I moved back to Ireland in 2006. Knowing that work-wise I was to Dublin-based, I dug out a contact a friend from Nairobi had passed on: Introducing the auspicious Mr. Paul Mahon, my friend’s little brother. I sent him a mail, telling him of my recent arrival in the capital. He replied, “You’re just in time: the mountain running season has just kicked off. There’s a run this Wednesday up Corrig Mountain, race start 7.30. Can give you a lift if you like.” Ah sure why not, I said to myself, might as well give it a lash.
By Wednesday, I’d remembered one of the reasons why I’d left Ireland and stayed all those years in Kenya: it was pissing rain. Undeterred, cars cluttered the tiny country-road that led to Corrig Mountain. They arrived in their droves from offices and homes, Dublin a mere 30 minutes away from this heinous hill. I promptly registered as the newest member of the Irish Mountain Runners Association (IMRA). To the left of the tent, stick-like figures were already bounding up the hill, warming up before the race start. I followed suit, trying to blend in, silently noticing my legs were buggered before even beginning.
By 7.30pm, 200 odd people had gathered at the line. They huddled closely together in their shorts and singlets, hoping to hide from the worst of the weather. Before I knew it, we were off. Up the track, a sharp right through the trees, and then up, up, up through the forest. It was less than a minute before I started walking – mountain running, my arse! The forest floor was full of needles, twigs and muck I noted, as I slip-slided around on the slope. Little did I know that this was the sure footed section, ‘cause soon enough, we emerged from the trees onto the full blown open mountain. I followed the runners in front, desperately trying to keep them sight through the thick swirling mist. Looking ahead left little time to keep an eye underfoot. In my formerly clean road runners, I stuttered and stammered over grass, heather and mud. Already I was knackered from all the effort, but thanks be to God, there was still some adrenaline to kept my legs turning. Finally I reached the summit marshal, and swiftly turned to find my way down. No sooner had I changed direction, than the full force of the gale hit me at full-frontal. Keeping to my feet meant leaning onto the wind, all whilst still negotiating the bog stacks and holes down below.
Relief is all I felt when I found myself off the mountain and back at that line. For all my years away, I had forgotten how wet and wild the Irish weather could be. And I had definitely forgotten how muddy and shite Irish mountains could be. Relief is also all I felt when Paul whisked us away to the Pub, all warm and wet with the right kind of drink. In line with good Irish tradition, all IMRA races end up in the pub. There, winners’ prizes are given and volunteers are awarded for valour against the elements. Hopefully that poor summit marshal got a bottle for his bravery. And with the booze comes the banter, and talk of the evening’s battles held on the hill. Personally, I was still in a state of shock of what had just transpired. “So what the feck was I meant to do through all that mud?” “Get yourself some proper shoes girl. And sure, we’ll be seeing you again next week”.
In the end, I persevered. And luckily, I did. With a solstice of summer days, turning out every Wednesday was as much for the event as for the weather. The calendar in turn never failed to produce a plethora of places to race and run: everywhere from the treacherous terrain of Tibradden, to the soft forest rides dug deep within Ballinastoe; from the sultry sunsets over Glendalough as seen from Brockage summit, to the scree and screaming descents that only Sugarloaf can yield. And not only were the Wednesday runs providing a time and place to unearth the Irish wilds: it was also a space to meet and greet new found friends with whom you had battled on those very same hills. For the IMRA lads and lassies are a friendly lot, who know indeed the healing powers of a pint. We were a mixed bunch too of sorts: some would take twice the winner’s time to get up and down the course. Heck, some would be twice or even thrice the age of the evening’s victor. But, though there would be a few alright who would be fitter and faster than most, once you were at the pub, we were all just a group of girls and guys who loved their running, their racing, their mountains and their moderate drinking.