Monday, February 23, 2009

Limerick...Results of the IMRA Ballyhoura 8km - Sat 21st Feb 2009

Results....the full results are now here.

Race Report......
This was my first time ever taking part in a mountain race so it's written from the point of view of someone who has done plenty of road races, plenty of orienteering events but never had the urge to run up and down a mountain! It might be of interest to anyone who might be interested in trying this type of event.

Getting to the start line was the first obstacle. On the IMRA website, it just mentioned that registration was at the Greenwood car Park. The prizegiving was supposed to be at the Greenwood Inn in Ardpatrick. Now Ardpatrick is a small one horse town/village at the base of the Ballyhouras in south county Limerick. When I arrived there, I could neither see the horse or any sign that there was a race on. Outside the Greenwood Inn was another car with two equally looking lost souls inside. Needless to say, the two parked cars was like a magnet for other wandering cars and within 5 minutes, we had 4 parked cars, full of people looking for the start of the race. But where was it? Then someone had the bright idea of ringing home, getting someone to go on the Internet, go to the IMRA website, get a contact number, ring that number and get directions. So a small convoy set off and we all arrived at a car park which happened to be the new centre for mountain bikes.

The race...Around 50 turned up for this race which I am told is supposed to be a big turnout. We started on a forest road and ran up a slight gradient. Eventually, the forest road narrowed to a single track, we crossed a metal bridge over a river and then a steep corkscrew ascent. This is where 'mountain running' differs from 'road running'. You never run up anything this steep in a road race.

Then we started a long descent along a narrow path. Not really wide enough to pass anyone yet you have to watch the ground like a hawk to make sure you dont slip. Then down a steep little section and back onto a forest road. Now we started a long uphill section. By comparison, in a road race, the hills are never really that steep and ususally the limiting factor is how much oxygen you can take in and how out of breath you are. That's what limits your pace and speed. With the steep slopes in mountain running, which is very like orienteering, your leg muscles are releasing a lot of lactic acid and you can feel that is limiting you as well.

After a long ascent, we turned off right onto a narrow path which was even steeper. You ran so far up the slope but eventually, you just had to walk. The lactic acid levels would drop a bit, you'd jog a bit futher, the lactic acid would build up again and you'd walk again.

Eventually, the slope eased and you could start running again. Back out onto a forest road again and on towards the summit. But first, there was a bog to cross. Here, it was all about picking the right spot to run on and not slipping. I saw one person disappear into the mud up to their knees but they quickly got going again. Then up to and past the trig point on the summit of Seefin at 528 metres which is the highest point in the Ballyhoura mountains. Next..the downhill section accross the bog. I was passed by two people here. Let's call them suicide jockeys! I don't know how they stayed upright but they ran straight through the mud.

At last, out of the bog and onto a dirt track. It was slightly downhill and it was one of the fastest sections of the course. Again, it was all about where you placed your feet and not slipping. Several turns later, we were back onto that slope that we had walked up earlier except this time, we descended at what seemed like a crazy speed. Then we were back onto the wide forest roads again.

Running downhill on the narrow dirt tracks, I couldn't make a dent in the lead of the person in front of me. It's as if staying upright and trying not to trip or slip was the main thing and everyone was running at the same speed around me. Back on the forest road, I was on home turf again and I think that within the first 300 metres, I had managed to pull in the person in front of me. Then the long descent.

In fairness to the organisers, they had plenty of green tape out so it was easy to follow the route. At the end of the long descent, I saw some stretching accross the road. My initial thought was that it was left over from marking the route when we were going up so I ran past it. Realising my mistake, I stopped and doubled back, losing about 10-15 seconds. Then we ran up a short but very steep uphill section, a shock to the system after running dowhill for the last few minutes. After that, it was downhill all the way to the finish.


  • They have stewards at the major path/road junctions as well as green tape along the way. For this course at least, navigating was not an issue although I'm not sure what it would be like on large mountains like Mangerton.
  • One or two runners got lost out along the course. Not something you usually see in a road race ;o)
  • Harder than the usual road races. The steep inclines generate a lot of lactic acid from the muscles and this is a major factor.
  • From an orienteering point of view, it is very similiar in that you are running on similiar surfaces and inclines. The major difference is that in orienteering, we slow down to navigate and punch the various controls. Your pace is also determined by how fast you are willing to push yourself. In a mountain race, you naturally enough want to keep your position and not be passed. As a result, the pace and effort is unrelenting and there is no chance to recover.
  • As it was my first race, I had to pay a registration fee of €10. This covered me for entry to this race and I got a race number that I need to keep if I am doing any other IMRA races in 2009. If I do another one, my entry fee should be €7 I think.
  • Shoes....all types were used...from proper fell running shoes to old runners. I wore a pair of Nike Air Pegasus runners which are really road shoes but are reasonably waterproof. Getting good grip is obviously important but I found the shoes that I wore fine. I'm not sure how they will hold up to the wear and tear though.
  • I was half thinking before the race that it would be full of super fit mountain men who would sprint up the hill leaving me in last place! But no, the range of runners is exactly like an ordinary road race...some fast and some not so fast with loads of average runners in the middle.
  • The information regarding the location of the race is pretty poor. You'd be as well to ring beforehand just to make sure and bring that contact number with you.
  • Plenty of tea and sandwiches afterwards!
I hope this short report might give you some idea as to what a mountain race is like. It's a sport that may not appeal to everyone but it might be of interest to anyone who wants to try something new and different. The next race in Munster is on Claragh mountain near Millstreet in April.

John Desmond, 23rd Feb 2009

No comments: