the road, it was a steep downhill again until we turned right onto a forest track. This starts to drag uphill after a while and I was passed out by a girl here – she glided on by as I was slipping back down the hill. We then had to take a sharp right turn off the track and climb up a trail that came down the other side onto a gravel path. We then had to leave the gravel path to cross through a few fields before taking a right turn onto the main road for the last bit of the leg. Just when I thought I would be handing over to Michael one place down from the handover from Damian, Ilona from Crusaders came storming by me here. I handed over to Michael (thanks for the water and chocolate) and was confident the rest of the team would put Sportsworld back into the running for a podium place and that they did in style!

Thanks to the lads for the time and effort they put in to organising the team. It was a great day, the sun shone and the scenery around Lough Tay is simply stunning. Thanks to Anna for ‘recce’ing the route with me the previous Saturday and to Ciara and Ruth for the directions on how to get to the start of the route and the route itself.

 Stage 4: Michael Cunningham 9.6km

There are some races that it is hard to sleep the night before, or you wake up 2 hours early, the Wicklow Relay is one of them. Even though I did the same leg last year I did have a couple of flashes of panic, where exactly did I park again, what comes after the forest bit, will they find my body if I arrive late for my leg.

Anyway got there early and as the other teams arrive you can’t really do much as you have no idea when your race will start. You just have to relax and stay out of the ever increasing hot sun, James Brady is going to suffer later on. Then ‘Runner’ is called out and every looks to see is it their team mate. When Stephanie arrived I was glad she didn’t look like she hated the run too much and I was off up a steep hill for the first mile.

I had a couple of people I was able to chase down and it make things a lot easier when your looking ahead and you have a target to go after. Leg 4 starts off on road, then a boreen road, over a few gates, nice flat section to get your breath and then you are on a dangerous steep section. The down hill parts I have to say are fun, if I ever fall and break something I’ll change my mind but for the moment its one of the cool things about the Wicklow Way. There are a couple more climbs and down hills and of course the views that you can’t really appreciate at the time are amazing.

Finally on to the road at Glendalough, into the carpark, miss hitting a few tourists and onto Phil with the team in 4th place and a shot at 3rd but anything can still happen.

 Stage 5: Phil Kilgannon 13.6km

I love it when a plan comes together…There’s nowhere like the Wicklow mountains on a day like this with the sun gloriously bathing the landscape with light on and you’re out with your mates scampering up and down the hills in a quest for glory and having the craic.

Third place did not come easy.  A cursory glance at the team sheets of Rathfarnham, including a world championship representative banger and Terry McConnons’s stable of accomplished athletes revealed a high calibre of competition.   However Damian, James and Olivier assembled a strong line up from the club and there was certainly no fear.

My leg was not the toughest, nor the longest.  Those pleasures were Damian’s and James’s.  I was on leg 5 from Glendalough to Glenmalure, which though had its own charms.  Gavin, Damian, Stephanie and Michael covered the first half of the course in powerful fashion, keeping us prominent in the race.  Michael in particular blazed a trail, pulling in no less than 3 runners to hand over to me in fourth place.

Leg 5 has a pleasant start to ease into to.  The first K effectively runs from the car park to the trail proper, but is a nice warm up.  Then boom…the climb alongside the waterfall, the name of which escapes me.  This is steep and long and needs a slow but steady rhythm to climb with the minimum of fuss.  Oxygen deprivation is immediate and stays with you beyond the top of it as you cross two bridges and start onto the regular trail running.  Though glad to be up the first climb it took me a good ten minutes to recover my breathing as the trail ahead was still steady and undulating.

As I steadily ascended the long and winding path through the forest, the sun started to climb and beat down unforgivingly.  Sweat stung my eyes as I gradually pulled up towards the col.  Thankfully once the ascent is conquered the second half of the stage is relatively trouble free.  With wooden walkways along the top and descent which has its tricky moments back down to the fire road, the last quarter is pretty much time to let loose and cannonball back down the valley into Glenmalure.

Initially feeling like Sonic the Hedgehog, my weary legs definitely started to wobble under me.  It’s a deceptively long drag in the last few K, but as I could see the valley emerge before me and saw the welcome sight of the road my spirits fortified and I made a charge for home. Seeing the crowds lining the road and Olivier ready to succeed me was one for sore eyes and I handed over to him in third.

Damian, Michael and I retired to the local tavern for a welcome breakfast looking over the valley and mulling over proceedings.  Damian followed on down of course and Olivier, James and Aoife brought it home in style.

 Thanks to Damian for the invite and  and for keeping faith in me when I wasn’t quite sure I’d make it to the starting line. Also to Olivier for taking the time to accompany me on my recci, which was most enjoyable and gave me great confidence to negotiate the route.  Diamond geezers.

Job done.

Next year we win.

 Stage 6: Olivier Privat 12.7km Climb 566m

It was meant to be a glorious day, clear blue sky from early morning and promising weather forecast. The Wicklow Way Relay brings that special and unique feeling to run for and with seven of your teammates, plus the opportunity to run through gorgeous places.

I ran leg six starting from beautiful Glenmalure Lodge, now made famous for its country breakfast (acclaimed by some of my fellow teammates and advised breakfast critics), and it finishes in pretty Iron Bridge.

Phil finished leg five pounding at full speed, with the face of one that gave everything, and after having gained third place. He was so looking forward to his breakky that he nearly turned left when spotting the lodge, and almost forgot to handover to me.

Now it’s my turn to try and raise the bar. I have very little chance to catch up with the two leaders so the game is to lose the minimum time on the chasers. I start flat out for the short straight of road, and then turn into the first climb. No time to waste so I run straight through the river and skip the bridge. It’s a long steady and windy hill through a dense forest. I manage to settle in a nice rhythm staying out of the red zone. Midway to the top the path becomes a single track, rocky and very muddy trail. That’s more like the mountain path I like. The legs suffer though and the pace goes down. Then the trail opens again to a wider fire road and the first climb finishes on a gentle slope.

I can hear steps behind me now. I have been imagining it all along so far but this time it is for real as a quick glance tells me.

Right, I have reached the top of the Drumgoff Mountain; I now have two to three kilometres of nice downhill. I want to make it hard for this guy. At the bottom you find yourself on a boardwalk before emerging from the wood onto a steep slope up to a short portion of road. So far I have kept my chaser on my heels but he looks like a strong climber and accelerates to reach the road, crosses it and attacks our last hill ahead of me.

I cannot keep up; he is a real mountain goat (in truth I learned later that he is a local sheep farmer). There’s no one behind us so my goal for the last few kilometres is to keep him in my sight. Where the hill evens out I enter unknown territory, that’s where I stopped my recce. I know it is downhill from now on and all the way to the finish line but can barely judge what to expect. I decide to throw myself flat out on the sharp descent in front of me. It is steep, with rocks and gullies to jump over. I am about to fall a couple of time but I seem to regain a bit on my prey. I may well be imagining it but it feels good all the same.

On the finish line I meet James in fourth place with just over a minute behind the third team and the mountain goat. I have lost a place but I can only tell myself that I have limited the time loss. This may count in the end…

At that stage I was fully confident in James to recover OUR third spot. But was he going to give Aoife a reasonable gap to maintain up to the very end?

 Stage 7: James Brady 21.2km

So let’s get this out of the way first. I love this race. I was lucky to get to run it last year and it made me determined to get the opportunity to run it this year. Last year I ran leg 6. This year it was leg 7. Now for the statisticians amongst you, leg 7 is 21.2km with an ascent of 651 metres.

I started at the Ironbridge. It’s actually 10 minutes from where I grew up and where I had a fair few birthday parties by the river as a child! I had spent the whole morning feeling nervous. Thats the thing about this race. You’re not potentially only going to let yourself down, it’s your whole team. You sit eating your breakfast and wait for text messages with updates on your team mates progress until it’s your turn to get to the start line. You want to do well for your club and your team mates. It’s a matter of pride.

From the Ironbridge you can see exactly where your team mate is coming from and you can’t help but get excited when you see them appear. Olivier came flying down the hill and handed over to me in 4th place. I was approximately 1 minute behind a fellow Wicklow man I’ve race before and I knew he would put in a good run.

Leg 7 is a long leg. It’s great to have someone to chase but you have to be careful not to go out too hard. But be too cautious and the lead could get wider and maybe someone catches you and suddenly you’re in 5th. The first 2.5 miles are more or less all up hill. From the first hill you climb you can see where the leg 6 runners are descending. I didn’t see any as I made my way along the road so I knew I had a decent gap behind me thanks to the previous 6 runners.

I made my way off the road into the forestry and to the first hill top, down the other side and back out onto the road. No sign of the runner in front of me. I met three backpackers, English definitely not their first language, and asked is the guy in front far ahead? After repeating that 3 times as a sweaty Irish man ran towards them one of them managed to say 30 seconds. It turned out he was pretty crappy with timing! I hit a few stretches where I could get a look ahead and there was no sign of him. As I made my way along the road and began climbing a hill again I met two Americans, who said when asked, “he’s a while ahead”.  I involuntarily muttered “f**k ‘em” . They liked that! Welcome to Wicklow my American friends.

Leg 7 has every terrain as well as up hills and down hills. There are some pretty stoney patches and some sharp downhills. At approximately mile 7 I was thinking to myself “this is great! 4th place again”, “even if I catch this guy, how much of a lead can I get on him anyway?”.  There was a group of IMRA spectators at a footbridge were you make your way back towards one of the final sections of fields, gates, stiles and sheep. They gave me a drink of water and informed me I was approximately 3 minutes behind 3rd place. That was pretty crap news. I ran 50 metres and turned the corner in a steep hill and there was 3rd place, walking! Three quarters of the way up the hill. I knew I had him. It was just a matter of trying to be smart and biding my time.

I got past him along the trail through an open field. I knew he was under severe pressure and today was not his day. He’s a better runner than that. The last 4/5 miles are tough. It was hot on the day. You’re climbing over fences and stiles. But it is still amazing. The finish is a final 1 kilometre hill. I had Damian Kelly screaming in my ear “every second counts”. And he’s right. But I did feel like punching him in the face! I’m pretty sure he knew that. I handed over to Aoife. I hoped we had a decent lead. We were in 3rd place.

It’s great when you’re done. You’re in Wicklow. In a relatively remote area. You’ve just handed over to a seriously competitive team mate racing in your club colours. And two of your team mates, who have already ran their legs, are standing there with you. That’s one of the things that make this race so great. It’s a real team effort, from the planning to the recci’s, to organising transport on the day. Everyone had a great run on the day but special thanks to Aoife for getting us home in 3rd. It’s worth bearing in mind that of the top 3 placed teams, only Sportsworld had 8 runners solely from their club.

 Stage 8: Aoife O’Leary 10km

“We came third!”