DIARY: Brockagh Burst

From racing to race directing in one week - with the dust settled after Dungarvan, it was time to pick up the work on the Brockagh Burst mountain race. I concocted the basic outline of the course three years ago with two goals in mind:

  • Contribute another shorter and faster route to the IMRA calendar in the mould of Sugarloaf Rush, Hellfire Flicker and Bray Dash (although all were even shorter than Brockagh Burst - in fact the idea began as a 2 mile up and down challenge to the summit of Brockagh East, evolving from that)
  • Bring a race back to Brockagh South-East Top which is not generally run as part of the summer Brockagh race 
Like in previous years, the runners race straight to Brockagh South-East top - the most inferior of the three Brockagh summits (470 m versus 557 m for the main summit and 548 m for the North-West top) - but in my opinion the most interesting of the three. 

Reschedules but still a success

Due to some calendar challenges the race was moved late from the 5th to the 12th of February and from our venue at Brockagh Centre to Seamus Cullen's field across the route. The date change meant an inevitable clash with the National Masters XC costing the defending champion - Des Kennedy - the chance to compete. Despite this a sizable field of 150 runners lined up - only 50 short of the National Parks limit for the course - for another cold outing. The weather gods have an indifferent view of this fixture as it began in torrential rain in 2015, saw snow and sleet in 2016 and finally served up stiff cold and mushy underfoot for 2017. Should we ever get a dry and sunny day one can only wonder just how fast the course could be run. As it was a few falls were the order of the day but no casualties although three runners DNFed in the early parts of the race - before hitting the technical trails - due to minor injuries. 

The race is deceptive because the early kilometre has a gradually increasing level of climb but seems fast at first. It's very difficult not to pace this wrong and very costly to do so: as the first kilometre makes way for the first you emerge from fire-road onto one of several steep grassy trails onto the main Brockagh mountain path. This segment climbs 89 metres in 500 metres (an average gradient of 17%) splitting the field mercilessly every time and reducing most to a walk. If you started too hard on the fire-road you pay dearly here especially as the third kilometre - while gentler - is almost as slow.

Tight battles on slippy slopes

The earlier leader had been reeled back here this year by Torben Dahl and Mikey Fry working hard at each other. The leaders summitted close together only to be reeled in rapidly by Bernard Fortune's trademark descending. He took full advantage of the fourth kilometre being reasonably technical - the path is broken up, muddy and scattered with slippy rock faces. Throw in head-wind sleet and you have a challenge. The 5th kilometre includes the traditional Brockagh Grassy Bank Descent which has been run in some stunning times both winter and summer - when it's dry its one of the fastest descents in the country with a gradient of -10% and being mainly low compact grass. Runners today were not quite so lucky but still made good time. Many lost time, however, and could only begin to recover it once they emerged on the fire-road and the three zig-zags leading back to the start line.

We had moved the start line up by 60 metres to avoid the 'instant surprise' of seeing the finish line just around the last corner. It had caused a few near collisions last year. the downside of this change was a tighter area for volunteers and racers to cram into but it did add to the atmosphere with lots of cheers and jeers which could be heard all the way up the hill. In the end Bernard Fortune held on for  a superb course record of 26:25. Des' time of 27:04 needs to be seen in context, however, as a small change was made to the course last year from the regular course - runners were send on a slightly higher path back towards the grassy descent. The overall distance is much the same but the higher trail may be a little bit slower. Either way the new mark stands as the best time for the new course and the ladies too got a new best: Becky Quinn lowered the existing mark from 36:33 to 32:33. 

Bernard took full advantage of the descent - once he overtook the early leaders he put a gap of 2 minutes and 19 seconds into 2nd placed Mikey Fry - remarkable in the short distance he had to do it in. Mikey only just pipped Torben by 4 seconds whereas first man to the summit - Damien Kelly - kept hold of 4th place another 4 seconds down.

The ladies field was well-contested with many evenly matched competitors - behind Becky Quinn, Catherine Devitt was not far behind and Yvonne Brennan, Aisling Kirwan and Claire O'Callaghan had all battled it out closely in local road and cross-country races in 2016. There was also Claire Wyse and Tanya Sheridan and you could almost have wished for a cross-country style 'ladies start' so the female competitors could have monitored each other even more closely. The top-7 woman ALL broke the existing record - Catherine Devitt, Cathy Wise, Yvonne Brennan, Tanya Sheridan, Aisling Kirwan, Roisin McDonnell while Claire O'Callaghan and Julia Hackett in 8th and 9th broke the 2015 winning time. As the Glendalough AC coach I was delighted seeing our ladies finishing 2nd, 4th and 7th after Donna Quinn had won the inaugural year (she could not attend this year). 

From a club side it was a pity Barry Murray had to retire with a sprained ankle having sat in the front pack early on but with Torben 3rd, Dave Docherty 57th and young Jack Kennedy winning the junior race, it was still a good day for the club for which this race is a Club Road and Trail Championship counter for 2017 as well.

Winter / Spring League

I must say I am impressed by the Winter/Spring League - if you had asked me a few years ago I would probably have voted in favour of abolishing it, as I was one of the people who questioned the need to stretch the associations resources across the year and what the point would be of racing this early in the year. The neighbouring Spring League had also become an irrelevance in terms of numbers and was rightly scrapped. 

However, the new format provides for a more well-attended contest and a counter-point in the season for the Leinster League which is groaning and creaking underneath the weight of its own numbers. Having the two leagues closing in on parity gives hill runners a chance to decide whether they will run hills in winter, in summer or both. If someone has designs on other racing on cross-country, track and roads, they now have the flexibility to choose either/or without losing out on a longer league challenge. The standard in the Leinster League remains higher than in the Winter / Spring League but this may change in time. The league format itself does pose a challenge to elites and aspiring elites for whom the schedule invites over-racing if they are to be also gunning for major championships and national-level races but the leagues are not primarily a vehicle for the elite but for the fun and participation of the mass membership. The mass membership do not periodise and racing is done year-round as a 'reward' for the regular training - this means the IMRA calendar must support some level of racing for most of the year (but the existing three month period with few races is still wise to give everyone a breather). Elites can prioritise - as some had to do with the National Cross-Country Championships being on the same day - hill runners did well there with Ian Conroy in 4th, Des Kennedy 13th, Tom Blackurn 54th and Jason Kehoe 67th

(few errors to be worked out - Ben Brennan in 8th ran the junior course, Catherine Devitt- 2nd woman - not listed yet. Etc.)