Yesterday was a good day – people were in a good mood due to the YES vote in the marriage referendum, the sun was shining, people were outside – it felt like summer is finally here. I had a good day too – the Rathfarnham team won the Wicklow Way Relay and I did my bit on leg 5.
The relay has been going for over 25 years now and involves a team relay running race from Dublin to south Wicklow, following the Wicklow Way marked trail over the Wicklow Mountains. Through valleys, streams, forests, open road, fire road, sleepers over boggy terrain. 127km with over 3,200m of climbing. Teams are made up of club runners, groups of friends, orienteerers, hikers – all sorts. The teams have a mix of 4 men under 40, 2 women and 2 men over 40 – so it’s not just 8 spring chickens who can show up and run away with it.
Rathfarnham has a good pedigree in this race over the years, having been in the top 3 for many years, winning last year. I was delighted to be selected by Brian our team captain. I love running in the mountains, and spend many weekend long runs up in the Dublin Mountains. I didn’t know the trail further south in Wicklow, so did 2 recce runs on legs 5 and 6 the weeks before. Lucky I did – as I got lost both times and knew that was key…not just being the fastest, but being able to stay on the course. Every year I heard stories of teams getting lost or showing up late.
I was doing leg 5, from Glendalough to Glenmalure with over 500m of climbing on 13.1km. Probably one of the most scenic legs, starting by the round tower in Glendalough, up past the lakes and Poulmacnass Waterfall (those steps are steep), then a long 5-6km steady climb up through the fire roads to the top. Across the railway sleepers on the boggy top, then flying down the far side into Glenmalure Valley.
The beauty of a relay is that it’s give and take and hard to know who’s ahead. On paper you can have strong runners out early or maybe later on, so depending on the other teams plans you can be ahead but in reality have ground to make up. We started with Barry and Brian and things were tight up to my stage. Donna got a little lost but Johnny pulled back 2 minutes, so when he passed over to me he was only 3 seconds ahead (after 3.5hrs of running!). So I took off with this guy from TT Racers (Andy) breathing down by neck.
Up the steps, he was stuck to me so I was worried. But I knew I was a good climber, so pushed on and gradually pulled away. I was determined not to look back til I got to the top, so assumed he was there and could hear phantom footsteps. The psychology of doing a relay is different – more pressure, as you’ve 7 pairs of eyes checking phones waiting for updates on your progress. One wrong turn and you could lose that lead. So easy to do. Especially out front, as you’ve no one to follow, so have to make decisions and trust you’ve followed the right route.
At the top, I snuck a look back and couldn’t see Andy, so figured I had at least 1-2mins of a lead. Good, as I thought he could be a strong descender and catch me. So I pushed on through, successfully navigating the steep wet steps through the forest. Once I was on the fire road, it was a fast descent for 5km down the hill. I kept pushing and got to Glenmalure and handed over to Louis. No sign of Andy after 2 minutes, so I was happy. It was 5 minutes before he appeared. Great. My job was done – weight off my shoulders.
We jumped in the car to get to the next handover point in Ironbridge. That was the fun bit – following the race going up small country roads, always trying to stay ahead of the runners. The final stage was to a pub called the Dying Cow near Tinahely, Co. Wicklow. So quiet and remote – beautiful Irish farmland with rolling hills full of sheep and young lambs. Our last leg was ran by Lorraine, who we knew would need a lead as TT Racers had a fast runner up against her. 8 minutes was our buffer and we waited expectantly for the handover. Brian came in, off Lorraine went. The clock started ticking. We got to 8, then 10 and finally 14 minutes before Ronan took off like a greyhound chasing a hare.
Should be enough of a gap – Lorraine’s a good runner. At the end, we saw her fly down the hill to take the win. It was such a nice relaxed atmosphere – no drama or fanfare (nothing like a finish banner or finish line!). Just a man with a clipboard. So now we could relax in the Dying Cow – got a cold drink, cheered on the 25 teams as they came through and shared war stories of how the race developed over the past 7.5 hours back in Dublin.
So a great day out – I really enjoyed it – and was delighted to drink my coffee our of my new WWR mug this morning!