TRAINING: Pain and Peaks of Dublin

This Monday I need my rest day more than ever. I tend to stay a bit on the "rough side" of the training program I am giving, but this week, desperate to make up for time lost during my five days down with a virus from Mon-Fri, I embarked on a training run that any serious coach would only describe as pure idiocy (in fact, I don't hesitate to describe it as such myself now!).

I was intrigued by Joe Lalor's latest master-piece: A revamp of the traditional Dublin Peaks route, an amalgamation of the Three-Rock/Fairy Castle (classical short route) race and the Tibradden race, with an intermediate peak called Cruagh in the middle linking these two races to my least favourite mountain on this planet: unseemly, untidy, and just plain annoying Kippure.

Since this route takes you pretty far from your start at Ticknock car park, you have to run back again making for a rare long-distance hill race in Ireland of almost 36k.

Recce Recce
Most hill runners favourite pastime is recceing routes (the hill-running equivalent of checking out a gorgeous girl), and this one begged to be checked out, as I was scheduled to do a 2hour hill run, but felt I wanted to do at least 3, having felt comfortable on my first two long runs of the year, the 22k Wicklow Way Trail the Sunday before, and a run from Marlay Park out the Wicklow Way (26k).

Emma's "you gotta love those AT1" (Long Slow Distance), rings eternal in my ears.

So I set out to do the new route, and hopefully provide Joe with some feedback and height measurements from my watch that could be used on the IMRA website.

Joe very kindly provided me with some brief, yet surprisingly precise guidelines, to the route, and with the very able company of hardened adventure racer and Wicklow Ultra finisher Bob Boles, I set off at about 13. We would not be back before almost 7 o'clock that night...

Early Delight
Bob and I got off to a great start, flew over the first three hills,Three-Rock (up the Boneshaker), Fairy Castle (the direct route) and Tibradden (the race route) and got to Cruagh forest after crossing the main route from the Tibradden car park.

Then we had a bit of trouble finding Joe's cairn, three rocks nicely stapled to mark a turn into the forest, but after 4k of detours we found it, and made our way up to the upper path. Again we missed "the old fence" to the true summit of Cruagh, an unassuming yellow knoll marked only by a tiny cairn and an upright pole, and got another few K thrown wrong into the mix before we had offically "conquered" peak number 4!

Trouble with Kippure
From here, Joe had warned us of numerous routes of Kippure, but as we stood and stared, the big television mast became visible, if barely, in the distance, and we moved to the path that led to it, and eventually out on the main road that winds it's way to the Kippure race start.
Kippure, a mountain I can honestly say I loathe, was tough going, the long relentless 5k climb over treacherous ankle-beding terrain until you wobble down, muscles soaking up punishment, through the hummocks, the wet dirt, and multiple streams.

A Long Road Home!
Again, we thought, we'd now try the correct route back, but got another 0.5k detour in. Then it all went wrong, maybe fatigue had set in, but the day had greyed, only an hour of sun left, and we couldn't see the top of Cruagh as we had planned on the way out (the pole on the top is easily visible in the middle of a fence on the track you run but suddenly it was gone).

This brought us out into an awful mess, and at this stage I was too cold and tired to make sense, but Bob was eventually led us down a long descent to the main road in Glencullen, from here we decided to skip it all, run the 6-7km to Johnnie Foxes and get a well-deserved reward for a run well done at the warm fire-place.

He would later tell me that he had some worry about my condition at this stage, and I seem to remember the question: "You alright, you look a bit pale?"

Mental Tiredness
Joe's route is the stuff, though, and armed with the knowledge of our failures, I am looking forward to doing it again, but now I'm just very very sore, and very tired. Was so far gone at the end that Bob started to sing a song, which prompted me into an impromptu rendition of "The Water is Wide", well at least the first verse, as we ran at snail pace to the pub.

In general, this run was probably too long and hard (it ended up being 41.37km, with 1347m of ascent, and a running time of 5hours 33 minutes and 11 eternal seconds) to be physically beneficial at this stage, but it was a humbling experience in terms of the mindset needed for true long-distance events and the speed at which, even well-fed and well-hydrated as I was, you can lose so much energy that you are barely able to make decisions.

At the end I just wanted complete silence to focus on the pain, and the simple, yet endlessly arduous, task of putting one foot in front of the others. Ligaments where screaming to stop, strange pains where cropping up in the elbow joint, the lower back and other places that would never suffer. And the plantar foot of course, was begging for the long difficult descents to stop. Strangely, the foot is completely fine today!

So as a learning-curve towards Three-Peaks and beyond, this was invaluable, it's true what they always say, you don't perform well in race on a day you run it, and you definitely don't win it on the day, it's all those hours leading up to it. And a day like today certainly put a nice perspective on some things. While I have run for longer (9 hours), this was somehow harder and more mentally draining.

Final Thoughts on the Course
As I said a great course and destined to become a classic.

For use as a training run, however I'd always leave out Kippure, I can't see much value in it as a training run given the nature of the terrain. But this may be with my emphasis on a particular type of runs. Adventure racers and others whose focus are the truly rough races, will probably find it the icing on the cake, rather than a necessary evil.

The psychological effect of running up Cruagh, looking back and seeing the Three-Rock mast, Fairy Castle with it's dark hue cut in two by the broad stony path, and the reddish elongated hulk of Tibradden, is well worth running this alone, as is the opposite effect, as you look forward from the top of Cruagh and as you start running, the Kippure mast seems to linger forever in the distance, like chasing the end of the rainbow for that pot of elusive gold...