Irish Mountain
Running Association

Dargle Four Peaks


Brian KitsonGraham K. BusheDavid Power


During the great drought of 1919, Winston Churchill amusingly responded to the Duke of Rutland’s call for people to ‘pray for rain’ by urging restraint. “On the last occasion when this extreme step was resorted to”, wrote Churchill, “the Duke of Rutland took the leading part with so much well-meaning enthusiasm that the resulting downpour was not only sufficient for all immediate needs, but was considerably in excess of what was actually required, with the consequence that the agricultural community had no sooner been delivered from the drought than they were clamouring for a special interposition to relieve them from the deluge”.

As I waited under a blazing sun to start the race on Sunday, turning redder and redder, I couldn’t help but wonder had my merry band of volunteers overdid it in their wishes for fine weather. Matter not. It would soon be time to enjoy the fruits of my debut Race Dictatorship. I had a plan to stay cool. As the starters sped off, I eased myself back into the roped-off wingback leather Director’s Chair that I ordered to be erected for my use and sipped on an ice-cold drink while insisting upon my deputy race director to fan me with the “IMRA Runners” arrow foam sign he was holding, content that I was not among them. Ah, the sense of power; almost as intoxicating as the bubbly I was drinking.

My reverie was rudely interrupted just 94minutes later when young Ruairi Long cruised across the line for the first man home. A scarcely believable time and one I’d have struggled to do in the IMRA golf cart Lillian arranged for my personal use during the event. Brian Furey flew in for second with a single shod David Power in for 3rd proving that soles, never mind spring loaded ones, are not needed in the mountains. Tip o’ the cap to your parsimony, sir. A man after my own heart. The first woman home was the remarkable Becky Quinn in a time of 2h05min; her second victory of the week after her win at Earl’s Drive on Wednesday night. Léan Ni Chiobháin was in second place which will, I’m sure, live long in her memory not just because it was her first podium finish in a Leinster Championship race but also because of the way in which I, yet again, completely mangled the pronunciation of her lovely name during the prize giving. Orla McEvoy completed the podium with a brilliant run in a competitive field. Congratulations to all the winners.

Although the early morning mist, which soon burnt off, had presumably grounded the helicopter that was arranged by the Committee for my personal use to follow progress of the race, the post-race Strava flybys made up for it by providing highly entertaining viewing. It was great to see that people had planned their own custom route in advance and committed to their strategy on the day. In many of the races we do the optimum lines tend to be reasonably well defined so providing people with an opportunity to use a little mountain craft and creativity was exactly the vision in mind when the idea was born. There were 52 runners, 52 routes and 52 very different tales to tell when it was all over. Someone on Maulin asked for directions to Djouce in the way a tourist might ask for the best way to get to the Guinness Storehouse. Heat sapped both body and mind. When a woman asked Tonduff Summit Marhsall, John Bell, where the lady in red shorts she was supposed to be following had gone he had to tell her there was no lady in red shorts. There were rued lines and rolled ankles but few embraced the spirit of adventure more than Gavan O’Doherty. He eschewed any section of even vaguely runnable terrain in favour of a godforsaken figure of eight route through densest vegetation possible. His line eliminated almost all elevation gain but more people have tread on the moon than the places Gavan went. His route shall be henceforth known as the “Star Trek” boldly go where no man has gone before.

Thanks to each of you who came to run on the day. I was especially humbled and honoured that Alice Clancy planned her entire nine-year IMRA running career to ensure her 100th race fell on the occasion of my debut Race Dictatorship. Thank you, Alice, and yes, I’d be happy to sign your 100th race T-shirt when a more organised RD finally presents it to you.

Also a word of thanks to all those who helped develop the Four Peaks idea into a race. People don’t quite realise just how many nights of after-work pints in town are involved in pulling off a race like this. In Warren Swords I found a highly willing and enthusiastic participant in these "working sessions". Over the years during such sessions we have dreamt many world-class adventures and events only for them to evaporate in a hazy ether that would drift off into the forgetful Dublin night sky. I’m delighted for his help turning this one idea into a reality. We needed a win if only to justify the hefty Celtic Tiger-like expenses bill I will soon need to submit to the Committee. I couldn’t have asked for a better Deputy Race Director. What he may have lacked in actually doing anything practical he more than made up for in hype. Check out his “insta videos” of the race; I’m told that at one point the Dargle Four Peaks was trending in Laragh.

I wrestled for months with the decision whether to run the race route in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction. Each way offered pros and cons. Then it occurred to me that it might be best to just let each runner decide the direction and sequence that suited them. This led to a new conundrum. Identifying a start/finish location that would open up potential options. The dream was to recreate the sense of what the Art O’Neill Challenge used to be like pre-GPS. Searing self-doubt followed by unshakable self-conviction until finally the inevitable sense of crushing self-recrimination. So, a special mention to Liam Vines who suggested starting and finishing at Boleyhorrigan. This was the perfect start point to unlock the race. A wonderfully scrappy gateway leading to the breathtaking open mountain vista. It also, crucially, removed an out and back along the Wicklow Way from play.

Indeed, I sought counsel from many experienced IMRA adventurers and race directors about a variety of issues including the suitability of the custom-route choice concept and the mini-marathon distance that lay between the Pier Gates parking and start/finish. Each provided much needed solid advice and encouragement. Thanks to all whose ear I bent including Paul Mahon, Lillian Deegan, Conor Farrell, Angela Flynn, Alan Ayling, Caoimhin MacMaolain, Rob Costello and John Bell.

One morning, just ten days before the race I received a message from Clare Keeley offering to be First Aid Officer. Ever the optimist, my first reaction was to think, ‘CHRIST, I HAVE NO OTHER VOLUNTEERS’. Getting an A-lister like Clare onboard changed everything. It gave others the confidence that this might not actually be a sinking ship. Soon after, myself and Warren were surrounded by a quality crew including Rob Costello, John Bell, Mick Hanney, Angela Flynn and Gavan O’Doherty. To a person they bought into the idea, brought good ideas and worked hard to create a great experience on the day. I’m so grateful for your help.

After the race, some of you, while lying back on the soft grass enjoying a draft of cool suds in the warm afternoon sun as it continued its languid journey beyond Lough Tay and out to the west, said to me how you wished this race might become a regular fixture in the Championship calendar. Just remember the poor old Duke of Rutland. In the Wicklow mountains just a couple of weekends earlier it had been freezing cold, pouring rain and with zero visibility. This was the kind of weather I had been hoping for on Sunday. As Churchill might have counseled; be careful what you wish for.

To the Hills we Go.

A race like no other...

From the time I first read about the Dargle 4 Peaks I was interested. I had imagined starting at one of the Djouce woods carparks, following the trails up to Djouce summit then continuing a loop around to the finish. Then I noticed an update to the description which would change the nature of this race completely and utterly wipe any notions of a follow the route loop from my head!
“Oh my God, the pressure! Get the map quickly!”
The weeks passed, and with one thing or another, the recce wasn’t getting a look-in. Finally, with just 8 days to go, I had to take the plunge.
Saturday morning, I drove up to the starting point. Sugarloaf, bright with a little cloud. Djouce, mist, cold westerly wind. With map, compass, and dogs I set off up the trail. Soaked in minutes from the overhanging branches that even I couldn’t dodge under. The plan was simple. Djouce, War Hill, Tonduff, Maulin and around! My 17.3km seemed a long way off the 14 in the description!
Sunday morning, I returned. Weather was even better at Sugarloaf but worse on Djouce, Ah well. Same map, compass, dogs. This time with my cunning plan. Djouce, War Hill, Maulin, Tonduff and back over the rough!
The review showed that my super route was only shorter by 600m and longer by 16 minutes! Well, so much for that. And I must admit there felt like there was a fair bit of canine assistance as Ben and Max chased the deer scent on the return below Warr Hill and Djouce, pulling me with them.
Afterwards, I tried to make comparisons between the splits etc until I was dizzy.
In the final run up to race day, I watched from afar most mornings. Each time, everything was covered in mist except Maulin occasionally.
Race morning arrives at last, and as I bring the dogs for a short run, I can’t even see little Sugarloaf! Wow, for the first time I was actually looking forward to having the mist around.
I collected Duncan in Kilmac and we headed for Luggala. Upon arrival the usual chats and greetings followed. Though not much divulged in the “Route” department. I went for a short warm-up and trotted out the trail from the barrier. I immediately noticed all the branches had been cleared back, and was stricken with indecision as to whether I should change my race plan. “No!”
Our fantastic RD Brian gave us the pre-race info as we gathered in front of the barrier. Actually as they gathered in front of the barrier. I was behind! Then I noticed I was not alone… John Murray was also behind. Fabio turned and spotted us, but at this stage it was “3, 2, 1, …”
One difficulty with going a different direction to everyone else is that I might push off a bit too hard. Soon I was feeling the early climb, thankfully I got to where I could contour around. As I emerged onto the slopes to Djouce I could see a spread of runners ahead, each forging their own path to the summit. Some taking the direct steep route and others taking the wider sweep around. A number of runners were already past the summit by the time I got there, and I was questioning my route. Well, there’s only one thing for it now… Hurry up! All good to War Hill I could see 6 or so runners well ahead. There were a few more around me. Then in a flash they were gone. That’s the thing in a race like this. People can go anywhere and it is impossible to keep tabs on everyone. I shouted a quick hello to John at Tonduff and in my haste to get away, fell! At lease the ground was soft.
Dogs can run fast, and stop faster! I had one such incident on my Saturday recce. Heading towards Maulin with Max and Ben pulling along ahead and me in pursuit, we got to a boggy patch Just as I prepared to jump, Max stopped dead in his tracks. I couldn’t match this braking power and therefore continued. When my left foot reached the peat, it immediately sank to my hip and I was stuck! Poor Max then had no option but to follow and Ben after him. They then had to let me use them to haul myself from my sticky predicament.
Race Sunday, and I was in hot pursuit of Michael Dowling. As I soared through the air I wondered where that boggy spot was. Yes, I landed in it again! This time with no dogs to rescue me. I then had to commit my right leg to the trap in a bid to reach a small tuft of heather on the bank. Obviously, and thankfully it worked, or I might still be there. Soon after that I met Liam Vines coming in the opposite direction and I was trying to calculate the distance we both had left. Oh the pressure! Over Maulin and there was only one plan left now “Run like Hell!” There just seemed to be no catching Michael as we followed the path all the way down to the Wicklow Way. He went slightly right on the grassy bit where I had planned to go so I took the stones instead, just a tad too fast, and Suddenly I was flaying for a foot touch wherever I could find one. A few hikers may have caught an expletive or two as I tried not to cartwheel down to the river. I dropped a couple of gears and tried to just power hike most of the way back up I think I managed 2 place gains here, but there was one other who was always well ahead and opening the gap as we followed the Goat’s Pass. A quick hello to James Cahill and I found out I was chasing Becky. Finally, I got to the drop at the foot of Djouce and though Becky was well ahead, I could see that she was drifting a bit to the right. I made the most of it and managed to get to the trail just ahead. I passed Alice Clancy on the final run in and was delighted to see the bunting as I rounded the final bend.
What an amazing race. Having the refreshments at the finish line was fantastic. Not only because that was exactly when they were needed, but it also meant we stayed to dissect each other’s routes. It brought back old exam-day memories of “How did you answer the question on….?” And maybe I did just "follow the loop"... :)

The question now is… Will you change your route for next time?
If you haven’t tried this, you really should!

A huge thank you to Brian, Warren, Clare, Angela, Mick, John, Rob, Gavan and everyone else who helped out - in the prep/build-up, on race day, and afterwards.
Congratulations to Ruairí and Becky, and all the great IMRA runners who braved the heat and unknown lands of Tonduff!

If these shoes could talk...

They've soldiered with me over many years, but today was a step too far. I started with 2 soles and ended with one. Today's MRA race was an epic tour of the inaugural Dargle Four Peaks. Free route choice to hit the peaks meant everyone was busy doing recces and plotting routes off maps, unsure exactly what the underfoot conditions would be.
We got a treat in scorching heat. A steep climb up Djouce, then over to War Hill, down to the source of the Dargle, then 4 of us arrived at Tonduff from 3 different directions, showing the freedom to choose made it spicy and a bookies nightmare.
Then the wheels came off, well the soles. I ran through a squelchy boggy bit. My shoe and foot came back, minus my sole. Damn. I thought about DNF and hobbling home, but then realised the soft ground was ideal for running on a light inner sole. I got over the rocky Maulin descent, then realised I was motoring and could get a podium.
Battling with Mark, who was on new ground, so he stuck to me on the final descent and I burst ahead, after a few slips and falls. Delighted with 3rd behind Ruairí and Brian.
A great "spread" after, drinks and food to recuperate and chat over how we all got from A to B. More of this please.