11 July, 2012
REPORT BY: Brian Flannelly
A group of around 30 hill-runners descended on the peaceful village of Kilcommon in the heart of Tipperary on Sunday afternoon last to take part in the fourth of six races in the 2012 Munster Championship. Athletes gathered in the square in the centre of the village, adjacent to the parish hall prior to the race, before wandering a short distance to the field below the local shop for starters instructions. Mike had been out that morning putting the finishing touches to marking the route and pre-warned us of "soft" conditions underfoot, as competitors surveyed the hills facing them.
There was a good bit of jostling for position amongst the seasoned runners from the off, sprinting across the fields to the river, where Jane was perfectly positioned for some great action shots as the athletes filed through. After crossing the next meadow, it was into the farmyard and the beginning of the ascent proper, up fireroads to the stile which strung out the field of runners. Next, there was a section of undulating forest trails, before the hard-packed track curved left and wound up the mountain again, leading onto a boggier section of trail straight up the hill. The trail ended a few hundred metres from the top, just above the tree-line, as a final open-mountain section awaited. At this point, enough altitude was gained to shroud the steep climb to the summit in cloud, but there was plenty visibility to see the pre-marked route and marvel at the descending skills of Tom, Mike and the other front-runners, already on the return leg. The fog ensured some welcome cooler temperatures for the final push to the trig point perched on Maugherclay peak.
The descent meant there was fantastic and exciting running to be had, as athletes let loose and enjoyed the peaty conditions underfoot, making up for its energy-sapping properties on the way up! The fog quickly dispersed once back on the trail, allowing stunning vistas of the rolling Tipperary countryside and a tantalising glimpse of the finish-line near the village, nestled in the valley below. The changing terrain proved to be a worthy challenge to off-road veterans and beginners alike, with technical descending interspersed by conventional hard-packed trail-running further down. After crossing the river, whose cold waters eased tired feet, there was a final gallop of a few hundred metres to the finish. Everyone got back safely in the end and all seemed to enjoy their endeavours.
Tom Blackburn led at the summit after an impressively strong climb and held onto top spot all the way to the finish, with Mike Cunningham running well to take second place. In third, in his first hill-race of this season was Kerryman Simon Mangan. Debutant, Sarah Fleming took the ladies prize, whilst John Shanahan in the junior category picked off nearly half the field after a late start.
Thanks a million to all involved with running this race, in particular to Mike Cunningham for a well marked course and to Tom Blackburn for liasing with local representatives and arranging the hall and its facilities. Special thanks to all the non-running voluteers, to Laura Schwirz for doing registration, time-keeping and bringing home-made muffins for after the race, Jane Griffin who took great snaps of our competitors during the race and Sean Harte for updating the IMRA DB. There were a few other people out on the course at various points providing words of encouragement - I didn't get your names - thank you all.