TRAINING: Mountain Therapy

When planning out my calendar I had a tough decision to make: Another go at my favourite leg 7 in the Wicklow Way Relay? Go up north to do the Mourne Way Half-Marathon? Or gather valuable experience running the Trial? My decision eventually fell on the European Trial, the race serving long-term objectives best. Mark Ryan’s dictum of “always sacrifice short-term ambition for long-term goals” is one worth drawing swords for…

Yet I ended up doing neither (!) yet the weekend turned out to be far from a complete waste. My recent awful form had to be addressed in time to turn out some kind of performance at Snowdon, so risking the leg on the three laps of hard downhill could not be contemplated. I also had to repair the damage done to my aerobic base, so I once again returned to Lydiard and three days, 7.5 hours running, about 70k of mountainous terrain and 2600m of climbing later, I feel cured.

“My Waitakere”

When Peter Snell once lost form, Arthur told him to go out and run three Waitakere circuits (Arthur’s famous hilly 22-mile loop). He duly did so and recovered his form in time for another great season.

I have had to yet find “my Waitakere” and since my move to Glendalough a route has become apparent and I decided to go out and run it three days in a row (Friday evening, Saturday morning and Sunday morning). An inspired choice as it proved as I had one of my best hill running experiences in Ireland on an absolute perfect training course.

Glendalough “Waitakere”

My route starts at my house on St. Kevin’s Way and from there I head to the Visitor’s Centre and run up the Wicklow Way past Poulanass Waterfall. Here I eventually go off-road taking the straight path up through the bushes towards Derrybawn summit. From the summit of Derrybawn, I follow the ridge and veer off left onto a smaller path leading through grass and heather to Cullentragh. Dropping off the South side, I join a rocky path at the forest-line then turn right and take the summit of Braige Mountain.

A grassy descent and ascent later, I’m standing at the top of Slayfann and another ascent and descent later (steeper this time!) Mullacor. Five peaks down, only two to go: Next Top of the Bounds after crossing the WW. Finally I set my sights on Lugduff: One kilometre out and back to the cairn. A hungry look to Corrig, then sense prevails, and back to Top of the Bounds. Just at the summit (marked only by a small grassy plateau raised over the rest of the flat peak), I follow a grassy trail straight North rendezvousing with the Red Road leading to the Spink boardwalks. Here I turn left uphill for the final small climb of the day on The Spink. Mental faculties are tested next as a long descent first on boardwalk and then on the rocky swerving path towards the Miner’s Village finish the main part off the run. From here, it’s about 3.5km, mainly on flat trail until I’m back in my house.

I called it “Six Summits and a Spink” and the route covers around 23.5km (24.5km if doing the long ascent of Derrybawn) with 840m ascent. On Saturday I threw in the shoulder of Camaderry. This was a bit cruel on me and added up to 912m ascent.

Derrybawn the Destroyer!

This route would make a fascinating race. You get to enjoy a bit more than 2km on the flat but once the climb to Derrybawn starts there’s no mercy. If you take the steepest most direct way to the top you must climb 325m in 1.74km (a murder mile if ever there was one). This is a punishing average ascent grade of just under 19%! A slightly less direct approach is a kilometre longer but about 1:30 quicker at slow pace.

The other climbs are much less cruel thankfully and only the climb up Mullacor has a real sting to it if legs are tired at this stage.


Saturday morning was the biggest test with only about 14 hours of recovery between run 1 and 2 but I ran longer, faster and better than on day 1. The same held true for day 3 where I felt particularly strong on the flat bit towards the end. A cold bath-tub, hot shower, mighty feast and World Cup football proved endlessly recuperating.


The run worked a treat as it can be run slowly in between 2:30-2:45 which is close to the amount of time Lydiard’s athletes used to run Waitakere (2:10-2:30) and physically and mentally it put me in the zone. The first climb has the power to demoralise as large parts have to be power walked to keep it aerobic but the majority of the later ascents can be run and so can the significant flat stretches on the ridges. The descents on offer are all spectacular and you get practically every sort of technical challenge thrown at you during the course of the outing.

So apparently this is one way of healing yourself: And why wouldn’t it work? Your average ultra-runner covers more in a day. I certainly feel restored in mind and body, ready to launch a bid to restore the remnants of my summer season…