Last weekend saw IMRA’s annual race up Lugnacoille, Wicklow Mountains’ highest peak. Standing at 925 metres above sea level, the route provides a total climb of 718 metres, with an out and back length of 10.5 kilometres.
It’s a fair old hike up Lugnacoille.
The race starts straight up a gravel track, and after a quick traverse of a style, goes right up Camara Hill. From the top of this first hill, there is a minor respite of a short descent. But all too soon, the long gradual ascent starts again along boggy and bouldered walkers’ tracks. And after two kilometres of that, it’s on to a sharp and steep final ascent: a true shock to the system before finally summiting Lugnacoille.
On Sunday, the ground was immaculately dry with none of the muck from the previous year. This gave sure and steady footing, and with the race being part of the King and Queen of the Mountains series, it soon became a serious race to the top.
Before we had even left the gravel track, Irish International Helen White had already left us girls for dead. Instead I was to spend my ascent in a protracted dual with Kate O’Neill. After hitting Camara Hill, Kate surged ahead and steadily edged away from me with every step. But I soon found that, where the ascent increased in gradient, and where fast walking became more energy saving, I was regaining the ground I had lost. Forward and back, in a yo-yo sorta way, I gained and lost time on Kate as the ground accordingly undulated.
Eventually we reached the 700 metre contour line, with the ground rising steeply before us. Though the race leaders had run up this slope, we were by now reduced to a walk. And with every step, I seemed to catch Kate, and before I knew it, had drawn alongside her.
And that’s when it hit me that, contrary to what others may think, I’m not actually speedy mountain runner. Rather, it seems that I’m actually a fast hill walker. The long days of training for the Wicklow Round have built up leg muscles that are happy to walk up hills hills for hours on end. This year’s winter training has not tailored me to run up slopes to win 10km races. I’ve trained instead to walk up hills at a steady, measured pace, a rhythm that I had now found as I made my final approach on Lugnacoille’s peak.
I had a fun battle with Kate as we headed up Lugnacoille. It was interesting to see how our speeds deviated depending on the type of gradient we were on. In the end, I was the better mountain walker but Kate was the far superior hill runner.
But in the end, I was glad to be heading back down to the finish for a bit of dangerous descending. For what goes up, must ultimately come down – like Dermot himself will now kindly demonstrate…
If you want to read more about running and race routes up Lugnacoille, have a look at the previous post, “Loving it up Lugnacoille”