You see people on the roads these days in a craze of fitness. Runners, cyclists, power walkers, dog walkers, boot camp enthusiasts. What ever happened to football? People played til they were 18 then gave it up. What about going to the gym? Only during the Celtic Tiger. Maybe surfing? Only if you live on the Atlantic coast and drive a van.
In the last few years, there’s been an explosion of triathletes across Ireland. In 5 years, the sport has grown from 600 competitors to over 20,000. That’s amazing growth. I started doing triathlons in 2009 and have done over 15 since then, including one of the world’s biggest in Chicago.
So for 2011 I decided I needed to add to the list of sports I’ve done. I like running and enjoy a 10km run, so why not add a 500m vertical climb into the mix? That’s where mountain running comes in. I found it’s a thriving sport with events nearly every 2 weeks through the winter. It’s all organised by a great group of volunteers in the Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA).
All you need is a pair of runners and plenty of energy. A fear of mud, boggy fields, climbing fences/walls or dodging branches is not recommended. It’s like hill walking on speed. I’m impatient, so running up a hill is something I’d prefer any day over walking.
Howth Head (3rd)
My first race was a 5km run up Howth Head. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of terrain or pace, but settled in near the front to see if I could stay the pace. It turned out to be fun, as we headed through a forest and started climbing up a knock. I was in the top 10 and gradually picked up some places as we climbed. Before I knew it I was in the top 3 which really surprised me. I found the terrain ok – rocks, mud, grass, gorse – you spent more time looking at your next step rather than taking in the spectacular view (Howth Harbour, Ireland’s Eye and Dublin City).
I stayed close to the leader and got into 2nd but was unsure how far was left as distance is hard to judge. In the end I was caught for 2nd on the last 400m, but was deligthed with 3rd. I even got a prize!
Annagh Hill (6th)
My second race was Annagh Hill, in south Wicklow (practically in Wexford). It was a longer route (9km) with a steep climb at the start. Rain jackets were obligatory, just in case you got stuck somewhere on a windy and cold mountain. The climb was so steep it was at walking pace for most of it. Once we reached the top it was a trip across boggy terrain and back down the hill through a forest, along paths and trails which were tricky. Avoiding big muddy pools was impossible, so you get pretty mucky by the end.
The ascents are hard on the legs and lungs, but the descents are harder. There’s a lot of technique (and some bravery) in allowing your body go against your mind by running 100% down a hill. One missed step and you’re tumbling over rocks, mud and dirt. It’s fine for the guys in Jackass, but not ok if you want two working legs in the morning.
Maulin Hill (3rd)
Since I’d done well in two races, I wanted to make sure I finished well in the IMRA Winter League. It runs Jan-March and your best 3 races count in the league table. I only raced 3 times, with Maulin Hill being my third. It was an 8km race with over 500m ascent. The climb was the toughest yet – real walking pace. I settled into the top 4 from the start and kept on their tails. My mind was telling me, ah sure they’ll catch you now and you’ll drop back, but as the race went on I found myself in 2nd. It was my fault for being beaten by 1/100th of a second into 3rd at the line – I missed two of the marked turns, so lost 20-30 seconds. Lesson learnt for next time – pay attention to the route.
IMRA Winter League
Hats off to the designers of the IMRA website – it’s without doubt the best sports website I’ve used. It’s so easy to use but contains a wealth of information. The depth of information on each race is incredible – race profiles, detailed race reports, discussion forums, car pooling, photos, previous results, volunteer lists. Once you setup a profile the website is a one stop shop to track ALL your race history.
Bring on the summer and more mountain madness…