Irish Mountain
Running Association

Knockmealdown Mountain Ultra


Ian Rainey

Knockmealdowns Ultra 66k 2900m

Looking through the IMRA events calendar for something a bit different, I came across the new Knockmealdowns Ultra Trail. My usual playground being the Mourne Mountains (also hosting a first Ultra ' Granite Peaks' that day) I had decided to travel 200miles further from my home town of Newry. I remembered passing through the Vee gap coming from Lismore just under a year ago, saying to myself I'll be coming back here someday to run these mountains; and here I was getting prepared outside the beautiful Melleray Abbey.

It was Friday evening when I met Robbie Williams (race director) and got offered some accommodation at the Pilgrims Hostel in the Abbeys grounds. It was welcome news not to have to pitch the tent for the two nights sleeping on the ground either side of a 66K mountain ultra. After talking to Seamus the monk and discovering my simple ensuite room overlooking the cloister yard. I settled happily for the night as it would be an early start in the morning for registration @ 5:30am. Kit checked, number issued and Primal tracking GPS fitted I was ready to go. After a quick breakfast just before race start at 7am, another monk was in the middle of blessing the 55 runners with holy water before assembling our positions at the start line.

The race started and we all headed up thru the farmyard and into Knockboy forest tracing the the trail route for the 'Source' (hand dug irrigation channel for Abbey)out onto the open mountain side. Our first climb was up Knocknafallia 667m, then onto Knocknagnauv 655m. The trail turned west here alongside a dry stone wall, looking at my watch and being a puritan about reaching summits. I hopped the wall and ran over to summit cairn to be rewarded with beautiful views North towards a neighbouring range and Coumfea in Tipperary. Deciding to hit the next summit cairn of Knockanare. I backtracked to the wall and headed another 100m off trail, leaving fellow runners bewildered as to what I was doing as they stuck by wall. Some may have thought my Gpx was corrupted or my compass faulty or that I was a bit mad (probably the latter). But I lost no time or rank when I caught up by taking a direct line down open mountain for the climb Knockmealdown 792m. This ascent was the perfect photo opportunity, a classic line of mountain athletes power hiking the steep and stoney ascent. The summit of Knockmoylan 767m led onto Sugar Loaf Hill 663m and the going was good. The ground was firm and I was happy with choice of shoe. The descent was steep and a bit precarious, the Vee Gap aid station was in sight but I had to keep my eyes on the bee line path thru the Heather and soft peat. Leaving the gap charged with electrolytes, it was a steep and slippy ascent. Back on top and knocking more summits off Knocknalougha 629m, Knockshanahuillion 653m, Knocknacluga with the sun out and sweating heavily it was a welcome sight to come across a van offering coke from a side door as a pitstop for Crow Hill 517m and Farbreaga. Tidy little beehive summit cairns on a neat trail that was a pleasure to run along. Spoken to soon! Trail turned into a deep cut ditch with boggy grass and rocks. Time to get out of this mud and cut a visible line thru the sheep heading for the corner of the forest as per watch. Taking care on this section as not to sprain an ankle, this was the most challenging part of course to navigate; as it involved picking up a trail on the others idea of a river crossing and a short cut onto the hard pack forest trails that would endure for the long stretch back to the hills again at the Liam Lynch Monument. Personally these forest sections I find the most difficult, but on the positive side it was nice to get a break from the midday sun and strike up conversation with fellow runners.

At 30 miles it was time to make the most of the last proper aid stop at the Liam Lynch Monument. Replenishing supplies of Haribo, crisps, peanuts and coke before hitting the hills for the final stretch of the race. Being grateful of the topography diversifying again and giving the knees a break. The trail was excellent across Crohan west 521m and Knockmeal 560m, looking back at this point it felt like I had endured a real mountain marathon. On the approach to the road close to Melleray Abbey, was the final check point. Judging by the smile on the volunteers faces when I ask if we have much to go, it was obvious they were saving the best for last. "It's just two more hills and then few more k and you'll be back at the Abbey" they said. In reality a detour of the two hills Knockardbounce and Knocksculloge involved knee deep/ tick laden heather. A marshy descent followed to the border of Tipperary/ Waterford were you are met with a wall of moss filled forest. Crossing the stream it was a welcome piece of tape that lead me to a direct line thru the forest and up the grassy slopes of Knocknanask 486m. This final Hill was open mountain with no trail, it involved picking and following a line to summit before decending through some sheep fields to the marked trail leading back to Melleray.

The final push now on the home straight. Now I remember that there is craft beer and a glass tankard waiting for me at the finish line, these are my only thoughts retraceing my steps back to the Abbey, a long day out at 10hrs in the hills. Happy to happy ticked off all the Dillions on Summitbag and look forward to a well earned recovery. Slept/ ate well at the Abbey before the return to Newry. A classic Irish mountain Ultra and experience.