Irish Mountain
Running Association

Carrauntoohill Classic


Jason KehoeBarry McEvoyBarry Murray

The magical Kingdom and a funny 'oul day

Back in the Kingdom of Kerry and running to Ireland's highest peak from Cronin's Yard in the Carrauntoohil Classic race. At the zig zags I found myself slipping back to 3rd position with 4th place hot on my heels after a bizzare start before eventually pulling a result out of the bag.

The lads in IMRA Munster put on a fantastically well organised race led by RD Robbie Williams. Saturday was the Reeks Skyline race which I also fancy at some stage but on Sunday I raced in the 15km Carrauntoohil classic. The amount of volunteer effort that went into the first successful weekend of racing since lockdown was staggering, both in Munster and Leinster. A big thank you to all of the crew.

It was a warm day and great views across the whole of the Reeks. It was my eight time racing to the summit over the years but my first time racing Carrauntoohil from this side of the mountain. As a course overall it was very enjoyable, the first 4km though is a killer, a gradual climb but on a newly laid rocky path which was difficult to run on at the best of times. After leading the initial charge I soon found my stride hampered on the bockety path and Riocht A/C's Conor O'Mahony took the lead with a powerful running style which allowed him to clear the rocky terrain with ease.

Something was off though, about 3km in I was getting cotton mouth and my chewing gum was like glue in my mouth, suddenly my gloves didn't seem like a good idea so I took them off and fumbled with my bumbag which I had on upside down! Had to shove them down my shorts instead! I was so parched I stopped briefly to wash out my mouth from a relatively clean looking puddle! Then my breathing started to suffer... Was it the Covid kicking in? was a stitch! We hit the zig zags where I came to a complete stop and I washed my mouth out again in the stream. I stopped and took a couple of deep breaths and I realised the stitch was going nowhere. I slowly started hiking up the steep ascent where Cillin Corbett who climbed very well throughout the race caught me and I gave him a friendly heads up that he had 5 to 10 mins before my stitch went and then I was coming for him! 4th place was then hot on my heels. It was at this stage I was resigning myself to 3rd or 4th place and I was just going to enjoy the day out. Looking at strava graphs afterwards the stitch actually lasted for a full 15minutes!

As it happened I started to feel better and better and a couple of quick bursts to check the stitch had subsided were successful. Back in action but lots of work to do. I started to cut up the zig zags and bear crawled most of it, I even learned a new trick in the process to keep moving and to give my breathing some respite. For another instagram post! I climbed well all the way to Cnoc Na Toinne mountain where I took Cillin for 2nd place when I contoured the mountain and he went over the top. I had a good climb up Carrauntoohil and ran about 70% of the rocky scree which reminded me of Croagh Patrick's cone or the Sugarloaf. It was a busy day with hikers everywhere and lots of friendly support.

Conor got to the summit 1min 45secs before me, I descended well enough but was unsure of the best line to take from the summit. I closed the gap to Conor at Cnoc Na Toinne to about 200m and eventually sneakily passed him coming down the zig zags which I didn't zig nor zag but made a beeline straight down, steep steep stuff! A killer last 4km ensued on the bockety stone trail where I tripped, landing nearly head first into a stream but managed to keep going with just a few scrapes and bruises. I checked regularly behind me and with no sign of Conor (for at least 300m behind me) I took it slightly easier but was still working. At the very end I just happened to look back and saw Conor sneakily within 25m and sprinting! He scared the bejesus out of me! Looking at Strava afterwards he was doing close to 3:00min/km for the last kilometer as opposed to my disgraceful 4:00min/km! I put the afterburners on and just held on for the win. We got our breath back and there was a beer waiting for us at the end where the after race chat was mighty. I even indulged in two ice creams! Cracking day with my wife Ann and my son Ethan and we spent the whole week in Kerry for our holliers where we got superb weather!

Funnily, the evening of the race, the stitch feeling came back while walking up a small hill in Killorglin to dinner which was bizarre. When I dug my fingers into the oblique muscles on my side I could feel Trigger Points (knots in the muscle which cause pain and tightness). I must have caused them while shovelling a few tons of soil into a wheelbarrow a few weeks earlier. I tried dry needling it myself the next day in the B&B but it was too difficult a location to do. I went to a fellow Neuromuscular Therapist in Killarney for dry needling on Thursday and together we found there was a shed load of them, my entire side lit up and we could recreate the pain of the stitch exactly. It's a very interesting problem actually as stitches are still largely a mystery to science with all sorts of folklore on how to resolve them. Even though I work with TrP's daily it would have never occured to me that they would be responsible for all the stitches I previously had, especially in 2017 when I suffered regularly during racing. We'll see if it worked next weekend at the Galtymore mountain race.

Mountain Racing

I stayed in my Ma's mobile home in Cuan Pier near Ventry on Saturday night and let the mountain peace and sea breeze soak into the body. Soon I'd forgotten all about car fumes, concrete and Portlaoise City (thank God) and was visualising running strong and steady on Carrantouhill.

I was pretty nervous thinking about the elevation gain as I don't get much opportunity to get out on mountains with such a steep incline and of course I was getting all sorts of phantom pains and diagnosing myself with a wide variety of sports injuries. The usual pre race routine.

I arrived in Cronins Yard about 11.45 the following morning. The place was drenched in sunshine, the mountains stood crisp and clear and ominous, runners fiddled with their packs, hikers grabbed their poles and everyone smiled and I felt glad to be in this little part of Ireland about to do my first IMRA race. Although I was an outsider and didn't know anyone, I could sense the community and camaraderie amongst the MMRA contingent and enjoyed taking it all in.

Got ready- mandatory kit in my running vest, two soft flasks, 4 energy gels, lashed on factor 50 and was good to go.

I was surprised how quickly the race went off, no messing around. Settled in around 10th and ran in a small group with Peter Bell and Chris Murnane. Barry Murray's race report from previous years echoed in my mind about pacing yourself before the zig zags so I made sure not do anything stupid such as tearing off like a march hare in the early stages. This was solid advice, go raibh maith agat.

I'd hiked Carrantouhill a few years previously. In my mind's eye it was a leisurely stroll on flattish terrain up to the Devil's Ladder. However, the Hags Glen isn't flat and it isn't an easy surface to run on by any means. The footing is tricky and tiring and there are some juicy uphills. As we approached the zig zags it was clear the two guys at the top were gone and that I wouldn't be seeing them again until they whizzed by on the descent.

I started the zig zag climb in fourth right behind Cillin Corbett who soon put me to shame with his brilliant speed ascending and I thought about copying his hiking style but didn't have the back for it. Soon he passed Jason Kehoe, who went on to win the race.
I had hands on knees and was power hiking to a Guns n Roses tune which was running through my head (ironically entitled 'It's so easy'). My pace was too slow for Mark Pinfield who also passed me and was flying up the mountain like Killian Jornet on steroids in a bright orange top which I used as a reference point for a while. There was a group close behind me but I never looked back, my sole focus was on making it up that zig zag hell!!

An eternity later I spotted the volunteers at the top and was thrilled at the prospect at some respite from climbing for a while as I knew the trek up to the cross was looming on the horizon. Was in 5th place at this point.
Ran the flat well and John Paul O'Connell joined me for the descent and I followed him because he was floating down toward the Devil's Ladder and clearly knew his way. Legs weren't too bad and I kept telling myself I'd try pick it up on the descent.

John Paul and myself began to move vertically again from Devil's Ladder to the cross and we were joined by Chris. It was a big effort but the hikers kept me going by their presence alone, my ego telling me, 'you can't stop here in front of hikers, they think you're a big bad mountain runner.' Touched the cross with Chris, still in 5th or 6th.

Went straight back down the shale path and was thinking there was probably a better route to descend on but just got on with it as fast as I could. At the start of the return climb I took a funny tumble much to the delight of some hikers eating lunch and gave them a quick wave.
By the time I was climbing again JP, Chris and David Barry were all ahead of me and I'd been relegated to 8th.

At the zig zag again, this time going down, the guys took a steep, straight down grassy route. Thought my Altra Superiors were a bit light on lugs and grip but I had no choice but to follow if I was going to stay in the mix. Down I went and the quads were at bursting point and I slipped and slid and did all sorts to make it down. At the bottom 4th to 9th place all converged together and we were off across the rocky technical section searching for a fast line back to some semblance of sanity for the ankles. Had a chuckle when I saw John Paul plowing through some reeds to the left. Mark was bit further ahead in third.

We began closing in and just as we approached him my jelly legs clipped a rock and I had a hard fall on rock, dirt and water. David and Chris asked was I okay and I waved them on saying I was grand. Stood up, body was bleeding and vibrating and my first thought was that those four were gonzo, so I needed to cling on as best I couls. Second thought was they're only about 300/400m ahead....had an energy gel and started running again and it felt good to run and stretch the legs out.

About 2k to go and I passed Mark and was soon there with Chris, JP and David. I was moving pretty good, my legs were rubbery and I was tired but I had adrenaline and knew the finish was approaching. I couldn't believe I was in the mix for third. After the green bridge I bounced up a hill passing Chris and we were all moving fast now and it suddenly seemed like a 5k finish.

I made a break then and thought why not? If they catch me so be it but I have to give it a whirl. I suffered all the way in, didn't look back, no point, no energy. Rounded last corner and saw my girlfriend smiling at the finish line and felt such a wave of relief. I was shocked to have come in third position. Time was 1.43ish. Later I saw that David was only five seconds behind me, hadn't a clue he was so close, he must breathe very quietly!!

It really was a great battle for the 3rd spot between at least seven runners all exchanging places. Congratulations to the two boys up front, something to aspire to!!
Backpack, trucker hat, sambo, flapjack, coke and collapsed on the ground and cramped for about 10 solid minutes!!

The tallest mountain in Ireland and all of us flew up and down and didn't even stop for a flask of coffee! It was some achievement by every runner. The crew who organised it and were dotted along the route were brilliant to facilitate and Offer support, thank you very much.

Four days later I'm finding it hard to get in and out of the car, the quads, IT bands and a few muscles I never knew I had are beyond tender. This week I'll be taking it easy and allowing the race and experience to filter deep inside my soul. I'm in my runner's shavasana pose at present but looking forward to racing and spending time out on the trails again soon.

Classically Normal

Well this race is not a new normal, its still as brilliant as ever !

I've bigged this race up for the past two years and it deserves it again. What a reintroduction to mountain racing, a beast of a race with everything you can throw at it in terms of what makes a mountain race hard.

And what a day for it too... after a few weeks of mist, cloud and winds, it was so nice to have clear skies, fresh air and sun shining down on the Kingdom.

Arriving at Cronin's Yard was like a festival with the hikers outnumbering us IMRA folk several fold. Everyone was obviously taking advantage of a clear summit. Great to see all the heads again, months of banter with the Bell boys (no Mikey unfortunately as he was minding the cats) and exchanging new father stories with Jason Kehoe made it all even better to finally meet again in person.

Robbie and co certainly haven't forgotten how to put on a good show either. An "IMRA" stall where you can pick up nice kit for a good price, plenty of volunteers, even new MMRA signage I noticed too.

After a short warm up , it was race time finally. I went off like a hare on speed, after months of anticipation and just happy to be racing again ! Jason and Conor shot off too and after about 500m I settled down, the lads went off, and normality resumed. The first few km's are runnable but gradually the gradient steepens and the terrain gets rockier. I was going okay, with Warren and Tom Blackburn not far ahead of me. I couldn't hear or see Peter Bell so thought I had lost him already and it was game over early doors. Once we hit the zig zags, I got into a decent enough fast hiking rhythm... Warren and Tom were not pulling away from me and in the corner of my eye I could see Peter . It was like deja-vu as we were in exactly the same position as last year on the climb.. me ahead, him not far behind. Once we reached the top of the zig zags, I managed to get the legs going again across the ridge. Warren and Tom had pulled a little bit further away as I hit the col they were on the last big climb.

The amount of hikers was unreal... never seen so many up there. Conditions were perfect and the views were spectacular (apparently). Not easy to take in all the views when you are panting, hands on the knees, trying to stay ahead of Peter, and trying to catch back up with Warren. This final climb is the hardest, as the gradients steepens and the rocks become looser. Finally up to the cross and I rounded it , just ahead of Peter ;) . Think I clocked 66 or 67min to the summit which seemed pretty good for me. Rounded the cross and just headed slightly off course on the first descent... Peter followed... within 100m we stopped and looked around... we have just gone off too far right. I crossed back over to the main path.. Peter stayed right. And that was the last I saw of him !

Couldn't see Warren or Tom either, who are both very good descenders, so sort of felt like my race was over ! A mountain race like this is as much about the descent as it is about the climb. You need to get your lines right... and as straight as possible is best. I for some reason stayed too much to the path instead of taking a more direct line. As I climbed back up to the ridge, the legs were beginning to hurt and this was the first sign that I felt not "race fit" . Really big different to feeling fit and training well... compared to how "conditioned" you need to be for a big race like this. Didn't seem to bother several other guys who had great races with top 7 or 8 I think sub 1.45 ! ... maybe some did more race specific training or maybe I just need more than average.... but thats what I blame anyway, its the conditioning !

Off the ridge, and I had a runner all in white in front of me so at least I had something to aim for. Managed to catch and pass him down the zig zags. Still, didn't take a straight line here, which some Strava files show how others did ! Bit of an amateur mistake given this was my 3rd time doing the race. Legs feeling pretty sore after all the descending and into Hags Glen there is more jumping and bouncing over rocks and bog. Hard to make ground here. There are also certain lines to take which I did last year but didn't take as good ones this year. Last few km's off the rocky trail and with the sore legs, it can be hard to lift them high enough to clear the rocks. Got one foot caught and took a tumble and hit the deck. Joe O Leary and another lad were right behind me and checked to see if I was alright. Nothing other than some grazes and a groggy head so I told them not to stop. Probably lost another minute or two here just getting myself back up and into a shuffle. Back across the river and finally off the rocky track I was able to pick up the pace again. I passed Peter at this point last year but no sign of him this year. Crossed the finish line in a bit of a heap but thats to be expected I guess !

All pain and sorrows are met though with a lovely craft beer and a sambo. There really is nothing better after a hard race, especially on a hot day, then just collapsing on the grass, downing a beer and having the banter with the gang.

Delighted for Jason to get the win after being almost 2mins back at the summit. Like I said, its not all about the climb. Young Peter was looking smug, even though it was a draw (I won the ascent, he won the descent ;) ) .

Took the option this year of camping the night after the race and we were happy we did. Great to finish off the day with a big bbq, more banter and more beers.

What a restart. With the Reeks Skyline the day before, This Classic, and Lug na Coille the same day..... Mountain Running is back !!