Mt. Galtymore (or Galteemore) stands at 917m as the imposing zenith of Ireland’s “inland mountain range”: The Galtees, known from such popular songs as The Galtee Mountain Boy and the Gay Galtee Mountains. Foreigners or others with little interest in the hills may know the name more from the many agrarian products branded after the green hills that stretch through counties Limerick, Tipperary, and Cork.
And Galtymore marks the turning point of the classical IMRA route “The Galtees”, not to be confused with the even longer and more sadistic “Trans-Galtees” route which precise details remain somewhat shrouded in the mists of time.
917m equates to 3009 feet, so Galtymore only barely makes it into the 3000-footer club that meant English International Hugh Symonds had to drop by here on his way to completing all the British and Irish 3000-footers in one continuous traverse (a story told in the book “Running High”). The top consists of a rocky plateau, however, so erosion will now be slow and Galtymore may remain in this exclusive club for a while.
What type of measurement is 3000-feet anyway? What matters is the mountain. For statisticians I cannot help but note that Galtymore ranks 14th among the highest peaks in Ireland and 28th among all the peaks on the Irish and British islands (9 of the higher peaks are found in McGillycuddy’s Reeks, two others are the well-known Mt. Brandon, which hasn’t been raced in too long, and Lugnaquilla, the stage of Sunday’s Irish Championship race).
The Irish Championship
I’d like to claim some credit for being the person who pushed for inclusion of The Galtees race into the Irish Championship once it became clear that the Munster Mountain Running Association were planning to feature it in their Munster Championship series.
I won’t claim the full credit, however, as there was widespread enthusiasm for this idea, and I can see why: Joe Lalor claims that The Galtees race route must be considered the toughest mainstream (non-ultra) race route on the IMRA calendar, eclipsing even Carrauntoohil. Also the kudos go to Munster for putting the classical course back on the race calendar where it has been absent since 2004 when John Brooks won it in the shockingly fast time of 75:55 which also, according to IMRA archives, appear to be the record.
Secondly, the Irish Championship criteria clearly state that routes must be over “worthy peaks” and with a limited amount of 3000-footers (and fewer with large prominence as many are part of a continuing ridge in the Reeks), you won’t find many other worthier peaks in Ireland.
To give an example of what to my mind constitutes a “worthy peak”, I would say mountains like Mweelrea (highest peak in Connacht), Errigal (highest peak in Donegal with more than 620m prominence), Mt. Brandon (951m!), Slievenamon (for its prominence, location and legend) and lastly Slieve Donard, but this list shouldn’t be perceived as exhaustive. Slieve Donard remains a particular dream for the formation of an All-Irish Championship stewarded by an IMRA/NIMRA partnership, but this is a discussion for the future.
To date, the Championship series have taken runners to Croagh Patrick in the West, to Carrauntoohil in the South, then this weekend Lugnaquilla here in Leinster before again turning to Munster for the Galtees race. Only one race remains which will be the undoubtedly star-studded field to contest the World Trial race in Crone Wood for a different sort of challenge.
The name “The Galtees” wasn’t picked at random and clearly indicates the true nature of the route: You are not bound for just one solitary peak (however impressive Galtymore seems on its own), instead you must cross two other peaks.
The first peak “Cush” stands at 639m and like the second peak of the day “Galty Beg” at 799m (small hill of the Galtees) all of its slopes are painfully steep. The ridge between Galty Beg and Galtymore (big hill of the Galtees) swirls around Lough Diheen before you must cross the flat top of Galtymore “Dawson’s Table” to reach the cairn: The turning point of the race. For those curious about the names, “Galtees” seems to be a bastardisation of the more well-known Gaelic word “Coillte” and the name Galtee Mountains may hold the meaning “Mountains of the Forest”.
The route itself is 13km long and entails 1340m of ascent, a good 200m more than Carrauntoohil. This makes the race ideal preparation for Snowdon in terms of climb and toughness. The terrain, however, is softer and wilder and the overall route a good 3 kilometres shorter. It’s very likely that I’ll spend a good bit more time completing this route than I will Snowdon. The countour lines on the 74 OS map which covers this area also suggests much harder ascent grades than you will found on the Snowdon route which largely follows the famous “Llanberis Track” which is not the steepest ascent to the Welsh 3000-footer.
A particularly sadistic “twist in the tail” was highlighted by Peter O’Farrell after his fine win at Lugnaquilla this weekend: “Coming back up Cush on the way back is just cruelty”. A look at the map quickly confirms why: You will have done approximately 1100m of ascending at this stage. You will have run close to 9 kilometres, and you will just have completed the descents of Galtymore and Galtybeg. You are now at a plateau and the steep Southside of Cush states you in the face with another 200m of ascent in store. This challenge must be mastered with enough left in the tank for some sort of race finish. Cruelty indeed!
Goals – Mainly of the Land
As always survival springs to mind when evaluating goals for a long tough hill race. I also don’t want to get injured, which means taking no chances on the descents. I’d also like to be back in decent time, so “not getting lost” also has priority.
To avoid this I’ve studied the map quite carefully and had a chat with my mate Conor about what to look out for. I feel I have a pretty solid grip on what should be where at any given time. If the weather stays clear I will barely need any consideration to navigation as the whole route will be visible from the start.
Given that the Galtees are a landlocked mountain range and stand rather alone in the “Golden Vale” (the closest really high points are the Knockmealdowns a good bit further south), they attract a lot of harsh weather and mist. As we saw last year during the World Trial, conditions can be reasonable fair at sea-level while the top remains shrouded in mist, rain and wind.
I’m fascinated by the Knockmealdowns as I never heard of them before with their highest peak looking interesting at 794m (Knockmealdown itself) and 9 other peaks over 500m. Just as the Galtees partly mark the border between Tipperary, Cork and Limerick, the Knockmealdowns straddle the border of Tipperary and Waterford. I will definitely keep these in mind as it would nice to know if they are runnable and interesting hills. Knockmealdown itself is steep and barren and I saw a beautiful picture of it on Wikipedia (very appetising!) and for those looking to bag the highest peak in all counties, this peak is the highest in Co. Waterford. A Knockmealdown race anyone?
Apart from these geographic targets, I want to get a good long hard run in with lots of climbing that will make Snowdon seem like less of a shock in a few weeks time. I am adhering to the Brain Training principles here and applying the theory that the brain will react better to challenges similar or easier to the ones posed to it before. I hope to do Snowdon in 90 minutes of painful running. Looking at earlier results for the Galtees, I think I could finish the race in 1:50 if I make it a secondary goal never to go all out but to keep something in reserve. I shouldn’t leave the race feeling completely shattered. After Lugnaquilla I was still quite full of energy and my limbs weren’t in tatters (my sprained ankle was a bit more blue that evening though). I won’t be that lucky with the Galtees race but it cannot be a maximal effort as that would equate to leaving my Snowdon performance down in Tipperary.
My only worry is that times seem hard to compare looking at different runners over different years, but even if I’m out for 2 hours that won’t be all bad as I’ll bring a lightly filled bumbag to keep me going.
I’m expecting a comparable experience to one of my first races: Donard-Commedagh in the Mournes, with its two ferocious climbs followed by large bits of technical descents (soft but very steep). It’ll no doubt be more enjoyable, however, as I wasn’t very well trained then compared to now.