REPORTS: Run the Ridge 2018

I had sworn to myself I would not race direct again this year but with our club's second annual fund-raiser ('Run the Ridge') moving forward in the calendar, we were left short on volunteers. Thus, I stepped into the foot-steps of Niall Corrigan (2016) and Torben Dahl (2017) who had race directed the first two incarnations.

We had moved the race forward to merge it into the Cullen Cup held by Laragh GFC to make it easier to have all the manpower we need available on one day rather than spreading them over two. The usual pre-race test runs over the course were done by various runners and Colm Kenna detected a fallen tree blocking the route. Catherine Devitt got a hold of local NPWS man - Roger Miley - and thankfully that little obstruction was promptly removed before the race. In 2016, Coillte felling had meant a slight re-route, so this year we were back to normal.

The 90 minute mark

With our course back to its original route and with the Wicklow trails uniquely fast and dry, there has never been a better time to run fast times than 2018. If course records have to fall it has to be in conditions such as we are experiencing at the moment.

Adrian Hennessy had set the existing mark of 1:30:26 in 2016 and as he was entered again, I personally wondered if we'd see a nice 'sub-90' performance. The course gives you the impression that the majority of the climb is the initial 10 km and this is true in the most simplistic sense of the word.

When you look at any course you may see a 'net uphill' kilometer. But you have kilometres that are +50 m which consist of 120 up and 70 down or those that consists of 50 up and 0 down - very different challenges. Run the Ridge's ascent is a bit like this - the average gradient is low because of the long approach to a low ridge (the highest of Derrybawn's six individual summits is a mere 470 metres). Yet there are several severe gradients on this long ascent such as the infamous 'Derrybawn zig-zags' which are a real 'rhythm-buster' shifting from low gradient to flat to high gradient with abandon as you ascend through the deciduous woodland in this part of the forest.

As the climb continues past the 2 km point, it flattens and the first of several noteable descents provide relief. Once you hit the stretch of forest that is largely coniferous, the stretches of uphill drag seem long because you can see to the very end of most of them. Once you abandon the Wicklow Way the underfoot becomes grassier and more interesting and you can see, for the first time, the Eastern flanks of the Derrybawn Ridge.

As you break out from the forest onto open mountain, the climb actually continues past the 10 km mark - starting with a short steep ascent on grass to the Mullacor Ridge. From here you have a sometimes delightful and sometimes aquatic descent to the narrow rocky trail that leads you onto the Derrybawn Ridge itself.

Yet again the climb is not finished - when you hear 'run the ridge' you may get the impression you are running on a relatively flat ridge. Instead the six separate summits means the next few kilometres are rather a constant series of short ups and downs before the final climb to the terminal summit that hosts the cairn (ironically - not the highest point). The most technical descending of the route follows the cairn - this section is noticeably trickier in wet conditions. On the plus side: as the trail swings south, you get treated to a full view of the Western flank of the ridge - meaning the route gives you the full panorama if you only allow yourself to look back at the ridge as you pass that final cairn.

Up isn't always as simple as 'up'!

Once again the route proves deceptive. After a spell of descending you encounter the first of two late climbs that are substantial enough to knock the stuffing out you if you're 'nearly cooked'. Our own 'club representative' - Torben Dahl - took full advantage. While the eventual winner Sean Doyle was out on ihs own ahead, Adrian Hennessy was being chased by Torben. Adrian admitted post-race to being worried that he was not shaking Torben at this late stage and had a feeling what it might mean. One strategic nugget that Torben had committed to his own private race plan was to 'save something for the final climb'. Whether strategy or simply being fitter on the day, Torben used his benefit to cement 2nd place by pulling past Adrian here. The course record holder did not fade far, however, and still recorded a very respectable 1:34:07 to finish 3rd. Sean Doyle missed out on the record by only 17 seconds finishing in 1:30:52. The 90 minute barrier remains.

While conditions were fast in terms of the underfoot, the heat did cause some problems with many marshals needing to hand out the emergency water they had been supplied with (runners are meant to be self-sufficient - so normally carry whatever water they feel they need). How much the heat slowed down runners is hard to know but it may have been a significant disadvantage as termperatures were well over 21 degrees for much of the route.

Hannah Carroll's 2017 female  record was also not in danger this year although winner Aoine O'Donnell posted a fine time of 1:43 to win the ladies race ahead of Beth Stephens and Maura Matthews. Maure used to be one of the regular hill runners when I began my own hill running journey in 2006 so it was great to see her back out on the climbs.

Looking ahead

We've had a few steady years which is great for a new event as such can often hit a drop after the novelty of the first year wears off. This year we did not have the resources to market the event as most of our club members were burnt out (or on holidays or both!) after Lap of the Gap in May. We weren't helped by having to move the event forward by two months, so by all accounts we consider it a success. For those who did it and enjoyed it - spread the word and hopefully we'll see even more runners next year. Financially, we raised good money for the two local clubs so we are very thankful to everyone who participated.

After reviewing some course options our short 8 km race will be replaced with a new 10 km incarnation which we consider a big improvement on the existing course (although it will have most of what is good about the 8 km route and there'll be substantial overlap), so keep an eye out for news on the 2019 event.

Over the coming months we hope to organise a training run over the full course as a few of our own members haven't had the chance to run the route which is a real shame when you live nearly next to it!

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