Monday, September 12, 2016

RECCE: Run the Ridge

‘What better way to spend a day like this.’ Such was the sentiment of Torben Dahl, our Race Director for the inaugural Run the Ridge race, as we slogged up the first of two slow drags on the Wicklow Way section of the semi-looped course. The Sunday sun had abandoned our hills and with it any opportunity to ‘run the ridge’ with dry feet. On a such a day the Derrybawn Ridge, the mountain traverse that has lend its name to the event, offers one of the easiest and fastest open mountain trails in Wicklow. Today would be very different but Torben, Gypsy (my trusty dog) and I could put those thoughts well into the future as we first had 10 km of meandering uphill on first the Glendalough Green Road and then the Wicklow Way to contend with.

The Derrybawn Ridge

We started out at 10:30 am, the weather warm but plenty of easy drizzle in the air, following the official start from the Laragh GAA pitch past the Woollen Mills and then into the first short and steep climb onto trail. The first junction of the course follows shortly after – runners take the higher path up the (in)famous zig-zag trail instead of continuing on the Green Road towards Glendalough. These zig-zags have formed part of many hill running sessions for our local club Glendalough AC and with good reason: the gradients are punishing in places but the trail itself is a joy to run. After about 2 km of mainly uphill running, the trail relents and a short flat section follows to the 2.5 km point. The junction is important to note: on the 8th of October, two courses will be run as part of the ‘Run the Ridge’ event – an 8 km trail event and a 20 km hybrid trail and open mountain run. The latter is the main event that the name refers to as only that event brings runners all the way out onto the Derrybawn Ridge. The shorter route takes a left-turn here with the longer course continuing straight ahead.

Derrybawn mountain itself is part of the greater Mullacor massiff forming a nearly continuous ridge from boggy Corrig close to Lugnacoille all the way to Laragh village. The mountain is lower than most of its Wicklow cousins (495 metres at the highest peak) but made up of seven small ‘heads’. It has featured in a few classical races organised by the Irish Mountain Running Association – such as the original Ballybraid route and the daunting ‘Circuit of Glendalough’ – and also has to be conquered midway through the Wicklow Round Challenge.

Vertical metres for the money

In ‘Run the Ridge’ you approach the mountain from the Western side. As Torben, Gypsy and I pass by the junction, we continue towards the Wicklow Way. This is a flatter section with both ups and downs but not long climbs and also one of the best viewing points of the Upper Lake. Shortly after this we finally intersect the Wicklow Way after about 6 km of running and now continue on it towards Drumgoff and Glenmalure. Come 8th of October you’ll be greeted by Autumn colours throughout this section as most of the first 10 km are on forest trails. Around 8.5 km into the run we leave the Wicklow Way behind us taking a left turn. The trail gets softer and gentler here. Our legs were tired from the weekend’s racing and we were beginning to feel a bit weary of the long climb – thankfully you reach the most interesting part of the course just as you’re likely to experience the same thing. Just before the 10 km mark you break through the forest at a gate and emerge on open mountain. A short steep grassy trail leads you to the far end of the Mullacor ridge. The trail here is easy to follow and wider than you might expect for an open mountain trail. After about another 500m of running you hit a left turn – as you gaze down it you can see the full 3 km of the Derrybawn Ridge where the fun really begins. 

'You're certainly getting good value for money in this race,' Torben nodded with reference to the plentiful climbing and variety of terrain we had encountered before the ridge was even over. I couldn't help think that it would make a perfect final strength builder ahead of Dublin - being 22 days exact ahead of the Dublin Marathon.

With the rain pouring the ridge is slippy and some care must be taken but Derrybawn Ridge remains a friendly ridge without dangerous drops and very extreme terrain. But you will bring shoes with grip if you know what is good for you. After many short ups and downs, we arrived at the summit cairn which tells you that the ridge is about to end. You cross a short muddy section before a careful trot past a steeper rocky section and then take a right-turn at a very visible y-junction. Like the rest of the course this will be clearly marked on the day.

It’s single-file here for a brief spell on a narrow trail of dirt and grass before you emerge back on a rock-strewn trail. The penultimate ascent ‘hides’ on this trail – just as you don’t expect it a short steep climb pops out of nowhere. Then a furiously fast descent to the point where the long course rejoins the short course on the very back-end of what is called ‘Derrybawn Woods’ locally. It is here that a slight cruelty awaits: a final climb of nearly a kilometer but then you are done. All that remains is to descend to the zig-zags and follow the first 2 kilometres back to the GAA pitches. Keep in mind that your work will not be done until you have done an 800m lap of the full GAA pitches and cross the finish line mat. Why are we so cruel? Well partly we want a good show as people enter but we also wanted to create an 8 km and a 20 km route which this final ‘lap of honour’ allows. Just plan this into your race pacing – the going can be tough on the heavy grass on tired legs – ours certainly was. Relief is not far away – water and spread will await you and a nice cool river is less than 200 m walk from the finish line. Going back for lunch at my house we felt nicely 'worked out'. At an easy pace the run took us 2 hours 15 minutes.

We think people will really enjoy this route and hope to see a good inaugural crowd. As a long-time admirer of the fell and mountain running culture of the British Lake District, Glendalough AC and myself are eager to grow the event into a true 'Sports Day' with grass track races and other events. But its been our experience that doing everything at once leads to not doing everything the best possible way. So this year we begin with the long and short course and a junior course (route to be confirmed) and if you enjoy the event as much as we do we'll continue to develop from here and continue our work of developing sports development in the Laragh/Glendalough area.

Authors note: Run the Ridge was conceived to raise funds for Laragh GAA and Glendalough AC. It began with a recce by myself and Niall Corrigan, chairman of Glendalough AC, and further explorations followed by Niall and Barry Murray, the Wicklow and Kerry Way winner and owner of OptimumNutrition4Sport. Niall Corrigan took the early blueprints which were generally 18.5 km in length to arrive at the current version which is definitely superior as it uses the best trails onto the ridge and the least involved descent from it. Many descents from Derrybawn lead to rough terrain and private ground and some extend the route unnecessarily to what we wished to achieve.  A final modification - the 800m lap was added to bring the long course to 20 km and the short to 8 km. The short route was based on my earlier conception - the Derrybawn Woods trail race, run as part of the IMRA Trail League in 2014 - however this route is heavily modified. firstly the starting point is now different (moved from the Green Road on the Glendalough side to the GAA pitches in Laragh) and the route is run counter-clockwise rather than clockwise. The zig-zags remain the biggest challenge of both routes - both coming up and going down - but runners now avoid the rough overgrown terrain and instead stay to better trails. This way we feel the two races offer a nice balance: an approachable and straightforward trail challenge and a long hybrid race which is both a physical challenge and, during the 3.5 km open mountain section, a technical one. This should not leave the illusion that the run the Ridge run is 16.5 km of easy fire-road. Trail surfaces are very varied on the route and meanders constantly - boredom should not be a problem!

To sign up go to

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Run the Ridge

I get involved in a bit of everything these days. Our club Glendalough AC were approached last year by Laragh GAA about helping to organise a race on the Derrybawn Ridge as a fund-raiser for both clubs.

We have a good working relationship with Laragh GAA and use their pitches for Thursday night training which is especially important in winter where we have use of the flood-lights. So now the project is off the ground and for my hill running friends reading this I hope you'll enjoy the courses we have put on offer.

Niall Corrigan, a former client of mine and chairman of Glendalough AC, and myself ran the first version which laid the foundation for the final version which was found after several more routes were tested by Niall and Barry Murray from OptimumNutrition4Sport and Primal3.

The long course is 20 km and takes in all the good parts of the Derrybawn Ridge which, on a dry day, can be one of most enjoyable runs in the heart of Wicklow. For the short course I opted to re-use some parts of the IMRA Trail League 'Derrybawn Woods' route I concocted two years ago. But I removed the rough over-grown path and created a bigger loop. The start is also different - on the Laragh GAA pitches.

Check out the event and I hope to see some old hill running friends here:

We are hoping to relocate the site to tomorrow and there is currently a technical issue with the 'Course details' page which I will look into fixing tomorrow as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

DIARY: A new day - 'full-time athlete'

Friday marks the beginning of a new chapter of my life as I leave the IT industry – and steady employment – after 11.5 years working for a major multinational. This begins my life as a full-time professional coach and (laughs!) athlete and also, in due time, therapist as I am finishing off my diploma at the NTC to add another string to my bow and help take care of runners from ‘cradle to grave’.

I accepted redundancy and look forward to now ploughing 100% of my energy and enthusiasm into one project. Having my moonlight projects ongoing since 2011 means I don’t go into entrepreneurship with any blue-eyed na├»ve optimism but with resolute realism. Being an entrepreneur is no easy ride but it suits where my philosophical leanings have evolved over time. I like the idea of being my own boss for the same reasons I coach personal empowerment. I believe the future will see smaller and smaller companies and more sole traders as technology blows away a lot of the barriers that currently give large companies a huge advantage. I don’t expect everyone to be an entrepreneur or all big companies to disappear – merely a marked shift in the direction.

One of my favourite writers Nassim Taleb wrote: ‘nothing is more addictive than a monthly salary’ and he is right. At the end of the day our economic system is designed so that money follows value except where organisations become so large that transparency becomes difficult or money too easily available (or where ethical practices allow people to gain value at the expense of others). But I like the simplicity of this mechanic: provide value, find solutions for people and we can all have job security even when ‘working for ourselves’. The trick, of course, is to consistently provide value and to consistently find solutions. Fail to do so and ‘the market’ will discard you.

This Friday we leave for a family trip to Denmark for one week and then my new life begins when I return. I will be chronicling this part of my story on a blog called ‘Employee 2 Entrepreneur’ to keep the focus of my other sites running-focused. I want to write about this transition because I feel all my coaching and experiences in relation to providing coaching are linked – it’s about empowerment and self-fulfilment. When I chose my Bachelor’s Degree, I did so on the basis of a financial calculation and the same logic took hold when I choose my MsC degree. In both cases I discarded personal passion in favour of money. I have no regrets: I would not have my current life – including my strong young son and all-round nice existence in the Wicklow Mountains, if I had not made these ‘mistakes’.

But as the years passed, I felt I needed to do something more vocational. I was no longer the same person who registered for Business College. The office environment didn’t agree with my health or sentiment anymore and I would catch myself looking out the window and thinking ‘do you want to spend almost a third of your life looking out at the real world from behind a glass window and see it go by?’ Once that thought took root there was no going back. Incidentally it all started when a co-worker told me to read Tim Ferris’ the ‘4-hour work week’. Ironically, I never worked more in my life than after reading that book – free time as a concept ceased to exist as hours after work had to be filled up with planning and working on a new existence. Over the years I learnt to balance that better but I also learnt that the real dream behind the ‘4-hour work week’ is not the ‘4 hours’ but rather Tim Ferris’ statement that the true riches in the modern world are: mobility, time and money. We all need the latter but without the other two they are worthless. I am not really interested in a ‘4-hour work week’ but rather the old adage to ‘do what you love and you will never work a day in your life’.
I have a clear idea of the changes I want to see in the world – most are currently focused around running and physical health but as I get older I hope to progress onwards to some other things which relate naturally to that. But you cannot do everything at once. And, in coaching the '4-hour rule' just doesn't work because it is a field where you can only truly excel if you give it everything.

So as a final word in this little entry: if you are interested in following the ‘business’ and ‘personal’ side of my work – rather than the running and sports-specific part, then keep an eye on the ‘Employee toEntrepreneur Blog’ - although the site is not entirely finished yet so bear with me until then - I will talk about all my personal experiences and opinions on entrepreneurship and especially as it relates to a coaching business. Who knows – it may be a short journey but not if I have my way. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

'RACE': Croghanmoira Chase

The time for our Club Summer Party in Glendalough AC came up. I had planed a busy week for myself as I hoped to do the Roundwood 7.2 km trail run on Thursday and Arthur's Mile in Rathdrum on Friday before hosting an informal Club Hill Running Championship on a 'Surprise Course' Friday.

Unfortunately, Aoife's work called here away to Geneva those days meaning it was 'all dad, no running' time. So Saturday morning I was looking forward to blow off some steam. I had picked Croghanmoira mountain (a 667 m pyramid peak towering over the Drumgoff Gap) - an old favourite of mine from the Aughavannagh race in 2007. I remembered it as a 'mini-Snowdon' with steep gradients and a nice rocky descent.

We had planned to meet in Lynham's at 12 Noon to car pool to the 'unknown destination' and a few eye-brows were raised at the assuming peak as we parked at the Drumgoff Gap for the start. Looks are deceptive here - although the climb is tough and steep, you hit the large trig point after a mere 1.7 km. Our club members had a barbecue to be back for and from a coaching perspective I prefer shorter races for events like this as you can shrug them off very quickly. This proved true this time as well - although many gave the race a good lash, after 5 minutes , you almost feel like you could go right back up again. In Wicklow, we have thankfully retained the tradition of having many races in the 2 mile to 5 km bracket across the year - meaning people can race more without it interfering too much with training.

New club man Torben Dahl as well as Amidou were the natural favourites and it made for a nice showdown between the 'Lap of the Gap' and the 'Glen to Glen' champions. 'We're going by IHRA rules - no markers and first man home takes the time,' we dumped a stop-watch at the start point in a water-proof case with a pen, 'only one rule - you go to the top of the peak, touch the trig and go home. Whichever way you want'. With no cloud cover, the trig point itself could easily be seen from the road-side.

Since I knew the route I decided to take off in the lead and quickly realised I had forgotten to take off my t-shirt (I was wearing the club singlet naturally) so ditched it in the heather just as Torben passed me out and asked ' is the route easy to follow'. As it proves it's dead-easy - with noticeable trail all the way to the top. About a kilometre in the climb flattens a bit before the very steep final climb - at this point Amidou passed me as well and gave chase to Torben. They connected and I could see a tight battle would be on. There's two parallel paths back from the summit once you turn - a slipper grassier path and the rockier rougher path. Amidou and Torben flew down the rocks whereas I gambled on the grassy path as it turn right back towards the start a little bit earlier. On the day it proved a poor choice as the rocks were drier and quicker - Amidou took advantage and had the lead before the end of the rocks. From the distance to Torben I knew I wasn't going to catch them so just focused on keeping best possible effort. 'Swoop' and my shoe got stuck in some mud and pulled right off. I turned back, pulled it out of the goo and decided it would take me too long to put it back on, so finished the last 800m with a shoe on the left and a sock on the right. Thankfully this was on a mainly grassy section and apart from a few near-misses where the sock slid under me, I cruised home to the waiting pair of Amidou and Torben who had both broken the 18 minute barrier with 17:34 and 17:55. Amidou held on for the win despite taking a skid on his rear on the rocks.

As I turned around the others were arriving (results below) including Catherine Devitt who had run-walked the route with her dog on a leash after injuring herself recently in a bike crash. It had been a tough week of racing for many of our our athletes: Rachel Wisdom and Claire finished 1st and 2nd at the Roundwood 7.2 km trail race and Donna, Colm and Bruce did the Brockagh race AND the Roundwood double - so rest was well-deserved as the party proceedings started in the Glendalough Hotel in the early afternoon.

1. Amidou Dembele 17:34
2. Torben Dahl 17:55
3. Rene Borg 19:13
4. Derek Cullen 20:19
5. Marcus Murphy 20:40
6. Rachel Wisdom 21:22
7. Yvonne Brennan 22:08
8. Colm Kenna 22:36
9. Catherine Devitt 22:56
10. Claire O'Callaghan 23:04
11. Donna Quinn 23:28
12. Bruce Philips 24:02
13. Sorcha Griffith 24:27

These short races have always fascinated me since reading of the Guides Races in England (I had the pleasure of watching Ambleside twice while - ironically myself opting to do the longer Fairfield Horseshoe race). Most are 2 miles - the same length more or less as our Croghanmoira Chase which can now join the traditional IMRA HellFire Flicker, Sugarloaf Rush and Bray Dash on the list of what I like to call 'middle distance hill running' races.

The challenge with reviving them in a more official capacity is that the large fields that hill running now attracts doesn't support it and many consider it inefficient to drive a noticeable distance for a short race - so until circumstances changes these races will likely happen more often as they did this Saturday - as an informal club race with a small field.

Details of route here:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

REVIEW: VivoBarefoot Primus Review

I have uploaded a video showing my recent 'pre'-review of the new VivoBarefoot Primus and Primus Trail shoes. They are the most pleasant to wear yet and generally a step in the right direction.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

TRAINING: Steady hill climbs

A practical article from my professional site 'Running Coach Ireland':

Read it here

Monday, May 09, 2016

RACES: Good start to the season

My athletes have had a great start to the season. Glendalough AC collected 6 medals at the recent Wicklow Road Championships and 5 out of 8 runners set a personal best. We did this largely off sessions that were steady-state in nature rather than hard interval training and the biggest personal best came from a girl who did mainly low intensity MAF training and only a single race-specific session.

In the hills, Amidou resumed racing by winning the Laragh 6 km Trail race before finishing 4th at Tonelagee and the Lake and 8th at Howth.

Jason started his season later as he has a long Irish Championship campaign ahead and not much time to rest between the cross-country season and the hill running season. He jumped into Ballybraid - a last minute decision - after a hard week of training in Spain. We just wanted to blow the cob-webs off him before the first race in the IC. It went well with Jason leading the climb until he missed a short-cut and had to work himself back in the front. By the ridge between Mullacor and  Braige, Jason and Brian Fennelly were setting the tone of the race together. Coming off Carrigaleenen and the steep grassy descent to Drumgoff, he veered slightly off the optimal line with only a few hundred metres to go leaving an opening for Adrian Hennessy to swoop in an take victory. Thankfully he recovered to 2nd.

For myself I jumped I had to start my racing season before I intended, in order to qualify for our Wicklow Way Relay team. I jumped into the Park Run in Shanganagh and ran 19:32 without a fuss which was a good return for me on the low mileage training I have been doing this year. The future looks bright all around and even baby Cillian looks set to be twice the athlete his father is - or more!

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