I’m not a speedy 10k flat road runner. I’m a long distance endurance mountain runner. But that didn’t stop me from turning up recently to IMRA’s trail league for a fast and semi-flat 7km race.
IMRA’s trail league is a series of three Wednesday night races held in August at the end of the popular Leinster League. They are short and fast, with minimal amounts of climb and virtually no technical terrain. They are designed for newbies wanting to give mountain running a go, whilst also catering for those who are looking to wind down after an already full season of running.
I fit into neither of those two categories.
Instead I was home in Ireland for two weeks and I wanted to catch up with my mountain running friends. Where better to do this than during a mid-week race, which I knew would end up in the pub afterwards for post-race banter?
As soon as I arrived, I recognized the old and familiar faces. Dermot Murphy was at registration, Peter O’Farrell was racing marking, and Viv O’Gorman was time keeping. And there was a wide range of runners there who I have run alongside (as well as behind) over the years – Mick Hanney, Hazel Thompson, Justin Rea, Brendan Doherty, Tommy Tumble, and Eoin Keith to name but a few.
I’d been told last year when I left for Vietnam that my home in Ireland would always be there for me. And the speaker of those words was right. It was like I had never left. I told them about Nepal. They told me of their holidays in the Alps, in Finland, and in their own backyards. But regardless of where we had been, we all found ourselves back in the same place running the same routes on the same day of the week, just as if I’d never even been away.
The Earl’s Drive race itself was surprisingly fun. A short sharp descent on fire track followed by a windy upward zigzag through soft forest undergrowth. There’s something about Irish terrain that it is so enjoyable to run. Far removed from the hard rocks and compacted trails of Kathmandu, the boggy, cool pine-needled forest floor made a wonderful change.
I hadn’t had to run this fast for over a year. But still to my surprise, my lungs didn’t collapse. I kept up the pace and held second place for most of the race. It was only along the final path that contoured scenically through the pine forest that I was passed by a long legged triathlete who had the final speed in her legs. Still, I was admittedly proud of my third place in a race that is approximately a tenth of my preferred race distance.
It’s only when you leave home that you appreciate the things you’ve left behind. I never thought I’d miss the bog and heather of the Wicklow Mountains that I’ve sunk my feet into over the years. But coming back to the terrain brought back fond memories. I forgot how much I missed the racing and the friendly competition. And I’ve definitely missed the IMRA crowd, the assortment of 1000 odd souls who run around Ireland’s mountains year round. Nowhere else in this world have I found such a convivial running scene.
It was definitely good to be home.