Not as high as many of it's imposing neighbours (Djouce looming mighty more than 200m higher nearby), the Sugarloaf is nevertheless strangely imposing, even majestic, as it stands overlooking Dublin Bay at 501m.
The Great Sugarloaf is a limestone mountain formed millenia ago at the bottom of some ancient ocean, and has an impressive sharp profile, like a breaking wave, but glittering in different colours depending on the seasons.
You can't run the Sugarloaf and not feel a tingle of melancholy: It's the end of Leinster League! The many tough Wednesdays where we've fought over countless classical routes: Howth, Bray, Tibradden, Ticknock, the list is long (13 long to be exact!).
The Sugarloaf marks the end of that League, and after the race we had a great BBQ and few drinks, before the winners where properly celebrated. In a way, it is like a prologue to the bigger celebrations awaiting us at the Annual Social in November.
For a Leinster League race it is short (the shortest in fact) at only 6.06km but with 376m of climb and tough elevation grade of 12.5%, not to speak of the tricky final 500m to the top, where elevation grades turn semi-vertical at 29.4%!!!
It doesn't end there, crawling off the top you hit a narrow quick open descent that after a brief spell turns into an overgrown lottery for your step. It's steep, it's slippy, and you can't see where you landing!
When I arrived in Ireland in Spring 2005, I took a keen interest in the Irish mountains almost instantly. Maybe it's my flatlander blood yearning for the high places, or maybe it was my long neglected calling into the wild.
Before I took up hiking with Glenwalk, I went on one solitary journey, taking the bus to Kilmacanogue, the village at the foot of the Sugarloaf. It's was a great learning experience, I went up badly equipped in heavy gear, no rainproofs, and punctured gore-tex boots, and learned that in Ireland, beautiful sunshine at the foot can revert into hailing storms at the top.
The mixture of fear, depridation, and excitement that I felt crawling down the slippery hard rocks of the Sugarloaf's elusive summit, stayed with me, and I vowed that day, that never again would the wilds caught me underprepared. (thus the gadgets!!!)
Like Howth, if you don't get off like a race horse, you'll get squashed. The track up to final kilometres before the centre is so narrow that there's almost no opportunity overtake. I came off this bit in decent speed, but after a few kilometres of the murderous ascent grades on offer, I was dying and both Orla and Aoife pulled up next to me as the mountain opened up in front of us.
Biting through the pain, I broke away once again, and managed to reach the foot of the final descent just before my fellow Crusaders. From here on it was just a mad scramble as we tumbled first up and then down. Orla, wellknown as a reckless descender slipped past me, and as we came off the technical bit and back on faster track I was riding straight in her slipstream.
Behind me, I hadn't noticed Anne Ormsby sneaking up, but Orla had, and for long spells fought to keep her behind her thinking that I was her (there goes my masculinity rating!). Before the final kilometre I fought myself past Orla only to wander wild into the heather, and seeing her slip in front of me again.
Last I ran this mountain, it was with Conor and all the trail had turned into rivers. While conditions were nothing like this today, the final trail offers no chance of getting by unless you're willing to jump into knee-high vegetation.
As we finally got back on wider track, I thought there'd be at least a few hundred metres to the finish to gain back the position lost going off the top, but when I realised it was more like 20 I literally threw myself over the finish line, hitting Orla (who apologised!) in the process.
Straight behind us came Anne Ormsby, a runner I had never previously beaten, repeated our scenario as she and Rob Whelan crashed over the line both 3 seconds later.
It had been a furious race, short, relentless, fast, but the real fun only started with the BBQ after, masterfully orchestrated by Conor O'Meara, Alan Ayling, Moire, and others!
What an end to the Leinster League, it will be missed...but only until next year!
Not much to say, I'm quite happy with my league finish. I moved up from generally finishing around 132% (or slower!) of the winners time to finishing in 128%. I was 43rd out of the 489 runnesr who attended the league, a good finish that I'm confident I can improve on next season.
The newness of the first league will never come back, but hopefully it will merely be replaced by a joy of "reunion".