Irish Mountain
Running Association



Gareth LittleMike Jordan

Gareth Little


I always had it in my head to do the Ballybraid race from when it appeared on the calendar for 2015.

A Leinster race I hadn't done? It's like Pokemon - I gotta catch 'em all :)

That said I probably thought I would have done at least some other league or championship races at this point of the year - it is May after all - and so I was a bit wary about this race. I checked back on the event page about 2 weeks ago to find that a new route had been proposed. Drumgoff to Mullacor to Kirikee to Carriglinneen and then back to the pub. Some minor route choices available between the checkpoints with the major choice being your line of descent off the last peak. Well I'd never summited Kirikee and Carriglinneen so suddenly this race was earmarked for my not so glorious return to hillracing!

I arrived early with Maike as she wasn't in a racing mood and had decided on an early start. 6 runners set off at 11am under grey skies. What the weather was going to do was on alot of peoples minds and I saw quite a few start the race in jackets. It looked like it would rain and there was definitely some wind out there.

The hour before the race was spent catching up with people I hadn't seen since last year and staring ominously up at Carraiglinneen attempting to pick out a good line to come down. There seemed to be a section of gorse about 100m wide on the side of the hill - probably best to avoid that. Some folks who had taken the time to recce suggested that you were better off staying a little bit away from the forest line coming downhill as it was particularly steep in places. I put that information in my backpocket for later.

I picked up the 2014 yearbook (5 stars! Unputdownable! A cracking good read!) and managed to have my race number nearly blow away twice (only once did it fly over the Glenmalure Lodge though).

About 20 minutes from the start I jogged back the road to find Paul Mahon's (Race Director for the day) tape and signs for the preferred descent route from the bottom corner of the forestry. I headed uphill to the end of the markings and then I headed up the hill a little more for a better view of the final descent. Happy that there would be plenty of climbing to be done in the race itself I turned and headed back to the start to find Paul giving a pre-race briefing. I hoped I didn't miss anything vital as a legged it to the car to grab my bumbag and made it back in time to hear something about not needing to cross the fence at the Kirikee trig pillar but the requirement to memorize the colours of the twine on the fence! We were given a 3 and a half minute warning, before being marched over to the crossroads for the start. There seemed to be a good turnout and a buzz of anticipation filled the air.

We set off up the road and on the Wicklow Way. I saw Cormac continue up the road and tried to mentally scan the map in my head for a shortcut. Did not compute. Before long the fireroad flattens out a bit and I found myself running with Barry. We had a bit of chat as far as the hairpin bend before the fireroad steepens more significantly at which point Barry went up a gear and I went down one. A gap opened and grew all the way to the top. I had probably started a little too fast given my lack of racing and was happy to just find a level of effort that suited me and stick to it as best i could. With hillrunners, most fireroad that is longer than about a kilometre, whether it goes uphill, downhill or flat, is normally described as 'never ending'. So I'll let you in a secret. When you are stuck in that fireroad hell just remember - it has to end eventually. Unless its some sort of looped course, it which case I can't help you because you're clearly nuts.

Rather than spend 3 more paragraphs describing in Tolkien-esque detail the beauty of the fireroad I'll fast-forward to the end >>>>>>>>>>>>> The hut came into sight and I knew the nightmare was over. I looked back to see 4 ladies chasing me. Not a dream but a very sudden return to reality. The race for the podium positions was well under way. I had seen a lady (Becky) a couple of hundred metres ahead of me on the fireroad so figured this was 2nd (Catherine), 3rd (Mags), 4th (Meave) and 5th (Roisin) in close proximity. Out of the forest, across the stream and up the open mountain. 3 of the ladies passed me and caught up to Jarlath before we'd even passed the top end of the forestry but a quick look back let me know I had a gap on Roisin. We hiked up the last steep incline to the top of Mullacor in an increasing breeze. As we got close to the top we could see runners coming back the last short section as they headed for Cullentragh. Around the cairn and across the boggy top and onto the walkers track. Finally some downhill!

I built up some momentum on this section and managed to gain about 3.5 places (I was traded places with Maeve depending on our lines). This descent is great fun. Muddy, boggy, stoney fun. Possibly already found a contender for the deepest boghole crown as I went in above my knee at one point (it looked the same as the ankle deep stuff I'd already been through). Having disengaged the brain for a few kilometres the sudden realisation came to me that I'd expended too much energy on the descent but I was enjoying myself too much so no major regrets. When hitting the first fence I didn't cross the stile but kept to the right until I reached the corner of a fence junction. Here I crossed to the left and after another 100m or so I crossed the fence again to get onto the fireroad (where there is a fallen down Mountain Access sign). I spotted Becky ahead but at this point the trail flattens and before longer she increased her gap and I got passed by Catherine who went on in pursuit of Becky. I had about a 20m gap on Maeve as we crossed the road at the Shay Elliott. Someone took some photos and there was a gathering of race supporters there so no time to slow down except to gingerly cross the stile beside the barrier. I went straight on here (though some found the track to the left worked well for them).

Up the fireroad and I lost sight of the runners in front of me. Passed a turn to the left and I ran about 10m past it before I stopped and realised I'd gone wrong. D'oh! I turned around and saw Maeve sportingly point up the track I'd just missed. Returned to the junction at the same time as her and we started climbing up it together. Within a minute we had the leaders pass us on their way back towards Carriaglineen. Brian followed by Adrian followed by Bernard. The climb up the tracks is at the sort of angle that allows you to run even when you don't feel like it so there was no choice but to keep on grinding up. About 50m before the main track junction a runner pops out from a small track to the right. He's an orienteer so I figure its worth taking a punt on it. Probably saved myself 20 seconds but I knew it was there for the return journey. The small track met the main track and continued up to the top. Touched the fence, stared longingly at the Kirikee trig pillar about 2 metres away on the other side of the fence, took note of the 2 colours and turned for the downhill. An out-and-back allows you to assess how much of a race you have on your hands - Maeve and Jarlath were close by with Mags within touching distance.

This descent was probably my one regret from the race. At the time I probably was tired and couldn't have run it much harder but looking back on it now, there was a good long descent to the col below Carraiglineen and I'm not sure I pushed myself hard enough on the downhill. Back to the junction that caused me some confusion earlier and straight through this time. As I reached the stile at the bottom, Maeve and Jarlath were right behind me. Ran as best I could to where the hill steepens and then fell into a hike. Maeve powered past me but I manage to hold a gap on Jarlath. A look back and I saw Mags had closed in on us. As you top out the ground flattens and I could run again to reach the small cairn on top. I followed Maeve on the track here for a few hundred metres before diving off downhill to the right. Maeve went a bit further left.

I feel I shouldn't neglect to mention the steepness and roughness of the direct-ish descent. Its a beaut! I manged to cross some heather to hit a green grassy stretch and ran down it. I felt I was a bit far from the forest so I zigged right. I reached the gorse patch and not wanting to cross it I zagged back left. At the end of the gorse I zigged over right again before I came to the top of a craggy section which I figured was a bit too steep to waste my time descending so another zag was required. Around this bit and I could now follow a track over to the marking at the bottom corner for the forest. About 150m from the fence and I spotted 2 runners coming down by the forest boundary. Becky and Catherine with nothing between them. Too big a lead to reel in at this stage but I did my best to speed up. Through the field and onto the road. A glance back and no one in sight. Final 200m to the finish. Maike cheers some encouragement at the bridge. She tells me to sprint. A politely advise her that's not an option. Finish in front of the pub. Garmin says 15.3k with 700m gain in 1hr39min. Maeve and Jarlath finish soon after. A good days racing in the hills - it's what you sign up for! Good to be back :)

Well done to Adrian who pipped Brian at the end with Bernard holding 3rd. Apparently Richard Nunan won 1st M40 though don't expect him to make a big deal out of that :D Joe Lalor took the prize for being Joe Lalor ;)

I was lucky enough to be in the middle of the ladies race for the day and it really was some quality racing. Becky held off Catherine by a few seconds by all accounts with Maeve taking 3rd. Roisin had a strong race to be 5th lady and 1st F50. Hilary took 1st F40 after helping out with the start. She then proceeded to drive home with the prizes :)

Thanks to Paul Mahon for directing and coming up with a new route. A great mix of terrain once you get past the fireroad bit to Mullacor with a fantastic classic downhill finish. Thanks to all the other volunteers and congratulations to the winners.