RACES: All-Ireland Championship - Luc Uphill

Today was a very special day on the running calendar. In preparation of this year's uphill only European Championship in Mountain Running in France, this year's classic Lucnaquillia race has been changed to an uphill only (that is, finish at the top).

The race also incorporates the second race of the prestigious "King of the Mountains" competition, in which the ten first runners to the top of three of the highest Irish peaks will be rewarded points (this year's three are: Carrauntoohil, Lucnaquillia and Croagh Patrick).

Most races are won on the descent so this competition allows the strong ascenders a better shot at glory.

As if this wasn't enough, however, the race featured the yearly All-Ireland Championship for individuals and clubs.


The Route

This meant a very short (around 5.23km) race with a harsh 705m of ascent, starting at the foot of the stalwart sentinal "Camarahill" lying in front of Luc, and then over a short plateau and another small hill to Lucnaquillia herself at 925m of altitude, once you've handled that first obstacle.

The weather was only slightly overcast and the temperature fairly high. The route itself is lovely, as it features good running ground for the majority of its stretch (that is, if you can handle the 14.5% average ascent).

Competition

Not as many runners had turned out as expected, which was slightly disappointing, as I had expected at least a 100 for a competition so important, and I was particularly disappointed not to see John Lenihan (I later learned he is carrying a slight injury, seem our injuries overlap!).

Also missing was Paul Nolan (multiple winner of the Leinster League, former Leinster Champion and with his many victories in the highest mountains, former King of the Mountains), ultra-running phenomenon Eoin Keith, and Winter League runner-up James McFadden, not seen since his impressive 29th place at the British Championship race at Donard - Commedagh.

On the plus side, though, most of the strongest runners from IMRA and several strong NIMRA runners where there.
Notaries from the Leinster League included: Running machine Garry Crossan, Winter League champion Ronan Guirey from Cork, most winning runner of the year so far Barry Minnock, Scarr winner Peter O'Farrell, and Colm Mullen.

From Munster came Eoin McKenna, winner of last year's Irish Championships, including prestigious victories at Carrauntoohil and Lucnaquillia.

From the North came this time, not cruel Viking invaders, but Northen Ireland international Stephen Duncan and if that wasn't enough, from the shadows of the past emerged a man who has won it all with both IMRA and NIMRA through time, including the uphill only Championship
Robin Bryson holds the all time record for fastest ascent of Snowdon during the traditional race in Wales (and is one of perhaps only two people to summit it below 40 minutes)

On the women's side Irish internationals Bronagh, where out representing Clonliffe Harriers, as was Wicklow Round Aspirant and the dominant woman of this year's leagues: Aisling Coppinger.

They were rallied against the mighty forces of the Ulster women from the Mourne Runners and Newcastle AC, which led to a fiercely competitive team competition, Newcastle AC only narrowly beating Clonliffe Harriers.

The Race

Only one word can describe this race: Feverish! Imagine starting at the bottom of a very very long hill (5.23km precisely!), and which is very very steep (14.5m rise every 100m you move forward on average, great parts were significantly worse, and the lower parts only consolation allowing you to catch the slightest bit of wind).

As the final ingredient of this cocktail of pain, add in a field of runners who have seemingly been told that a 924m high Tsunami wave is heading our way, so frantic was the pace from start to finish. I swear at stages I was actually contemplating whether I would blow a fuse, I felt 40 degrees warm, as I pulled myself trancelike over Camarahill, walking little in the process.

The competition faded strangely for me at the end of Camarahill, Bronagh pulled away irresistably and pulled Matthew Kenny and Cormac O'Ceallaigh with her. Gaining a hole of a few hundred metres, I could only watch as my constant running did not dent it one bit.

Behind me, my desperate chase apparently cut off any challengers, and I arrived at the top almost 2 minutes before the next contender. By then I had gained one moment of victory to get me happy away from the race. On the final small hill top before the bulk of Luc itself, IMRA president Cormac O'Ceallaigh, a solid top 30 runner, had been lost by the Bronagh-Kenny steam train, and I can't say I wasn't astounded as I could force myself past him.

Seeing the chance to beat him for the first time on the IMRA calendar, I fought, and cursed, and hobbled to the top, before finally sprinting across the finish line in 48:43. Not a bad time at all, my target had been below 50 minutes, and my uphill weakness is getting less and less pronounced.

On the top I could enjoy food and water provided by Tony Kiernan and his fellow Wicklow Round Reccees and watch my friends Barry and Conor come over the line, Barry finally getting the better of long standing nemesis, veteran and M60, Mick Kellett.

The Champions

Robin Bryson showed us all that just because you're in your forties, you far from done and dusted, and arrived at the top 35 seconds in front of the next man, Colm Mullen, who was again followed by Ronan Guirey who dispelled any lingering suspicion that he's only a man for the shorter and gentler Winter and Leinster League races. Fourth and last man to join the Irish Team at the European Championships was Stephen Duncan, while Garry Crossan, Eoin McKenna, and Barry Minnock, had to settle for 5th, 6th, and 7th.

Barry Minnock later admitted he felt he let his eyes off the ball just for a few minutes, long enough to lose too much time to make up again, but consoled himself with the fact that his focus is on this year's Worlds. Peter O'Farrell added another strong run to his Scarr win 4 days earlier, and finished 8th.

Among the women only Aisling Coppinger could stem the Northern Irish tide, finishing fourth behind Fiona Maxwell, Alwynne Shannon, and Trish Sloan, and just keeping Anne Sandford 21 seconds behind her to prevent a clean sweep for the Six Counties.

National coach Gerry Brady was delighted with the level of competition, visibly illustrated by the fact that regular top-3 runners Cormac Conroy and Keith Daly could only be found in 9th and 16th position respectively. Donegal man Mark McKenna, who I remember only as "the Butcher of Round Mountain" after his breath-taking hill sprint there, was down at 15th.

The women's team competition was a real fight, IMRA's dominant female team Clonliffe Harriers narrowly edged out by the super women from Newcastle AC. Those Mourne Mountains sure changes a person for the better.

The men's competition was almost as tightly contested with Rathfarnham's super team (Barry, Ronan, and Peter) securing victory in front of Sli Cualann and an alliance of cross-country runners from North Laois.

I picked up two titles as well, finishing as first Dane (as usual), but more importantly as first male Crusaders runner (1 of 1).

It was a pleasure and a true privilege to be part of a race such as this. It also shows how just how momentous the task ahead of me is. I had a very good run, yet lost more than 16 minutes on the winner on a rough 5 kilometre climb. I may never have to beat the best of Ireland to fulfil my dream of running the Euro and World Championships in Danish colours, but I will have to get a lot closer.

Taking the consequence of this, I have signed up a personal exercise physiologist and training coach for the remainder of the year. I have year's at my disposal, but not second can be wasted if I am ever to close this gap. I will never understand the defeatist losers, surely there is no greater inspiration and learning experience than a humbling defeat to put fire in your belly.

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