Irish Mountain
Running Association

Clonmel (pre-AGM race)


Miriam Maher

Miriam Maher

Putting Manners on me.

Headed to Clonmel to attend the IMRA AGM as part of the outgoing committee, hoping to be part of the incoming committee. Decided that I may as well run the pre-AGM race, following the World Masters route for the championships that Ireland will host in September 2022. 10k ish km…be grand...a few miles before I take on Run the Line next weekend. Did my long weekly run on Thursday evening, knocked out 10 slow miles. Headed to the pub for some after-work-the-weekend-is-here Friday drinks with my husband. All set for the trip to Tipp and few hill miles.

Late Friday evening took a closer look at the race details. Then and only then realised that the elevation over the route of about 650m was close to the elevation I’d covered for a run of twice that distance the previous weekend in the Dublin mountains. The penny started to slowly drop that this might not be the easiest of routes after all.

Anyway, too late to undo all my lack of race preparation, arrived at the race start, registered, and eyed up the very benign looking hills overlooking Clonmel town. Tom Blackburn gave his pre-race chat, telling us the worst of the climbs was the one out of the town up a steep road. After that, he gave the strong impression that you just meandered around up on the hills until you ended up at the cross at the finish line.

It’s not my first Munster IMRA race, and I should have known better…I should have remembered that the Munster runners have a tendency to understate what’s involved…I reckon it’s because they are just made of much tougher stuff than the softies in the East.

Having declared to anyone that would listen that I was out for a hike…was woefully unprepared and made sure, if possible, that I unsubtly mentioned the long miles on Thursday, I set the scene for my own expectations and meet them in a resoundingly accurate manner.

The first couple km, once you’d cleared the small stretch of road in the town, went up a ridiculously steep road, more vertical than steep. Even hiking it, I felt like I was nearly going backwards. Firmly at the back of the field with only the odd person still behind me, the trudge began. Once we’d finally cleared that road and out onto the trail there was a mercifully runnable section for a km or two. Then downhill along a rutted trail, leading onto a stretch of Fire road, recently churned up by Coillte works, a temporary situation, just a very mucky one for now.

First half of the route done. Couldn’t believe I was only halfway, but now was expecting a few undulating stretches before arriving at the cross. What we got was a devilishly clever and tough combination of steep uphills on a variety of terrains along with a series of trails leading away from the cross on more than one occasion. The cross was like a mirage. The first time I clapped eyes on it, I decided, despite logically knowing that I had more than a few kms to go, that it was just a hop skip and a jaunt across the way. But no, the markers and marshals kept pointing me away along other paths, taking the long way around and around and up and around with the cross going out of view and then reappearing before disappearing again.

I was banjaxed at this stage, trying and failing to catch up on Vivian O’Gorman. He, despite an earlier trip, resulting in a cut above his eye and a gashed knee, still managed to keep ahead of me all the way around after passing me on the first descent. The one guy left behind me steadily gained ground and passed me on one of the meandering drags around the back of whatever hill we were on leading to the ever elusive cross.

All the smiling & friendly marshals on the last few km must have been delighted to see me as I marked the end of their on-course duties. But to be fair, they patiently waited until they had encouraged me on before discreetly headed off to demark the course behind me.

Finally, the cross appeared, and I lumbered gratefully towards the finish markers and the supportive calls from the few remaining at the finish line. Blue skies, views all around, the obligatory photo in front of the cross before making our way down.

Tom and Patricia Blackburn, Robbie Williams and all the Munster crew were their famously hospitable selves. It was a very enjoyable trip. Looking forward already to the next one.

I had plenty of time on my long way around the race route to claim last place to decide how best to replicate the challenges of this route back home in the Dublin/Wicklow Mountains. And of course, I can think of a few different options. But…my suggestion to anyone planning to enter the World Masters next year is to get yourselves to Clonmel and do that route. You’d never guess it’s challenges until you’re on it, it’s a deceptively tough route. Just doing it, albeit ill prepared, was tough enough, racing it will be a whole different ballgame. I can’t wait.