Connaght Gold #1
11 July, 2017 - John BellI had hoped to make the trip to the Connaght Champs for a few years now, and having already completed Donard and Carrauntoohil, I was on for 3 from 3 in the Irish Champs so far.
Plans were made to head down with my brothers Peter and Kevin, and Barry Murray decided to join us for trip (brave man!). Alice had arranged for a bunch of IMRA people to stay at the Old Head Camp Site near Louisburg, and what a gorgeous location that turned out to be.
Early in the morning of the first race of the weekend a few of us headed to Louisburg where we found a bar that had opened early especially for the Lions game. The bar also served breakfast, but I doubt Barry wouldn’t approve of the bacon butties and chips as a pre-race fuel but that’s all that was on the menu. It was then back to the camp site to get ready for the race.
Croagh Patrick – aka The Reek
The sun was shining and after a cool morning the temperate started to rise. On the road out to the start the view of the entire route was clear apart from a small cloud hanging on top of the cone. Our RD for the day Maike gave us the pre race briefing and set us off on our way up the Pilgrims Path. After the first few hundred metres I settled into a pace that I felt I could maintain, but from early on I wasn’t feeling the love for the climb. I was with Mike Jordan and Brian Flannelly with Barry Murray just ahead. Barry was gradually pulling away up the first climb. Already I knew he would have bragging rights for the day. When we reached the first saddle before the big climb up the cone Mike picked up the pace, which I wasn’t able to match, and set off after Barry. I continued up at a steady pace with Brian, meandering past all of the hikers, trying not to dislodge any loose scree onto any hikers below. Approaching the top I found some extra energy to pick up the pace slightly and reach the top just ahead of Brian. At the summit I was scanning for the marshal but there was a crowd at the top. Maybe he was in the Church? I caught sight of someone in a red IMRA top beside the Church who pointed me off in the right direction. Thanks to marshal #1 (John Greene?). Normally on these descents I would let loose but the initial scree slope was quite tricky to build any speed and I struggled to get any momentum. With no sight of anyone ahead due to the low cloud I plodded on. On reaching the grassy track at the saddle I spotted a group of 4 ahead. When I reached the last climb I tried to push on to try close the gap, but only made ground on one from that group. The three ahead were together on the final decent having maintained the gap. The next summit marshal (Paddy Lord?) pointing us on our way down the ridge where he had put out some marker tape lead us to the finish. On the last bit of steep descent I had closed the gap to someone in a black singlet (Tom Lynch) and the finish line appear in a field just below. Descending at speed, one of us was likely to fall and luckily I managed to stay upright to get in just ahead. Mike had a really good run to finish just ahead of Barry and comfortably ahead of me. Apparently there was a good battle between first and second, where Brian Furey had a really good ascent but Jason Kehoe must have put the after burners on the descent to win in a new record.
We were treated to tea and cakes at the finish thanks to Judy and Denise. Then it was the short spin in the mini bus back to where we started. A quick paddle in the sea to sooth the legs and feet was followed by a nice pint in the sunshine in the beer garden behind Campbell’s, where Maike presented the prizes for the day. It was tempting to stay in the beer garden for the rest of the day, but more important was the recovery plan to be ready for Nephin the next day ;-)
After a quick spin into the butchers in Louisburg, it was back to the camp site to grab a change of clothes. The beach was only 5 minutes walk away and the perfect place for a post race swim. The sea on the West Coast is a lot warmer than the East! No thermal shock here. Stuart brought a rusted shell of a barrel / bbq and a skip bag full of wood which we took down to the small cove behind the harbour. Barry and I did bbq while others prepared salads, breads and treats or chopped wood for the fire. A really good crowd turned up and we just about had enough bbq to go around (note for next time IMRA people a hungry after a tough race so there big demand for meat). With enough wood to keep the fire going it would have been easy to stay up most of the night but some of us called it a night at a reasonable hour.
Next up was Nephin.
Croagh Patrick - Its not just about the running
10 July, 2017 - Barry MurrayThis isn’t just a race. It’s not just about the running. This was a proper festival of running.
Arriving down with the 3 Bells on Friday evening kicked it all off as it was meant to be. We had our first beers at Clew Bay as the sun was setting and then hit the campsite to pitch the tents as it was getting dark.
Saturday morning brought the option of heading off to the pub early to watch the Lions game. I decided to go for a swim instead and take the morning air in. Old Head is a beautiful spot… nice golden sandy beach , a little harbour, and then a magnificent view of Croagh Patrick. A pretty idealic spot for the IMRA mountain running festival weekend.
Like any outdoor event in Ireland, the weather makes or breaks it. We’ve been lucky with most of the imra races so far this year that the weather has made them. And the Connaught champs deserved this nice weather. After the sea dip, I headed back to the campsite and got the breakfast cook on with Jason and Anne. A black pudding and apple bread made locally was the find of the day !
As midday approached I remembered that we had an actual race to do. Having never been up Croagh Patrick before , I was just looking forward to taking in the views and seeing the church at the top.
The heat was starting to pick up too and the crowds hiking up the pilgrim path were growing. The start line had good numbers with Brian Furey and Jason looking eager. I was sort of in race mode but not totally switched on as it was more about the journey for me.
The climb up was steady to say the least. It’s like a very long version of the Sugar Loaf. You are just hands on knees , head down, fast hiking. The main things to watch were the people with their sticks coming at you from every angle. Jason and Brian went off fast neck and neck and I could see them together most of the way towards the summit. I was just pacing myself, John Bell behind me for a change, and Bernard and Brian Mullins off up in the distance.
I reached the summit not knowing exactly where to go. I knew we had a marshal to look out for but with all the people around he was hard to pick out. Someone pointed in his direction and I headed around the chapel. Went around the back and sort of looked in the door, expecting to see someone, not entirely sure why, and then just realised I need to keep running .
Didn’t know what to expect for the descent. These sorts of things can take the race edge off you. As I was dilly dallying down the big rocky start of the descent, I saw a runner fly straight down the rocks to my right. It was Mike Jordan who definitely had his weetabix that morning. I decided to get on his heels as he looked like he knew where he was going.
Off the first descent and we were over some bog with a little drag up to the next summit. I caught back up with Mike here and passed him. Paddy was marshalling the last summit and then we had this nice ridge run down. It was fast and technical in some places and I was just feeling my way down. This is another aspect of being in total race mode or not. But I had Mike just behind me and I knew we were approaching the finish.
As we turned off the ridge, there were some good little yellow markers to follow. No trail here, just a heathery run down the side of the hill. Mike then came round me on the inside and I just followed thinking we might have a little bit of fire trail left where I could beat him to the finish. Heard shouts and screams from the finish line and saw that we were just finishing still on the descent more or less. I came in just behind Mike who had a great race with John Bell just a few seconds behind me. A great point to point route up one of Ireland’s famous landmarks. Jason had a great battle with Brian and set a new course record. The weather was perfect and we all just sat on the grass at the finish line as everyone else came in.
Teas , coffees and cakes were provided and we had a mini bus to take us back to the start. A great championship race and a great event put on my Maike , Eoin, Paddy and co.
What happened for the rest of the weekend will be described in the Nephin report !