Irish Mountain
Running Association

Stone Cross to Lug Solo


Gordon PlaceThomas RocheAlan Ayling

Always a bridesmaid....

Having done the second two legs of the relay with Padraig, with Laurence Quinn on leg 1, the last time this race was run (which almost killed us), I have been looking forward to its return and giving the full thing a lash since. With holiday dates arranged to return in time, getting in at 4am on Friday morning carrying an extra half a stone of Spanish Icecream and a bit of sore throat. Friday evening spent on a YouTube map/compass revision course and writing out all the bearings, a much appreciated lift to the start, and I was all set to go on Saturday morning, apart from messing up the pre-reg which Rachel and gang kindly dealt with.
A quick look to see who is here and I see a few unfamiliar faces along with plenty of familiar ones, a few obvious looking solo runners and the more lightly loaded relayers. Chatting with Louis on reg, and Paul and Richard with talks of potential finish times, route and food choices. Not sure at all of a potential time as it took us 7.30 hours to do just the 2nd two legs last time, so just hoping to get around in one piece and maybe 8.30 would be a good result. Foodwise had a couple of soda brown bread and jam sambos, Tailwind drink, a banana and the magic chia seed balls Alan referred to in his last report, either on me or in the drop bags, but not sure how it would all go down. Sambos are a new addition.
Adrian is here but turns out he’s doing two legs of the relay with Paul Mahon on third, and they go on to win second place in the relay behind UCD. Alan looks to be travelling very light so I ask hopefully if he is relaying, but sadly no, he just hasn’t got his gear on yet and is doing the solo. Visions of some of the recent long race battles which have been very close follow, coming down to only slightly different route choice or late cramp attack or the like. A bit apprehensive as to how the day will go having being in absolute bits after the Circuit of Avonbeg and Glacier Lakes, and never going this distance in a proper mountain race before. No doubt it would be an interesting day between that, Alan’s presence, Graham and the other then unknown solo heads.
A few words from Rachel and we are off, trying to resist the urge to tear off with the relayers and keep the heart rate down by walking/jogging the steep bit before getting puffed out. Off the fire road and up the steep track, see Matthew on photo duty, and hit the first route split of the day. Most ahead went straight up through the forest, a few behind went far to the right and into the mist, while I went a little right and then left up the edge of the existing forest alongside the new planting. The new planting had grown a lot since I was last up here and I was quickly soaked through from brushing through water laden branches.
A hare I think, or a monster rabbit hops out and frightens the bejaysus out of me. The various choices seem to make little difference and we all hit the fence line around the same time. Visibility wasn’t great but its straight forward from here to Seahan and on to Corrig. People starting to spread out a little now on the way to Seefingan and then on to Kippure.
Some disappear into various stream beds and when we come out it looks like myself, Alan, Thomas and Graham are all spread out within a short space making our way up to Kippure. I think Alan gets to the trig point first, then Thomas, and myself and Graham hit at the same time. Someone is off to the right a bit and goes around the other side of the mast. We make our way to the barrier on the service road, Alan and Thomas are straight over going direct, while myself and Graham look at each other for a second trying to decide which way to go. I decide to stick to the plan and take the service road based on Paul Morrisey’s test results and Graham wishes me luck and jumps the barrier.
The service road seems to go on for ever as does the road to Sally Gap but Graham soon hops out of the ditch just behind me and it seems Paul’s advice has paid off. It’s no doubt longer to take the road but no slower and can’t use up more energy than the open mountain, I hope. I wonder then if Alan and the others are therefore still very close ahead or just behind.
Shortly reach Sally Gap and just grab the replacement bottle and keep going, Rachel tells me I am the second solo through, but there are 5 or 6 of us practically together. So who is in the lead, is there someone else flying ahead or is it Alan just gone through?
We head down the road a bit looking for the path to Carrigvoher, I go a bit too far and cut back while Graham seems to carry on down the road. Alan it seems went down a bit too far too and perhaps this is where we first trade places. I met Thomas coming back up the road from Kilbride saying ‘Don’t Ask’, but he was straight in and out and caught the path straight away. He is powering off ahead. I can see one or two behind but then the mist closes in and I see no one but Thomas until we part at Gravale or Duff Hill I think. He seems to head off to the right.
Navigation is going great and I am on reasonable tracks most of the time and get a great run to Barnacullian, the hard of hearing sheep scattering along the way. I’ve taken to clapping on approach after nearly getting bowled over in the last minute scatter a few times. No sign of anyone ahead or behind during a short break in the mist. It looked like it was really going to pick up weatherwise but that was shortlived. With a clear view ahead and no one in sight behind, I thought I must be going well and felt I’d a good run over the last few km. A deer flies across in front and I decide it is time for the first jam sambo, promptly inhaling nothing but crumbs. This does nothing for the sore throat but eventually stop coughing, spluttering and blowing brown bread out of my nose! But have to walk for a bit so take a few photos of lovely mist.
Approaching Stoney Top and don’t see a cairn, look around and realise I’ve gone a bit too far to the left, the cairn is behind me to the right so I have to cut back, only to see Alan pop up and hit it at the same time. All I can think of now when I see Alan is Meerkats as the over the past few weeks, his head keeps popping up either ahead or behind as I scan the heathery plain!
We run together for a bit before Alan starts to pull away up Tonelagee so I decide to just try and keep him in sight and catch up on the downhill, which is more or less what happens and we arrive at Wicklow Gap within a few seconds of each other, hunting down the drop bags.
I was feeling ok so decided to just grab a quick drink, banana and another refill bottle and keep going, to try and build a bit of gap between here and table track and hope for the best after that. Matthew flies past as I’m carefully jogging and nibbling the next jam sambo and disappears up the hill to the Hut. Alan is not too far behind, still jogging up the hill. I get to the hut and try to put the boot down a bit to run the track all the way to Firrib as far as the hags, hoping it’ll still be fairly dry.
I get there handy enough and it doesn’t seem too bad as I slowly jog across and then I’m suddenly up to my knees in slop, but it’s only a narrow strip and dragging myself out doesn’t bring the start of a cramp that often follows sudden unplanned movement at this stage. Tough enough going and a bit longer to the top of Conavalla than I expected but I’m soon there. As I turn at the cairn for table track, who pops up behind but Alan, no further away than he had been back at the Hut!!
We both head more or less straight across to table track, I feel like I’m making harder work of it though, leg disappearing down a hole means a fall and a warning shout, followed by another trying to avoid stepping on a jumpy lizard. So Alan quickly pulls alongside. We chat for a bit, neither knowing if there is anyone in front, and Alan begins to pull away reaching the junction just ahead of me.
I’m struggling a bit now and thinking of the long slog to Lug, wondering if I’ll be able to keep up enough to make a go of it on the home descent but Alan gets further away every time he comes into sight. My bottle is empty and I am regretting that quick stop in Wicklow Gap and not filling up the second one, very thirsty and it seems to be getting warmer. It gets really misty again up towards Lug and I'm really starting to feel it now. The Chia balls have long since lost their magic and taste as ‘good’ as they look, nothing is edible now without a drink. I haven’t come out the far side smiling as Alan has and know as soon as it levels out that I have nothing left to throw at the down hill, just concentrate on not falling on tired wobbly legs.
Thankfully Alan is a dot in the distance far beyond any notion of an attempt to catch up, so it’s dig in and hope there’s no one getting a second wind behind. The final descent from Camarahill is murder on the knees but it’s soon over and on to the never ending stoney road. Resisting the urge to walk and with constant looks back I’m eventually out on to the road to the most relaxed finish line you could find, not sure whether it is actually the finish or if the familiar cones are around the corner in the carpark. ‘Is this it?‘
A shout says yes, a handshake and Alan confirms he’s won, and there was no phantom out in front. Great to hear and a surprise bonus result. Adrian provides a much needed pint of water while route choices are discussed. Great running from Alan and another really enjoyable battle over. Wonder where is next??
Thomas is in shortly after for third and Jason fourth. Great atmosphere at the finish, sun is out, cool pints and cheesy chips can’t be beaten, along with the cheer accompanying each finisher. A brilliant day, big thanks to Rachel and all the other volunteers, and congrats to Alan, Jason and Graham on their wins, and to all the Relayers too. Thanks again to Richard and Paul for the lift home.
So that’s a second (and last) in the 2016 relay and second in this year’s solo… some day……

Stone Cross to Lug

Stones Cross to Lug Solo
As soon as I saw this event on the IMRA calendar it was earmarked as a must. I love the navigation and open route choice between points on these kinds of races so when entries opened, myself and John Murray signed up straight away. We started the recces in July but with holidays and other events cropping up we didn’t get as much done as would have liked but still felt confident of the route as I had a fair idea of all the areas or, so I thought.
We had arranged a lift to the start and collection from Fentons later with a friend, so, with the lifts sorted we met up that morning and made our way to the start line. As usual the mood was good at the start with plenty of route choice to chat about and in no time at all we were off up the forest track to our first summit, Seechon.
Section 1
I found myself with John at the front of the pack as we took a direct route up through the forest to the summit. Alan Ayling got there just ahead of me and the same on Corrig. I managed to pass him on the climb to Seefingan and reached the summit first. Next up was the peat hags on the way to Kippure. This was difficult as there was a lot of mist which made navigation tough and the hags were soft, so it was hard to run in. I opted to stay in the hags as much as possible to avoid climbing in and out every few minutes thinking this would save time and maybe energy too. I had a few route corrections as I found myself twisting and turning around all the hags. I hit the fence line leading up to the summit of Kippure sooner than expected with a few others doing the same. When I got onto the service road I seen my friend John Murray leaving the road and taking a direct route down to the military road. I followed at break neck speed and we descended together, I veered to the right and found a fence line which I followed blindly for a while. I stopped and checked my map and then my watch, I had gone off course so jumped the fence and crossed the river and start making my way to the road. I found an unused service trail and followed that thinking it had to lead to the road. It was easy running, so my pace increased until finally I hit the road and noticed a bridge. That’s not supposed to be there!! I had somehow come out 2k down from Sally Gap on the road to Manor Kilbride. I ran in anger back up to the Gap cursing myself as I went. How could I be so stupid!? To my surprise I reached checkpoint 1 in third position. Confidence restored!

Section 2
I took out the poles and hammered up Carrigvoher knowing that the ascent up to Gravale was gentle enough. Gravale to Duffyhill was hard to navigate as the cloud was still low and I couldn’t find a trail. I just stuck to my bearing and slogged it up to the summit. It was a real tough climb and took a lot out of me. I met Jason Dowling and Graham Bushe at the top and we ran together to the next two summits. The run down from Mullaghcleevaun towards Barnacullen was great fun but I was starting to feel it in my legs. The fast pace for section 1 was starting to have its effects and we had to cross a large area of hags which was just sapping the energy from my already tired legs. The hunger didn’t help either. I had left most of my food in checkpoint 1 in my haste to make up lost time. The cloud was still low, so it was hard to determine which was the correct trail. Graham had followed a relay runner off to the left and I was about to follow but noticed the Glenmacnass river in that direction and stayed on my bearing to Stony Top and onto Tonelagee. The descent to checkpoint 2 was painful and thought to myself it won’t be long now until the wheels come off.

Section 3
I got to checkpoint 2 and was told I was in 3rd position. I’m punching way above my weight in this race I thought to myself as I filled my water bottles and stuffed all my food into my pack as fast as I could and off I went with Graham right behind me. Out with the poles again and off up Turlough Hill stuffing my face with a sambo. Graham and I reached the Communications Hut at the same time and he took a direct route towards Cunavalla. It was too much up and down for me with no trail to follow so I stuck to my plan to go towards Lough Firrib and cut across to Cunavalla. I eventually reached the summit and began the painful descent down to the Avonbeg river where I filled my water bottles again. I had no idea what position I was in the race as I hadn’t seen anyone since Turlough hill. I came out on the trail up to the table track quite low where I met 2 mountain bikers half way up who I started to chat with. Just then I saw Graham and Jason lower down on the trail. Could I still be in third!! I got a new surge of energy and started to power up towards the junction looking over my shoulder every few minutes to see where Graham was, and he was not letting up either. Up and over Camenabologue and I steered left and went both legs knee deep in bog. I had to crawl out and double back to find the trail again. At this stage Graham was only a few metres behind now which only made me more determined to hang on to my position, so I really started to hammer up the mountain. By the time I reached Cannow he was out of sight. The cloud was thick at the top of Lug but luckily, I hit the summit bang on and began the long descent down to Fentons. I’m not familiar with this area so it took me a few minutes to find the trail but once found I kept up a good pace all the way down to the road while all the time looking over my shoulder expecting Graham or Jason to pass me out. The last few km’s on the road felt endless and painful until I finally arrived at Fentons in a time of 7hrs 48mins and was told I did indeed finish in 3rd place. I was delighted with my placing and enjoyed trading war stories over some well-deserved food and beer.

Thanks to Rachel and the crew for a great day out in the hills and for the big effort that was put into organising this race.


The Stone Cross to Lug Solo and Relay returned on September 1st after a year missing from the calendar. 20 solo runners this time, perhaps thanks to RD Rachel's determined publicising of the event. I nearly didn't do it... had notions of going to Kerry for Barry Murray's new Mt Brandon race, but a 500 mile round trip seemed hard to justify and a bit of autumn laziness was threatening to set in. Then a very enjoyable run around the Sugarloaf with some of the lads on Wednesday evening and I made my mind up – game on for the Stone Cross race.

5:40 am and the alarm wakes me. In the back of the van at the carpark of Fenton's pub. A quick fry-up of sausages, white pudding and eggs and some nice tea, on with the running gear and into the car – the lift kindly offered by Paul Kelly in his 9 seater, which was full of people called Paul. A quick stop in Blessington to pick up Richard Church and yet another Paul, one of the many Paul Morriseys we have in this sport... Then on to the nondescript bit of road near Stone Cross and Butter Mountain that marks the start of the race. Apparently years ago people used to go from the actual stone cross, some 2 or 3 km back down the road, but land access issues to get onto Seahan put paid to that. The current start is hardly the most charming spot, but at least it was dry. The mist was well down; we joked in the car that we might drive into the mist on the way to the start and not be out of it until the descent off Camarahill... thankfully it wasn't that bad in the end.

Rachel set us on our way at 8 on the button and Niall McCarthy of the UCD relay team set the pace at the front, the solo folk being more conservative. A bit of awkward ground with fallen trees makes for slow progress early on, then open heather completes the climb to the first summit, Seahan. A handy trot to the next one, Corrig, is followed by a much more laborious haul over the Barnacreel Pass and up to Seefingan. I walked this section about two weeks ago and it was horribly wet (what dry summer?!), thankfully improved quite a bit by race day.

Kippure is next and the route to it offers multiple opportunities to make a mess of the nav, so the compass work started in earnest. We understand Conor O'Farrell checked his compass here just to be sure, even though he knew the spot well and was happy enough with the direction. The compass was of the opinion that magnetic north was somewhere in the general direction of Glendalough. Almost 180 degrees out, but not exactly. Most odd.

A lot of slighly different lines taken, a lot of people passing each other out but no one really establishing a lead, several of us hit Kippure together. Then there's the route choice – down the service road or cross country to save distance and intercept the Sallygap road further along. 3 of us hopped the barrier within seconds of each other, John Murray and Tom Roche took off down the heather at a magnificent speed that I might have tried to match had this been a Wednesday night race. Within a minute or two they'd disappeared into the mist, I plodded on slowly with constant reference to my old trusty Silva number 4, which thankfully was telling a better version of the truth than Conor's yoke. Hit the road as intended and followed it down to Sallygap where Justin awaited with the rather surprising news that I was first solo. Faffed mightily with the contents of my bag and eventually left just before the crowd arrived.

Headed down the Manor Kilbride road for a short distance, trying to pick up a small path that used to be there last time I did this race. Didn't find it. But did pass Tom, on his way back up that road after veering too far right off Kippure. Not a happy bunny. I turned left up the slope of Carrigvore, not on my intended path but through crappy heather, might as well have gone straight from Sallygap. Probably only lost a minute or so, but now there was a crowd of us. Graham Bushe and I hit the summit exactly together, Jason Dowling a moment later. On over to Gravale, which was drier than expected, although the path wasn't as obvious as I remembered. Then Duff Hill, by which time I was alone again, not really sure who was where, in front or behind, with visibility being only maybe 100 m in the mist. From Duff Hill over East Top to Mullaghcleevaun is one of my favourite sections of the route – some lovely pleasant running, not too steep, nice footing, no one for company except the hardy mountain sheep. Again, the nav can go wrong, but the compass proved trustworthy and the bearings I took were good. Didn't see anyone all the way to Mullaghcleevaun or down onto the Barnacullian Ridge. That can be a rotten bit of ground when wet. This time it wasn't too bad and I reckoned running on the peat would save time over the grassy line to the left side of the ridge. It was going quite well until the descent towards the dreaded peat hag section between Barnacullian and Stoney Top, then I spotted a shadow away to my left and slightly ahead. As we appoached the peat hags I realised it was Gordon Place. Gordon and I have had some epic battles all season and he's come out top in most of them... but it's only halfway through the race and no time to be thinking about heroics. Gordon maintained a small lead through the peat hags and up the climb to Stoney Top, then had to cut back slightly to the cairn and we got there together. On over to Tonelegee, then down the descent that's so sweet in a short race, but you can't really give it the beans when there's another 21 km to go afterwards. The two of us arrived a Wicklow Gap together.

Again, I took a frightfully long time at the transition, allowing Gordon a bit of a lead. Wicklow Gap was busy with a cycle race in progress. Seemingly someone took exception to our presence and complained to the Gardaí, resulting in a Garda asking questions of our race officials... Seriously, there will be less than 30 of us crossing that road, spread out over a couple of hours, with a handful of vehicles all responsibly parked and the Gardaí start taking an interest in us? Haven't they any villains to catch?

Anyway, Gordon was away towards Turlough Hill and I followed at a distance. Matthew cruised past in the relay and left me envying his fresh legs. Mine still felt OK up the climb but leaving the communications hut I suddenly felt very tired. Opted for a direct route to Conavalla, which I haven't done before, but now the mist was lifting a bit I thought it was worth a try. Would give the legs a bit of welcome walking time and even allow me skip that hideous black bog of doom at the Hag's Sloughs. Some considerable time and self-questioning later, I dragged myself to the Conavalla summit plateau, but not before a familiar figure appeared heading across in front of me to the cairn. We'd taken radically different routes and arrived at the cairn with no appreciable change in the lead.

We both had the same thing in mind for getting to Table Track junction. I eventually reeled in Gordon's lead, though we were both making heavy work of it, tired legs and rough ground are a bad combination. Then we were side by side for a time, chatted a bit, neither of us had checked at Wicklow Gap if anyone was through ahead of us, so we actually had no idea if we were in first and second places, or we could have been third or fourth or anything. Opted for slightly different lines through peat hags, before I emerged on Table Track slightly ahead. Managed a bit of running interspersed with a bit of walking, continued that all the way to the summit of Camenabologue, aware now I couldn't hear Gordon behind anymore, but that might not mean much, he could be just out of earshot. And I hate looking back!

The last bit of decent ground other than climbing had been from Tonelegee to Wicklow Gap, so the descent off Camenabologue was a beautifully welcome chance to open out the stride a bit. What's more the body was feeling good again. On a race this long, you often have to go through a bad patch, sometimes you can come out the far side smiling, other times, that's it, you're knackered from there to the finish. This was my out the far side smiling moment. Really enjoyed that descent and the section of gentle ups and downs that follows. The drag up Cannow reduced me to a walk, back into thick enough mist, using the compass to be sure of the line to Lug summit. The last couple of km is a gentler gradient, again taken at a mix of walk-run-walk. A mixture of relief and self-satisfaction on good map and compass work when the summit cairn reared out of the mist. Other than walkers, I was alone.

As I hopped down off the summit cairn, a man sitting there greeted me by name. An awkward moment as I had no idea who he was. Told him I'd love to stay and chat, but in a bit of a hurry and all that, quick point at the race number to be sure he understood, then I was off. Had already set the bearing off the summit on the last bit of climb, so wasted no time. Really had to trust that bearing though, it's so flat up there you could have a football match if you wanted, but it makes it so easy to go the wrong way. A tentative descent through the rocks, then out of the mist to the joyous sight of the correct view ahead. I once emerged from the mist in a race on Nephin, to the disappointing view of a huge lake in front of me, where there shouldn't have been one. Well this time Camarahill was exactly where it was meant to be, the descent to it was pristine and the legs even wanted to do it. A properly lovely bit of running. The fire road finish is murder, but soon forgotten when you arrive at Fenton's to be told none of the other solo runners are back yet and within moments the good Mr Mahon has put a delicious, creamy pint of Guinness in front of you...

Gordon arrived in 6 minutes something later, having suffered a bit in the last few kilometers. Tom was third. The biggest cheer at the prizegiving definitely went to Jason though, for his first category win in M40 :-)

To round off a brilliant day, we went back and spent a most enjoyable evening at the IMC hut in Glendasan. Angela cooked up a massive dinner and delicious desert for us all. The craic was mighty, some say on the scale of the famous Connacht Champs weekends. Definitely hope this event is on again next year. As Rachel was heard to say forty or fifty times that evening whilst mildly Brahms*, “I love IMRA!”

*Brahms & Liszt; rhymes with... errrr... inebriated