Old county Wicklow saw a lot of action today (and its not over yet!).
As I sit comfortably here, brave Adrian Tucker has been on the road for more than 9 hours challenging that great beast called the Wicklow Round, the brain-child of Brian Bell and Joe Lalor. Adrian is the fourth to attempt this (two teams and Moire O'Sullivan have preceded him) and with Moire making a very close attempt last year, the quiet and unassuming Rathfarnham runner could be the man to break the invincible shield that has laid over the Round like the 4-minute mile barrier once did.
I wish him the best of luck in any case, he has chosen an ideal perfect day in terms of weather conditions and the time of year is well-chosen with plenty of daylight but the vegetation not yet out in full flush. What preparations he has done, I can only guess, but Adrian has finished 4th and 5th in the last two year's Ultras and has completed the famous Trail Blanche race in the French Pyrenees as well. We are not dealing with a stranger to ultras, so I would not put money against us having our first finisher by tomorrow Noon.
He's meeting Mike Bolger around 22:30 at Drumgoff (all going well), so hopefully we'll have more news in the morning.
Wicklow Way Trail
I abandoned my big goal of running the Wicklow Way Trail again and having a go at the 1:45 barrier this year at the last minute (realising my training was much better suited to the National 10k in two weeks where I will be aiming for a time of 37:30).
Therefore I didn't get a first hand report of the race, my favourite with Trooperstown (both of which I have sacrificed for the sake of the "bigger picture"), but was impressed to hear tri-athlete and adventure racer Jackie O'Hagan had beaten Caroline Reid to claim an impressive victory in a good time. Kevin Keane meanwhile showed another demonstration of his unmistakable talents as he took the mens. The IMRA forum is showered with good feedback, and so it should be for a better race is hard to find anywhere and next season I will focus my full Winter training around a key performance in this race. That's how much dedication I think this race deserves and I can't give it that this year and will not race over 10 mile distances in 2009.
A Return to Croaghanmoira
Some of my fondest memories have been the 2007 Aughavannagh race. The route is a madman's work taking in 5 harsh climbs over 22km (for me 6 climbs and 27km as I went astray!) and has been won by such notables as John Lenihan and Eoin Keith.
Yet despite all the suffering of that day, I never forgot the massive green wall of the Fananierin Ridge as its draconic spine took us over an unnamed knoll to the foot of Croaghanmoira Mountain, one of the lonely Wicklow outliers, like Trooperstown Hill and the Great Sugarloaf.
So today I took Aoife down there for a special Easter run, parking where the Wicklow Way intersects the Military Road (runners of Wicklow Way Relay Leg 6 will be particularly familiar with this). I had been here briefly in 2008 cheering on Seamus Murphy midway through his leg for our Relay team, but apart from that I had not set foot on Croaghanmoira or my beloved Ridge since 2007. Today was going to be the day. We first took the very steep but enjoyable direct climb to Croaghanmoira (let me say the conditions were soaking wet underfoot despite the dry day which made for harder going than the bone-dry surface of 2007).
The mountain serves up one of the most rewarding climbs as the short 2km climb to the top lays all of Wicklow bare for you to behold on a clear day. As we marvelled at the trig point, I couldn't help but think it was ironic to be here on the day that Adrian Tucker would do the Wicklow Round, for Croaghanmoira was once part of the Round, but was taken off to make the challenge more realistic (and to avoid the significant tarmac bits that you unavoidably have to take in.
From here we ran back on ourselves a bit and onto the Fananierin Ridge which we followed to the sheep fences that close off entrance to the top of Fananierin Mountain herself, as she lies unspoiled by trails.
Going back to the car park from here, we still had a few miles to do and ventured up the Leg 6 Wicklow Way Relay bit which unfortunately proved not to be the most inspiring of the long old trade route and not a part worth going out of your way to run (these fire roads are a dime a dozen).
Still, a very enjoyable day in Wicklow, but the green hills don't get any rest tonight, as I sit here comfortable on Trooperstown Hill, Adrian Tucker draws near below me in Glendalough. Best of luck Adrian, Wicklow may be yours tomorrow!
Latest News (Updated!)
Adrian had to abandon his attempt at 4:15 tonight after more than 15 hours of running, you can read his post here: http://www.imra.ie/forum/topic/id/1637/
It is a pity since he had strategically ensured that he would not only be starting in daylight, but he would be finishing in daylight too. Myself and Conor discussed this a few months ago, and agreed that at the late stages of the Round when your mental and physical resources are at their lowest, daylight could be a key advantage. It also serves you well in the tricky crossing from Djouce to War Hill and Tonduff. Alas, Adrian was not to be able to put this theory to the test, but as Moire, whose attempt still stands as the closest to breaking the 24-hours, said on the IMRA forum, he has left himselves plenty of time for a second attempt.
Vegetation will grow heavier and days shorter after the Summer Solstice, but the next month at least will still offer fairly favourable conditions and the experienc gained from previous trys could be the medicine needed here as you can deduce from Richard Askwith's four attempts on the Bob Graham Round described in "Feet in the Clouds".
I wonder, should someone contact Simon Fairmaner, the legendary English fell-runner located in Ireland, who finished the Bob Graham, and ask his advice?