Running the Wicklow Way

Jason Reid leads Jim McCormick on the 2008 Wicklow Ultra. Photo courtesy of John Shiels.
Jason Reid leads Jim McCormick on the 2008 Wicklow Ultra. Photo courtesy of John Shiels.

The Wicklow Way is a 132 km walking trail that travels south from Dublin, up and over the Wicklow Mountains, before finally finishing up in Clonegal, County Carlow.

The Irish Mountain Running Association avails of this trail on a regular basis through a popular series of annual races. First off there’s the Wicklow Trail and Wicklow Ultra, taking place in less than 10 days time! The Wicklow Way Relay then takes part in June, teams of eight entering to run the whole Way in relay-race style. And then there are the usual Wednesday night summer races which hop on and off the trail in various ways.

Wicklow Way Map. Courtesy of wicklowway.com
Wicklow Way Map. Courtesy of wicklowway.com

And then there’s the band of runners who don’t want to just do a bit of it – they want to do it all.

Graham and Jane Porter and Brian Byrne set the original record in 1998 for running the Wicklow Way in one go – 19 hours and 54 minutes, which still stands as the woman’s record to Jane. Then four months later, Simon Walters lowered this record to 18 hours, 24 minutes and 54 seconds. The male record stood for a decade until 2008 when Eoin Keith decimated the record, running the whole Wicklow Way in 13 hours, 46 minutes and 1 second.

What with having a week off work over New Year’s, I figured I’d go and run bits of the Wicklow Way to see what all the fuss was over. Granted, I could have gone mad and tried to do it all in one day – but I figured I was on holiday, so decided to only do sections of it over 3-4 days.

Day 1 we ran from Knockree to Glendalough, a paltry 29km but taking in Djouce Mountain and thus over 1000 metres of climb. We stayed the night in a B&B in Laragh, and drank pints in Lynam’s to welcome the New Year in.

A quick Kodak moment in front of Djouce before running down the Wicklow Way.
A quick Kodak moment in front of Djouce before running down the Wicklow Way.

Day 2, and New Year’s Day no less, we were joined by Wicklow’s own Mick Hanney as we ran on from Glendalough to Iron Bridge. We cursed the forest road climbs but loved the descents served up by the valleys of Glendalough and Glenmalure. Another B&B welcomed us in, after a good night of drinking in the Brooklodge & Wells Spa down the road.

Day 3 was a short stint from Iron Bridge to Tinahely, bringing us through 20km of narrow backroads, forest tracks, and grassy trails. We could have done a Day 4 of Tinahely to Clonegal, but I opted out seeing that it involved 32km of mostly road running – not a favourite surface of mine.

The beauty about doing the stages was that we could enjoy the warm Irish B&B hospitality at night as well as sampling pints at the local pubs on the way. It was also a grand old way to get some long training runs in whilst still seeing a bit more of the lesser-visited Irish countryside. All in all, a highly recommended route, whichever part you decide to run!

My New Year’s jaunt also made me realise what a mega run the likes of Jane, Graham, Simon and Eoin did in completing the Way in less than one day. Personally, I think its beyond my realms to do such a feat. I’m happy now to just enjoy bits of it at a time, and to still in one piece to enjoy a pint at the end.

Want to read more about mountain running around the Wicklow Mountains? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears”.

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