RACES: NC - The Stone Cutter

Today I had my first try at "hardcore" navigation. Being a complete novice to this field, I've only had limited chance to practice it at Aughavannagh (where I got lost with Conor O'Meara before eventually finding the right way back), and on my recces with Conor and Barry.

The Navigational Challenge, or NC for short, is a special IMRA competition, also known as the "50k challenge". It consists of three races normally tallying up to 50 kilometres of rough open mountain running. Because of this it wasn't surprising to see the true purists out there: Joe Lalor as Race Director, the indomitable Gerry Brady, adventure racer and mountain biker Alan Ayling, veteran Charlie O'Connell, ex-mountain rescuer Mick Kellett, and the Queen of the Mountains Moire O'Sullivan, who has braved so many ridicolously tough adventure challenges, last the Ballyhouras Beast.

Barry and Conor were also there, as was IMRA treasurer Isabel Lemee and a true legend, one of the last old-school fell runners: Paul "Just-Point-To-The-Top-And-Let-Them-Run" Nolan.

The Start.
We returned once again to Crone Wood carpark, launching point of the Powerscourt Ridge race, and water station during the Wicklow Way Trail. Last Wednesday had also based itself around this big carpark, as the Ballyross Trail Race ran straight through the forest that would provide the first obstacle of the day.

Wait, what's the NC again?
The Navigational Challenge differs from other IMRA races in that it is more of an orienteering event. Unlike orienteering, however, as Joe Lalor so well explained at race start, gives more flexibility in route choice. You have four grid references, each of which covers an orienteering flag, where you must clip your "scorecard". The grid references are numbered 1 to 4 and must be completed in the correct order. Apart from that, it's up to you.

With perfect route choice, today's race would take you through about 14km of mountainy roughness and a little more than 500m of climb.

Being well sore after my heavy weight session Saturday, and my pre-Midnight training run, I had decided to make a true "fun-run" out of it. No ambition, no racing, just go out, enjoy the day, take in the wilderness, and most of all: Don't get lost! (I'd never hear the end of it!)

Joe Lalor didn't hesitate to put us beginner's mind at ease, explaining to us how a hill runner had to be helicoptered off this area last time around! Maybe it was that, or he was still shaken by Conor's earlier question: "Will the route be well marked?"

Commandos in Force
If that was not enough to put us off, the sight of mountain rescue having commandeered half the carpark to coordinate a search-and-rescue operation after a distraught woman who had wandered off into the forest the previous night should have, but we were undeterred. If anything, the saying went, we would cover far more ground than them and quicker. 30 odd runners in great shape, spread over a huge area. A Mountain Running Rescue team anyone?

The idea is not as silly a it sound, as it should prove. Mountain Runners have one other advantage apart from speed: They go everywhere, and often, only too gleefully, well off the beaten track.
And so it proved as well, "IMRA Saves woman" must surely be the frontpage of today's Irish Times, as one of the female runners found the missing woman hiding near a stream close to the first marker.

The Run
After spending about 5 minutis in the car plotting out the coordinates on my 56 Discovery 1:50.000 map (seemingly I was the only one who deemed this sufficient, as everyone else had their Harvey 1:25.000 maps, the fact that I was the least experienced should have had alarm bells ringing at this stage probably).

For the rest of the run, I will summarise: It was a great time, even an adventure, I have previously been knee-deep in heather, but this time I found myself neck-deep at one stage! Our long recces had thankfully prepared me for the fact that you must sometimes just wade straight through mother nature's backyard with no regard for the plants you trample down!

I got to the first point very easily, and took it in good time, after which a long hard travel up along the river followed, where constant high brush and treacherous underfoot slowed one down immensely. After finally finding the elusive second marker, I made my way up Tonduff, standing at more than 650m, a tough climb, but once on the top it was easy to spot the big boulder that hid the third marker (which was none other than a person: our own Brendan Doherty in high spirits).

From here it was a long downhill run over muddy marshy lands to a familiar hill: Maulin, the forested hill shadowing Crone Wood where the final marker would be found. Sadly I bungled a height reading, and ended up criss-crossing through the paths, my low-detail map not being any help, not finding the final navigation point.

Two fellow runners (thank you ladies) pointed me up in the right direction, and as I ran off to collect my fourth stamp, a bit of rain drissled on my underdressed persona. Sleeveless and shorts was probably not appropriate for this type of race, but I rather enjoyed the "closeness to nature".

Coming back to the carpark I couldn't help but feel a little proud, I had made it, and I hadn't even touched my compass, only used a bit of luck, and the geographical features of the land to guide me round. I hadn't taken the easiest route, having covered more than 17km and 800m of ascent, and I profitted off a few pointers from other runners here and there, but generally I was always heading in the right direction (until the end). Is this the way the boys must have felt returning from their first hunt with killed prey in the Stone Ages? They must have felt much the same...


Anonymous said…
glad you enjoyed the run, will you try the next two?

Renny said…
I believe so. The only possible obstacle is if I decide to join the 10 miler on Saturday, but even then I'd probably be up for it, as it's not speed-racing!

I may miss the last, as I'm going back to the flatlands on holidays on the 22nd :(
pn said…
looking at the map joe has provided for this sunday it looks like route choice is going to be critical. All the better to excerise both mind and body.