Talk of this epic race was abound well in advance of the day of reckoning. The anticipation was certainly enhanced after spending the previous day in the company of IMRA regulars Peter, Bernard, Turlough, Gerry & Cormac while helping Hugh & Marina add some concrete to their earth ship.
I felt well prepared & confident, having gone on 2 reconnaissance missions over the route. It certainly is easy to lose your way on this route if the cloud is down! Luck seemed to be on our side as the recent horrendous weather took a welcome break for a couple of hours. Director extraordinaire Niamh announced the rules before the race start - everyone to visit Brockagh West, Tonelagee, Glenmacnass waterfall, Scarr & Paddock Hill. Simple enough, nothing left to do but run! The race started in relatively easy going single file fashion until meeting the fire road. Here there was debate amongst the front runners as to whether to follow fire-road or to take direct route up. There seemed to be a consensus to stick to the fire-road, but crafty Eoin Keith decided to abandon the group and take the short-cut directly up. This gave Eoin an immediate advantage of 200m over the main group, an advantage that proved decisive. Not wanting the race to be over before it begun I decided to make chase. Feeling fresh, I quickly caught and passed Eoin reaching Brockagh west in about 24 minutes (surprisingly 2 min faster than my LL time, but guess that's due to the different start point).
There was no obvious route from Brockagh to the top of Tonelagee. I took a couple of mandatory falls into bog holes on route, going head first into one! Progress seemed slow up the steep climb, but was happy to be maintaining a gap to the chasing pack. I could see Eoin behind, being closely chased by Peter O'Farrell and Bernard Fortune - all too tight to call at this stage with at least 12k remaining. Must keeping pushing! Poor Sean Bolland, over from the UK, must have been cursing as the soles of his Inov-8 Mudroc 290 shoes feel to pieces. He was well positioned with the chasing group, but had no choice but to turn back for home ...
Was glad to see the summit, 50mins down, surely half way I thought to myself! The descent off Tonelagee was fast & furious. I knew the chasing pack were no slouches downhill, so I pushed myself while focusing on keeping my feet on solid ground. Alas, I must have lost concentration as my right leg went from under me into a bog hole. I quickly got up, only to realise that I had sprained my ankle - disaster! My hill running life flashed before my eyes - NO! What have I done! The chasing group passed by as I put perspective on my situation. Eoin first, followed closely by Bernard. Peter was about a minute down at this stage & kindly offered to help me down the hill - think he wanted an out from the race being tired from over racing, partying, working, but I wouldn't let him stop - I didn't want help!
As I slowly made my way to the waterfall I could see the race unfold. I couldn't believe how quickly the guys made it up Scarr - couldn?t help but wonder how I would have coped over the final third of the race. The M40 race was also hot, with Kevin Grogan & Adrian Tucker being chased by Gerry Lalor. Despite getting a little lost, Orla McEvoy had a decisive lead in the womens race from Sarah Moores. Niamh & Alan O'Keefe helped me to the river, where I relaxed and started the ankle recovery process. Runners came quick & fast through the checkpoint, except for Turlough who seemed more interested in having a chat than finishing the race.
I eventually got a lift down to the finish line, to find that Eoin had increased the gap to 3 minutes at the finish - a strong finish indeed. That's the Leinster Championship almost secure for Eoin - why did I have to fall? : ) Bernard finished a strong second from the tired Peter O'Farrell. Gerry Lalor increased the pace up Scarr to take the M40 prize, while Orla McEvoy maintained her lead to the finish - what a comeback from a serious ankle injury, an inspiration & will give me hope for the World trials!
The first 15 or so finishers were lucky enough to avoid the rain, but I felt for anyone remaining on the course during the downpour around 2:30pm! The banter was only fab in the pub, as mud-clad Turlough cheered his native Sligo on to victory in the Connaught Football final. He had some great stories about the local red-necks, but that's one for another day. It was great to see Aonghus O'Cleirigh back - the former KIMM champion was, I believe, the only person to get lost on Tonelagee : ) He also took advantage of Gerry Lalor's generosity by blatantly stealing his M40 price in the pub. Did anyone tell him that he didn't win the M40 category? An honest mix-up I'm sure, but a hilarious one nonetheless. Can whoever sees Aonghus tell him that he owes Gerry one cooling box.
As for me, I was just glad the sprain didn?t seem serious and was looking forward to fighting another day ...