DIARY: Circuit of Glendasan

Very slow at getting out my diary entries from the Kerry Weekend, but these are busy times with MST reports to be written, race results to compile, athletes to coach, work to attend, and my own training as well!

Yet, you won’t hear me complain, for some of my many projects are truly exciting, the biggest I can unfortunately not talk about for a while but it’ll be exciting when it comes out suffice it to say!

One I can talk about is our effort to publish “A Mountain Runners Guide to Wicklow” under the auspices of TrailGuides. This will be a collaborative effort and proceeds will go to a worthy cause such as Mountain Rescue PathSavers.

Today’s route: here.

Ultra-runner Adrian Tucker, of Wicklow Round fame, and one of few Irish men to have shared cups of tea with Joss Naylor, has moved quickly with his route proposal “Circuit of Glendalough”. I propose changing the name, perhaps to “Circuit of Glendasan” as you do not circumnavigate the vale of Glendalough but rather start and finish there). He had called me out for a rare break from my military adherence to the Lydiard program to see his proposal with my own eyes and feel it in my own joints.

A difficult day does not deter

As I write this, the spring green colours of the lower Camaderry slopes outside my kitchen window darkens with the rain, mists shroud the hill-tops from our puny gazes, and the skies speak with thunderous voice.

So it was this morning that we set off from the Visitor’s Centre, for a flat warm-up on the Wicklow Way, expecting to be drenched, and knowing no far-ranging vistas would aid our navigation. Luckily, we both know Camaderry and Tonelagee well and Adrian was meticulously prepared having loaded his previous run here onto a Garmin GPS tool, experience and a plastic-bag of maps fluttering from his chest served as our back-up.

“Good going…”

Adrian expected a time around four hours for the route and this prospect seemed somehow bleaker as my heart rate immediately skyrocketed and my pace dropped to a crawl as we hit the punishing direct ascent of Camaderry, across the zigzags following the narrow path up through forest where stony and grassy steps take turns to block your upwards journey.

I had hoped it was the usual “slow-start”, not helped by the 9am set-off and late breakfast, and as the circuit progressed my predictions proved right, as I gathered strength throughout and we managed what Adrian described as “good going” in 3:36 for the 27.8km. We expected 1500m ascent from the OSI map, whereas Garmin clocked it at 1363m. Perhaps we had contoured cleverly.

The main Camaderry ascent comes to an end after 4.5km at 673m with the grievously steep third kilometre featuring a punishing 23.7% gradient (on average). We met the first of three bands of walkers on our journey in the mists approaching the Eastern summit. From there your traverse to Turlough hill is largely flat before a spell of tarmac as the route turns you back north towards Tonelagee and the second major climb of the route.

A rough reputation

Tonelagee is a beastly challenged approached from Brockagh, but a much easier challenge than it get’s a reputation for having from the Wicklow Gap. As we left the brief spell of tarmac behind us, the hard mile to the top awaited, the twelfth kilometre almost as steep as the third (22.2% gradient) yet it felt much less arduous.

Soon the top beckoned and the mist robbed us of all the spectacular views that a future runner of this route, having hopefully read the book, could be treated to. Many mistakes are made here coming off the top, but we made our way through the thick wet vegetation to eventually emerge on the stony plateau that confirms you are on course for the pass at Glenmacnass.

Adrian watched our route closely and did not miss the crucial spots where you break away from the main “path” for the short long-grassed descent to the river. A few hopped stones later, our feet once again touched tarmac, but only briefly, as we began the final major climb of the day slowly contouring up the lower slopes of Scarr.

Nothing Scarr(y)

This climb continued longer than I remembered and three kilometres and more than 250 metres ascent later, our legs could finally avail of a stretch as we playfully descended one of the best descent of the Leinster League.

We met dispersed groups of walkers as we made our way over Paddock Hill and dropped down to the Glenmacnass race finish. “I’d like another little Tonelagee here for the route to be perfect,” Adrian mused as we climbed again on the Wicklow Way over the low shoulder of Brockagh. I was less convinced but could not ponder long, robbed of the fantastic Glendalough viewing point, the highlight of this section was the fast rocky descent back towards the Glendalough hotel.

We arrived back and duly treated Adrian to tea and Aoife’s home-made scones discussing tales of ultra runs, the Lake District while watching the sheared sheep grassing just 30m from the kitchen panorama.  I sat munching away, glad at my decision to stray from program, if just for a day, the route is a classic and the vast majority on joint-friendly soft terrain where my Inov-8 X-Talon’s really proved their worth.