I recall the famous Irish cyclist, Seán Kelly, once advised aspiring young cyclists to stay out of the mountains. What he was driving at, I believe, was that mountains are not to be messed with on a bike. You tackle them when you’re good and ready, and no sooner.
Well this week was okay as regards running. Truth be told, I suspect I may have upped my mileage a little too much, too soon, last month, and the knees are complaining. I suspect this is a classic case of Runner’s Knee, Dr. Watson…
And how do we treat that, Holmes?
Elementary, my dear boy. In the time-honoured tradition of every runner, everywhere. We ignore it and hope it goes away…
(Serious note/spoiler alert: reduce mileage, cross-train with low-impact activities, ice, anti-inflammatories, foam roll your quads. Once back running, strength train, continue to foam roll and consider shortening your stride to reduce knee pressure. You’re welcome.)
So, with a view to reducing miles on the feet, and putting some on in the saddle instead, I took the opportunity of a few hours off to head up into the mountains this morning. I didn’t get any advice from Mr. Kelly; I guess he was busy.
The first few miles from where I live to the mountains are not terribly attractive, nor even that safe. I’ve done it a few times when I was putting in some serious miles, but today, with only five hours to spare, I wanted as much of that in the nicer parts of the world. So I drove up to Manor Kilbride – less than half an hour at 7am on a Sunday morning. Not a sinner in sight. It won me a foothold in the foothills. And gave me four hours of wriggle room.
On the advice of my good mate Terry who knows every lump and bump of this terrain, I tackled Sally Gap first. That’s about 14.6k of steady climbing, with about 315 metres of elevation. This is a popular route, and it’s no surprise that the stats are all online on Strava or Map My Ride. The one below is the route I did, though the cyclist here started at a different point. But either way you dice it, you can see two decent climbs. The one on the right is Sally Gap. To the left is Wicklow Gap.
I would have uploaded my own stats but Garmin is down at the moment. No panic. It’s recorded and will be uploaded whenever they pay the ransom. Obviously there is huge reputational damage if that is the case. I am speculating, based on internet rumour: THE place to go for all your factual needs!
The first climb was tackled and I managed to avoid running over any sheep, which was about the biggest hazard. I stopped at the Gap, as is the tradition, and took some water.
Sally Gap is not a whole lot to look at, to be fair. It’s a crossroads in the middle of the mountains, but at the height of Summer, at the weekend, it will be thronged with bikes; most them road bikes, with quite a few club riders. It’s the nexus of many popular routes, and the capital city is not far away if you are a decent cyclist. My next stop was Laragh which meant one of my favourite sections of this route. The miles in between Sally Gap and Glenmacnass are pretty wild and desolate. As far as the eye can see, there is nothing but heather and rock. And this morning, quite a bit of mist and rain.
You could imagine a werewolf bounding down the hillside to snack on an unwary cyclist. Though we don’t have that tradition here in Ireland. What we do have is the famous tale of Tír na n-Óg, or the Land of Youth. The part we learned as kids was about Oisín, who was warned not to dismount from the magical horse, but as 300 years had passed, when he fell to the ground, he immediately withered away.
I rather wondered if perhaps I should stay on the saddle and not dismount but I had already broken that taboo, and not turned into an old man (no laughing at the back there!). But I would say the route takes its toll. When I returned home, I said to Saoirse “I know it’s called the Wicklow Mountains, but Jaysus, it’s very hilly…”
The drop down into Laragh is fast. As in, ‘can’t pedal fast enough’ fast. It’s into the drops and eyes down for a full house. Then a right turn towards Glendalough and up the next big climb, which is Wicklow Gap. The mist turned to rain and it was time for the rain jacket.
If you know this route, you know that the climb here plays a nasty trick on you. The first section is steep enough but it seems to end at a car park and level off. Don’t be fooled. It’s just getting started! Ahead is quite the slog to the top – about 8k in all. There have been some races along this route, and there are remnants of inspirational messages painted on the road. ‘Hup Ya Boy Ya!” was my favourite; a particularly Irish phrase. Then the rather pithy ‘WTF!’ and shortly after, the classic ‘Shut Up Legs!’.
I spied a gaggle of hikers up ahead, and for a brief moment, I thought they might whip out some cowbells as I huffed and puffed past. But they were intent on their destination and paid me no heed.
When you reach the top (about 336 metres of elevation; more than Sally Gap over a shorter distance), note the cunningly concealed Turlough Hill hydro-electric generating station to your left. It’s a smart piece of tech. Here’s some blurb from Wikipedia:
Like all pumped-storage hydroelectric schemes, it makes use of two water reservoirs connected by a pressure tunnel: in this case an artificial reservoir near the summit of the mountain and the naturally occurring corrie lake, Lough Nahanagan, at the foot of the mountain. Water is pumped up from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir, using surplus power available at times of low demand, and then allowed to fall by gravity from the upper reservoir back into the lower reservoir, passing through turbinesalong the way to generate electricity. The generating plant resides inside the mountain in a cavern measuring 250×70×90 feet (76×21×27 metres), which houses four reversible pump turbines with a combined capacity of 292 megawatts.
The downside is that pylons appear (they buried the first section of cables underground) about a mile down the valley, and are rather ugly. But that’s omelettes and eggs for ya, I guess.
And of course, you get all that downhill to enjoy, despite the pylons for company. Then it’s on towards Blessington Lakes (which is just one lake, really). The route around the eastern shores of the lake is what my mate Terry calls ‘lumpy’. Which is to say, hilly. It puts manners on you, as you’ve done a good 50k or more already, with two decent climbs.
Back at the car, and about 75k in all, in about three and a half hours. Sluggish by any standards, but I was just happy to get out and put in a few miles. The cycle in Gaelforce West will be similarly hilly, though not as long, and is broken into three sections. Hopefully I can manage a few more rides before then. If nothing else, it will take the pressure off the knees!
Mind how you go.