Ballyhoura Mountain Marathon

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Over the hills and far away - Ballyhoura Mountain Marathon 2016

The Ballyhoura Mountain Marathon was extended this year to include half marathon and ultra distances. I had mountain-biked on the official trails before but this was going to be a new area for me run-wise. I opted for the full marathon while Maike entered the half. We stayed in a nearby B&B the night before and arrived in Kilfinane around 7:45am to register in the school. A good few people were milling around but registration was quick. Everyone was given a number with a timing chip attached and reminded of the mandatory kit. A few maps were on the wall showing the aid stations (6 on the full marathon route). Robbie Williams gave the race briefing at about 8:20am and then we walked up the town through the crossroads to start at the edge of the village a little after 8:30am.
Once everyone was assembled at the start 'line' we were released down the road with a warning to beware of traffic. Adrian and Tom took out the pace from the gun with another 2 or 3 runners in close proximity followed by another group of 6 runners. Up the road and in less than a kilometer we climbed up a fireroad into forest. The pace of those in front of me seemed a bit fast and I settled into a nice steady pace running with Rob and Gary. We seemed to have a similar instinct to keep our powder dry early on. As we dropped down from the mast on Magners Hill after the first climb we had good views towards Seefin, the big climb on the first half of the course. The forecast was for a cold start followed by a showery afternoon - luckily we didn't have either of those problems and the day stayed pretty sunny overall. Down the road and into another forest we chatted as we ran together. As it turned out, I'd run a few kilometers with Gary in the Slievenamuck marathon before I opened up a cut on my knee crawling under a fence and had to stop to bandage it (and my run was subsequently rescued by first aid from Tom and Patricia Blackburn), so it was good to have a proper chat this time.
Onto another road section and we were passed by a runner in white who was moving well. Off the road again at the unmanned aid station and down through a great section of singletrack through the trees. Onto a wider track and the white runner pulled away into the distance. We settled into a steady pace for the next few kilometers passing some volunteers taking photos and only slowing to a walk when we encountered some steps before the Trim Trail. The 2 lads stopped to take off layers as the day was heating up and I plodded on in search of the 2nd aid station to refill my water bottle. By the time I reached the pit stop Rob had re-joined me and after a quick refill and jaffa cake we set out again. Not long after we swung off the fireroad onto a narrow steep track where I gained a gap on Rob before rejoining a fireroad again. The next section climbs gradually towards the upper slopes of Seefin at an angle that allows you to run comfortably. As the track leveled off some signs directed me to turn left up a trail through the boggy ground and past several rocky tors that are gathered near the top of the hill. Past the Seefin trig pillar and down a short steep technical section before crossing some reasonably dried out bog to another track which climbed the SE top. Passed some walkers on the climb and took a look back as I crested the top to see Rob in the col behind me, probably a 2 minute gap between us.
Down the track on the other side of the hill and I picked up good speed as I spotted 2 runners just ahead of me. I passed one of them on the rockier upper section of the track before the surface quality improved and we were all running the same pace. Crossed the road together and we headed down the boreen into Glenosheen. I ran with the 2 lads for a kilometer or so until we hit the main road and they hit the afterburners. It was too early for me to be racing and by the time we entered the forest behind the holiday homes they were 200m ahead. About 5 minutes later I reached the halfway aid station. 2hr8min to this point - a bit quicker than I planned but I felt ok and thought I had a chance of doing less than 4hr30min if I didn't blow up. I swapped out my 250ml bottle for a 500ml, thanked the marshals, and trotted out with the advice that the half marathon had started only 5 minutes earlier ringing in my ears. A slight incline out of the holiday homes gave way to a downhill road run through Ballyorgan village. My mind wandered enough to nearly miss the left turn out of the village onto a farm track. A little further on the evidence of the days heavy foot traffic showed as I followed a freshly trampled trail across a field at a ruined church. A little ways on the road to a bridge and I was onto the riverbank trail. A very scenic section was only slightly dampened by the need to cross what felt like alot of stiles. I'd been completely alone since the aid station but I started to catch a few of the half-marathon runners along the river. Climbing steeply from the river to a field a line of runners spread out ahead of me with the first of the Darragh Hills to be climbed beyond them. I noticed that I was managing to catch people without upping my effort and I took it as a good sign that I was moving reasonably well. Into the forest below Carrigeenamronety and then into the first of 2 tough climbs on the second half of the course. I quickly abandoned running and started powerhiking as best I could, passing people along the way. This section was tough but I was was moving well and even managed to pass the 2 lads I had met on the way off Seefin earlier. With 2 places gained I felt I had to keep the effort going as I ran off the top of the hill to quickly find the trail swinging left and climbing slightly again before a longer descent allowed me to stretch out my legs. Every time I lifted my head to look around me the views had been fantastic all day and this section was no different. On the next climb up to the cairn on the eastern peak I remember thinking that I felt pretty good and that all the walking on the last section had saved my legs a bit. Off the top and down a nice technical bit, then a short fireroad bit, and then another great technical section through the trees where I managed to zip past a surprised Maike. Down further along a narrow track by a wall before being spat out onto a road again. There was a roadsign here which stated 'Kilfinane 8km' - I knew it would be further than that!
I knew there was a good bit of road coming next so I concentrated on running as smoothly as I could past the aid station, through the field, and up the road through Glenroe until the bottom of Fear Breagach hill. Up across the field beside the football pitch and into more forestry. Along with the red arrows on white signs that had been directing us all day I noticed alot of local trail waymarkers throughout the day. Obviously a big local effort has gone into making the area a ramblers paradise and once again I found myself on a waymarked track leading steeply uphill for the last 'big' climb of the day. I slowed here as I attempted to march uphill. The head felt like dropping but I managed to keep pace with those around me. This felt like it took alot longer than the climb up Seefin earlier in the day...I was definitely tiring. And then as I approached the top I spotted a runner a couple of hundred metres ahead who was wearing a long sleeved navy top similar to the ones worn by Alan Alying and Paul Keville when I saw them in Kilfinane that morning. Was I gaining on the marathoners? It was enough of a boost to raise my spirits and get me running the downhill as best as I could. Down through the forest, past the last aid station, and across the footbridge that crosses the main road. At this point I was doing my best to keep up with 2 half-marathoners who couldn't seem to lose me. Around a bend and there was Alan less than 100m in front of me. There was a slight incline and then the fireroad flattened. I passed Alan without speeding up and waited to see if he'd stay with me. Another place gained I continued to try and stick with the other half runners and had a glimpse of Paul a couple of hundred metres ahead of me. Knowing that there would soon be 2k of road to the finish (not my strong suit) I decided (wisely) to focus on staying ahead of Alan rather than trying to catch Paul. One last slight incline on the fireroad and then down to the main road. It was an odd road section where I was was trying to run as fast as I could but felt as if I was running with someone pulling me back. The gap with Paul never really narrowed and I just kept trucking even while getting overtaken by half-marathoners who suddenly now that they were on a road decided it was time to run. Through the village and in the gate of Scoil Pol and across the line in about 4hr26min. More than happy with my finish time but really most pleased about a savage day in the hills. I quickly found a bottle of water and lay down on the grass. Alan arrived in about 2 minutes later and Maike a few minutes after that. A hot shower was had in the GAA club (not sure I've ever had a shower at the finish-line of an IMRA race before!) and was followed by a hot meal in the school before I collected my race mug and long sleeve t-shirt. The days war stories were swapped over cups of tea upstairs at the school before we headed to a pub to watch the rugby.
The marathon was won by Adrian Hennessey who grew up in Kilfinane and had flown into Shannon from New York that morning and would have run the ultra if his flight hadn't been delayed! Very impressive!
An excellent event hosted by fantastic volunteers in a beautiful part of the country. It's a hill/trail running mecca down there - just miles of great trails. I had a great day exploring a new part of the country to me and I couldn't recommend it highly enough. I'll be back!

Results: http://www.premiertimingsystems.ie/2016-April-to-May-Race-Results/Ballyhoura-Mountain-Marathon-results
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