Sunday, September 26, 2021

There Must Be An Easier Way to Get A Mug

In case you were wondering, that was at the start
I had started to doubt if I would get to race again in 2021, my last race having been the Donadea 50k all the way back in February 2020, just as the world was on the brink of sliding into the pandemic. But here I was, on the start line, a mere 19 months later.

Well, actually it's all relative. I wasn't standing on the start line, rather we gathered loosely in the general vicinity of the start area, and as the countdown reached 10 seconds or so we casually started to make our way towards the start, owing to the fact that the virus hasn't gone away and we're still socially distancing.

Also, I wasn't really racing. I was in no shape to do so. In fact, a few weeks before the race I had contacted the race organisers to put me from the 80k down to the 45k, because training had been nothing but a loose collection of usually not very long runs, and every time I tried to go long I endend up with tired, sore legs that demanded a long recovery period. I wasn't confident I would be able to finish the 80 but I always knew that I would be stubborn enough to drag myself around the 45k course, even after they added an extra km close to the start date.

The course is absolutely stunning, and if you find yourself within the general vicinity of North Wicklow with a pair of trail shoes and a few hours to spare I strongly recommend you do yourself a favour and have a look yourself. The very best views are reserved for the 80 and 45 k distances, but even the smaller races are spectacular.

The other thing that's spectacular is the sheer amount of climbing you do, certainly for someone much more used to road running. Even the 45k has over a mile of elevation gain over the whole course, and some of the trails are quite rough, so forget about time and enjoy.

Forgetting about time and enjoy was exactly what I was planning to do. On my last outing on that very course, 2 years ago, I had started to cramp badly even before to 40k mark, and that was when I had been in better shape than today, so any attempt at heroics would be punished severely, and I thought the better of it. Just take it all in at a leisurely pace and enjoy the views. And I brought some walking poles with me in an attempt to take some weight of my legs, maybe it would make a difference, though I had not spent an awful amount of time practicing with them (then again, growing up in a skiing country meant using poles was rather natural to me, even after a long break, and I got the hang of them straight away).

Kilruddery House
The first climb up to Bray Head is already spectacularly steep, and I seemed to be the first participant to start walking while much of the field was streaming past. Fine by me. There was even a traffic jam further on as we filtered into the narrow trail, we must have stood or moved very slowly for well over a minute. Eventually we came out top at the cross and headed along the ridge and back down the other side towards Little Sugarloaf, heading through the swanky Kilruddery estate.

The climb up Little Sugarloaf was through the woods, very nice, and then we headed across the M11 towards the Great Sugarloaf trail, my favourite trail in the whole area. At that point we were well into it, and it was actually quite hot. I sure was sweating buckets and my water supply only just about lasted to the Great Sugarloaf aid station, maybe about 15k in.

Some View!

That was followed by a big loop through Powerscourt, past the waterfall and eventually to a viewing point, looking at the waterfall high from above, an absolutely breathtaking view. The view of Lough Tay from the flanks of Djouce might be the only one to rival that one, but that was reserved for the 80k runners today.

Straight down, followed by straight up

A lot of rough trail going up and down followed. As I later explained to an American visitor, they don't believe in switchbacks in Ireland for their trails, they just have them go up and down in a straight line. Also, as a road runner at heart I was definitely struggling with the stony trails, some of them really rough, and the slowest parts of the course may well have been some of the downhills where I gingerly picked my way through the boulders.

I was also rationing my water because I knew it had to last all the way back to Great Sugarloaf, and I was getting rather thirsty. One highlight was when I saw Mick Hanney at the junction of Djouce - the last time I had seen him had been exactly two years ago at the exact same place, only this time I was heading straight rather than right up the mountain, having chickened out of the long one.

But I sure was in much better shape than the last time I had run those trails, because two years ago I was really suffering with brutal cramps and this time I was still moving well enough, though, as I said, at a leisurely enough effort. It made for a much more enjoyable time, no doubt about it.

Great Sugarloaf
Eventually we made it back to Great Sugarloaf, and with that I was basically back on home territory, having become rather familiar with the rest of the course over the last couple of years. The descending trail off great Sugarloaf used to be a really rough trail, full of stones, and overgrown so that you could not even see half of the stones, and earlier this year they had replaced that with a very smooth gravel trail, much much faster no doubt, certainly safer as well, but it was still f*cking steep and I was worried about busting my quads on that fairly brutal descend. And indeed, one runner who had flown by me exactly there was passed again 5 minutes later almost doubled up with cramps. Sorry mate, happens to the best of us. As much as I thought I had disliked the old, rough trail, I'm not sure if I like the smooth new one better.

Bray and Great Sugarloaf
There were a few changes to the course as well, we actually went on a trail towards Little Sugarloaf this time rather than use the Quill Road, another trail that had been in bad condition until earlier this year until they obviously did some work on it - this one definitely meets my approval. By now I could feel my own calves starting to twitch every now and again, though I was reasonably hopeful I'd be able to nurse them along to the finish as long as I didn't do anything stupid. Besides, after bumbling along for 5 hours this was not the time to start racing anyway.

By the time we got back towards the climb up Little Sugarloaf I was definitely rather tired and would not have minded finishing soon, but this was now definitely home territory and I could start to sense the finish, though there were still two mountains left. I really must have been tired because on several occasions I basically tripped over my own poles, though I somehow managed to avoid a face plant, which would not have been pretty amongst all the stones around here. 

Almost done
I filled up my water bottles one last time at Belmont and then tackled Bray Head, though usually I don't take the scenic route through Kilruddery to get there. One more climb and the cross came into view again. By now I had caught up with the tail end of the 29k field, which at least gave me a runner to catch every now and then - even if you're not in a competitive mood, that still helps.

The insanely steep climb down from Bray Head was as challenging as expected, though the poles definitely made that one easier. I did have one "race" at the end as I caught one runner at the prom and left him in the dust while belting along at speed - which turned out to be 12-minutes miles, interesting. 

And then I was done. I got my t-shirt, my finisher mug, and a can of the local brew, Wicklow Wolf, alcohol free. I know, alcohol free beer isn't exactly everyone's favourite but after 6 hours running in the heat, boy does it go down well! I even managed to blag myself a second can which went down equally well.

I bumped into Finbarr, Norbert and Andrew, who had all finished shortly ahead of me (so I was making up the tail end of the crew, ah well) but didn't hang around too much as I was eager to get horizontal at home.

Not exactly my most glorious performance ever, but it felt great to be racing again! Maybe I'll get used to it again, one day. Still, it was a bloody long way to go for a mug. There MUST be an easier way.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting article was quite interesting to read. Because I also enjoy running in the countryside and in the mountains. Running in the mountains - can hardly be compared to anything, because the emotions that come from it will not be lower in comparison