Run The Line Trail Half Marathon 2017

Without a doubt Run the Line is one of the best trail races in Ireland. While I don't usually think in terms of "bucket lists", I'd put this out there as one of those bucket list trail races - even if it is a little shorter in length than a longer trail marathon or trail ultra. The scenery, support and hard-core Dublin trail-running community will be sure to please.

preparation

"What's the first step to starting a race?", I was recently asked. To which I sarcastically replied, "Signing up!"

It really is these first small steps that get us moving in a direction. Pile on some training, get up just a little earlier every morning and before you know it, you're well underway to being ready.

As many are aware, my daily run commute averages 8-20km.

run commute - dun laoghaire evening run


Dun Laoghaire Evening Run Commute

A question I quite frequently get from people is, "What are you training for?" often I make some reply about training for life or something equally clever. The truth is I do it because I am able to and am lucky enough to have the option to run twice daily along the Irish Sea.

Racing is not an arduous task to me - it is a reward for putting the time in and taking the small steps day to day - even though there may be thousands of them...

Pro tip

Racing is not an arduous task - it is the reward for putting the time in and taking the small steps day to day.

morning of

The morning of race day ritual actually began in earnest the night before. You see, the morning of you will not be as focused or attentive to the orchestration and planning details needed to make race day a success.

The night before you have three considerations to assess:

  • transport (to/from)
  • food/health/medical
  • weather/clothing options

Based on experience, the second item is usually pretty straightforward. if you've put in the training, a race up to about 50K will not be overly taxing. Beyond that, you may need to plan bag drops and/or crewing to supply additional support.

Weather do clothing can be tricky - if it's cold out and there isn't a lot of standing around before/after the race you are going to need to plan for it. Whether that's bringing a couple old "throwaway t-shirts" or wearing a small pack to allow you to carry more - you will require some contingency planning. Additionally difficult can be conditions where you go from hot to cold or dry weather to rain (or a combination of all of those). Carrying a small hat that covers your ears from wind/rain is a small price to pay for the strategic weight trade off for when it is needed most.

run the line bus transit

Finally transport... I make this a little more difficult than most in that I have no car and am largely reliant on public transport (rail, bus, taxi, running/walking). I have been known to ride along with friends/running partners but about 80% of my races today are arrived at under non-carpool, public modes of transit.

This morning was particularly challenging add closest public transport (bus trip with a transfer) only brought me within 3km of the race start. I had prepared by planning to run from Kilternan up the mountain to Johnny Foxes but was pleasantly surprised when a car pulled alongside and gave me a lift (as they we're also going to the race).

race start

It was a bitterly cold morning: -2C with 30km winds and the cold dampness of which Ireland is notoriously famous. There were a couple tents setup around the starting area and thankfully the registration tent had two hoses pumping in heated air. Every 30 seconds or so, a windmill gust would shudder the tent causing the prolific condensation overhead to rain down mercilessly on the unsuspecting.

Somehow I managed to find the right line and secured my race packet but dropped my foot tag. I would have lost it were it not for a kind passerby to point it out. After securing my race bib and foot tag, I lingered a bit long in front of the vents pumping heat into the tent - my toes had a little more feeling...

A few minutes before the 26K early start (hey I wasn't about to stand around any longer than I had to) there was a mad scramble to get a red marker dot on race bibs to indicate an early start racer. Once secured I made my way out into a wide pasture area serving as starting corral. The announcement was made and the race was off - we started uphill and then, well, it just got more uphill with things leveling out a few kilometers later at the top of Three Rock. By now full feeling had returned to hands and feet and I took my hat and gloves off for a short time to cool down after a big climb.

As forecasted by the race director earlier, there was a significant amount of ice at the top. Where only a day or so before there were boggy puddles and jagged rocks, there was now ice sheets where the only solid footing were the jagged rocks and the precious few patches of bare ground. At this point in we're 3km in and have already climbed nearly 250 meters. It's times like this you have to balance pacing against overall goal of making it across the finish line. I throttle back to a leisurely 6ish minute pace as a group of us start picking our route across the treacherous icy trail to Tibradden Forest.

I might add our group made it the 2.5km along the top of Three Rock relatively unscathed to Tibradden, but only just. This is a fairly technical route even in the best of weather and when the trail is crowded 2-3 abreast - it can get a wee bit competitive for foot placement!

well underway

As we entered the wood, I was thankful I was a part of the early start for the long course. The trail is pretty much single-track through this section and while icy/muddy, it hadn't been broken up too much. Those conditions were sure to change in the next 15-20 minutes as the bulk of the runners made their way through...

There are few experiences as exhilarating as running through dense trees at speed. When you throw in the gratuitous mud bogs and ice it was truly incredible. You'll note I don't have any pictures here - at the end of these stretches of trail, you're just thankful to have made it through without incident!

The bottom of this section drops out as we stopped at the mid-course aid station for gummies/jellies and some water before continuing across the R116 over to Two Rock.

The steep switch-back timber road to the top I remembered from last year. In the previous year I ran the entire thing from top to bottom and my quads were nearly done for by the time I had summited.

This year though I quickly adjusted to my fast-hike cadence and heard a few muted comments about "how fast that guy is walking". In truth you conserve loads of power by switching to a fast-walk (something I regularly practice in training and longer runs). Often has been the time I've ripped past guys later on the course who blew up on earlier hills.

At the top of Two Rock we were treated to a truly white winter wonderland:

two rock winter wonderland - run the line 26K

At this point I'm about 11.5Km into this mess and it hasn't got much warmer. Another kilometer or so ahead we move back into the forest and it's a downright muddy mess in parts.

Pro tip

Cold weather builds character - said no trail runner ever.

At this point I'm about 11.5Km into this mess and it hasn't got much warmer. Another kilometer or so ahead we move back into the forest and it's a downright muddy mess in parts.

Then it's on into a north facing slope - racing downhill. A racer starts to blow by at speed and we both notice that the course makes a hard 90 towards the right. He'd committed quite a few more paces and had to retrace a little to get back uphill and to the turn-off.

I really like this section of the course - it's leaf-covered but really swampy underneath it all. The ground is tricky to read and everyone spent a fair bit of the ascents speed-hiking, slipping, falling and swearing.

two rock bog trail

Now we being descent back down towards the mid-course crossing and we are at about the 13Km mark and truly mid-race. My lungs don't feel ragged like last year and I still have plenty of kick left - which is good because now it's a long climb back up Three Rock toward Fairy Castle.

I grab a huge handful of gummies - a little sugar is welcome here and I can suck on them and absorb a little energy on the upward slog. We pass several groups of people walking the trail - most of them kindly get off to the side of the trail, but I wonder what they'll be thinking when the next 100 or so racers run by...

Around kilometer 16 we move out of Tibradden wood into the wide open as we begin retracing part of our former route out to Two Rock. This trail is crazy-rough - huge rocks jagging out from all over - any water that was on the trail is frozen and then broken into handy ice shards by the masses that descended earlier. Now my legs are getting a bit heavier. Despite my "tiny footsteps" strategy of trail running, I manage to go ass over kettle into a nice soft bunch of gorse.

At this point here I should comment that I frequently tell my son to adopt "tiny footsteps" when trailrunning (usually downhill). This is because you can miss one or two steps if they are small enough and still recover. A full stride way over-commits you and you're in for the pain train if you fail to properly execute on a step.

Well in this case I missed one, applied correction on second - missed again and stuffed it up on the third step. Fortunately I miraculously missed a rocky landing. If you're ever had the chance to run/hike this route, you'll know just how fortuitous that is...

three rock trail climb - run the line 26K

almost there

Just before making the final assault to the top of Fairy Castle we turned left and headed across and downhill back along the Wicklow Way. More beautiful scenes and this sunlight was a nice change.

I'm sure some of my fellow racers thought me a bit daft to be stopping for some photos, but times really mean a lot less to me these days...

wicklow way - run the line 26K

Just before making the final assault to the top of Fairy Castle we turned left and headed across and downhill back along the Wicklow Way. More beautiful scenes and this sunlight was a nice change.

I'm sure some of my fellow racers thought me a bit daft to be stopping for some photos, but times really mean a lot less to me these days...

At about kilometer 19 I took my second and

final fall. Really hit the ground at speed - trail was canted to the side and icy as well as being downhill. Several runners offered verbal concern and assistance, but I assured them only my pride had been hurt. I did take a pretty good ride on my right shoulder and tore up my palms/back of my hands a little bit - but again a fortunate fall.

One more decent climb and we were descending down a pretty icy set of trails back toward Lamb Doyles - I really enjoy this section as there are usually plenty of technicals to consider at downhill speed.

We do stop short of making it all the way to the pub and head around the mountain as the radio towers spring into view.

three rock radio towers - run the line 26K


I really punch up these next set of hills over the next twoish kilometers and start to regret it as my quads burn and lungs feel a little ragged. As we approach the last kilometer, we welcome some nice big downhill drops and a lovely bit of sunshine reminding us that despite all the weather challenges, that sun is up there trying to warm it up.

nearing the finish - run the line 26K

finish

Ah the finish line - I didn't do my usual hard sprint on the last 300m. It's a little hard to do in my spikey Salomons, layers of gear + loaded pack. You just smile and realize you've still got 10K+ of running left for the commute home... I'd love to claim I wasn't tired, but this course is bad-ass and a challenge even in good weather - let's just say I didn't quite have the same spring in my step as when I started!

Pro tip

Always save a little for that final sprint across the line...

homeward

If you thought the story was over, I still had to get home. I ate one of my granola bars, had half my water and put a layer back on. Dropped into a somewhat slower pace and descended from the GAP adventure park back down to Kilternan. Stopped about 6Km into my run and waited for bus 44. Grabbed that over to Scalp and then ran up to the Leadmines and back over the hill to Shankill and home for another 5ishK of hilly trail. In my hurry I lost one of my good North Face insulated gloves, but at least i had an extra pair (always prepared)...

The Run The Line 2017 results can be found here. While I didn't break any records at 2:52 (or bones), I sure had a great adventure and I don't know a better way to finish out a day...

leadmines above shankill

Leadmines above Shankill

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