Irish Mountain
Running Association

Sorrell Hill


Alan Ayling


With the James Joyce of Irish mountain running (aka Mikey Fry) not around this week, someone had to write the race report, so here goes. From a perspective not so far up the lofty heights of the field as Mikey enjoys, but the best I can manage...

IMRA legend Paul Nolan – in a quite moment during a quiet night as first aider – remarked that Sorrel Hill is one of those few things that have remained constant over many years of IMRA history. It basically is exactly the same route it was 20 odd years ago. A bit drier than usual maybe. It's certainly a classic route – a simple out and back but with plenty to occupy the mind and the legs. Some pure flat out running, but technical in places. And what an evening for it – sunny but not too hot, 20 degrees or so. Beautiful views out over the lake. Not too many midges.

As usual, plenty of fast lads about, but a few absentee regulars too. No Mikey as mentioned. No John Bell (was the Connacht Champs too much?; did the race clash with yoga again?). The pace seemed almost handy from the off, but after the first right hand bend on the fire road it picked up. By the turn up into the narrow ride up to Lugnagun it was fierce, the legs and lungs feeling it and the mind thinking feck it this is going to be a long and painful evening. Shay cruises past me looking strong. Thankfully the top of Lugnagun is attained and some downhill follows, albeit delayed by a fence crossing I messed up... glad that blue carpet had been put over the barbed wire or I'd probably have lost bits of myself.

A beautiful steady downhill for several hundred metres follows but the legs have no major speed. Try to tuck in behind Becky, not let any others past. Gradually start feeling a bit better until we start the climb up Sorrel in earnest. Even before it gets steep things are hurting. Two runners get by me (Shane and Fabio I think) and I have no answer. Up ahead Becky is making light work of the steep climb, getting ahead of Liam Mooney and Paul Cleary. Any attempt at running is abandoned and replaced by some sort of flimsy approximation of a power walk. A weird thought comes to mind – this is handy compared to Mweelrea and Nephin at the weekend. Finally start developing a rhythm, pass the two lads back and start closing a bit on Liam. Brian Furey comes tearing down the hill like a crazed beast, close enough behind is a very controlled Barry Minnock (for a technical descent, he's making it look easy!). A gap, Neilus, a bigger gap, Damien, less of a gap, Bernard... the faces become a blur but Rory's in there, along with Luke running the full route for the first time. A year ago I could beat him, those days are long gone it seems. Torben's yellow singlet, Rob Costello's green and white. All on their way back!

The slope abates and a good flat run to the summit cairn; there's Mike Jordan offering water and encouragement. At least I'm within short enough distance of a few in front to have a bit of racing on the steep descent, which is kinda my thing. Eventually get close to Liam but he takes a lot of passing. Then Becky becomes a realistic target, there are climbing runners everywhere and we're all trying to avoid collisions, it's mayhem but great fun, full-on fun. Finally I see the trademark black lycra ahead and realise I'm catching Paul Cleary, but I'm running out of mountain. Keep pushing hard onto the flatter ground, take an aggressive line over a few humps in the trail and I get by, but quickly find myself thinking what are you doing, you could have had a handy run back now you have to work to try and defend these places you've made up?!

Push on across the flat – a couple of gentle ups and downs, but the legs feel surprisingly good and no one has passed me back. Gradually reel in Rob Costello and get by him just before the climb back to Lugnagun. This is not normal, I haven't beaten Rob in years, but he does have the memory of almost 120 km in Lavaredo still in his legs... sort of puts my Connacht Champs efforts in perspective (at least I know I have the diet nailed – Buckfast makes you go fast, something like that anyway).
The climb up Lugnagun on the way back can make or break you. It's not difficult. Fully runnable, not too steep but goes on a long time; cruel late in a race. Not Ballinastoe 2nd climb cruel, that's an absolute bastard, but this one's tough nonetheless. Fully expecting to blow right up and be passed ignominously by most or all the lads I've got on the descent, it comes as a pleasant surprise that the legs, the breathing and everything else are going quite well and continue to do so. The lads behind continue not catching me and I'm actually gaining on Gordon Place. A much better effort at the fence than on the way out, I manage to drag myself past Gordon just before the stile where Paul Morrisey (fresh from Mt Blanc Marathon adventures) stands sentinel holding the barbed wire down for us. “Revenge” I hear Gordon say to me – a reference to his beating me in the recent Galty Crossing and I suppose it looked like tonight would be my turn. Knowing there's a 700 metre fire road finish coming, which is hardly my strong point, I try to utter the words “I'm not sure about that”, but it turns out coherent speech is not possible at this time and a series of animal noises comes out instead.

Over the fence and into the narrow ride, which in fairness is a pretty bloody awesome bit of running. There are some early starters to negotiate, Gordon is right on my back wheel or whatever the running equivalent of that is... trying to be nice and considerate and thinking stuff like early starters are real people too, but in the end there's nothing for it but pig ignorance and aggressive line-taking. Apologies to anyone we almost trampled, it wasn't personal. Onto the fire road, that few hundred metres of pain left – it goes well initially, but then it starts pointing downhill and Gordon finds that extra gear and powers on to lead me home, he's 12th, I get lucky 13. Note to self to write to the committee about banning fire road finishes and having a mandatory rock garden, bog, steep narrow bit or whatever to finish with every week, anything but a damned fire road. But that 13th feels like the best result of the year.

Brian Furey and Becky Quinn took the M and F wins respectively.

A superb evening – top class course, organisation, weather and racing. Thanks to Martin Bagnall and team for making it possible. So much fun. Back to Zellers (is there a better IMRA post-race pub?) for chat and craic with old friends afterwards. Sandwiches provided and chocolate spot prizes shared out. A big, wet, black pint of Guinness (Zellers don't serve Bucky). Wednesday evenings don't get much better.