Irish Mountain Running and the Fountain of Youth

It had been nearly 18 months since my last IMRA race. In the interim time, a baby and a move to Northern Ireland had put pay to my mountain racing days.

How to hurdle, mountain running style. Winner of Annacurra race showing it how it's done. Photo courtesy of Mick Hanney.
How to hurdle, mountain running style. Winner of Annacurra race showing it how it’s done. Photo courtesy of Mick Hanney.

But then Mick Hanney started posting pictures on Facebook. They were of rocks and mountains and muck and puddles. There were views from descents and trees to hurdle. It was too much to resist. I had to attend his mountain race.


It was made all the easier given that, earlier in the year, I had moved back to the Wicklow area. And so, on Saturday morning, I followed Mick’s precise instructions of how to find the little village of Annacurra at the ‘other’ end of Wicklow.

I was as much looking forward to seeing old IMRA faces as I was to running around the hills. I wondered how people were getting on in the intervening 18 months since I had last encountered them. I expected of course that these mountain runners would be a little older, a little fatter, a little wiser. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The ever youthful Joe Lalor at the IMRA Winter League Annacurra Race. Photo courtesy of Ken Cowley.
The ever youthful Joe Lalor at the IMRA Winter League Annacurra Race. Photo courtesy of Ken Cowley.

The first person I bumped into was IMRA stalwart, Joe Lalor. He looked much fitter than how I remember him before, retirement having inadvertently reversed Joe’s years. Next I met Niamh O’Ceallaigh. Her babies are now fine young children, but she doesn’t seem to have aged a day. Richard Nunan was a wafer of the man I recall, his 2013 UTMB and Costa Rica World Series Adventure Race having knocked him into a younger version. And then of course, Brendan Doherty, the man that never grows out of his effervescent youthful exuberance.

Niamh O'Ceallaigh - Hot on my heels! Photo courtesy of Mick Hanney.
Niamh O’Ceallaigh – Hot on my heels! Photo courtesy of Mick Hanney.

I felt old in comparison as I lined up at the start line for the noontime showdown. And even here, things seemed to have stood still in a time warp. There were the usual race director instructions, the usual banter and slagging, and the very informal sending off.

The race start at Annacurra village, Co. Wicklow. Photo courtesy of Mick Hanney.
The race start at Annacurra village, Co. Wicklow. Photo courtesy of Mick Hanney.

There was no point going anywhere fast as we ran the first few metres. A fallen tree and a narrow gate were always going to cause bottlenecks. But after a few minutes, we were ascending on fire roads and the race truly began. I had forgotten though how to pace a mountain race. All I remembered was to run so that it hurt, but not so much that it prevented you from reaching the finish line.

The Facebook images flashed past as I ran up one ascent, a second ascent, and then a third. I waited to hear a girl breathing on my neck, but only heard a few male gasps as they flew past me on the downhills.

And before I knew it, we were back in the forest and at the finish line. We had returned prematurely as it transpired, the compassionate race marker knocking off a few hundred metres on part of the hill. No one was complaining.

A perfect race was rounded off with a smorgasbord of food. Soup, tea, sandwiches and cake were laid on by Mick and his Annacurra crew. And with nothing else to do on a springtime Saturday afternoon, it was only polite to stay on and polish off the fare.

First lady home. Photo courtesy of Ken Cowley.
First lady home. Photo courtesy of Ken Cowley.

It was good to finally return to IMRA, this elixir of youth where nobody seems to age. I subsequently went home and threw away my l’Oreal, vowing to substitute this ointment for a few more IMRA races later in the year.

Race details and results can be found here.

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