Irish Mountain
Running Association

Devil's Glen Tiglin


Brian Kitson

The Promise of a Finish Line

You can learn a lot about resilience at a place like Tiglin. Endurance runners like to think we know a thing or two about resilience. You need a deep well to draw on when racing ultra distances or things can come to a shuddering halt pretty quickly. You wouldn’t think there’d be such a premium on resilience on an 8km race on a soft night in the Wicklow mountains but shattered legs and heaving lungs 5km in and I found myself looking for reasons to stop rather than to keep going.

The night started off serenely enough though. Arriving at Tiglin seemed like arriving at some kind of wonderful holiday camp for trail runners. Despite the cold, damp evening we were greeted by an exceptionally warm welcome from all the brilliant helpers who efficiently marshalled cars into various nooks and crannies as if playing a kind of vehicular Tetris. Parked up, Warren and I made our way to registration which took place in a nice cosy indoor room. Jason Dowling was back on the laptop to renew hostilities with the chip timing system. This week he really meant business, though, and with a couple of expert taps and clicks my 2016 tag was back in action and we were on our way.

Leaving the nice warm room, I almost hoped the light drizzle and slight chill in the air would force the race to be abandoned. Who would have us race in such horrendous conditions? Yawning and shivering, I decided to head out for a quick warm up just in case. I hadn’t done this event since 2014 and it was a new route anyway so I had no idea of the race circuit. On the warm up I asked a few folks, ‘is this the start of the race?’ and was pleased to get a different answer each time so at least everyone else was as in the dark as I was.

I resigned myself to the fact that the race would indeed go ahead when I arrived at the start line and our race director Niamh stood aloft and gave her race briefing. With the cool confidence of someone with all their ducks in a row she kept things brief and set us quickly on our way. And I mean quickly. Despite the ruts and greasy tree branches on the ground we made fast progress over the first few hundred metres. This led to a long, gently undulating section over trail and fire road during which time three or four people passed me by, the last being a guy named Gerry who flew passed me after about two kilometers. I later learned that Gerry was just back from a five-year break from running. I don’t know what he did during that break but he was fast and I worked hard to try to keep him in my sights. After a couple of kilometres or so we hit a fast downhill section and I started to catch a couple of runners and eventually caught up with Gerry. We ran together for a good while with me right behind and almost missed a tight left turn on the steep section just after the junior turn around. We were passing an early starter and saw the markings too late. Gerry sped by the turn and turned back but I saw it just in time and went ahead of him. Soon after we reached the river at the bottom of the long downhill Gerry was back in front and I was struggling to hang on.

The race so far was like a roller-coaster. A reassuringly undulating start led to a false sense of security which was, in turn, followed by that hold-on-for-dear-life lightning-fast endless downhill. But there was no nice gift shop at the end of this roller-coaster. Oh no. This one dropped me off at what felt like mile 22 of a marathon. My legs, shot after thrashing them on the downhill, felt heavy now and my pace was slowing along the long, long river bank section. Each slip of the foot on the muddy trail felt like another defeat, another reason to stop and make the pain go away. Gerry was opening up a gap. I began to look forward to the big uphill ahead in the hope that a change in grade might somehow provide some reprieve. When it finally came I instantly regretted it. It was so steep and sustained. I tried to track as close to Gerry as I could as he set off up. We soon passed Peter Bell who must have been having a difficult night as he finished a long way ahead of me last week at Glen of the Downs. However, having felt like I was just hanging on for so long, as the climb continued, I began to feel stronger. Maybe it’s the few kilos I lost recently but it wasn’t taking as much out of me as it usually would and, so, I decided to try to pass Gerry. This felt risky. He’d been so strong throughout the race and didn’t seem to be slowing down but I felt I had a bit more in me so I made my move. Passing him was tough but trying to put a few metres between us nearly killed me and now he was breathing down my neck. I was completely maxed out trying to count off the zigs and zags over the next few hundred metres. Finally, I spotted a marshal and hoped for good news, ‘100mtrs’ she said. You beauty. I couldn’t get passed now so let fly and couldn’t have been any happier to see the cones if they were Mr Whippies. 12th place and my best finish yet in a Wednesday race.

No matter how tough things get, there’s nothing like the promise of a finish line to provide enough motivation to keep going. A finite end makes pain more bearable. That’s the difference between running resilience and real-life resilience where there are no guarantees of a finish line. The race was terrific, the setting was inspiring and I hope everyone at Tiglin last night finds what they need to keep on going.