Irish Mountain
Running Association



Greg ByrneGraham AhearneMikey Fry

That was over quick... it felt like forever

Strange to wait until August to have my first race of 2020… but then not the strangest thing to happen of late.

As usual I underestimated the 2k warm up… took forever, certainly long enough to convince me it had more climb than the race. Thank goodness for the chats and glorious weather. As it was my last start line was the Dublin Intermediate XC in December. Scalp was probably going to be a similar high tempo affair from the gun and while it was 2012 when I last ran Scalp, memories of the pain fade slowly. I was sure there would be no taking it easy for the first few kilometres. In fact there was a high potential that race positions could be decided by the first right turn.

In the starting zone we all lined up like a big pack of eight year olds looking to hold up the stage coach (apologies to the juniors, but maybe they now realise growing up is optional).
Graham called the rabble to order and Derek singled out the special mentions. The race description was quick and clear, but as usual I was daydreaming by the time Graham reached the third turn.

The countdown was abrupt and as we turned to face the exit of our cross roads I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d chosen the right direction. He said to the tower, right? No, tower on the left? Or was it straight at the Tower? Where is the bleedin’ Tower, I can only see gorse??

From the gun it was polite, if socially distant. We’d get properly anti-social from the first crest. Poor Becky stood silently as everyone took the sight of her as the cue to start whipping off superfluous clothing… By the time we could see the Tower Karol had his gap, but Robin was not going to let him go too easily. I knew Warren would be confident from his recent win and the cluster of singlets from the start line meant plenty of runners intending to run fast. Conspiracy theories are in vogue at the moment and my mind was full of them, all involving people running up a hill quicker than me. This was going to be relentless… mentally and physically.

Scalp is a fascinating race for the tactician, but one that requires strength to match the timing of surges, both yours and the competitions. Knowing what to do, when to do it and having the reserves to do it, in a race so short you might only get one chance.

By the time we sighted the first peak I’d swapped positions with Robin 4 times. Each pass being nullified by a counter move. To my later downfall I was already thinking Robin was stronger on the climbs. After following the fence line (and pig!) we turned for the summit and entered a maze of thistles and rocks. The blinding sun made the race markings a distraction rather than a guide. Looking up caused blindness rather than insight. That said… it was up to the summit and I was totally focused on the soles of Robin’s shoes.

Cresting the top we had no sight of Karol, but then we also turned left until the marshal realised his left was our right and put us back track. Descending the steep path I was catching Robin, and had thoughts of cutting loose on the fast fireroad below. My plans were barely conceived when he was gone… the chase was on. Hitting the fireroad a runner joined from the right, and the conspiratorial mindset returned… did we go wrong? Where did he come from? Racer? Robin passed him and he countered… I was totally distracted now. We came to the kicker and the marshal pointed right. Robin turned and our new friend went straight. Ah, a lone runner enjoying the trails… but the distraction had taken my mind off the task at hand.

Nothing much changed between the summits of Carrickgollogan and Barnaslingan. Robin led and Warren stayed close enough to warrant a barring order. Off the summit of Barnaslingan the gap closed as the rocky path reduced our speeds. In hindsight this was my chance, but the brain was still engaged and not allowing for the required reckless line choice. The final climb to the summit was another tactical dual, closing, but not having enough to pass Robin’s response.

Before the race I had the foresight to run the last 150 m, so I knew the trail narrowed before the final sprint. A surge and pass before the narrowing could be held in the sprint to the line. I knew the spot to attack… once the tree with the pink stripe was in view. Passing here could not be countered. Approaching the top of the steep switch back I caught Robin, but here was the weakness in my plan. Robin. It seems I’d forgotten to tell him about the plan, and instead of waiting for me to pass he attacked again… Did he not know we were waiting for the tree with the pink stripe???

Great race… a great part to the variety that IMRA provides. Thanks to Graham and the volunteers. Can’t say how much we appreciate the donation of your time to indulge our escapism.

Congrats to Karol on a nice solo win and everyone else who enjoyed another great IMRA evening.

To the next hill I dare say…

Frantic and fun!

Road running is my usual focus (am in Raheny Shamrocks AC and run most days) but I've always loved going off road anytime I get the opportunity. I checked the IMRA site, noticed this Scalp race coming up and couldn't resist stepping into the unknown and giving it a crack! I read up a bit on the IMRA page about the race logistics and route but it was all still quite abstract in my mind... I was mostly planning to get there, make sure I had the necessary prerequisites and figure it out from there!

The parking and check-in experience was very smooth and I then started up the road toward the start line. Walked for a bit then got into a light jog... hill was pretty steep, but I felt good and it seemed a good reality check and initial taster for my legs before whatever awaited me in the race.

As the crowd gathered at the starting area, it was clear there was a great community here, with lots of chit chat, catchups and banter. I took 10 mins or so to do some dynamic stretches and a little more warmup and then headed back to the start area a few mins before 7:30.

The organiser's pre-race guidance was short n sweet and then in less time than I was expecting, we were lined up, primed and off!

From the gun, I started at a comfortably fast pace up the first long hill, sticking with a group not too far from the front. What would the next half an hour bring for me? I had little idea to be honest.. How varied and tough would the terrain be? Would my road running shoes get me through? How should I pace myself? ...for now all I knew is I was planning to follow those in front of me (seemed a group about 1 pack back from the front) and figure it out as I went.

After the long uphill, there was a gravel path downhill section of a similar gradient along the side of the carrickgollogan woods,.. This was my first taste of a downhill where your momentum is carrying you forward faster and faster... it’s just a q of how much you let that happen and go with it, or try to apply some from of braking. I was feeling up for it, so let momentum be the driver, which got me up to a fairly frantic pace, with the occasional hurdle of a ditch or other random obstacle.

I saw the runners ahead of me take a turn into the woods and I took confidence in the fact that my plan of following those ahead seemed to be working. I had at least a sec or two to react to their turn, which was v manageable. We following snaking trails through and then along the perimeter of the woods which narrowed to the extent that it seemed we were going to be single file at least for a bit. Given this, I just focused on staying close to the runner in front of me. We started to gradually ascend the hill and the snaking trail terrain got my difficult, with jumps over tree branches, boulders and other random obstacles. The pace started to naturally slow down from this point for those in front of me and I was thankful to follow suit. As we got closer to the summit, the person in front was walking and I was doing the same. I had to occasionally use my hands to grapple my way up. By the time we got to the top, it was clear the view across Dublin and Wicklow was amazing from up here but I had no time to take it in, my HR was way up and I was half operating off instinct at this stage.

A quick few breaths and then time to start the downhill which for me, was pretty steep and far trickier than the gravel path downhill earlier. This was my first real experience of having to move my feet frantically, trying to judge the landing position of each step with almost no time to plan it in advance. Was trying to decide if it was better to let instinct drive from here or if I should try to calculate and plan ahead of each step… I found in practice, doing the former turned out to be how it needed to be.

So, on we went… the gradient of the descent eased and I backed off the pace a little to catch my breath, take stock and self-evaluate. My HR was still way up and I was clearly working v hard, but otherwise, I felt in the game – no niggles or injuries, at least yet.

The route now brought us back out near the start and continued on over to the other woods. Small side note - All main junctions and turns were attended by marshals which was great - They generally kept me moving in the right direction without having to think too much.

At this point in the race, I was flagging a bit and just kept pushing forward at what I reckoned was a decent pace. I couldn’t hear anyone directly behind me and was happy to do what I needed to do to hold this position. When I was a bit into the woods, under the cover of the tree tops above, I lost sight of the runner in front of me so as trail forks appeared, I started having to make very quick judgement calls on the direction to take based on the dangling stripy tape markers, hoping they were in fact for this race. In general, this seemed to be working and getting me along the route but I did take one wrong turn by following a red single stripe indicator. Thankfully, within a few secs, other runners passed by and hollered down to me, so I got back on track, losing about 2 places in the process… could have been worse!

We zipped up and down some further woods based trails and reached a fast longer downhill section. At this stage I had lost a grasp of how much of the race was actually left so I gave it about 80-90% effort, to leave enough for another k or so in the tank -- so down the slope I went, at a very fast pace for me, but not all out.

Then, just as quickly as it had started, I suddenly realised I’d passed over a finishing matt and past a person with a clipboard, emerging into a small clearing .. and it was all over!

I took a few mins to compose myself and chatted with some of the other finishers, then headed back to the car park.

Overall, a frantic and fun experience! Very happy I did it and seemed like a great community. Hope to do more of these in the future. I learned a few good lessons from this one that I hope to bring with me to the next.

Thanks again to all the organisers!

(UPDATE: Finished 12th, so v happy with that result!)

Russian squares

Well it is happening again another race fast and faster not much mountain to it but it’s a race in the legs that should do something I Bushe out messing again and he’s bunch of helpers unfortunately I didn’t see the baker helper must have stayed at home and eaten all the cakes:)...had a great chat with James on our amazing super fast run not up to the race start all ready for another fun time waiting at the start wondering where the lads where robin and warren appear (message to self don’t try keep up with them)boom and were off up towards the chimney man it was like a bunch of mad people out for the laughs past Becky I’m sure was 1k from the start:))and then down down rightish dave passes me a second time I think he didn’t like me passing him back try’s to kick me ends up hurting his toe holding my shoulder I ask him was he ok he says yes go on(hope your ok dude)...we pass the pigs one big lad is out trying to escape but sees us and makes his way back under the fence very quickly on we go and at the right turn about 6 lads decide to go straight Tim calls them back only on the second call they come back giving me back a lot of places I lost heading up to the very low summit pass over the top then lash down technical fun part passing a few out then right back to the lovely trail bit where I passed Brian taking photos who I hadn’t seen in a while nearing Peter(where was my cup of tea dude)on the next turn and a slight up hill stinker eventually back left and on to the second loop across the road left and we go left again on some nice trails twisting around back up to original descent where I live and bomb down Tim in my sights back to trails and up towards the finish I felt great here but didn’t remember how long the up hill was faded slightly only one or two past me I think and I said no more shall pass through the finish line I can breath again well down to winner red shirt robin in second old man Greg in third and warren fourth....lots of chats thanks to Graham and gang well done...
Some more great chats with robin on run back and then Tim and greg ...just about to get in car and James Clancy talks about chipping bad man it’s just not right..get call from the good lady on the way home that I need fiver for tooth fairy stop in Ashford get money and here it comes the beautiful “Russian squares”mmmmmmm this why I run)))
Good day mikey