ARTICLE: The Relay 2018

I have had just one race lined up for the first half of 2018 - 'The Relay' - a five leg tail relay created in 2017 by Sandra Coleborn and Dessie Shorten as a fund-raiser for Parnell AC. Before our usual blow by blow account, I thought I'd post something more useful: a short story of what 'The Relay' is.



I have been race directing the Wicklow Way Relay for some time and thus was delighted when Dessie Shorten told me that Parnell AC were launching a second trail relay for the first time last year. The WWR struggles to cope with the demand for entry due to its 30 team ‘cap’. Parnell's ‘version’ is simply called ‘The Relay’ and, being organised with higher numbers in mind, uses changeover points with more parking availability and thus has no cap on entry. 

Despite this it is a new event and this year’s entry of 25 shows that while it’s popular it needs to be even more widely known – hopefully my article here can play some small part in growing it for it’s a terrific course and both similar and different enough to the Wicklow Way Relay for it to be worthwhile to do as an alternative OR a supplement.

The course itself begins in Avondale and provides a unique opportunity to run a scenic leg that includes both Avondale Forest Park and Ireland’s largest deciduous woodland: Clara Vale. The first third of The Relay follows the new walking trail ‘the Avonmore Way’ for most of the early parts before it hits the Wicklow Way, which it follows, with a few exceptions, most of the remaining way to Glenmalure. Unlike the Wicklow Way Relay there is an ‘out and back’ section meaning the total route is shaped more like a ‘T’ – allowing for a finish at the Glenmalure Lodge.

Finish at the Lodge


Overall, the majority of the route is less technical than the hardest parts of the Wicklow Way Relay and the distances of each leg closer together (ranging from 10.3 km to 14.6 km whereas the Wicklow Way Relay ranges from 8 km to 21.1 km). Needing only teams of 5 (with one vet and one female runner), it is slightly easier to put a team together that is competitive – especially for smaller clubs. Leg 1 and leg 2 are in my opinion pure gems and up there or better than the best parts of the Wicklow Way Relay with brilliant sections of running in Avondale, along the Avonmore, in Clara Vale, across Trooperstown and up Paddock Hill. Other sections have significant cross-over – leg 3 and leg 4 run over the ground covered by leg 3 and leg 4 in the Wicklow Way Relay (although some of it in reverse) whereas leg 5 of each relay are nearly identical. The main difference: leg 5 of ‘The Relay’ starts at Laragh GAA, not in Glendalough, meaning that runners have a longer climb towards Glenmalure (almost 9 km instead of 7 km as in the Wicklow Way Relay) – other than that about 80% of leg 5 of the two relays is exactly the same.

In ‘The Relay’ there is less time difference between each leg and it’s slightly more difficult to work out tactically what runners to place on each leg. This was made moreso when leg 1 was extended for 2018 whereas leg 2 was both shortened and modified to be more technical in nature. A lot of the legs have ‘odd’ topographies that make them unusual to tackle in terms of pacing: leg 1 begins with 3 km of downhill, is then mostly bumpy but not hilly and then finishes with a 1500m steep uphill. Leg 2 is a route with two big climbs and a net uphill profile (finishing higher than it starts) ending with an all-too-short downhill section. Leg 4 is long with ‘evil’ climbs but also copious amounts of very fast downhill and the expletives on the lips of the leg 5 runners at the end tells you all you need to know about the 9 km climb in that leg. Only innocent little leg 3 – the shortest with 10.3 km – has some claim to be the ‘obvious easy leg’, yet even here its only marginally faster than leg 2 and has a hard road section including Gaffney’s Bank, the climb out of Oldbridge, and the grassy slopes of Ballinafunshoge. It is certainly not in the same ‘speedster’ category as leg 3 in the Wicklow Way Relay – something times reflect (the leg is over 10 minutes slower).

Serious runners at the starting area at Avondale House


Where Wicklow Way Relay has a long history and well-established targets and strategies, ‘The Relay’ is still finding it’s feet. The Wicklow Way Relay has a ‘blue ribbon’ mark of sub-8 hours for top teams (and a record of 7:03) whereas for ‘The Relay’ a time of sub-5 hours seems in the same category. With this year’s winning time being a strong 4:35, some teams will undoubtedly already be curious about what a 4:29 could look like. 

Being fully marked and having copious parking at each hand-over means that it takes a good deal less preparation to tackle The Relay than the Wicklow Way Relay. It does not mean that having good hand-over estimates, good team logistics and recces for runners are useless – merely that you can enter with less preparation and hope to succeed.

In my next post an account of the 2018 race: with TT Racers, Raheny and Rathfarnham not contesting, the window was opened for another team to take a relay title on the trail. Eights years have passed since a team not affiliated with those three clubs has won either of the (now two) trail relays in Wicklow.