28 May, 2012Knockmealdowns 2012
What a day for a run in the hills! The few days leading up to the Knockmealdowns race had seen temperatures in the mid to high 20â€™s. Saturday was no different, but at least the race was at 7pm so it should be a bit cooler by then, right? Not so â€“ as I turned left in Clogheen, heading out the road towards the Vee, the display read 25Â°C. The first 2 miles or so were on a forest track, lined with trees and the purple flowers of the rhododendron. Although we were gaining height steadily, the gradient was fairly mild. When we emerged from the cover of the trees, the track curved around the edge of Bay Lough and we were facing into a stiff breeze as we headed towards the car park. Ordinarily, I would be cursing this breeze, but it was actually a welcome relief from the heat and dried up the beads of sweat which had been stinging my eyes for the past mile.
At the carpark, we were directed straight across the road and up the rocky path which brought us up the steep incline of Sugarloaf Hill, keeping the county boundary wall to our left. At this point, it was a case of slowing to a walk, looking at my feet, and hands on knees, plodding relentlessly towards the summit. Although, it seemed like I was getting nowhere fast, every now and again, a quick glance over my shoulder told me that that the lake below was indeed getting farther away. Eventually the top came and we hopped across the county boundary from Waterford into Tipp, where it was possible to start jogging again.
On the run down towards the col, I got the eerie feeling that I was being followed, with the low evening sun casting the menacing shadows of my pursuers on the ground ahead of me. Shortly afterwards my suspicions were confirmed, as two runners (attached to the aforementioned shadows) galloped past me. I pegged them back on the seemingly never-ending ascent to the summit of Cnoc Mhaoldomhnaigh. Twice, as I approached what I thought was the summit, I was left disappointed as the mountain rose yet again before me. Surely, it would be third time lucky and I was never happier to see the green jacket of what I assumed was the summit marshal up ahead. I thought I was hallucinating when I saw him turn and start running away from me, and by now I really thought I would never make it to the top. Thankfully, he had only moved about 50 yards down the slope and I was soon around the trig point and turning back for home.
As I turned, I could see that the two lads I had passed on the way up were only a few yards behind me, and knowing that descending wasnâ€™t one of my strong points, I resigned myself to the fact that I would very quickly lose these too places again. Sure enough, Kevin Wilkinson was clearly relishing the downhill section and wasted no time in jumping ahead. I tried my best to keep the gap to a minimum, but soon enough he had disappeared into the distance. Between the rocks, it was possible to find some springy ground which made this quite an enjoyable section of the race. The route back diverged from the outward route, meaning that we did not have to climb Sugarloaf again and veered left at a fork in the track. While this was a relief, it also created a problem, as with no runner ahead to follow I failed to spot any markers and became unsure of the correct route to take. Stopping to get my bearings, I picked out Kevinâ€™s green singlet in the far off distance but couldnâ€™t figure out how the hell he got there. Instead of trying to find the track that I had presumably deviated from, I just started running in a straight line for the point where I had seen Kevin a few moments earlier. This involved a fair amount of heather bashing and my poor navigation and indecision meant that by the time I rejoined the path, I had dropped two more places.
I think this was the point that the fight went out of me. I waved the white flag, threw in the towel and surrendered to the might of the Knockmealdowns. The path soon led back to the car park and the top of the Bay Lough track for what should have been a nice final 2 mile run in. I think I probably underestimated both the difficulty and the length of the race, as by now I had little or no reserves to carry me home. As I slowed to a walk on the flat section on the banks of the lake, I almost envied Petticoat Lucyâ€™s eternal toil of trying emptying the lake with no more than a thimble. If I had spotted her, I might have given her my race number and said â€œyou take it from here Lucy, Iâ€™ll just sit down here with the thimble for a little whileâ€.
In any event, she never appeared before my weary eyes, and I made it to the last quarter of a mile before I heard the thundering footsteps of another runner behind me. I found one last burst of energy (which I didnâ€™t think I had) to hold off the attack and was relieved to finally see the barrier at the end of the forestry road. The ladies at the finish line had some kind words for us, and then it was back to the car for the trip home.
Despite the physical exhaustion near the end, I thought this was a great route with an excellent mix of terrain, combining difficult lung bursting climbs with more gentle inclines, not to mention some of the most spectacular scenery you will see anywhere in Ireland. In short, where else would you want to be on a sunny Saturday evening in May only running up a mountain with sweat stinging your eyes, your heartrate maxed out and your legs screaming for mercy. It looks like some of us would go a long way to avoid watching Jedward in the Eurovision!
John J Barry
28 May, 2012What a wonderful experience we had on Saturday night in the Knockmealdowns. 16km in approx two hours of utter bliss :-)
I have some experience of hill running with fifty odd Leinster League runs in the last five years but I knew a weekend championship race would be a different kettle of fish and so it turned out.
I got there good and early and was lucky enough to have Paul Grant arrive shortly afterwards so I now had somebody I knew. We got speaking to a young chap from Cork Mark Dennehy who was here for his first ever mountain run(!!!). Paul and I then began to fill his mind with words of wisdom.
After registration and sorting of numbers the pre-race description was made by I think Robbie Williams. That's when my plan came into place. We had a two mile run on the East Munster Way to the road / car park before the start of the first climb on the Sugar Loaf. Paul informed me that's about 200m of climbing on the fire road / Munster Way. Plan was simple, keep running the fire road section knowing I'll be walking on the Sugarloaf since I knew from past experience from hiking in the area it was not a mountain I was capable of running up.
So off we went and I settled into comfortable rhyme at the back of the quickly spreading out group. The dangers of hill running quickly came into view when I managed to trip over a stone embedded in the road and I then proceeded to perform a scene from Swan Lake in a successful bid in not landing on my face!
The fire road was a great warm up and the sounds and colours of a summer evening made for a lovely jaunt. After twenty odd minutes my GPS read two miles but WAIT! - we hadn't even reached Bay Lough yet. Ah well! more duff information regarding distance from a mountain run!
Not long after we came on the lake and I was so tempted to go for a quick dip / drink but I had at this stage one or two hardy souls behind me and I wanted to keep my place and I knew I will lose ground on the more technical descents which I'm rubbish at. The added bonus of seeing the car park spurred me on since I knew the hiking break was coming soon. We hit the main road after approx. 4km and after nice encouragement from the volunteer stationed there we proceeded with the hike up Sugarloaf. I was soon joined by a fellow competitor and we had a little chat on the way up which distracted from the climb.
The route description was excellent prior to race start and at the top I quickly identified the wall we had to cross and follow on the left-hand side. On the technical descent off Sugarloaf my nemesis of the day Patricia Blackburn overtook me for the first time. That was to happen for the next hour where Patricia's stronger descending abilities and my strong ascending abilities would result in us swapping places many times.
The hi-light of the day was the run across the ridge between Sugarloaf and Knockmealdown mountain. It was a lovely boggy / springy surface with not too much tripping potential rocks. The crossing was long but I enjoyed every second of it with the specular views of "The Golden Vale" and I also had the joy of trying to catch Patricia again and again and again.
The Cairn and Paul Tierney were a welcome sight and again the race description was excellent for the descent route where â€œas instructedâ€ I veered out ten paces from the wall and quickly found the quad tracks as described. First time I appreciated quads / bikes on mountains!!
The difference in Leinster League and championship running came into focus for me after Patricia had vanished into the distance and I had nobody to follow and I got slightly disoriented during the decent and I missed the left turn and proceeded on towards Sugar Loaf on a high path. After a while I decided to take any left turn and headed straight down through the heather (my bare legs didn't enjoy that) where I eventually spotted a volunteer and back on the track again.
The rest of the run was uneventful, I got to the fire road and proceeded down it and managed to clock up the two fast miles I've ever run in my life outside of one mile repeats around Belfield before UCD (shame on you) decided to dig it up.
A successful completion and managed 163% which is respectable for me and I also managed my best base points score for this season (whatever that means).
Thanks to all I met and a very friendly bunch of people you were. A special thanks to the staff of "The Cats" pub and their plentiful supply of tea, coffee, sandwiches and Jaffa cakes.
On the way home I listened to Eurovision on Radio 1 and thought - look at what I gave up for this run!