Irish Mountain
Running Association



Martin Cooney


Slievenamuck- A Different Approach
By Martin Cooney (24/07/2022)

I travelled to the Slievenamuck with Frank Coughlan for the race- we have become a real “Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid” this year with all the travelling we have done together. Other might call us more “Laurel and Hardy”. The carpark is at the top of the hill outside of Tipp town with views of the Glen of Aherlow and the Galty mountains to the south of us. As we got out of the car, the sun began to shine. I had never ran this route before so was interested in this race as there are sections of it on the Aherlow Half Marathon.

I was already in my running gear and so after registering, Frank and I went out for a trot to see what the terrain was like. It was typical fire-road, a little bit rocky but dry- the sort of terrain that wouldn’t really suit me. We trotted out nearly a kilometer and spotted an arrow to the right. Frank took this turn and I trotted straight on to see if we were going to be coming back on the alternative track. I found some red and white tape hopefully this was going to be the route back. I went back to the junction and met Frank. “You’re going to love that, I already hate it” he said as he indicated the section that he just came back up. I decided to check the section myself and sure enough, it was like myself- “rough and ready”. It was a steep single track, rough underfoot with foliage and twisted cambered ground all the way down. This was definitely going to slow some people down but the terrain should suit me. I made my way back up to the fire-road and trotted back to the carpark.

There was a good crowd gathered by the time I got back. Marie O’Shea (RD) called us out to the front of the carpark to give us the race briefing. Firstly; there was a big shout out given to Tricha Blackburn as she was partaking in her 100th IMRA race officially (since records began in 2000). Tricha is a legend of MMRA or IMRA Munster and has probably volunteered for more races than she has ran. She is also one of the main driving forces behind the 21st World Masters to take place in Clonmel on the first weekend in September 2022… Anyway, Marie then gave us an overview of the course. From what she had described, I knew that once we went out the first kilometer and turned right down that rough section, it was going to be a gradual uphill from about 2km to 6km and then a flattish run in to the finish.

I am not the strongest uphill runner so made a decision there and then that if I wanted to do well in the race, I probably needed a clear run through the rough section near the start. This meant I would need to be up near the front going into it. 3, 2, 1, Go and off we went. Tom O’Connor (AKA- Tats from my Curragh Woods adventure) took off at a phenomenal pace. I went out faster than normal and as we entered the fire-road, I was in about fifth position. Nick Hogan then went by me as if I was stopped and was then up beside Tats. I was going okay and nudged past Robert Cunningham into third position. This was way out of my norm to be this far up the pecking order 500m into a race. I was even ahead of Tom Blackburn! Already I was doubting myself and was sure this tactic was going to go horribly wrong. Thankfully, I made the right turn down into the rough single track still in third position so could concentrate on my footing all the way down. It was fairly rough and what was in front of me was a blur. It went in and out of a wooded section for 20m and as I came out, I was right behind Tom (Tats). It doglegged left and he stayed wide so that I could pass him. I thanked him but assured him that he would pass me again.

Off I went, now in second place as I passed through a fire-road junction and back into a wide flattish path. Only one thing was going to happen from here, I was going to be overtaken. By how many, I wasn’t sure but I was definitely going to be passed by faster runners… As sure as bears sh*te in the woods (and I’m fairly sure they do), it happened and happened fast. Tom O’C passed me followed by Tom Blackburn. The latter gave me words of encouragement, something like “keep it going Martin” but we both knew that I had taken a chance going out so hard. While it was currently paying off due to my position, I would know a lot better another 3km up the track. I kept them both in my sights and after a minute or two, I started catching Tom O’Connor. As I passed him, he said something like “I don’t know what I was thinking, I went out too fast”. As I progressed along the track, I was passed by another runner in a white singlet.

There was a gradual, steady upward track and I dare not look back. Next thing I hear footsteps and in a moment, Frank C. was not only up beside but passed me by with no real effort it seemed. I tried my best to keep up with him but he was just inching away with every stride. At this stage, I am gasping for air and have to remove my running singlet. I am now in fifth position so reasonably happy that only three runners have passed me. We are then directed left and the track becomes undulating. I hear a beep on my watch so another kilometer completed (4km). We are now on a small downhill and I catch Frank and the white singlet runner. A gradual uphill starts again. Frank and I inch past “white singlet” but I am not sure if I can keep this pace going. I am hanging onto Frank but his legs are just ticking over. We get to the next junction and Sam Hand (marshal) directs us left again. “Please let there be a downhill- nope”! Yet another uphill and I am struggling now. I am about 10m behind Frank but cannot reel him in. Eventually, we passed a group of people who are cheering us on and we finally get a downhill. Now when I say a downhill, it was a flat downhill- it turns out to be 25m in height over 1.7km that basically means that it is flat.

I am holding onto fourth position. I know I shouldn’t look back but I do anyway. Kealey Tideswell is coming up fast. I throw my legs out as far as they can, I’d say my running form is gone out the window at this stage. I probably looked like one of those little kids who thinks he is a fighter plane, arms flailing everywhere and I am wheezing like an asthmatic rhino! I slowly inch closer to Frank but not enough to be able to make a good go at passing him. As we get into the final kilometer, I am torn between trying to make a sprint for it or keeping myself alive by keeping my oxygen intake going. I am a chicken-sh*t. I decide that staying alive and taking in oxygen was more important getting ahead of Frank (it would’ve be fun to see the big red beetroot head on me had I tried to run the kilometer without breathing). Every metre that passes now I know I should keep fourth positon. I can hear no footsteps behind me and I pass the finish line, I gasp the sweet taste that is in the air knowing that I have not died of oxygen deprivation.

Afterwards, great chats were had in various groups. I congratulated Tricha on her achievement, even though she had done about 50-60 races before the records began in 2000… On the way home, Frank was laughing at me. “What is so funny?” I asked him. “Man; I had no clue how far you were behind me but all I could hear was this heavy panting so I wasn’t stopping for anything!”… Maybe he thought there was an asthmatic rhino behind him!

Congratulations to Nick Hogan and Kealey Tideswell on their respective wins. A big thank you to Marie (RD) and all the volunteers who marshalled the course, check in, parking, etc.