Sunday, August 16, 2009



You can’t run a mountain too hard – you will collapse well before it is hurt.

One important part of my marathon training this summer has been to race every fortnight. I still can’t believe how well the race calendar has supported this idea. There was a race every 2 weeks within Kerry, something that would have been unheard of until this year. I took full advantage of this, but my luck seemed to have run out this weekend – until I checked the website of the Irish Mountain Running Association.

The race up Mangerton Mountain near Killarney had me interested for a few years, and with the race seemingly fitting into my calendar I decided to be adventurous and give this one a go. I had vague ideas of a training run before the race, but that never came to fruition. My first mountain race would be on unknown territory.

Information on the website was sparse and we got there in good time to be safe. Alas, there was nobody there apart from 2 guys who were looking to run the race as well but didn’t have any more information either. Over the next half hour more people arrived, and eventually it transpired that we were supposed to sign up in the pub at the bottom of the road, but the organiser would come up and we could sign up at the trailhead. This took a long time – by the time the race was supposed to start, we were still waiting, eventually he turned up, and with at least a dozen people signing up it was not until 13:40 that we finally got underway. Even for Kerry standards, that’s rather late.

I was a bit self-conscious because I only had street runners, but there was no need to worry. While the proper mountain runners had proper trail shoes, at least half of the field were in attire similar to mine. We got some explanation of the course, which left me and almost everyone else thinking they’d follow the person in front, and then we were finally off. I started halfway down the field, not knowing what was in store.

Niamh took a video of the start. We are going to run up the mountain towards the right, but you can’t see the actual summit from there.

It became very clear very soon that running up that steep, rocky mountain path was not in store. Not for me, and not for the vast majority of competitors either. The trail was very uneven, and you had to be careful every time you planted your foot. It was also very steep, at least from a roadrunner’s point of view. After a while I found myself right behind a lady who later turned out to be the winner of the lady’s competition. I noticed two things. First, it’s better to keep at least 2 steps distance, otherwise you won’t be able to see where you are going to put your foot. Secondly, she was running and I was hiking, but could keep up easily, and I’m sure I spent a lot less energy. For the first 1.5 miles this was the most brutal climb I had every experienced. Despite me walking, the heart rate was consistently in the high 170s, and more than once I nearly ended up flat on my face. The calves were screaming, and I was still only in the middle of the climb. Eventually, after an absolute age, it became a bit flatter, and I was able to run a bit. I was surprised how well I was running here compared to the people around me – I moved up 3 or 4 positions in a short space of time. Then it was time for walking again.

Close to the 2-mile point we turned off the path towards the left. I would have missed it on my own, but luckily I had others to follow. The organiser had mentioned something about boggy ground. I very soon found out how boggy, when my right foot disappeared up to its knee in mud (or whatever that was). Luckily the shoe was still there when I managed to pull out my leg at the second attempt. “Welcome to mountain running”, an amused fella remarked dryly. The next half mile was probably the worst bit, very steep and with very bad footing. But it eventually became worthwhile when we emerged into the Devil’s Punchbowl, a little mountain lake surrounded by the high ridge of Mangerton Mountain itself. The view was breathtaking, but there was still a race going on and we hurried along the flatter piece, only to end up at what looked like a nearly vertical cliff face. I tried not to think about what would happen if I slipped here, and on more than one occasion had to use all fours to pull myself further up towards the peak. We arrived at the top all in one piece, and, following the ridgeline, soon saw the cairn that marked the top. It had taken me 47 minutes for the 3 miles (and 2000+ feet elevation gain).

Following the ridgeline further was pretty terrifying. One yard to the right was an almost vertical drop of 300 feet towards the lake and I actually ran 2 yards beside the trail, too scared to get any closer to the edge.

And then down we went. Initially I lost contact to the 2 guys ahead of me. Running down a steep mountain slope is an art that I haven’t mastered yet due to lack of practise. “Don’t do anything stupid, think of Dingle”. I was fully prepared to sacrifice a few places in the field in order to arrive back down safely. It was still hairy at times, with rocks tripping me and me almost planting my face on more than one occasion. One guy disappeared into the distance, but I could still see the other one ahead of me, which greatly assisted navigation. Eventually I must have gotten into the swing of things, I stopped losing ground, and to my surprise nobody ever appeared from behind. One (originally very very fast) runner was walking down the track having pulled both of his quads, but he managed to get down by himself eventually. And I surprised myself by getting closer to the frontrunner, mostly by successfully cutting a few corners and descending down the most direct route whenever possible. Eventually I even managed to overtake, again by taking a more direct route. This had the disadvantage of having to find my own way from here on, but the path was reasonably clear and I managed. I could see another runner further ahead, but even though I got closer towards the end I never threatened him.

On the flatter bits I tried to actually run, and was surprised to feel the quads burning. On the steep descends I was so concentrated on not falling that I didn’t feel any pain; it was the flat bits that hurt. However, I could always hear footsteps not far behind which urged me on, and I never dared to slow down. Since I always had to fully concentrate on the trail ahead I was never tempted to look behind though. Eventually we got to the last bit, I once again almost keeled forwards and just about managed to catch myself with my hands, and then I crossed the line in 1:13:42, not that the time has any real meaning on such a course, a bit shorter than 10k.

I am sore in places that I never knew would be used for running. My calves, my quads and my lower back are all tender, and the rest is recuperating as well. I have my doubts how useful that was as preparation for the Dingle marathon, but as an afternoon of fun it received full marks, and then some. Watching the top racers defy gravity on the climb was awesome, and unfortunately I was nowhere near to admire their descending skills, but they have my full respect. The friendly banter at the end was fun, and I will be doing that again.

Niamh was slightly less amused, having dealt with 4 fighting children for 2 hours. She announced next year she’d be the one running up the mountain and I would be minding the cantankerous brood. Oh dear.

There was nobody to take photos, but the ones from the 2006 race give you a pretty good impression of the area. I recommend having a good look.

15 Aug
8 miles, 1:03:40, 7:57 pace, HR 139
16 Aug
10 miles, including:
Mangerton Mountain Race, 1:13:42, 12:34 pace, HR 168

Weekly Mileage: 76.5


  1. Congratulations on your mountain run! We'll get you on the trails and off the roads soon!


  2. Hi,
    I really enjoyed the blog entry. It was a great day out I thought myself. Just to let you know that the start was delayed as the organiser was waiting at the pub for a runner who was coming from Limerick and had gotten lost. Seeing as I have benefited from this level of consideration from Tom and his helpers before, I said I would fill you in. All the best for Dingle

  3. That's certainly a character building run Thomas. I did the reek "walk" a few years ago and emphatise with your healthy respect for vertical drops. Mountain running is certainly the way to build strength.

  4. Careful - Eric's first trail race lured him off the roads and onto the trails for the majority of his races! Sounds like a fun run - and I know what you mean about new places being sore. Trail running will do that to you - I think it's the uneven footing and constantly shifting and changing gait. Glad you had a good race!

  5. Congratulations on the race (you're brave)!

    Oh, and well done with the kilometer repeats earlier in the week. I'm 100% sure that if you were to do something like that again soon, you'd knock a lot of time off.

    I tried sending you an email this week but it bounced back. When you have a moment drop me a note at Michael dot Lord at gov dot bc dot ca

    Talk soon, and all the best!

  6. Those pictures from the 2006 race are pretty nasty. I think I'm sticking to the roads (or a least trails that have a little better footing).

  7. Welcome to proper mountain running Thomas! Once the bug has bitten you'll be back for more.

  8. a monumental effort. well done.

  9. nice run. At least you got a negative split!! :)

    All looking good for Dingle

  10. Have the quads recovered yet?!

    15-minute mile pace up the hill is saying something. Sounds like "fun".

  11. now that sounds brutal! i'm with niamh though; she definitely got the short end of that stick!

    I liked the video, too!