Rock, Sweat and Cheers

Often that nagging voice inside your head that forces you onward, forces you to dig deep and push is almost reassuring. However, 2k into the 2018 European Mountain Running Championships, the voice was driving me crazy. On reflection, I really must have been hurting bad, even if my split times say otherwise. It was hot, dusty and hectic.

The rapidly developing city of Skopje, Northern Macedonia played host to this year's EMRCH. Although skeptical locals will tell you the pleasant, cultural city centre is in fact all a facade to hide the decrepit remains of Yugoslavia, it does seem quite charming and cheap. The LOC has organised to perfection, and as a whole the event ran smoothly. The course was notable, almost totally runnable but still technically demanding, with little room for recovery or error. Steep, loose rocky slopes combined with narrow rutted single-track to create a dry challenge.

This was my first major international mountain running race, and it was quite the learning experience. Luckily I was on a team with three experienced athletes. The advice of a long term runner like Iosac combined with the energy of Tony kept heads up. Conalls absolute chill made staying relaxed easy.

We knew it would be hot, and that the start would be quick. Although it was not Irish Intervarsity Cross Country fast, a strong pace from the start brought us along a sloping road to the start of the real trail. Once the climb proper began it never really let up, and any lines you had spotted in the track walk were lost in the chaos that is 50 jostling athletes. I settled in to take the climb steady, with Conall close by, aware of movements by Iosac and Tony.

The next 15 minutes were long and painful. Maybe I never found my groove, maybe it was the heat, maybe I wasn't strong enough, but I felt I didn't climb quite as I know I can. The livestream makes it difficult to truly understand the length of the climb, with the combination of steep loose rocks, and some faster smoother sections making flow difficult. However, by the time I was topping out, after perhaps allowing myself to walk too regularly, I knew Tony was ahead somewhere. Shouts of encouragement at the top as I gasped on the fast double track were some consolation knowing the descent was coming.

The way down really did go in a blur, my focus being on maintaining my own position in the race and possibly seeing what Tony was up to. The steep sections went by without hitch, even managing to pick off and use some unconventional lines. Towards the end the track leveled off into a trail and then flatish road section where I could gradually build up my speed. With Mark's words of the previous day ringing in my ears I pushed hard on to a tarmac section that felt awfully like Bray and gasped across the line in 25th. Gulping water, cursing mildly and eying fellow competitors the true heat hit me like a train. Hitting the shade to chat with my teammates, the mild irritation I felt at not pushing hard enough was leveled by the fantastic performances of those around me.

To conclude, I'd like to thank all the folk at IMRA and Athletics Ireland for their support in getting us to a position that we could perform. A special word of thanks to Leo Mahon for his organisation. Personally, the openness and willingness of the rest of the team to take me in was invaluable. Roll on the next opportunity for me to really give it my all!

Mike Long

The 17th European Mountain Running Championships was held on Mount Vodna just south of Skopje, Macedonia on 1/7/18 and resulted in a strong performance from the nine person Irish team.

The course involved a 6 km lap with 350 m of climb. The uphill section was on a steep relatively narrow forested track, frequently rough and stony with many tree roots, erosion gullies etc. – not too different from what we are used to in Ireland. A short flat plateau was then followed by a series of steep technical descents – stony and rough in places. In one twisty section through some trees the organisers had placed some protective cushions to prevent the athletes impaling themselves on a tree! The end of the lap was fairly flat but again stony in places.

All in all I felt that the course was a tougher version of what might be experienced here on a regular Wednesday night Leinster League race and in my opinion these races would be good preparation for an event such as this. I think this is contrary to recent views expressed on the forum where it was suggested that the Wednesday night races were too technical and were not good preparation for such a race – but this is certainly not the case here.

We had representatives in the junior men’s competition (U20 - who ran 1 lap and) and in the senior men’s and women’s races (who both ran 2 laps). The highlight from an Irish perspective was the excellent 8th place finish by Sarah Mc Cormack in the women’s senior category (58 mins 01 secs.). In the men’s senior race there was also great performances from Zak Hanna (19th in 51.45) (which to my knowledge is the best Irish performance in some time), Mark Ryan (39th), Seamus Lynch (44th) and James Kevan (55th). Overall the men finished 10th and missed out on 9th on a countback.

The junior men were led home by Antony Mc Cambridge (14th in 27:40) followed by Ruairí Long (25th), Conall Mac Clean (30th) and Iosac Coleman (42nd). The Irish boys finished 7th – having missed out on 6th by 1 point. Antony and Conall have 2 more years in this category which bodes well for the future.
Full details can be found on the European Athletics website and the video from the live feed is on

This was my first experience being a team leader at a Mountain Running race having done many similar orienteering trips. It was great to be able to learn from the experienced and excellent Leo Mahon.

We would like to express our thanks to IMRA for their support and long may it continue.

Next year’s European Championship will be held in Zermaat on 7/7/19 and the 2018 World Championship will be held in Andorra in September. The trial race for this takes place on 14 July. Then rumours abound of a possible mouth-watering trip to Patagonia for the 2019 World Championships.
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