Irish Mountain
Running Association



Barry Murray

Carrantuohill - Pain and suffering !

Throw me in a sauna and beat the shit out of me when I’m feeling my worst…. Is probably about the best description for this race. And I’m delighted as these are the best lessons. A great book that got me into ultra running by Dean Karnazes, has a quote in it that I always remember when the feeling it:

“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself, expanding and learning as you go one, you’re choosing a numb existence. You are missing an extraordinary trip.”

So I’ve been through this a lot… but up and down Carrantuohill was probably one of the most extraordinary trips ! In fact, less than a year ago, the last time I was near the McGillicuddy reeks were while racing the Kerry Way Ultra. That was 200km of a fair bit of suffering but I probably had an even deeper suffering during this Carrantuohill race. Right from the go, 100m in, I was actually struggling. We all have our excuses as to why we are feeling off , busy week, travelling, heat, poor sleep etc etc. One thing that definitely threw me off was driving down from Wicklow on the day of the race ! Myself and Dermot Murphy decided to share the journey down and both of us just decided to give it a lash. Hindsight of course is a great thing, and we both definitely won’t be doing this again !

Getting up early, sitting in a car for 4hrs, is probably not the ideal prep for racing up Ireland’s biggest mountain. A cracker of a day and a dead heat, barely even a breeze. With my recent half decent results I had this brilliant idea of maybe staying close to Bernard from the off. I think this lasted 5 yards…. He was on another mission and fair play to him. Like I said, my tanks were empty , the jets were off and the body was just not liking it. We made our way up the first steep zig zags and I was already thinking of calling it a day. This is where you need to accept the suffering and push yourself on. So I did.. But while doing so… we are no more than 200m up the fence line of the first mountain climb, Curraghmore, and already I’m being passed by several runners. With another 5km of climbing to go to the top I knew this was going to be a bit of pain. It’s a steep long passage up this first climb, perfect underfoot conditions though, but a dead heat and not much breeze. Managed to drag myself up and the next 2 climbs come into view. I was way behind at this stage with guys I’m normally close to like John Bell and Alan Ayling way ahead of me. Dermot flew by me on the ascent too and given he did all the driving down, I couldn’t even place the blame the drive at that stage !

Another steep but shorter mountain is Cahair, which has more rocks and shale underfoot. Another painful hike with the sun getting stronger. At this stage I was more than empty… I could barely trot on any of the even flatish sections. I hear a big shout of someone calling out my name as I was coming off Cahair summit and there is Mr Eoin Keith himself…. Up hiking Ireland’s biggest hill after winning a 190mile traverse just a few days ago. I’m completely out of the race so I stop and say hello, even pose for a photo ! So I’m still not at the big summit, and I see the first guys coming towards me. Des looked good, as did Rob… with Bernard a bit back but on his mission. I was just laughing to myself as I was so out of it. Half way up the last climb to Carrantuohill and Alan and John are descending fast… miles ahead of me. Eventually made it up to the summit and it was like a picnic in the local park. It was packed… had to side step around them to get to the cross.

I’m thinking at this stage… that maybe, just maybe…. I’ll get a second wind.. and hit the descent fast. Nope. Engine was completely shut down. I was literally just letting gravity take me down the mountain. Feeling even some muscle cramping which rarely happens me. Had stomach cramps too which again, rarely happens. Anyways, crossed the ridge after the decent off the summit and actually enjoyed it. Some find it a bit dangerous but I really like these sections… with sheer drops either side. Defo need the balance, equilibrium and correct movement patterns (plug for CE) to be able to be comfortable on these sections. The route kicks you in the face again as although you are technically descending on the way back… there is a sharp ascent after the ridge back up to Cahair. This nearly killed me… I think I was even holding up some hikers, in jeans, with big backpacks on !

Finally up and over that, then it was the long descent down Mullaghcore. Again thought I could get going, but nothing. Cramps were getting worse, heat was taking its toll and I was just out of it. Eventually got to the bottom and only the last few zig zags down the official Kerry Way route to do. At this stage, the first lady, Linda, had caught up with me. As I hoped over the stile, I just fell down on my hunkers, out of breath basically and energy. Linda ran by me but turned around to offer me a sweet and see if I was okay ! A sure sign things are not right… from doing 6hr runs with no food… it looked like I needed some sweets after 1.5hrs of this race !
Descended down the zig zags like a zombie at this stage. Couldn’t have been happier to see a finish line. Collapsed on the grass and poured a bottle of water over me. What a day.

So boxed ticked, I can actually call myself a mountain runner now that I finally have done this race. Lessons learnt and comfort zone pushed out. The big one is this:

The Law of Specificity

You might just be feeling off for a variety of reasons. But if there is a particular race you are just not functioning for, then it is more than like you have not done the specific training needed. For example, I can do well in ultras as I run long and have done it lots of times. I can race well up Djouce, Maulin, Scarr etc as I train there regularly. So my body has the adaptations for this terrain, this landscape and these distances. I have never run up something like Caurauntoohill in a race. It’s a totally different muscle, lung and even mind skillset. So my body is not specifically trained to operate as it could for this particular race. Now maybe there are others that did well and don’t train up and down Carrantuohill. But even if you have just completed the race 2-3 times, that in itself gives you some specificity. There is probably even some muscle memory. So I guess, all I’m saying is that if you want to do well in a certain race, apply the law of specificity !