Day One is traditionally a run up and down Croagh Patrick, a near vertical ascent over rocky terrain that scares the bejaysus out of newcomers.
For those who have survived Croagh Patrick in one piece, for the last two years, Ben Gorm has been on offer on Day Two. Starting from beside Aasleagh Falls, the route ascends straight away through wet grassy tussocks up to Letterass Ridge. A quick and muddy descent down to Lugayeran River and its back up through bog and grass, picking your way on to a rocky ridge. This ridge climbs slightly all the way, forcing you to edge your way past boulder crags whilst you constantly remind yourself not to look down.
As the ridge peters out, the flat expanse of Ben Gorm is laid before you. The top is often covered in mist, making it imperative for markers to be laid to guide runners the last 500 metres to the cairn.
In 2007, the mist was fully down as the fastest runners turned to make their descent. Tom Blackburn missed the first ridge and followed the next just south of Lugaharry Lough: an interesting, though ultimately disqualifying route-choice. Peter O’Farrell watched Eoin Keith hare off in a similar direction, and after a split-second of soul-searching, Peter called him back on track.
Once off the summit and back onto the ridge, the mountain goats and dare-devils soon find their feet, screeching past others who slip and slide their way down to the river. Last year, I found myself behind Vivian O’Gorman who spent more time descending on his arse than his feet. Each time he slid, a rack of expletives were heard as he successful located another bog hole or some more sheep shit for me to avoid.
Up out of the river, and after a short climb, it’s the final descent back to the falls.
For the past two years, some male mountain runner has found himself a few hundred metres behind the leader at this point. This year, it was the turn of Sean Twomey. Throwing caution to the wind, he risked both life and limb, breakages and bogs as he threw themselves down this descent, hurtling towards the previous day’s winner on Croagh Patrick, John Heneghan.
The rhythm of step, slide, fall, step, slide, fall edged him closer and closer to the leader as those at the finish egged him on. Neck and neck, they fell in tandem as Sean eventually edged out John, taking both the race and course record.
In the end, it’s all in the name of good clean fun. I arrived at the end to see winners and losers alike, cooling off together in the Erriff River just above the Falls. Back at the road, warm tea and cakes were served to revive us from our wet and muddy delirium.
Despite all appearances, it’s not all hardship, this mountain running lark.