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Wicklow Mountain Rescue Moonlight Challenge – 16th November 2013

The finishing post… Glenmalure Lodge

[Report by John Dempsey – Congratulations from all your club mates on an excellent 3rd place!]

This is a great race, really well organised and a good atmosphere as well. The Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue Team know how to put on a good event and it’s hard to beat somewhere like the Glenmalure Lodge for a finish area.

A member of the Mountain Rescue Team works with Mag and I had entered a long time ago as a nice to do type race, never with any intention of training specifically for it. In fact I got sick earlier in the week and had been suffering a tummy bug for several days so was more than surprised to finish the race as well as I did.

53 runners climbed aboard the bus that took us on an hour long journey out to the start line outside Fenton’s pub in the Glen of Imaal. 15 minutes later, after checking all the gear twice we were off.

There was a surprisingly polite start to the race with no one shooting off and no one doing the pace setting duties at the start. As a result I found myself out front plodding along at an easy pace and amazingly lead the race for the first 1.5k 🙂 As we started the climb up the fire road I slid back down to 5th but the lads ahead never got away from me. Funny enough, it was somewhere here that we crossed over the upper waters of our own River Slaney. After we turned off the fire road and onto the climb up Table Mountain across steep rough terrain the top 5 bunched up tight again with a clear gap to 6th. Out onto the open mountain now visibility was terrible. The top 5 swapped places frequently. Heavy fog and cloud cover meant that runners disappeared from view only 15 meters ahead. The organisers had put out reflective flags and light sticks to mark the path, but in these conditions it was getting difficult to find our way. Approaching the summit myself and another runner ran off track but were called back by the runner behind. Crossing the summit checkpoint in 3rd we set off down the early descent. Frank had given me a loan of his light for the race and it really came into it’s own here. Dancing down the bog, trying to pick out the route, avoiding bog holes, praying for decent footing, and racing flat out with pitch black all around!! I was in 2nd place now trying hard to catch first, racing adrenaline doesn’t come much better than this. After a lot of sloppy muck, and sinking to my knees more than once we eventually broke out onto more fire road and another marshal this time giving out jelly sweets. Myself and the guy in front seemed to have put a lot of time into the other lads across the sloppy stuff. Grabbed a handful of jellies to stuff in the back pocket and set off after first place again. 1k later though and the third place guy caught and passed me easily enough at about the halfway point in the race and he went on to win outright.

The race now wound it’s way down through the glen along the side of a slope and although it was dark I could sense the scale of the place as mountain loomed ominously on one side and dropped away steeply on the other. My legs were fairly heavy at this stage and I wasn’t able to take advantage of the downhill running and felt form was bad and I was just fairly plodding along for long sections. After what felt like forever I hit the bottom of the glen and out across the fjord to the public road. Another marshal checkpoint confirmed I was in 3rd and off I set dreading the next climb and always fearful of being caught from behind. 2k later the final marshal checkpoint, still in third and off up the second climb of the night. This one wasn’t near as long as the first, but felt much harder and steeper coming near the end of the race.

I was quickly onto a really tight path through the forest and climbing a series of switchbacks up the steep climb. Lots of walking on this part of the race, the path was steep, tight and fairly gnarly underfoot. Turning back on myself at one of the switchbacks I caught sight of a torch climbing below me. I turned the light down to its lowest setting for the rest of the trail until I broke out onto the fire road near the top when I turned it off completely for several minutes – no point in encouraging whoever was behind me. Only when I was sure that I had gone far enough East to be clear of the switch backs and had started to descend did I turn it back on again.

At this stage there were prayers and novenas and all sorts being offered to please, please, please make the person behind me slow down for any reason at all. I was in third, nearly home, wore out and delighted with my nights work. We had been warned about a tractor partially blocking the track with 1k to go, I was delighted to see it. The path then broke out onto the public road again and I was over the moon. I had spent the past 10k all on my own in the dark, trying to run forwards whilst looking backwards and here I was with less than 400m of tarmac to the finish line and not a sinner in sight. I was that busy congratulating myself that I almost didn’t hear the footsteps coming up from behind!!!

What the ****! Where did he come from, and why is his light turned off?? My calf muscles had been threatening me with cramp from before I met the marshals at the fjord and while I had no faith in them there was no way I would let anyone take 3rd place from me now. I started to sprint but the other guy had the momentum and was closing up on my shoulder fast. My calfs were screaming. I knew the final turn was to the left so kept in tight to force him to go the long way around me if he wanted to get past. We hit the turn almost together with him only 2 or 3 paces behind but on the outside. The finishing straight and I kicked as hard as I could and it was fear of being passed that drove me. Just as I kicked both calfs seized solid and I couldn’t flex my ankles – at all. The final mad push was done entirely on my tip toes but somehow I held him off and just kept running as hard as I could. There were people standing in the middle of the road cheering and I just ran through them, with no discernible finish line there was no way I was stopping early. Somehow I managed to stop myself whilst still up on my tip toes without falling over onto my face. Back to the finish area and hand shakes all round, turns out it was Stephen Perry from Tinahely Tri Club who had almost caught me – small world. After slagging him about turning off his headlight he assured me the battery was dead!?

Several minutes later two of the countless marshals told us we never had our photos taken crossing the finish line, and some short gesturing brought our attention to a massive inflatable finishing arch tucked in to the left that we had both ran past. “So we haven’t actually finished yet?” smiled Stephen while throwing shapes to jump up and run. Thankfully everyone laughed and the panic inside me (my precious 3rd placed finish!!) could settle down.

Some stew, coffee and good company later I was beat. I had been carrying a tummy bug the past several days and was now feeling sick as a dog. Whilst everyone else looked to be gearing up for a big party I just had to get home and fast. I’ve heard reports that the after party was even longer and harder than the race itself!

That’s probably the best result I’ve ever had and certainly my highest finish in any open race. I really gave it everything and even still over 2 days later my body is in bits. This is an annual event and a much needed fund raiser for the Mountain Rescue Team. I’d highly recommend it and hope to be back next year.

Race results

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