Stone Cross to Lug Relay
03 October, 2011When Zoran initially coaxed me into coming along to an IMRA event and take part in the 2010 Hellfire Spring race in the Leinster League I never imagined that it would eventually lead to me joining him for an amazing adventure in the Dublin and Wicklow hills on October 1st 2011. A few weeks ago we were on a relaxing Saturday morning run and he casually mentioned that he was thinking of doing Stone Cross to Lug in one go and was looking for a partner in crime. Not having any clue what lay ahead, I said that I would be happy to join him as I had decided that the Dublin Marathon was not on my agenda this year. He said that it would be tough but I reckoned that it would be handy enough. Famous last words.........
Early last week I sent him an email to say that the long range forecast was for bad rain on Saturday. We both decided that we would pull out if it was raining - no point in putting ourselves through too much hardship! As Friday progressed I started to believe that we were going to beat the forecasters but it started to come down at about 5. I called Zoran and we agreed that it would probably clear up over night. We then had a chat about timing. Z reckoned it would take 8 hours. I laughed at his pessimistic forecast and said that 7 was more realistic. Sure, we did the WWT in less than 2 hours last Spring. If we added an hour and doubled it we were at 6 hours for 50k. Could this route be that much harder?? In any case, I wanted to catch the Leinster game in the RDS at 6 so finishing at 3pm would give me enough time to get home and change and get down there in time for kick off.......
Saturday morning arrived and I didn't need an alarm - the rain woke me up. I would have pulled out but didn't want to let Zoran down. What I didn't know at the time was that Z had texted me at 6.30am to question whether we should go ahead - thank god I didn't get that until later on Saturday evening! Went over to his house with my wife, Dee, and we found our way to the start. Part of me expected the race to be called off but there was a hardy bunch there all eager to go so we were going to have to do it after all.
After that I don't remember a lot of details but a few things stand out. Crossing the Liffey on the way down from Kippure. The first (of many) falls. The first time I plunged into bog up to my knees. The wonderfully light feeling you get when you run through a stream and the kilo of bog that you have on your shoes and around your ankles gets washed away. Having a Zen moment with a sheep. The monotony of crossing the neverending bog. The gradual realisation that I was getting tired (of pulling my legs out of bog and of Cliff bars in equal measures). Marvelling at Zoran's navigational skills (you would find your way home from absolutely anywhere with him by your side). The worrying moments after falling flat on my back on the way down from Camara before I realised that I hadn't injured myself badly. And, finally, the amazingly comfortable feeling that returned to my legs when we ran the last km back to the pub - the first time in hours that I didn't have to watch where I was placing my legs!
Thanks to Zoran for dragging me around the route and for bringing me into the elite group who have a 'W' on their CV (never thought that would happen). Thanks to the organisers for giving up their Saturday and standing around in the rain making sure we were all ok.
By the way, I didn't make the Leinster game, but that's no harm as my ticket was for the standing section!
03 October, 2011Sat 1st Oct - Stone Cross to Lug Relay
I have wanted to do this event for the last couple of years. Two years ago I did not manage to get a team together in time and last year it just happened to be after my work leaving party so had to give it a miss. This year was a close call too. Initially having the date of 20th August, same as Gaelforce West, meant I would have to miss it again! But then when I saw that it was rescheduled for 1st October I was delighted. Early October suited as the baby was not due until the 15th ïŠ!
After Rogaine, and the Wicklow Round attempt, I wanted to do the whole three legs of the relay. I looked at the last yearâ€™s results and estimated that it should take between 8 and 8.5h. I ran this by Philip and he had no problems with me doing the whole race. Now all I needed was to find a partner, as I did not want to do it on my own. Experience of the round attempt, with Gareth and Kevin, in the bad weather showed that it is much better to have company. Plus, Sinead would not have let me go out on my own ;). So with few weeks to go, one weekend, while training for WAR Powerscourt, I asked Brian C. He, having no other big events coming up, agreed, saying it would be a nice event to finish this year. I asked him if he was sure he knew what he was signing up for, as he had not done any off-trail/nav IMRA races. But he said not to worry, and that he was already looking forward to it. I also wanted to do this event because I wanted to become more familiar with some of the round parts that it takes in (Kippure to Mullaghcleevaun and Camenabalogue to Lug). I have also never been on some of the route like Barnacullian ridge.
With three days to go the weather was fabulous. We finally got some summer weather, temp reaching scorching 26 deg! I, always an optimist, thought the weekend would be great too. But it was not to be! I woke up a few times, during Friday night, due to heavy showers. Having breakfast at 6.20, was doubting whether this was still a good idea, but I was always thinking of an excuse why I should still do it. Met.ie was showing the heaviest of rain moving north, very slowly. Brian and Dee picked me up at 7:10 and we drove to the start. The rain eased off and we could see some of the mountains, showing that the clouds were lifting slightly. We were met with handful of other teams at the start. I was surprised that Paul T. and Robbie W. were not there. I was hoping we could â€œraceâ€ them as they were also planning to run the whole route. My main goal was to finish the event. Brian was hoping that it would only take 7h so he could be back for the Leinster match ïŠ. But I knew that, if achieved, would be an amazing time.
After the kit check and short chat with the other participants, Philip took some pictures and at 8:00 we were off. We jogged off with Gareth towards the summit of Seehan. Upon reaching the summit, the three of us we went off on a slightly wrong path but corrected quickly and reached Corrig in a short while. From the top of Corrig we could see Seefingan in the distance, but the weather was not improving, the top of it was covered in cloud. Before reaching the top we saw two guys ahead of us! We caught up and passed them coming off Seefingan. The mast on Kippure was showing above the cloud, so for once this year, it was easy to follow the route towards the top. After touching the trig point (9:15) we parted with Gareth, who went flying down the service road. We knew that he wanted to get some distance between us and, as he was handing over to Kevin, we let him be. He was prob. getting tired of all the chatting, remarking how it felt more like a training run than a race! I decided to take the more direct route, to save on the distance and we left the service road and headed towards the Military road. Not wanting to descend too much we skirted around to the left. We passed one stream, then reached the Liffey, it was quite swollen. I went in, just below the waist and crossed slowly. Making sure I did not slip in. Brian followed. Approaching the Military road we saw Gareth just passing ahead. I was happy we did not lose much time taking the off-road route. The rain got heavier as we approached the gap, Kevin was just heading up Carrigvore. I noted were he turned off the road (at the two big boulders), to make sure we also follow the same route up. It was time to put the jackets on ïŠ, but we were already soaked though. It was quite warm. After checking in with Philip and Brendan we refilled our bottles and headed off (9:57). We were running about 30 mins later than I estimated. We were feeling good and I thought we might make up time later on, especially if the weather picked up.
We reached Carrigvore summit with no problems, then changed the bearing to the saddle. When we reached it, I changed the bearing towards the top of Gravale. Having only been on this section once before with Kevin and Gareth in the dark and the mist, I could not rely on my knowledge and just followed the compass. From top of Gravale I saw Alan A. following us. We did not see anyone else ahead. So far, so good. I changed the bearing again and headed down towards the saddle, we went a bit too far right, and while starting to climb towards Duff hill I could see Alan on the ridge to our left. Ah well, I thought, we are still going ok, a small mistake, hope we donâ€™t make any more.
From the top of Duff hill headed towards Mullacleevaun Eastâ€¦, we followed a bearing which seemed to align with a path we were on. Having spent 5 minutes looking for the cairn during the round attempt, I was surprised to find it straight ahead of us. Then having double checked the next bearing, which seem to point in the right direction (towards the top), we headed off. We reached Mullacleevaun at 11:30. We had not lost any time and were still about 30 min behind the schedule. I was happy to have navigated this far with only two slight errors (off Seehan and Gravale).
From the top we headed south for about 1k (5mins), and then I stopped to check the next bearing which seemed to point towards some mountains I could see in the distance. Again I looked at the map and the only mountains in that directions were Stoney top and Tonelagee, so we must have been on the right track. I was told that Barnacullian ridge is terrible, boggy etc. and to try and go right of it. Also Philip said that we did not have to visit top of it but to visit Stoney top instead. While I was checking the map, Brian rescued a sheep that got stuck in a stream!! And we headed offâ€¦ before we knew it we were on the ridge and slogging it though the bogâ€¦ at this stage I knew it was too late to try and get out and go around it, so we jogged and walked straight through this â€œwonderlandâ€ as Catherine calls it ïŠ. Not much fun at all! It is quite tiring mentally as with each foot lift you keep thinking of how much energy the bog is sapping away. We reached the top of Barnacullian, and carried towards Stoney top. We reached what appeared to be a top and I remarked â€œthis top is not very stoney at allâ€¦â€ we carried on. Ahead we saw climb towards Tonelageeâ€¦ reaching the summit it looked strangely not like Tonelagee. Because it was not! It was stoney! ïŠ Ah well, we just thought we were a bit further along than we actually were. Tonelagee was a short climb away, and from the summit it was a great and enjoyable, not too fast, descent.
Reaching the car park (12:49), I saw Ger jumping aroundâ€¦ warming up? â€œGer, what are you doing here? You, still here? Where is Kevin?â€ Then we found out that Kevin has not finished his leg. Philip: â€œYou guys are the first leg two runners.â€ â€œWe are winning? Where is Alan?â€ â€œWhat happened to them?â€
Ger then headed off, we refueled and followed suit, 5 mins behind. Philip and the crew whished us good luck, and remarked how we might win it? I was excited about the prospect of winning but thought that would be very unlikely, as Ger is a very good runner, on fresh legs, and not knowing how much time Kevin lost to us, we prob. would not be able to hold on to our lead. We were still feeling ok. A bit slow to start off, the distance and the weather were taking their toll. Once we warmed up again, we settled into a nice jog up Turlough hill. We met Pol coming back down? From the top of Turlough hill, we headed towards Loch Firrib, then towards Conavalla, skirting around and then towards Table mouintain. At one stage I stopped, looked around and could see Artâ€™s Cross exactly to the north. This made it easier to re-adjust the bearing and head towards the table track. I knew we were heading in the right direction. Crossing the table track, we headed south to Camenabalogue and then followed the path all the way towards the summit of Lug. It came sooner than I expected (during the round attempt it seemed to take forever). Met two hikers having lunch, they told us that they saw two other runners pass. I thought that must have been Ger and someone else who left the Wicklow gap before us. That was expected, we were happy to carry on, we were feeling good, but knew there was no point pushing too much. I assumed Ger would have had a good lead on us. It was 15:27. I kept thinking â€œCan we beat 8h?â€
Descent off Lug was a pleasureâ€¦ nice long stridesâ€¦ through the mud, puddles and precarious rocks. From the LC and IC races, I remember Camara Hill to be quite tough on the way back, however this time it was fine. I was surprised that the climb was so short. Met a large group of hikers at the style/gate. Looked below and saw a runner. Who was that? It did not look like Ger. Then saw Kevin walking towards us on the road. Hmmm. He said â€œDid you see Ger?â€ â€œIs he not back yet?â€ Without stopping we ran on and caught up with Fergal with 300m to go. There is it, the monument, 16:05. 8:05h wow, we were delighted! We were finished, done, buzzing with delight. I thought we might have won. But who was the second runner that came off Lug?
Stuart was inside. I gave him the time. And he said: â€œYou won!?â€ â€œâ€¦well, there are no prizesâ€¦â€ It did not matter. Amazingly, we managed to win. Catherine, â€œgiving outâ€ that we were all smiles after all thatâ€¦. But that canâ€™t be helped.
My split estimates were 1:30, 3:00 and 3:20 (7:50h). Our splits were 1:52, 2:57 and 3:16 (8:05 â€“ about 53k with ~2300m ascent). It was a great adventure. Will have to go back to some of the peaks when the weather is good, so I can enjoy the views!
It would be sad to see this event taken off the calendar. But it does need to be attended better. Maybe it should be a part of the LOD league (if you run the whole route)? Maybe it should be run in May or April. I know it is supposed to be a sequel to the Nav. Challenge series, to make the navigation easier?! Maybe the Dublin marathon is too close to it. Whatever the reason, it is much less logistically challenging than WWR and it should be attended in much larger numbers, I sincerely hope it is on again.
02 October, 2011Philip asked me to write up an account of Stage 3 of the Lug Relay race. What a day! It rained without stop, unbelievably heavy at times; visibility varied from 10 to a few hundred metres. But it was not cold.
I set off at 12.19 from the Wicklow Gap before our stage 2 runner, Brendan Lawlor came in, in order not to delay those marshalling the finish. Everything went perfectly to the top of Camenabalogue â€“ up the road to Turlough Hill, across to the quarry, then on a bearing of 266 for a while, then 233 straight to the cairn(s) on Conavalla. The underfoot conditions were appalling, extremely wet with streams flowing all over the place; and it kept raining all the time. From there my plan was to minimize my descent down to the very pronounced stream between Conavalla nd Table Mountain; and from there I planned to hit Table track a few hundred metres east of the track junction. That all worked perfectly; I think I really optimized my route between Conavalla and Table track.
At the top of Camenabalogue I had been running (well, ok, running/walking!) for 1 hour 45 minutes. Oops I thought, that is hardly on target for my estimated 3 hours but there is a lot of downhill to come, so maybe it will be ok. Thatâ€™s when my troubles began!
Coming down Camenabalogue, I lost the track by drifting a little west to find the best footing. Very wet underfoot, but nice running. Visibility improved so I could see the foot of the mountain and across to the beginning of the ascent beyond. But still could not see the shape of mountains around me.
Then I made the mistake of glancing at my altimeter â€“ I was down to 550 metres with at least another hundred metres to drop, but the low point at the foot of Camenabalogue is 600 metres? What the hell had I done? It wasnâ€™t possible to see the shape of the mountains around, so I concluded I must have drifted west possibly down into the Glen of Imaal so I started contouring across to the east. I must have run a km before I saw cliffs in front of me and realized exactly where I was â€“ I had been on the correct course before I â€˜correctedâ€™ my route. I really cannot understand the altimeter reading, because it gave perfect results on every peak â€“ maybe I just misread it. Anyway easy correction - head back in a south-westerly direction, gaining height until I hit the distinct track and follow it up to Lug. But in the meantime probably best part of 15 to 20 minutes lost.
Good decision! However I never hit the track (must have gone right over it without seeing it) but it didnâ€™t matter. I knew I had the drop down into the Glen to stop me going too far west, so I just kept climbing until I recognized the very distinct contour progression of Cannow Mountain. Then I met Fergal who had been following the track, 10 metres to my left! Up to the top of Lug in ever decreasing visibility, down to 5 metres on the top of Lug.
So now for the easy part! Just to trot down Lug on the path I have been on a dozen times in every kind of conditions known to man. Childâ€™s play! That was the rock I perished on. My brain stopped working. Stupidly I had not brought my platypus, just had a 500 ml bottle in my little rucksack which I hadnâ€™t used so I reckon I must have been dehydrated â€“ thatâ€™s my excuse for what followed! Stupidity as an excuse? Well what else can I say?
I made a complete and utter horlicks of getting down from Lug, never saw a path and ended up a long way north of the bottom of Camara Hill. I have figured out the details of how it happened but thatâ€™s too boring to bother you with. Anyway, I drank my 500ml, the brain began to work again and I just used the old contingency plan â€“ go west young man. I just kept heading west until I hit the farm track that leads to Camara Hill. Lost a huge amount of time â€“ 30 minutes, 60 minutes? I donâ€™t know.
So for me, it was a very educational, if a little frustrating day. I was going so well to Camenabalogue! Such is life in the hills. Itâ€™s a salutary lesson for me.
When I reached the farmtrack, I was bothered that I was holding up the show so phoned Gareth Little to ask him to tell the marshalls I was ok and nearly home. To my astonishment, he told me there were only 2 in ahead of me, so I guess some other people must have had problems as well. Mind you I did have an early start. Can't wait to see the results, except that my own result should be redacted to avoid embarrassment!
02 October, 2011What an adventure.......
It all started this morning, at 5.30 am when I didnâ€™t wait to my alarm..... Oops, this meant I did not have time to leave my car up at Sallygap before getting to the start of the race. This also meant I had to find the start of the race myself too. There were road works, on the normal approach, so a detour was in order!
I got to the forest entrance for 7.30 am, (the required time), I had recced the route from here on Wednesday, and I knew where I was going!!!! 10 minutes later, Diarmuid arrives to inform me and another that we were in the wrong place. The start was at the other forest entrance, 500m away. Oh no... Now Iâ€™d actually have to navigate and find my way to the top of Seehan, and not rely on memory! Philip was there checking the kit and there was an excited vibe about. A group photo was taken and it was time to start.... (8.00 am came very quickly, no waiting around I tell you). We all took off. I was still fixing my map in its case and putting my car keys away and the others, where gone, vanished down the track.... That was it, I was on my own. Right, check the map, I easily found the track, off the main fire road and I started my ascent. After a few minutes the track kind of fizzled out, uh oh... just hoped I was going the right way, I took a bearing to the top of Seahan and made my way in and out of the trees in the forest. I quickly reached the open mountain, and started cutting up through the heather. Then bingo after a few minutes.... the summit, I was delighted, my compass had pointed me to the trig point. Next it was onwards towards Corrig. I had recorded all my bearing the previous evening, so I just line up the compass. I was now in a sea of mist. There were two lovely tracks in front of me. One much bigger than the other, I wanted to take the bigger one, but the compass said no!!! A little voice kept saying to me â€œtrust the compass, trust the compassâ€ and so I did! I run down the track, which was quite runnable and reached the saddle, then continued onwards, a slight incline and up onto Corrig. Again, I got this great feeling of achievement and excitement, when I reached the summit. Imagine being so happy to see a piece of stone. I saw another runner leaving the summit as I was approaching and I could also hear voices coming up behind me. It was nice to have some human contact, in the mist of the mist.
My next bearing was to bring me up to Seefingan. Off I set. At this stage Nigel, Denis and Finbar were just ahead, so I trailed along behind them for a while, this did not last for long though as the visibility was low. It took a bit longer to reach Seefingan. It was a little boggy under foot too. The climb to the top was not too traumatic, and the mist actually lifted, bliss I could see Kippure in the distance.
Right, my next bearing was to Kippure, I set my compass and stared my decent. As I continued the ground got less and less runable. Tufts of grass, bog, more bog, more bog. Lots of peat hags. Iâ€™d run for a bit and then end up have to jump down of a peat hag, onto soft bog, tried to avoid the really soft bits, next Iâ€™d have to be hauling myself up out of the bog and onto the grass. Then back down onto the boggy bits again. At one stage, I took a leap and ended up in really boggy bog up to my thighs. I was sinking in, with my two feet. It took some effort to get out! I had to wiggle on leg at a time, and cling to heather nearby and pull and pull until I eventually got a leg out, and then as I tried to get the second leg out the first one went sinking back into another piece of bog. Yes, 5 minutes later... I was free. This was the longest section between the peaks. I could see the mast getting closer and close and every so often it would disappear in the mist.
I summited Kippure and yes, a little piece of road. Then I was left with the decision, do I stick to the road the whole way down, -this would add about 2 -3 km to my journey, but it would be faster, or I could go cross country! Well, it is a mountain race after all, and my compass work had proved trustworthy so far, so I decided to take the cross country route. Now the ground was covered in heather, hard to run on, but I did my best! Uum, now which do I prefer, bog or heather? I looked ahead, every so often Iâ€™d spot a car on the road, but it seemed a good distance away! I did question if the service road would have been a better choice, the rough terrain seemed to go on and on! I crossed little streams, not a problem...... Then, oh no, a river! By this stage it was lashing rain, the river was in full flow! It looked pretty wide to me! I was on my own, uh oh, what if I fell in, and what if the current swept me away! I put a leg in, and it was up to my thigh, the current was fairly strong, so I didnâ€™t want to risk wading across. I ran/walked up stream a bit and found a place with a big rock and an island, yes, I could step onto the rock and then the grass and finally to the other side. I was so careful stepping onto the rock; I really did not want to slip! I made up! Heart racing somewhat, but I did make it! Now, up the bank and continued across the ground. It was slightly more runnable at this stage (and slightly boggier too)... but hey, the cars were getting closer! Then, low and behold, I reached the road.... yes, Iâ€™d managed to navigate, and get myself though the mountains, I was ecstatic. I took a right and started jogging along the road, to the changeover point (Sallygap). I was feeling very happy indeed. So proud of myself! As I reached the end, Stuart was there to greet me and take my time. Declan Cunningham, Gavin Doherty and Brendan Doherty, were also there to welcome me in! I really was thrilled with myself. Brendan very kindly dropped me back to my car at the start, and I then able to change into clean dry clothes. I then headed off to the Wicklow gap, to meet my team mates and welcome the others in. What a brilliant day! Thank you so much to Philip for organising the event and to Stuart, Brendan and Peter for helping out.
02 October, 2011Philip asked me to write a report on leg 2 so here goes...
My team are a bunch of three seasoned kayakers, so it was not unusual to find us in wicklow on a very wet day with every river in flood. What was unusual was for us to be wearing runners and moving uphill rather than down!
For me in particular - it was an apprehensive wait for Pete to arrive, as the weather was about to serve me the most challenging nav that I have ever done solo. Philip promised not to turn his phone off. Cheers mate.
Up over the first little hill and visibility was already reduced. So much for the notion that I could follow Brendan, who was just ahead of me, round the course. Made it to the top with no problems. Beginner's luck. Then made it to the second ... getting cocky. So I decided to second guess the map and compass - because obviously I knew better - and handed myself a longer and steeper climb up Duff hill than necessary....Lesson learned.
From there on I just knuckled down to it and concentrated on getting around. I was most worried about the navigation off Mullaghcleevan and the fabulous bog wonderland that is Barnacullian.
The ground was difficult to run on and it sapped the energy from the legs fairly quickly. There was super graceful clambering over peat hags - but sure, who was watching!! I didnt see one sinner from start to finish of the race. To be fair, I didnt see much at all from the start to the finish. The mist reduced visibility to around ten metres at times, and there was not even a shadow of the hills around to give an impression of where you were.
So how was this fun? It was a proper adventure. Nobody to hold my hand and tell me where to go.. so all the sweeter to arrive at cairn after cairn. Yeah it was wet and mucky, but it was warm - so I was happy out, biting the heads off my jelly babies and trying to pick the best route to run (walk).
Off Mullaghcleevan I must have stopped to check I was right about twenty times. I couldnt see anything. It did cross my mind that I could be completely wrong without knowing it - how easy it is to second guess oneself when you have been out on your own for three hours in mist. But then when I landed bang onto the path up to stoney top - well I could have sang. But I had already scared off enough sheep. Then the mist raised enough for me to see the path at the base of Tonelagee. Home territory. Philip - you can turn your phone off now.
Thank you to my team for running with me, and importantly to Pete for recce'ing my leg with me the week previously rather than his. And a massive thank you to Philip and the lads for a great day and a great race. I will be running (walking) this one for sure next year if it goes ahead - which it surely deserves to do. Hope it does!