Irish Mountain
Running Association

Djouce (New Route from Djouce Woods)


Warren SwordsBarry MurrayJeff SwordsGreg Byrne

Warren Swords

I think we should rename this race to "The Ayling Abyss."

The most feared 500 metres of trail in the Leinster League.

I had my race of the year on this course last year, coming an unexpected second.

In my head, I was thinking "this is my kind of course."

By the end of it, I was sitting on the side of trail, bloodied and battered, thinking "this isn't my kind of course."

Race started off conservatively enough with Jason taking an early lead. I was in around 7th place and felt reasonably good on the lovely wooded section.

Alas, as soon the climbing started, my legs turned to jelly. I lost a shed load of places by the time we hit the Wicklow Way and had already settled for a death march to the top.

I recovered a small part on the trail after the stile and optimistically thought I might be able to catch the familiar foes of Mikey, Barry et al.

Then the terrain went up again and that was that.

Coming off Djouce, I put the foot down and reeled in a few places with more runners coming into view. Perhaps a top 10 wasn't out of the question after all.

Coming up to the tight right turn off the WW for the Ayling Abyss, I took a huge tumble. My toe clipped a rock and for a split second, I managed to catch myself before tripping a second time over a log.

Probably worst place to fall given the loose rock and gravel. Got back running but both my nerve and legs were gone. And the Ayling Abyss is no place to be tip toeing down.

The worst was still to come, the murderous climb up from the river to the finish. Stumbled across the line, feeling like I ran an ultra and four minutes off last year's time.

The fall result in a fair bit of road rash and swollen elbow but mainly all superficial. Thanks to first aiders for ice packs etc.

Superb course and organisation. Race really does give you a kicking.

Djouce Ayling Abyss

Wednesday evenings are now like a mini running festival. You turn up in a field up the mountains, 200 or so like minded people, old VW camper vans selling cookies and ginger beer (lets have one without the ginger maybe too ;-) ) , and now trail courses for kids. Its like the Body and Soul of mountain running. Not a bad way to break up the week.

These races make you learn about yourself. They really teach you about all aspects of mountain running from pacing, to climbing, to technical descending, to jumping, to falling, to creaming yourself. Its the only way to get better in my opinion, by simply doing them. Lots ask about what sort of training to do for them, but really the best way is to turn up on a Wed night and put yourself through the mill.

If you do them regularly enough, you can also quickly gauge yourself based on the other familiar heads that you end up just in front or just behind in each race. Doesn't matter what end of the race you are in. Your immediate surroundings are your measure and your competition.

This was my 5th race of the leinster league and format gets familiar. Someone shoots off that I will never catch, like Diarmaid or Jason or other flyers like Ian C or Des, a few get out front in sight, like Pat and Greg.... then its a tit for tat with myself, Mikey, Warren, John Bell, G Bushe and a couple of others.... then Bernard passes us all about 3km into the race, to the letter, without fail.

So it can be all about how you are feeling on the day, how you slept the night before, how many other races you have been doing at the weekends, and what type of course it is. The latter can be the real main factor. I know myself now the exact type of course that suits me and how I can finish ahead of my main competitors. Likewise, I see some guys who do really well on courses with boggy trails and steep descents... while they go slower on hard trails and not so steep descents. Whats great about the Leinster League is each race differs weekly as to what sort of terrain it has.

This Djouce course favours the climbers and fast descenders. I thought that the climb would never end as we zig zagged up the narrow trails and eventually hauled ourselves up Djouce. I had the usual heads around me... Mikey just ahead, Warren and John just behind. The slog also totally wears out your climbing muscles so by the time you reach the summit and have to fly down the mountain, your legs are in shock.

At this stage , with the wind up your arse thankfully, I hit the right side of the track and descended as fast as my legs would allow. Mikey was moving well and getting away from me. I passed Ben Mooney who is a great climber but not as strong on the descent. He even said to us after that his race finished at the summit !

The grassy downhill lets you open up the legs but at the same time, its hard to make up ground on whoever is ahead as gravity is almost dictating the pace. The flatter rolly sections in a race on the latter stages is where I can pick up my speed. But there wasn't much on this course. Passed a man down at the bottom ... Pat.... and hoped it wasn't serious... gave him a quick "alright?" and he was sitting up and looked fine.

Young Issoac was just ahead of me as we approached the infamous wooded descent. He climbed well and I just got by him as we started the slide down through the woods. Next minute, like bambi on ice, came John Bell, who is a great steep downhiller.... he scooted by me and I couldn't catch him. By the time we got to the river crossing, I had new kid Neilus just in front of me. He has been flying the past few races but doesn't have much techical downhill experience. Up out of the river and I'm right behind him but he is a good runner and managed to stay ahead of me up through the tree's. The last hill is a bitch... you scramble up the first bit... then realise you have the cross the path and then climb up onto the last section. Legs are fairly dead at this stage.

Up onto the firetrail finally and its a crawl across the line with John Bell once again just that bit ahead of me. Mickey had his weetabix that morning and finished a really strong 3rd. Jason is clearly in good form after his Carrantouhill win. Greg and Bernard still evade me.

But once again, how did you all sleep that night ??? Roll on the next mini running festival... Hats off to IMRA folk and RD's.

Up yours Djouce!

Here lies my tale of abject misery (or how not to do pre-race nutrition and prep).

Maybe my body was giving me a hint to stay at home when earlier in the day all I wanted to do was take a nap. I put that down to the lunch I just had making me a bit drowsy. Not long before I leave for a race I usually have some form of snack, but I thought because I felt full earlier and wanted a sleep I should be grand.

After the usual smiley faces and banter at the start we were off. I have a love/hate relationship with Djouce (loved using the Djouce Uphill race to get one of my volunteer races out of the way, hated running it) and as I knew there was a long hard slog ahead, settled in taking it slowly behind a few runners I usually compete with.

I was still feeling good as we turned onto the Wicklow Way towards Djouce, my targets just a few places ahead, but pulling away slowly. I knew I was still fine as I have the advantage over them on the descents. The trudge up to the turn off to climb to the summit was slow with that fecker of a wind, but I still was making reasonable progress, still not losing too much time, and as the front runners still weren't coming towards me before I hit the base I knew I was running reasonably ok.

BANG! The boink hammer right between the eyes! I started craving something to drink, something I never do even on long runs, and thinking of what food I'd really love to eat right now. I knew I was in trouble at that point (I was still only a minute slower on last year on the Strava segment from the base to the summit), but as we were at the furthest most point there was nothing I could do. Tunnel vision started setting in but I figured once I circle the trig point I'll recover pretty quickly and will have a nice run to Aylings Abyss.

No such luck, I couldn't get any pace on the descent to the stile even with the wind to our backs, so trudged onwards. My trouble increased in the descent through the forest, bouncing from tree to tree, slipping and stumbling all the way to the river at the bottom, losing places all the way.

From the river I pretty much walked all the way back to the finish, had a horse or MTB come along I would have happily hijacked their steed. With the finish line in sight I managed a jog to keep the footsteps behind me at bay, stumbled over the line 9 minutes slower than last year.

My daughter was waiting after her trail kids session, her first words? "What took you so long daddy?". You and me both.

Got back to the car where a cup of tea, packet of Tayto and half a chocolate bar awaited, manna from heaven. Stopped off at the petrol station in Kilmacanogue for a can of coke and more chocolate, and by the time I was half way home I felt like I never even ran a race that evening.

Physically broken & emotionally charged by the Djouce / Gravity combo

The top chefs know how to take your standard fare and add a little twist. Just enough to revitalise our love and to highlight the power of the imagination. Well, as course design goes I would probably think Alan Ayling gets 3 Michelin stars. We run up Djouce many times in the year. Graham Bush managed it twice at the weekend, among other things. But Alan has still managed to find a route with almost no resemblance to the other races… fast trail, thigh burning climbs through root steps, the push for the cone, the descent off the top, the flowing grass and the bit you could do with a parachute for…

It was a few years since I toed the line for this race, but the memory of the burning sensation in my heels was vivid.

We started off downhill. The talk on the line revolved around about how quickly everyone would go off… it seemed we listened and the pace was cautious enough. Hitting the single track gave Jason the lead. Pat Foley in close order. Emerging onto the road we turned right for the top of the zig-zags. A somewhat pleasant pursuit through the pine needles led us into the bottom of ‘root-fest’. We’d not option but to lift the legs as high as possible. Some people tried the left, some people tried the right, all routes converged, any gains were immediately lost on the next gamble. Neilus is the big winner and threatened Pat for second. Pat held out for the road and then opened a gap on the double track.

We turned for Djouce and the flapping of a number in the wind hinted to me that Neilus was right behind. I focused on Pat, combining surges with a change of direction to try an shake off Neilus. Not a chance, he was reading the wind and tucking in nicely. “Neilus the shy” or “Neilus the cunning”? Not that it matters, our three-way tiff was halted by the sight of Bernard jogging by… up the cone we went… Jason was running, Bernard was striding, Pat was running, Neilus was alternating tactics, but nothing was changing. Iosac bounded by to ruin my settled view of the race.

As we neared the top and Jason came flying. I estimated 60 seconds of a lead. My eyes turned to Iosac hoping he would be kind enough to drag me the last 50 metres. We turned and immediately got a blast of the wind from behind. The oncoming climbers cheered the descenders as they passed. An early roll of the ankle brought me a moment of hesitation, but that was quickly forgotten as the task in hand kept running away.

The contrast in styles was fascinating. Iosac had the longer stride, but my cadence seemed higher. On the steeper ground we were evenly matched. His eye for the trail combined well with the computational speed of a downhill biker. The open grass offered an opportunity and I stretched out the stride in the hope of gaining an advantage. Turning for the stile I’d just about captured third spot. Sure its only downhill from here…

Bernard had at least 25 metres. Enough to disappear in the forest. I could hear someone behind… Iosac, Pat, Neilus? Nope, it was Mikey “total disregard for myself” Fry. Mikey passes without hesitate and doesn’t even slow to say hello. The descent is savage, the twists, the turns, the tress, the near vertical mud slopes… Am I holding my breath through fear or concentration? I certainly feel tense, tight and hypoxic. The burning sensation in my heels is back and only that is keeping me awake. I feel like half the stones of Djouce are in my shoe, but history tells me that is not the case.

Exiting the bottom of the climb I resolved to relax and focus on catching Mikey. A log blocks the path, it must be 3 foot across, I go to hurdle it, but catch my toe and recreate the moment our u17 Barnhall coach JJ Kelly introduced me to the tap tackle. My face is quickly followed by my thighs in hitting the ground. I look back to see that my enormous trail wide tree trunk log has shrunk to a moderately sized branch. Picking myself up and I have a quick glance for a hidden camera. None to be seen, so I moved on hoping the finish would come quickly. We twisted and turned through the trees. My focus was blown and I missed the river crossing. I emerged from the trees upstream of the marshall to be informed that I had missed the turn… I politely decline the opportunity to address Mr. Holmes and regain the trial instead.

From the river we are once again climbing. The heart is gone, the lungs are gone, my burning heels mean I am running on my big toes only… where is the finish? We hit the last turn and John Bell knows exactly where it is. I try to go with him, but end up walking the last 5 metres; broken, scared and smiling from ear to ear.

As the runners crossed the line they bore the physical and emotional scars. Warren’s elbow needed an ice pack, others needed a hug. We started our war stories, but the midges descended.

Savage test, organised with precision. Thanks to Lillian, Alan and the volunteers. Thanks to Alan Lawlor for the first aid. Well done to Kevin & Co for taking on the young ones, so uplifting at the start to see all the kids enjoying the slack lines. I was very impressed with Graham’s double Wicklow Way over the weekend, and speechless when I saw him on car park duty today.