DIARY: My Greatest Challenge - Aughavannagh

Sometimes a race comes along that you know you cannot miss out on. Yet there is no feeling of joy or positive suspense as the race day nears. There is no fear either, for that would take immediate danger to conjure up, no, instead there is a silent, almost creeping tingle of depredation, a looming anxiousness, and an intense sense of purpose.

This is the feeling that creeps into most of us when we now we are about to face a challenge of hitherto unknown proportions, a test of strength, character, and willfulness, that will take us to the edge of our ability. Failure barely bears thinking of, for the ramifications would stretch far into the dreamland that is our future ambitions.

Gearing Up
What makes this even more fascinating is the way it is deeply individual and ever-changing. Four months ago I struggled to run 30 minutes on the road, a few months later Slieve Donard seemed an unsurmountable obstacle, then came the Wicklow Way Trail, my longest race yet, a record that will fall, should all go well today.

What tells us even more about the way the human perspective of challenges can always be pushed upwards further, is my belief that, one day, Aughavannagh is something I will look back on as a minor challenges, a small step on a long road. I could be proved wrong, though, and this is where sports psychologists earn their money..

Great challenges can make us, but they can also break us, they can show us a side of ourselves that will inspire us with belief for years to come, or it can unmask a hidden weakness in our core, whose presence our confidence may never fully recover from.

Richard Askwith hit the nail on the head when he realised that if you say no now, you are saying no always. I cannot say no tomorrow, no matter the cost, for ahead lies my greatest challenge so far, beyond anything I have previously attempted, one of the hardest races of IMRA's illustrious history: Aughavannagh...

The Aughavannagh race has been run only twice in recent times, by 27 brave runners in 2000, where the "King of the Hill", none other than John Lenihan, set an inhuman record with 1:52:33, and again in 2001 when only 19 runners braved it.

The race started back in 1981, was repeated in 1983 and 1986 (of these races only the winner is recorded), In 1987 11 runners tried their luck (4 didn't finish), followed by in 1988 by 8 runners (3 didn't finish).

That is has not been a wildly regular feature is no surprise given the course, 22.6 cruel kilometres with 1095m of ascent crossing over Wicklow's highest peak Lucnaquilla (925m) before a turn around the infamous South Prison leads any challenger of the course over Corrigasleggaun (794m), Carrawaystick Mt. (597m), and then, as the final sentinel before the finish, Croaghanmoira Mt. (664). At no point in the race do you drop below 250m of altitude and apart from the mountains themselves, awesome challenges such as the long upward forest trails, the edges of the South Prison and the Fananierin Ridge await us all tomorrow.

Ready for the Race
Tomorrow at 10:00 I'm leaving Dublin with Barry Tennyson and Sarah Linse to take on this challenge. My only real worry is my heel, where the blister I picked up on Cushbawn is growing steadily bigger (and more painful). I pray I will not have to drain it right before the race, but if it does not settle over night, I will have no choice.

Who will contest the race, I do not know, but John Lenihan was running in in Munster during the weekend, and who knows, maybe he would honour the race with his presence, I would certainly be delighted to line up in the same field as one of the true greats of Mountain Running.

As a footballer or in many others sports, lining up next to Gerrard, Zidane or other great players will remain an unfulfilled dream, but not so for mountain runners. And the greats of mountain running know better than anyone, that it is the people finishing behind them in the field that make them what they are.

A barrier will fall tomorrow, that much is certain. When I next return to write on this Blog, many tasks ahead will have taken on a whole new perspective...