Brockagh season opener
07 February, 2023 - Rene BorgAs inceptor of the Brockagh Burst race in 2015, I won’t pretend to write a neutral race report on this route which I am extremely fond of. Brockagh Burst was conceived for three main reasons 1) provide a shorter easier route for the Winter (now Spring) League, 2) utilise interesting parts of Brockagh evaded in the summer version of the race (mainly the Brockagh East summit and the northernmost of the two steep grassy banks that connect the fire roads to the mountain path, and 3) write a love letter to the defunct ‘short IMRA’ races (Hellfire Flicker, Bray Dash and Sugarloaf Rush).
The race was full to capacity no doubt partly due to it’s accessibility but moreso as a long-expected season-opener in Leinster for mountain running. Nearly 200 runners crammed onto the Wicklow Way for the start: a shallow section of uphill leads you out fast on broad fire-road before abruptly climbing into the first turn at 1.2 km and continuing until the end of the first mile where you enter open mountain track. The steepest part of the course follows. The field splits very quickly here and those who start out too fast begin to drop back as the gradient moves into double-digits. Everyone else left to marshal their resources just right so that there is that little bit of space between the needle and the top of the red field to facilitate an optimal descent.
The route has varied slightly from year to year due to an (in my opinion) improvement suggested by Niall Corrigan for the second running of the event in 2016: descending via the tiny climb and narrower path over Brockagh South-East rather than following the exact foot-steps of the summer race once you complete the traverse up and down Brockagh (North) East. This variation was used in 2016 but was not repeated so when Race director Robert Costello emailed me Friday for a few details, I suggested it could be worth reinstating it as it adds a ‘fresh track’ to a well-worn route, and it avoids sections with an overlap of ascending and descending runners.
There’s a slight trade-off, the route remains more or less the same, but the descent is slightly longer and slower as the single-track through the heather off Brockagh South-East is not as wide nor as even underfoot as the main mountain path. This year’s winner Derek Crammond ran the fastest time on this version of the course (25:11) – only about a minute behind the record for the faster version of the course. He had carved out a massive lead by the top of the climb’s main feature: the ‘Brockagh Burst Grassy Bank’ – a nearly 600m slope featuring an 18% gradient. Behind him Eoin Flynn fought a lonely battle for 2nd while Brian Furey arrived 3rd to the top with his former Rathfarnham club-mate Barry Minnock right on his shoulder (Barry would overtake Brian on the descent). They were followed by Peter O’Farrell in 5th position. Once you get past the summit most of the descending is very easy and only the two immediate ‘run-offs’ from Brockagh East and South-East must be handled with a bit of care least you twist an ankle or get to closely inspect some heather.
Emily Ryan of Parnell AC made it two wins for Wicklow’s oldest club out of two in her IMRA debut holding off the significant experience of Clare Sullivan (first woman to the top) and orienteer Niam O’Boyle. I like to think I had called this possibility as Emily had joined the Glendalough AC recci the previous Saturday where she showed some impressive speed on the descent. I may even offered her the opinion that ‘if you have a half decent climb, a podium should be well up for grabs’. Time to go for the horses…
As for myself (glad you asked), I had only one fly in my ointment and that was club-mate Paul Duffy. We have a very evenly matched squad of 10-15 male athletes in Glendalough AC currently who can beat each criss and cross on any given day. I had surprised myself somewhat by breaking away from a club micro-pack consisting of Paul Duffy, IMRA debutante Kevin Ferguson and myself on the grassy bank to crest Brockagh East in 17th position with Kevin in 21st and Paul in 23rd. Things were flowing nicely downhill, and I gained 5 spots before Paul Duffy came past like a steam train to secure club bragging rights on eponymous ‘Brockagh zig-zags’. “I’ll have you wearing cow-bells next time,” I told him. “consider yourself sniped,” was the retort. (edit: in corrected results we were 13th and 15th meaning the summit count was probably not quite accurate either).
The grassy bank was run slightly differently than previous year’s as runners took the third grassy path left rather than the second after the stiles onto open mountain. This deviation is small enough not to upset Strava segments but enough to cause me momentary worry about where exactly we were going (I need not have worried as Robert Costelloe and his experienced markers Graham Bush and Warren Swords had things well in hand).
While results were not available as of this writing, it appears 195 of the sold out (220 ticket) event took the start – a long way from the 48 runners who entered the first race in 2015 and comfortably ahead of the previous record turn-out of 180 runners in 2020.(correction: it was 178 starters in the long course in the end - leaving the record at 180).
A further curiosity to send you off: this race has never been won twice by the same man. Six runnings and six separate winners. This same statistic holds for the women (for whom the record stands at a very impressive 27:48 by Aoife Coffey set in 2020 – one of only two women to run under 30 minutes for the course along with Sophie Daly).
Bursting to go
05 February, 2023 - Mikey FryHere we go boom to the burst of the lungs along that fire road which I remembered it was much shorter but was really long left and still on it Derek lead off all the fast runners so we will let them fly off barry Brian Peter around also good few good lads around hitting the hills eventually I started passing out the ones that maybe recked or didn’t like running up them pushing hard as I could my thinking was lash up to the top as fast as you can and fall down the down hill warren was standing on a rock to get he’s height back hitting the top it was time to push hard on down hill nice part of course feels good on your legs boom sorry name gone from head passes me at as we head up the slight up hill but he’s flying we eventually hit the downhill and it’s a beautiful part of the race it’s just go as fast you can started passing juniors who are flying fast as well hit fire road and Stephen has caught up with me and passes me just can’t get anymore speed on then fire roads boom over the finish line plenty of chats with the crew thanks again rob and helpers for a great start to Imra season….myself and Alan had great chats on why back to cars and also met old school mate Michael nice to see you dude..well done everyone….Gooday mikey