Welcome to IMRA

A stand of Scot’s Pine overlooking Glencree Valley in the Wicklow Mountains.

Most of you won’t have heard of IMRA. It stands for the Irish Mountain Running Association. You can find them online here. I joined up recently, and last week, I had my first race, and yesterday was my second. It’s a great organisation. Membership is ten quid a year (yes, ten quid*), and each race is 7 quid. When you join, you are given your race number, which you keep for the year and wear at every event. You are also given a chip which you lace or tie into your favourite shoes. So each race is fully chip-timed, and afterwards, there is usually soup and sandwiches and a raffle. Later that evening, your results are posted online, on the website. All for seven quid.

The first race was through a wood in a place called Mullaghmeen (Mullach Mín, meaning ‘smooth summit’) which is located on the border between Meath and Westmeath. I didn’t think there were any hills out that direction. Turns out I was wrong! In fact, it’s the highest point in the county. The mitigating factor for us runners is that it’s the lowest ‘high’ point of any of the counties. So there’s that. Wikipedia tells me it is also home to the largest planted Beech forest in Europe, which sounds hard to believe, but who am I to argue?

It was a bitterly cold morning, but we soon heated up, and I was introduced to the world of IMRA in much the same way as soon-to-be sailors were shanghaied in the past. Okay, I exaggerate for effect. But having done two events now, I think I might suggest to the committee at their next AGM that they change their name to IMRAWA (Irish Mountain Running and Walking Association). For indeed there are climbs in these races that you must walk up.

The race yesterday was in Annacurra; another location just on a border. This time, south Wicklow, near Aughrim, but nearly into Wexford. The first kilometre was pretty much straight up a hill, and again, we were all walking. Well, I say ‘we’; the winner did it in about 49 minutes. That’s about 11.25kms with about 500m of climbing. So perhaps he wasn’t walking at all. I was 82nd out of 125 souls in 1.16:43. I doubt I could have beaten the winning time on the flat. Not that it hugely matters. I’m genuinely happy to be out and about. I don’t yet have the confidence on the downhill stuff, where you can really pick up some speed and some time, and of course, I haven’t got my ‘sea’ legs yet either, so climbing is alien to this flat-earther. It will take plenty of hours in the mountains to put manners on my legs. I certainly felt it in my calves after the first couple of hill runs. They seem to have calmed down since.

Jarlath, who is responsible for getting me hooked into the wonderful world of IMRA, was keen to point out that not all post-race refreshments were as salubrious as Annacurra. This was shortly after we had hastily inhaled our soup and sandwiches and were now supping on our first pint, and shortly before the prizes were handed out, and a clatter of winners claimed their raffle goodies. Indeed, there were so many prizes, we figured everyone in the pub was going to get one, but dear reader, I can assure my raffle losing streak remains intact…

A not terribly inspiring photo of a car park, with people…
I love this inspirational message on the local school; an upgrade from the Nike ad!
If you ever get 589 in a raffle, forget it… (but do drink the pint!)

The follow-up run the next day was an easy 6 miles or so along a short section of the Wicklow Way. The choice of run was Jarlath’s, following a conversation I had had about the Wicklow Way, and an upcoming IMRA race, which takes place along much of this route. There were only three of us out yesterday; Jarlath, Ciaran and me, and Ciaran has plans to tackle a 50k ultra and this was an opportunity to do a recce. And I have plans too, dear reader. Indeed I do.

The Wicklow Way is a long-distance trail that runs from south county Dublin, through the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, finishing in the village of Clonegal in County Carlow. It’s about 130kms all told, and I’m delighted to be able to inform you that it’s part of the E8 Footpath, which is a modest 4,700kms long, finishing in Istanbul. So if one was so inclined, you could take that on one day.

My plans are more modest. The Wicklow Way is designed to be hiked in stages over about a week to ten days, if one is taking in the scenery and enjoying the fine hospitality on offer. Being an idiot, I will do it over one day, in one sitting. Though it may take more than 24 hours, of course. Declan’s Way was about 115kms and took nearly 18 hours. That included a leisurely lunch, but also a rather sobering experience over the Knockmealdowns. The total elevation on that route was about 1,500 metres. On the Wicklow Way, it’s over 3,300.

With that in mind, I need to accept that I will be travelling through the night. The trick is to make sure I only do that once. The simplest way to avoid that extra hardship is to leave at dawn, but there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, I’ll just backtrack a wee bit.

The Wicklow Way passes very close to Ticknock, where my Dad grew up in a small stone cottage as a young lad, in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. And it’s about half a kilometre from Three Rock, where we will scatter his ashes this Summer. He would have traversed some of the Way before it even came into being. So the journey for me is my way of commemorating my Dad. I haven’t worked out the finer points of the route, but I am hoping that I can detour slightly at the end and take in Three Rock. And this is why I have chosen to run the route from south to north, though it is traditionally hiked the other way. This means, from a practical point of view, that I can ease myself into the journey with the first leg incorporating a lot of roads and easier terrain without too much climbing. If I set off late in the evening, I can get through the first 40 or so kilometres in the dark with head torches.

I will also take advantage of the longer days and aim to go around the Summer Solstice, weather permitting. I can recall the last 30 or so miles of the Connemara 100 when I lost the light, and I was moving on a charley horse. Well, more specifically, a severe, albeit self-diagnosed, IT band problem. But either way, when you are fatigued, injured, cold, wet and miserable, the last thing you need to battle is darkness, and the inevitable hallucinations that creep from the shadows.

So that is the plan: set off late in the evening and work my way northwards along the Way, and emerge re-energised (hopefully) as the sun rises, leaving me with the whole day to tackle the more hardcore sections of the route as it passes over some of the most stunning scenery in the country, and some of the higher peaks. (That said, I know there are a lot of forest trails on the Way, and many of these are through Sitka Spruce plantations. They are, after a while, not that exciting. It is one of the valid criticisms of the Wicklow Way from those who have taken on the journey, and are perhaps unfettered by the bias of being a native rambler.)

And so yesterday was the first recce of what will be several along various sections of the Way as I make plans for the Summer’s sojourn. Whilst I do have a strange predilection for taking on these journeys without actually travelling the route beforehand, I think this time it may be wise to get somewhat familiar with its little foibles. Indeed, yesterday’s brief out-and-back proved that point, as we only took on three miles of the Way, and it showcased quite the variety of terrain: tarmac roads, forest access ‘fire’ roads, steep downhill tracks over roots and granite rocks, soft grassy trails along a river, and steep climbs up muddy paths. And at several stages along this short stretch, you could have gone wrong if you weren’t paying attention. The route may be waymarked, but all it takes is one lapse in concentration, or a badly-parked car obscuring a marker post, and off you go in the wrong direction. It may only be a kilometre or two extra on top of what is a very long distance, but it’s remarkable how dispiriting that can be; far out of proportion to what it should mean in terms of extra effort.

Above are a few images from yesterday’s short run. I plan to bring the GoPro along for the trip, so not unlike Declan’s Way, I hope to make a short film about the journey. Admittedly, about six hours of darkness at the start won’t make for great viewing…

Despite tomorrow’s promise of frost, ice and even some snow, we are definitely into Spring, longer days, and all that comes with it, including some of my favourite flowers.

Wood Anemones are out in St. Catherine’s
The cherry tree we planted for our late friend, Ciaran, has started to blossom already. Boy, how he would have loved the result from yesterday’s humiliation for United at Anfield!

It’s a positive note on which to finish.

Saoirse, me, Dad and Mum at a friend’s wedding many, many moons ago

* When I say ‘quid’, I mean Euro. But as I am half-English, I like to throw in a few words from Old Blighty 😉

9 thoughts on “Welcome to IMRA

  1. That long distance path sounds like an amazing journey and something I was totally unaware of. Your Wicklow Way journey sounds like a fabulous way to honour your Dad and I look forward to following your preparations 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t find the words to tell you how cool it is that you’re now running in the wild (or wild-ish places). Your Wicklow Way plans do your dad proud. The pint and the anemones both have me drooling. And it must be said, S is phenomenally photogenic.

    Liked by 1 person

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