RACES: Galtymore

My Snowdon trip continues step by step and after Lugnacoille provided the first part of the launch rocket a bigger booster was dropped yesterday at Galtymore.

  • Route: 4.5 (A real mountain adventure in breath-taking surroundings and challenges you’d find only on a rare few hills. Surprisingly runnable terrain. Would have been a 5 in dry conditions)
  • Weather: 3 (Windy and quite wet in patches and slightly misty at the top. However, weather was never a problem navigationally or performance-wise and the relatively high temperature kept conditions fairly safe)
  • Field Strength: 3 (A much smaller field than at Lugnacoille and runners of all levels participating but all eyes were on the contest between Peter O’Farrell and John Lenihan in this race)
  • Performance: 3 (Another hard training run but not in “race mode”. No navigational errors. A bit of fun and enjoyment among all the seriousness)
  • Overall: 4 (Down from 5 as it wasn’t much from a sporting perspective for myself, but as an experience and a day out, it was superb)

So was Galtymore as hard as expected? The answer unfortunately is not one I can give despite having run it! It was certainly a tough route but in terms of suffering, there wasn’t very much pain involved and the harrowing zombie-like plodding that I have felt in races such as Aughavannagh, Three-Peaks, and Donard-Commedagh never materialised here. (and better so given that I was a walking zombie at Donard-Commedagh and a wreck of a man after Three-Peaks).

Truth is my legs were too tired after the week’s session for much action and my mind was halfway in Wales already and the other half wasn’t ready to suffer any discomfort today, so once I got settled in on Cush with a group with Dermot Murphy, Joe Aherne and Mick Hanney, my only interest was in keeping a steady ship, finding the right route and returning in good form.

Even slow pace can be arduous when a route is such as this, however: I measured it (after corrections) as 12km long and with 1198m (rounded nicely to 1200m!) climb and an average ascent grade of 21.4% (max 43.2%). Poor old Lugnacoille only manages 13.7% (if you go up the South Prison it’s a different story).

In any case, today was not about us, it was about a Biblical battle. And no, it wasn’t biblical because of the short bursts of rain that lashed us, but because the main protagonists of the day were called Peter and John.

Irish Champion – Peter or John

The Irish Championship has been an interesting affair ever since Peter O’Farrell started out winning Croagh Patrick. When John Lenihan answered by winning Carrauntoohil on the same day as Peter suffered a bit of a blip and finished 5th, things were looking on edge before Lugnacoille.

With his back to the wall Peter clawed out a great result in his native Leinster to beat John Lenihan at his own game. Galtymore and the World Trial would decide the Irish Championship and with the latter being a hard race to score the needed “1 point” that would secure the title for either contestant, everything pointed to Galtymore being the decider.

And neutrals weren’t disappointed when they looked over a starting field that also included other notables such as ex-Internationals Tom Blackburn, Bernard Fortune and Turlough Conway but also in-form John McEnri. Paul Nolan watched from the side-lines. It would have been quite something if he had been ready and willing to race on this day.

Because up front they stood side by side, John with the characteristic long dark hair and his green and yellow Riocht club colours. Peter O’Farrell with trademark cap and dressed in white that meant on-lookers on Cush thought he was alone in front for long spells as John Lenihan’s colour blended into the Galtee’s green.

The race, from my vantage point in the middle, seemed to take off at a pace respectful of the sternness of the day’s climbs. Yet, no doubt, it was fiercely fought from the beginning as John Lenihan attempted to break away on Cush but Peter holding firm and responding with a strong descent. Close together the two experienced hill-runner made their way over the wet stretch to Galtymore and up the natural staircase to the ridge leading to Galtymore.

Peter turned the cross with a reasonable gap but John still close enough for the kill. With a very long technical descent to go and a hard climb back up the Southface of Cush, he must have known there would be little or no room for error. Yet, he held both his nerve and kept his concentration to arrive back in the forest at Clydagh Bridge ahead of the greatest legend of Irish hill running.

Unfortunately, he did drop his concentration on the last 60m to suffer a nasty fall andsome cuts on the rocks. But the mistake had happened at an opportune time and there was no time for John to turn it to his advantage. Some would point to the fact that John is now rounding the 50, and while the former world champion doesn’t churn out the record-breaking times he used to, this should not detract from Peter’s performance. Truth is, very few have beaten John Lenihan on the big classical routes over the last decade and Peter has now managed the feat twice in the spell of a week. In a time when much focus goes on "hybrid" race and enticing top-class cross-country runners into international competition, the Rathfarnham man looks a natural heir to take on the mantle in the older, rougher tradition of hill running.

If, in a small way, this heralds the end of the era when John Lenihan ruled supreme over the Irish hills, we shouldn’t greet it with sadness but rather as a natural progression and with excitement on what a new era with runners ready to step out of the shadow of the Kerry giant can achieve. Eoin McKenna was the last to sow such promise, but has sadly not been seen running much in the last year.

For now it is official: Peter O’Farrell, Irish Champion for the first time, in 2009 after winning Croagh Patrick, Lugnacoille and Galtymore. Adding to his King of the Mountains title and Leinster Championship and qualification to the Europeans, the Rathfarnham man must feel some satisfaction with the way the season is going for him (in theory Bernard Fortune can draw level by winning the last 3, but Peter has beaten him thrice in the Championship. While I’ll have to check the competition rules to see what tie-breakers we have, he’d be joint Champion at worst!).

Many long-term IMRA observers undoubtedly also cherish the fact that these titles are being won by “one of their own”, which just means someone who’s been running in the hills for a long-time and Peter is certainly counted among those. A similar sentiment will undoubtedly be extended to Caroline Reid who also looks to add the Irish Championship title to her Leinster League win. Both herself and Karen Duggan will find it tough to get a win at the World Trial, which means Caroline looks set to take the IC title.

Racing Galtymore

To briefly recount what happened elsewhere as I finished 17th myself having been 16th at the top.

Dermot Murphy seemed determined on the day and broke away from the trio of myself, Mick and Joe on the ascent of Galtybeg. Behind us Caroline Reid was carving out a lead to local woman Loretta Duggan.

Joe Aherne was a good man to offer some advice on the route as we went along after he caught up with us on the wet plateau between Cush and Galtybeg. I was a bit slow on the turn as we reached the ridge but Mick and Joe stayed in view ahead of me through the thin cloud cover.

Coming up Galtymore I lost a bit of ground and here I saw Bernard Fortune sitting on the ground moments after I had seen Peter and John roar down into the mist. His racing flats were causing him problems and he opted to run the remainder of the race barefoot.

There were several muddy moments here were I went in to my knees and a runner behind me had caught up and we battled it out for positions for a while until I broke a hole to the top. As I passed the first cross (a small tin cross in a cairn), Mick and Joe were making their way down, and I ran on and went up to touch the second cross (a big white Celtic cross). It felt good bagging another of Ireland’s 3000-footers and one that has long played on my mind.

The summit marshal had had to abandon his post as he had judged conditions to dangerous for race. Unfortunately, he had gotten lost on the way down and the race continued unabated. This lead, allegedly, to a few runners not knowing what cross to turn at but it seems most made it all the way out to the second cross.

Coming off the grassy rock-strewn side of Galtymore, I understood Bernard’s woes. My Trailfoxes here learned of their true limitations as I was slipping all over the place and after a fall, I decided to take it easy until back on the flat ridge. The runner in black overtook me here and ran alone for a while greeted only be a plethora of runners coming up from below.

The mist broke slightly towards the end of the Galtybeg ridge and just as I thought “have I run too far east”, I could glimpse tiny figures far below close to the plateau and I turned left onto the steep descent from here. I had made very slow progress apparently as Joe, Mick and the runner in black were now well beyond catching distance, and I lost more time coming off, trying to find a way to run the slippery gradient with a modicum of control. Mick Hanney later reported his Mudclaws had been superb, and it looks like I’ll have to pick up a new pair the next time I’m in England solely for these races.

My heart rate never rose into the zone of discomfort but once I had spurted over the plateau my legs immediately let me know they weren’t up for any antics on the second descent to Cush. I had otherwise kept Paul Nolan’s advice in mind for here: “Don’t try any heroics until you climb back over Cush”, just in case I was feeling particularly good.

I looked back and my gap to the next runner looked unassailable. With the runners ahead being equally far, or further, ahead, there wasn’t much to race for, so coming off Cush my focus was on trying to learn how to get to grips (literally) with the terrain. Eventually I got into a flow and the last mile or so was very relaxed and it must have been the first time I can remember arriving at a finish line neither knackered nor out of breath which was nice for a change.

Stopping for a few pre-race chats, I was just in time to see Mike Cunningham show off his Walsh PB which had had its sole ripped off clean up on the hill! Only a few spaces further back, Caroline Reid arrived as first woman. Ercus Stewart put pressure on Diarmud O’Cholmain by winning the M60 meaning the latter will hope his broken rib, sustained at Lugnacoille, can heal up in time to defend his challenge.

Holding Back

As we sat in the Community Centre enjoying the free Munster sambos and servings of tea, Peter O’Farrell lifted his finger at me and told me to “take it easy from now till’ the big race of the season. Your work is done.” He’s not wrong, of course, the basic tenet of the final weeks before a big race is to just ensure you arrive fresh and rested.

That will bring me to tomorrow's topic in the warm-up series of articles for Snowdon: Taper. I have now managed to run somewhat restrained on Lugnacoille and very restrained at Galtymore. This bodes well as self-control has great importance, but there's more to a successful taper.

But more on that tomorrow, for now I want the steep green slopes of the Galtees to play once more across my inner retina with all their enticing might ever reminding me of the true essence of hill running behind the numbers, the competition, the Championships and Leagues, reduced back to the two elements that matter most: Man and Mountain.