Irish Mountain
Running Association

Circuit of Avonbeg


Gareth LittlePaul NolanAngus TynerWarren Swords

Gareth Little

Paul Nolan

The Circuit of Avonbeg came about as the result of a question. Why does IMRA run a race that's half a circuit? The race in question - the circuit of Glenmacnass. Study it on a map and the question becomes valid. The southern side of the glen is well raced, the north ignored. So when the Leinster Championships league director was looking for a long race that could double up as a counter in the Long Distance champs I offered a race that added that missing northern piece to come up with a proper circuit route. Art's Lough was included for two reasons. Firstly to avoid further eroding the vulnerable track above the Clohernagh zig-zags, and secondly to give runners a view of the spectacular Benleagh cliffs (how many I wonder have noticed them in the 3 running’s of the route so far?)

Following the offer I phonied up as race director to make the route a race. The first year passed off in a laid back style, no cut off's and a bit of a bitching war on the forum afterwards. The second time around I'd more sense and imposed a few cut off's which had the desired effect of introducing (for some) a bit of urgency into the race resulting in me getting home a good few hours earlier than before. Last year saw a breather for the route but it wasn't for dropping making a reappearance on this year’s calendar.

2011 scared me off as race director as I reckoned I'd used up all my luck in the first 2 years so I kept a watching brief, hopeful someone would step forward to take it on. In usual IMRA style someone did, eventually. A few brief email exchanges with said volunteer - Brian Ó Murchú - and not only was I thinking about the race but a nasty suspicion that I was running it was creeping inwards.

So unfit, untrained and unable I meandered up to registration to sign in for a race that's listed by IMRA as 'extreme'. My training consisting of a few short flat runs in very sub zero conditions last March in Canada, a brace of Tempo runs with a local group and a couple of recent jogs up Ballycumber Hill. Go slow I thought, sure I can drop into Fraughen if it goes wrong and there's also Table Track if I have to pull out a bit later.

Usual craic, nerves on the start line, a man says go and we do. 3 lads went off like the hammers, I plodded out at a calf muscle protecting jog. A good group of maybe 10 set a sensible pace just in front of me. Working our way up the Clonkeen zig-zags a few of that group came backwards. I was embroiled temporally in chat with a runner who possibly ran the smartest race of the day, working his way from me to the podium over the course of the route. Eventually we stopped climbing and the path became a grassy forest ride. I was still picking off the odd refugee from the group of ten, including a recent Wicklow Rounder, when a narrow gap in the trees appeared to our left. Of course the Orienteer in me had to ignore this blindingly obvious gap. I had a map, I had a memory from marking it the previous years and it wasn't the correct gap! 50metres later I knew I'd f**ked up, but again the Orienteering brain presented a perfectly ridiculous solution - crawl through the tress. Which I did emerging behind the rounder and his new running buddies. Pleasantries where exchanged, by which I mean they laughed at me.

Next came the lake and the haul up the ramp where I ate my first Lidl peanut & choco bar. And made a mental note to take smaller bites when eating the next one. Bit of a corner cut and near drowning job on the way up to Clohernagh as I slowly began to scrape the rust off my non-GPS navigation. From Clohernagh the run up to Lug was a pleasure. Fearful of calf cramp I'd included Dioralyte in my pre race breakfast. On the long run up to Lug I was sucking hard on my bottle of Nunn's. Cramp not exhaustion was the fear I had on this route. And so it was to prove.

Lug to Camenabologue was childhood revisited. Open mountain, clear skies, flowing rock hopping movement on the descent. Gob stuffing and marching on the climb. Hitting the top I had Eoin and Alan for company. They were running, I was plodding. So the Conavalla route choice for me made itself. As straight a line as possible. If I can't run the high long route I might as well make the distance as short as can be. So down down down from Rachel's perch. Crossed the boardwalk alone to start the peat hag hopping towards the Avonbeg. Suddenly there's a handful of runners to my left, but I've a river to see and a bottle to fill. How hard can it be to unwrap a Nunn's tab, put it in a bottle and fill said bottle? In a race quite hard, I spent what felt like an age trying to peel the tin foil from the tab and fill the bottle. Mini Mars bar in hand I began the haul up Conavalla along the old fence line that used to run to the top. Halfway up and an explosion. My left calf cramped on an awkward foot placement. Balls. Balls. F**k. More drink. Gulping the electrolyte down. Hoping while hopping as the pain fades a bit. The ground flattens out, a pile of stones appears, instinct interjects, I'm running to it, explosion two. More language, more electrolyte, and a group ahead to be chased. Oh how I wished I was fitter.

Nursing my calf, the crappy ground to Lugduff ahead, a text message beeped. Like a muppet I dug out the phone. Alan came sailing by. Phone dumped back into bumbag, there's an Ayling to catch. Fat chance. Other calf goes bang. I hunt out a stream, down my drink and go through the water and tablet into bottle drama again. At least there's no body behind so I just focus on Alan and another in front with the aim of catching them... hold station... not lose to much ground... get over this effing mountain... try not to cry in front of the lunching hill walkers.

Mullacor arrives. It's big and my calf muscle's have stopped cramping. Which is great. I don't feel particularly tired so make an effort. By now you'd think I'd have learned a bit but no. My calf’s have given up so that my hamstrings can take over. Santina on Mullacor remarked afterwards that I was grumpy at her check point. She does understatement really well.

Coming off Mullacor hope sprang foreword again. Angus who had motored past me on the climb set off in pursuit of Alan towards the Wicklow Way. I aimed off the top on a different line - having spent the climb up the first zig-zags looking over my shoulder at all the new felling below Mullacor - happy that the short option was on. The going was good, in fact it was great for a bit until it became too great and BANG terminal calf cramp. Hoppidy hop through the felling at baby speed. Alan ripping past on the track, Angus tearing after him. More cursing, internalised this time, there where small children and their daddy on the course. Walk, jog, hobble through the junctions, a wrong turn taken, corrected in an instant. The Tunnel of Love. I didn't feel it. Dropping to the finish. And relief of a kind.

The route is a monster. Long live the monsters.

Angus Tyner

First and foremost, IMRA relies on volunteers and this is no difference for a championship race with 40 participants. Thanks so much to John, Brian, Maike, Rachel and Santina and anyone I’ve omitted!

At last a championship race that didn’t clash with something else, and what a route to make ones debut. Considering my longest run previously was WWT in 130 minutes, this was a leap into the unknown and I had no idea how I would fare for 3.5hrs or even longer.

I got a lift from Alan Ayling and we were down in good time. Registration was already in full swing. There was some pre race discussion on route choice, mainly up to Arts Lough and to Conavalla. I packed a bit more than minimum kit in case my body gave up and I needed extra food and warmth and also strapping for ankles. I routinely strap ankles for hill runs, but I felt I wouldn’t be racing near enough the “edge” that I would be putting the ankles at significant risk, but I brought strapping as a back up in case I did do some damage.

The sun was shining in Glenmalure and I debated taking the sun hat, but reckoned it would cloud over so left it behind. I did decide on bringing only half litre water as I’m happy to fill up on route

Despite being a relative local, I’m not familiar with route nor done any recces but I’m happy enough to navigate in poor visibility if need be....

My plan was to take it really conservatively up to Lug so as to give best chance of getting round rest of circuit in good order. This meant that going up the switchbacks towards arts Lough I was in back half of field and then found myself on my own. There was a choice of routes up to Arts Lough and I chose to stay on track to near the end and then head up fence. When I cut through a short bit of wood I suddenly found myself in view of about 10 others! I think they had left the path a bit earlier. I effectively stayed behind this group past Arts Lough and up the ramp, but I could see Alan, Paul Nolan, Mike Jordon, Eoin Syron and others. It was a walk up the ramp until it leveled out and form there I broke into a trot and generally followed in same line as others ahead. It was nice to get a bit of a breeze once we got on top and I was already going through my half litre.

I hit Clohernagh almost bang on and turned to face Lug and what a wonderful sight it was. Visibility was very crisp and everyone ahead could be seen. The going here is fantastic and I upped my pace and started closing the gap on Alan and Mike and Eoin and Paul a little in front of them. I still felt I was running within myself. Half way up and the leaders could be seen leaving the summit. Amazing how small Lug seems compared to when it is cloudy!

Leaving the summit I was only about a minute behind Paul and Eoin with Alan and Mike in between, but all of them fairly rapidly disappeared into the distance! Descent with untapped ankles means 100% safe and I didn’t get much faster than a trot over the next few km of downhill. Also at one stage which was bout 80 minutes in, I felt quite tired and started having thoughts that it could be a long 3 or so hours to go. I ate a couple jelly babies, but saved the flapjacks for later!

I eventually caught sight of Paul, Mike Eoin and Alan ascending Camanabologue and a time check on Paul was about 4 minutes! The surprise was that no one else caught up with me. Rachel doing summit duty had got herself nice and snug on top and I’m sure she could think of a lot of worse places she could be!
The great thing about such good visibility is that the lines of least resistance could be picked out. I had already decided to take the round about route to Conavalla and where to take this route was quite obvious from a distance. It was below a long peat hag that followed the contour. This was a beaten path and clearly others had taken it before me. Paul and Alan were no where in sight but Mike was ahead. I filled my water bottle from the river, it looked yummy, though I actually only took one more drink and discarded rest long before Mullacor.

It was a hard enough walk up Conavalla trying to stay on grass as much as possible rather than the taller heather. When I reached the top it was only a short distance to right for the summit and I was about 30 seconds behind Mike. Interesting the cloud was descending and the summit of Lug was now hidden!

Next was to get across to ridge that would lead way to Lugduff. Again one can stay high a little and go round or the more direct down and up. I kept a line towards Turlough hill and trying to find line of least resistance went down and up. Mike generally stayed higher and I edged ahead. There was tempting downhill towards Lugduff but a light twist of the ankle reminded me of my vulnerability and reluctantly I put the brakes on.

I passed another runner before Lugduff. I think it was Eoin. Before Lugduff I caught sight of Paul again and I seem to be gaining. I took a time check at Lugduff, 2:20 behind. Lovely descent from Lugduff heading to Mullacor and I was able to motor here with little fear of ankle. I took another time check at the boardwalk, just over a minute! I kept a run up part of Mullacor to try get to Paul but had to bail out and I walked rest way up. This was not the suffer fest I was expecting. Eventually got to Paul as we reached Santina who was stationed near the big cairn. I didn't grasp what Santina said as I was focussed on getting to the top. From reading accounts from previous races, I knew this big cairn wasn’t the top so I continued on as did Paul.

At this stage I saw Alan coming back from summit heading for home. I ran on ahead of Paul and then saw a stick and a few stones to my left. I asked Paul is this it?? And he confirmed. Touched it and then speedily headed back the way I’d come to intercept Wicklow Way. I didn’t bother with compass and when I saw Paul taking a more direct line down towards forest I changed my direction and headed directly downhill keeping one eye on where my feet were going and one eye on Paul to my left. At one stage he disappeared behind mound for longer than expected, and I guessed he was having trouble with something like cramp. When we got to trees I realised we were no where near Wicklow Way, but Paul continued and I followed. I knew the fire road would be below but I didn’t know how easy it would be to get to it. Paul didn’t hesitate and the route down through felled area was very clean. Below on the fire road was Alan! I didn’t loose too much distance on Paul on this descent and once we were on the road, Paul had to pull up with cramp. I asked him was he good to get to finish and he said he was and ordered me to go and get Alan!!

Ahead Alan was labouring and I was moving much quicker. In no time I closed down the 150m and he mentioned he was running on empty. I was map reading at this stage to sort out the route home. I ran on but not as fast as I could as I felt I had the legs to out run Alan. But I also realised that I couldn’t see the finer detail on map for the route home and knew this was extremely important! I got my compass out which has a magnifier. It all became clear. A path down to left at the stream. I got to river but couldn’t see path, Alan confirmed that there should be steps and then I saw it and jumped down. Then a right, a switchback and then to find another path down to right. I was hesitating and Alan knew the route. He had also observed how carefully I was taking the technical descent with minding my ankles. He seized his chance to get ahead and entered the path down on right first. This was the path that led direct to car park and it was a path I was never going to consider challenging and I ambled in, time 3:13.

Delighted with how fresh I felt at end, although how much quicker I could have actually gone is open to question. Many of the downhill’s I could not have gone much faster without increasing ankle risk significantly. From Conavalla onwards I was pushing on uphill’s. The ascent of Lug could have been done much faster, but may well have been at expense of the climbs later on. The biggest gain of time would have been just to go to main cairn on Mullacor.....

Also interesting debate with down and up or round about with regards to Conavalla. While I went round I still dropped a lot of height and probably not much less than the direct route, but it may also be the case that that 50m less climb then means a faster ascent of Mullacor at end. I will have a look at direct route sometime, but with my slow descending I may not gain time on the downhill that most others do whereas I made good progress around the flat. Also if cloudy, the direct line should be easier to navigate?

One thing I do know is that I could not have enjoyed it more 

Warren Swords

This was the race I put in my diary as soon as the calendar was published. It looked like a beast on paper and sounded like one going from previous reports.

Couldn't remember my race number so Brian and John gave me number 13 for the laugh. I told them they'd be to blame if anything happened to me. How we laughed.

Lots of nervous chatter beforehand added to the atmosphere.

The chat soon died down as we headed up the zig zags. I settled into a nice rhythm and tucked myself behind Bernard Fortune, mentally putting a "do not pass" sign on his back. I tend to go off too fast while Bernard seems to pace races brilliantly.

There was perhaps a group of 5 of us together, including Adrian Tucker, as we came into view of Art's Lough. Touched the lake and stuck to the shoreline heading to the ramp. Fortune set the pace and the route up Clohernagh opening up a gap. Bit of a slog but we hit the top, not too far from Cairn with Adrian taking a more direct and faster route.

A beautiful run across to Lug with great views to the left and reaching the cairns in around 70 minutes. Took a gel just after the cairn before running at a decent clip on the descent. I passed Adrian here and was gaining on Fortune and another runner. Loved this section, it was fast, flowing, and bouncy.

May have overcooked the descent as soon as it levelled off I could feel the effort in the legs. Runner 1148 caught me here and was moving nicely through some boggy section on the climb up Camanabologue. Was finding the going tough here, lack of traction was energy sapping. But we were on a decent trail and I arrived at the summit feeling ok.

Around this stage Bernard and another runner had disappeared from view. 1148 veered towards the right after the summit while I opted for the direct route down. Got lucky in that I more or less hit the boardwalk bang on. From there it was a bit of an effort to get to the bottom of Conavalla. Almost fell into the river which jolted a burst of cramp in my calf. A quick drink and was joined on the climb by 1148 and Adrian.

We hit the top together with the cairn right in front of us. Another two runners were also there, one of whom was with Bernard on the descent off Camanbologue but no sign of him tho. However it was the three of us again with Adrian leading with a slight gap which would he would extend on climbs but lose a bit on descents. But he was bang on with the navigation, seemed to have no doubts about route choice.

Which allowed me to chase rather than navigate this section which I wasn't familiar with. After lugduff, the three of us were together heading to the last climb. Again Adrian opened a small gap on the climb and opted for the direct route down off Mullacor. On the scramble down, I hit the front of our trio and made a burst for home. Adrian seemed to hold off, I wondered was he gambling that I didn't know the way down :)

Was delighted when I hit the fire road and ran past a man with his kids who were watching runners coming in, confirming I was on the correct route. His kid said I was in 5th. Feeling strong I kept pushing, until the fire road abruptly disappeared. In a panic, I went to run back the way I came before deciding for the direct route down the forest. The forest was thick with vegetation, thorns etc and was tortuous to get through. I slipped at one point, lashing my shin against a felled tree which opened a nice gash on the shin. I eventually make it to the road and limp home, losing about 10 mins and 6 places.

A costly mistake. If I had just took out the map, I would've seen where I had gone wrong and avoided getting 4 stitches on my shin. It taught me a valuable lesson, never wear number 13.

Brilliant race though. Can't wait to do it again. Thanks to all the volunteers, marshals and first aiders.