Three Rock Winter
28 November, 2009<b>Ticknock, A midfield perspective (by Arty O'Donnell)</b>
Mud and snow and blood!
I climbed out of bed early on Saturday morning and opened the curtains to see a snow covered 3 rock in the distance. I nervously force fed myself some porridge and assured myself that even though I'd run only one hill in the last year, I'd have a good race. 2 years of training for triathlon had given me some running fitness and speed, but most of all it had thought me pacing. But running for me now was different to the summer when I took up mountain running, I used to love to run for the fresh air and scenery, now I wanted a result. My calves felt tight and I remembered how I had enjoyed yesterdays jog to the top of fairycastle and the exhilarating race back down to the carpark with my brother. Today is just the same, I told myself repeatedly. A nice training run.
As we approached the spiritual home of Irish mountain biking, on loan today to that strange species of athlete, the mountain runner.
Slip sliding our way into the icy slushy carpark It dawned on me why I was nervous. 'Balinastoe', On a Wednesday night race last summer confusing race markers had scattered the compeditors randomly over 10 square kilometres of near impenetrable woodland infested with the most depraved and vicious midges in the country. When most of the competitors were finally retrieved and sent to the local pub for refuge they were indeed a sorry forlorn group, beady eyes sending thousand yard stares out from gaunt faces, darkened by a paste of mud, midges and sweat. Their silent recuperation, fastidiously replacing lost nutrients with glucose, cider and stout, turned to ferocious vengeance when the race organiser was pushed up on the prize giving podium through the back door. No amount of apologies and distribution of flasks, winebottles, t-shirts, dryflow tops, even insect repellent could appease this angry mob, I ended up leaving through a plate glass window and never looked back. Until today that is, but I had taken the precaution of wearing a disguise, head to tow in custom fitting lycra with a new bushy beard, glasses and a hat for good measure, I was just another new competitor. As half a battalion of Army cadets jogged to registration in tight formation, I hid among their ranks and managed to stay incognito almost until the race start. Imelda Marcos or Carrie Bradshaw would not have been amiss among the start line as all the talk was of appropriate footwear for this occasion. Warm up jogs had resembled Smithfield on ice. We were prepared to go, Barry Minnocks detailed instructions and warnings of Kamikaze mountain-bikers on a piece of track called the bone shaker, caused me to question what the hell I was doing here, couldn't I just go home, get the bike out and go for a nice spin out to the Blessington lakes, I had just about resolved to do that, when somebody brushed against my arm, I looked left and saw it was my age old adversary, my nemeses, he who many times cruelly passed my in the last ten meters of a race, or would pass me at speed just when I thought I have never been as fast, I had sprinted down rocky slopes with no regard for my life or safety, possessed by an obsessive desire to beat him at any costs. I glared evil eyed and growled through frothy bared teeth and cursed his very existence, but it seemed to come out as 'good luck, mate!' ......3, ........2, .......1, ...........GO.
As we tore off from the start line I remembered my brothers advice, Don't start off as tarzan only to get to the Top as Jane, I reluctantly let my adversary go, telling myself I'd catch him later, Coilte's awful clearfelling had at least opened up views of the city and country side below. I wished the monoculture plantations of non-native sitka-spruce and bargepole pine could be a diverse broadleaf forest with various levels of canopy and understorey vegetation, soon we were off the roadway, into the trees and along a snow covered path, black puddles of mud bubbled through the pristine snow, as peopled stumbled and leapt left then right like an avant garde dance troop, as runners encountered clandestine banks and ruts concealed by snow. I longed for a change of terrain, and soon got it, the Boneshaker had been transformed from a rocky riverbed track to a narrow meandering channel in the deep snow, sufficiently wide for I person to fit, overtaking was near impossible as the virgin snow on either side concealed unknown hazards that could easily twist an ankle and end a race with a whimper. We laboured up the track, shuffling on like concubines with shoes too small, heads bowed and staring at the snow immediately in front of our numb toes, gasps incoherent mutterings and dull inhalations in the mist made me think for a second I was on pilgrimage in Lough Derg. The air was cold, the oxygen seemed scarce and visibility was being rationed.
A broody geometric pylon appears in the fog guiding us on to a level snow covered track and soon we were descending, Spending our hard gained altitude with giant reckless strides till it felt we were down lower than the start line, then hard right and we were back onto a bike track, climbing again, shuffling panting, the girl in front of me, fell face down, I didn't blink but continued on, the army cadet behind me dutifully offered to help, I was just thinking of me, survival, every step an ordeal, the guy ahead was walking, but walking faster than I was running, I will not walk, I told myself, a voice told me walking would be a great idea, no , no, this was a race, go faster, but I can't my soft fleshy body has turned to rock, to lead, Its like those dreams where you're being chased but can only move in extreme slow motion. Gravity is not my friend. Then suddenly the ground the flat and level then slightly downhill, I 've always loved gravity, There are pylons everywhere now and we turn for the final long drag of a climb to fairy castle. How could something that sounds so pretty and sweet bring so much pain. The snow is deeper here, going off the beaten path is not an option. It just goes on and on, keep going, one foot in front of the other, remembering when sat at your desk how you wish you were running, but now all you want to do is think of hot tea and a couch and not running. After an eternity you see 2 figures standing on a mound, if you could, you'd yell for joy, it's the top all downhill from here.
My plan had been to decend like a mudslide, sweeping past those arrogant fools crazy enough to overtake me on the ascent. I'll stretch out my legs and if I fall the snow will be soft, but my legs don't heed my instructions, I can't get out of second gear. I see a figure in front of me and try to reel him in, he is jinking left and right like a gazelle, picking out the harder ground, its very foggy, like diving in milk, there's no track through the snow now, little flags appear randomly like miniature ski slalom posts, I go to overtake and trip up in the snow, I put my hands down to break my fall but there is no ground, my hands go straight through and I end up with a face full of snow, I try this overtaking manoeuvre again and again until the runners steps onto the deep snow and lets me run past. Soon I'm heading past the pylons again and the slightest little incline, but it feels like Everest, I cant catch the group ahead, the roadway twists and turns down the hill, the wheeltracks are slippy so I stick to the middle of the road, suddenly I'm diverted back into the forest, fine branches slapping me in the face and dirty wet mud underfoot, the runner infront glances over his shoulder to see me gaining on him and accelerates away, tight fast bend and back on the road to the hairpin corner which seems like pure ice, then the finish line and my adversary beaming delightedly having finished a couple of minutes ahead, his left leg bright red from road rash. I'm disappointed but at the same time I'm as happy as all the rest of the finishers, muddied and bloodied but laughing and joking. I suddenly remember that since Balinastoe I'm a wanted man among this wild tribe and if there was 'er an auld oak up here they would string me up from the highest branch. Like my ancestor red Hugh O'Donnell, I head off in the direction of snow covered Wicklow, but am compelled to stop off first at Taylors
<b>Life in the fast lane (by Peter O'Farrell)</b>
The organisers had done a fine job of making 3 rock mountain a body double for the previous incarnation of this university championship race with 3 tough climbs spacing out the runnable descents. The winter league lived up to its name with snow drifting to knee depth coming off the back of Two Rock Mountain. Even getting to the start was an achievement and the finish area had to be moved as the original finish was completely iced over. Despite these wintry mishaps the army of volunteers, ably marshaled by Barry Minnock, made the whole operation appear flawless.
Running up into the whiteout on a Fairy Castle laden with fresh snow made for an interesting race, for many in the field it was a novel sort of hill-racing although some had had secret training in the Pyrenean snow races. Leaping across snowdrifts in shorts and T-shirt was exhilarating and the concentration required to avoid slipping made for a class race. The second climb seemed to go forever and then you faced into Fairy Castle. The rocky sections of race were completely covered with snow. Ladies winner Orla McEvoy initially felt at a disadvantage as the snow was new to her but a fantastic race saw her clear of Fionnuala Doherty and Bronagh Ni Bhriain. That's two wins and a second for Orla and one win and a second for Fionnuala. The race to be champion is on in earnest.
A scholarly study of the conditions was unnecessary for Ronan Guirey who showed up in a pair of road shoes and ran away with the race as he slipped and slid his way to a good win and a very strong position for the championship. Peter O'Farrell in sensible Walshes was second.
Martin Bradshaw had studied hardest for he was the first student home and a fine third overall, the year's grace had obviously not been misspent. Jonathon McCloy who was second student also finished in the top five. Eoin Pierce rounded out the student podium finishers with a fine 8th, very very good for a junior. I presume his mum is getting his prize of a bottle of wine...
Another notable top ten finisher was first M40 Mike Long who had earlier marked the course with Henny Brandsma. Savage.
The Cadets won the team prize with Queen's Belfast second. Eimear O'Brien was the student lady winner.
The many marshals on the course did a great job in cold conditions with Zoe Melling reprising her stoicical bravery on Lugnaquille last year with a whiteout repeat on Fairy and Clare Sullivan collecting most of the markers on the way back to base. Both missed the afters, which on this occasion was Taylors 3 Rock who fed and watered us royally.
As always, volunteers are required for the remaining two races in the league.
<b>University Championship Results
Gold: Martin Bradshaw (UL)
Silver: Jonathan McCloy (QUB)
Bronze: Eoin Pierce (DIT)
4th: Kevin O'Reilly (Cadets)
5th: Ciaran Collins (UU)
6th: Daniel Morrogh (Cadets)
7th: Tim Grummell (UCD)
8th: Brian Thornton (Cadets)
9th: Thomas Nally (Cadets)
10th: Brendan O'Boyle (QUB)
Gold: Eimear O'Brien (UCD)
Gold: Cadet School A (18 points)
- Kevin O'Reilly (4th)
- Daniel Morrogh (6th)
- Brian Thornton (8th)
- Paul Muckian (14th)
Silver: Queen's University Belfast (24 points)
- Jonathan McCloy (2nd)
- Brendan O'Boyle (10th)
- Patrick Higgins (12th)
- Neal O'Boyle (16th)
Bronze: Cadet School B (37 points)
- Thomas Nally (9th)
- Graeme Towell (13th)
- Eoin Murphy (15th)
- Stephen Ryan (17th)
4th: University College Dublin (44 points)
- Tim Grummell (7th)
- Eimear O'Brien (18th, 1st Female)
- Philip Mansfield (19th)