I only decided to run the race at the last minute. It was either that or stay in the house, eat more chocolate cake, and get even more depressed about the weather. For yet another week, the weather was wet and windy, and thus a Wicklow Round attempt was simply not on. So on Friday night, I decided to just get out there anyway and run Ballybraid, IMRA’s second race of the Leinster Championship.
I wasn’t too sure if Ballybraid would suit my racing style. With 3.5 km of fire road ascent to start with, I knew I’d be quickly left behind. My only saving grace was that, after that climb, the race route would go on to open mountain: up Mullacor, out and back along Derrybawn, and then around Cullentragh. I’m always happy on rough and ready ground: as well as that, the wetter, the better. My hope was that after that open mountain bog blitz, I’d be able to hang on in there for the last 3 km of forest trail before the finish.
It was another small pack of girls willing to take on a race that requires navigation. Niamh, Jacqui, and I were the threesome lining up against all the boys. As I thought, Jacqui climbed well and made it to the top of Mullacor well before I. On top, it was really wet and windy, and the ground was sodden with a week’s worth of rain. It made for a lot of slip-sliding around and down before we reached the col, during which time I managed to slip-slide myself into the lead.
Derrybawn was a treacherous mix of mud and rock, forcing racers to zigzag all along the ridge to find any remnant of firmer ground. At the turn, Peter O’Farrell was well ahead, leading from start to finish. I myself battled it out with Jason Kehoe, edging closer on the descents, but being well left behind on any ascents. However on the way back towards Cullentragh, it was rain and wind we battled instead, as we headed into a full frontal storm.
A minor track not marked on the map skirted us around the base of Cullentragh. Crossing a fence, I headed straight across rough heather to reach the col between the spot heights of 510 and 366. Jason instead decided to climb up the hill, and got somewhat miffed as I gained 100 metres on him.
Having not recced the race before hand, I was wary that I could get mixed up by the network of forest trails back to the finish. Into the forest, I checked with my compass the direction of the trail I had chosen. It was all good. It was tempting to head down the many paths that led off the right but were not marked on the map. However I knew I had to wait until the carpark before making the final turn. Jason was still chasing down those 100 metres I had gained from my legal short-cut, passing me just on the final fire-road descent. A moment’s hesitation lost us some seconds though as we wondered if we were to go down the new path cut by Coillte. However it proved the right one, and we were soon back at base, at the bridge, and at the finish.
The rain continued to lash as the rest of the runners returned. We in turn retreated to Drumgoff pub for cokes, coffee, and even cake to celebrate Mary O’Colmain’s birthday. I got a box of Quality Street for my winning efforts. At least I can start eating these now instead of chocolate cake as I continue my wait for the weather to change!