DIARY: Glendalough-Trooperstown Circuit

Yesterday’s first real long run after my injury problems began was full of highs and lows and as I staggered delirious and glycogen depleted up the last climb I did not have the mental faculties left to appreciate what a fantastic route we had just about finished or wonder why it had taken me over a year of residence in Glendalough to finally go do it.

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The Trooperstown Connection

I have lamented the loss of my regular run on Trooperstown Hill since moving from the side of the mountain into the monastic valley below and my eye has been attracted to the small trail and fire-road that leads out of Laragh on onto the Ballard area south of the Trooperstown massiff. From here you can connect to any of the trails on the mountain by following the steep eroded climb to the Eastern shoulder of the hill: a climb used only once for an IMRA race (during a trial race).

Whenever I run from Glendalough to Scarr following Paddock Hill I have looked curiously at the little stile over the fence on your right hand side. A small grassy trail departs the Wicklow Way here in the direction of the main road to Laragh. A quick look at the map confirmed that this trail leads straight from the Trooperstown car park to top of Paddock Hill crossing over the Oldbridge road on the way.

Starting point: Glendalough

Aoife and I began our run at the door and followed the Green Road away from Glendalough. Usually its bustling with tourists but yesterday was strangely quiet and we ran into the Woollen Mills meeting only a few small groups of walkers. From here we followed the Laragh-Rathdrum road for a hundred metres before following the left fork in the road. At a small bridge, popular among kayakers, a broad trail leads left. It looks like the connection to Trooperstown but must be ignored: the real trail is much smaller, marked by a set of stones with yellow paint and quickly turns into a narrow overgrown trail before you re-emerge onto fire-road. Shortly thereafter the road splits again and your instincts tell you Trooperstown should be the right fork. Once again, intuition must be over-ruled and the left trail past a few houses taken.

The run from Glendalough to the foot of Trooperstown is about 3km and its steady climbing from here. When you emerge from the last stretch of grassy fire-road you are on the main dirt-road running through the farms at Ballard and straight ahead of you is a direct ascent of Trooperstown. Zig-zags and some fairly steep gradients made this bit good fun but my leg muscles were barely working especially my right glute which has been tangled in a knot since the cross-country last Sunday.

Trooperstown race route

Once we arrived on the shoulder, we followed the muddy and frozen upper trail left to circumnavigate the two peaks of Trooperstown Hill rather than going left to the top. We wanted a reasonable long run and reckoned we needed the extra miles we’d get by doing the roundtrip. We ran all the way to the backside of the second peak, the area called Clarabeg where my old house stands, and up to the “Boots” at the small cairn on the east top. The next two miles were the most slippy we had encountered, a hiker yelled at us “isn’t it too icy for that lark”. “No, it’s grand” we responded as we hopped from green patch to green patch.

At this point we had been following the Trooperstown race route in reverse since we landed on the shoulder below the top and we followed the old descent down on the fast fire-road to the river and past the impressive new mountain rescue hut at the road. My legs had nothing left at this point and my head was starting to feel very light.

Paddock Hill

Once on the main road to Laragh, we watched out for cars and ran north towards Dublin for about 200m. The first trail on the left hand side of the road was the one I was looking for. More climbing ensued here and I used up my last energy stores to get over the steepish fire-road and only once we landed on the Oldbridge roads, crossed it and I saw how long the climb to Paddock Hill was, that I realised there was more running left than I had stores in my tank.

Thinking back, I had under-eaten slightly this week and Saturday had been particularly bad because we spend the entire day in Dublin, first doing a session with Crusaders in the Phoenix Park and then organising the screening of “Unbreakable” in the evening. I felt that now. Muscles soreness was a problem, but not as bad as the fact I felt dizzy. I knew the feeling, I had hit the wall and it would only get worse from here as my brain would steal all the sugar for itself and leave my hammered legs to rely only on fat. At my current level of fitness, this did not bode so well.

It was a pity that my brain started lagging here because the climb to Paddock Hill was a real highlight once you left the fire-road and the track grew narrower and grassier, first between pine trees and then through low bushes. A huge white broken tree makes a useful marker if you have issues deciding what trail to take. Aim for that and you’ll hit the trail that leads you to the Wicklow Way.

The Wicklow Way to Glendalough

We had about 16km (10 miles) of running done at the top of Paddock Hill and from here the first grassy and then rocky descent to the Glenmacnass race start remained before we had to cross the bridge and run over the low shoulder of Brockagh. I had planned this section in because the view as you run this part of the Wicklow Way towards Glendalough is one of the most rewarding.

I could barely appreciate it, however, as my legs would repeatedly refuse to run and Aoife had to patiently run back and forth as I staggered forward my thoughts all focused on sugary drinks of all types. It felt like the Lakeland Ultra all over again except with no food.

Eventually, we got over the final climb and with most of the remainder downhill, I brightened up a bit and even took some enjoyment from the zig-zag descent through the trees before you jump a few stiles to emerge on the Wicklow Gap road. Another short descent and we were back in Glendalough and 400m later, we were home. I feasted on Orbana, a protein supplement, cookies, a bowl of fruit and nuts with youghurt and a cup of hot cocoa. Then I began to think of the restaurant appointment we had. I almost fell asleep in the hot bath, but once I got out a few cups of tea with honey revived me again and I shook of the fatigue that sometimes follows this sort of glycogen burn-out.

Summary

Bonking aside (good training for the marathon!), this route is an amazing training choice: 20.66km with 654m ascent and the vast majority on interesting and runnable terrain. The route has great variety and Trooperstown and Paddock Hill are among the most pleasurable places to run if you are looking for something in between  a trail run and an open mountain experience. With trails always clear to see and passing mountain rescue on the way, it is one of the safest choices too!

The huge circular loop leaves you with a great feeling that you “went somewhere” and if we had not been so shattered both the ascents and the descents really suit steady effort running: if you want to put something into the climbs and have fresh legs, you can really do it here.

Find another kilometre somewhere and this would be a spectacular mixed-terrain mountain half-marathon with a scenic finish in Glendalough. My first preference variation would be to start further up the Green Road run up past the Poulanass waterfall and then follow the higher road back towards the Woollen Mills. This would add another climb, some great views of Brockagh, Camaderry and Scarr and a bit of distance.

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