BACKGROUND TO IRISH MOUNTAIN RUNNING

by Douglas Barry
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MOUNTAIN RUNNING (also known as Hill Running or Fell Running) has been recorded in Ireland since pre-christian times. According to Irish folklore, when legendary Irish hero Fionn MacCumhaill (Finn McCool) was getting old, the chief of the Fianna (heroes to a man and guardians of the High King of Ireland) decided to settle down and get married. With no dating agencies around, Fionn picked his future wife with a race up and down Slievenamon - a mountain in Co. Tipperary.

Deirdre, the very beautiful daughter of the local chief, won. Fionn was very pleased with the result... But, unfortunately, the story didn't have a Hollywood ending. When she saw the rather wrinkly Fionn, she didn't fancy him at all, at all. She ran away with Diarmuid - his younger lieutenant in the Fianna. This prompted a monumental chase which is recorded in the annals of ancient Ireland. The repercussions appear to have set back the sport in Ireland a bit, as we don't hear about it again until the 14th century. However, Slievenamon took its name from the race. In Gaelic, it means the Mountain of the Women.

Many other mountain races were recorded throughout Irish history: the appropriately named Tom Hill won a gold watch for his winning effort in a 1870s race on the Sugarloaf in Co. Wicklow. The race was organised by the noted Irish climber and traveller, Sir Charles Barrington who donated the valuable prize. Barrington was a wealthy local landowner who, in addition to owning the horse "Sir Robert Peel" a winner of the Irish Grand National horse race, was the first man to climb the Eiger, a famous peak in the Swiss Alps in 1858.

Finally in 1980 the Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA) was formed. It rapidly organised a series of races throughout Ireland - mainly in the Dublin/Wicklow area. Later, an Irish Championship was inaugurated, together with provincial ones. With increasing interest in international races, the IMRA affiliated to the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) through Bord Luthchleas na hEireann (BLE), and sent Irish teams to compete in the annual ICMR Mountain Running World Cup from 1986.

Our international standards improved over the years, resulting in Kerry runner John Lenihan (see Irish Runner magazine article) winning the individual gold medal in the 1991 World Cup race in Zermatt, Switzerland . Lenihan (see picture)also led a Irish team consisting of Robin Bryson 4th, Tommy Payne 25th, and Eamon McMahon (see picture) 35th to the Team Bronze Medals that year. The ever consistant Bryson (see picture) also finished 4th in 1993 after leading for most of the race. Robin also holds the length of service award. He has been an international runner from 1982 to 1999. List of Irish Internationals

However, the sport is not just for elite athletes, but is open to everybody. Most participants are joggers or fun runners who like a drink and a chat in the pub afterwards. The races are set in superb scenery, and leave you breathless in more ways than one! At the front end of the race, the top athletes can run all of the climb, but behind them, the most of the competitors have to walk. To compensate for your efforts, the views at the top are fantastic. The vistas from the summits of seaside mountains like Croagh Patrick and Brandon stretch over miles of island, ocean, and mountain. Still, you must come down again, and the descent provides real excitement. Hurtling down grassy slopes, while trying to pass slower runners produces a tremendous adrenalin rush!

HOW TO ENTER A RACE...?

The calendar consists of races up and down mountains in most parts of Ireland. Famous mountains like Carrauntoohil, Croagh Patrick, and, of course, Slievenamon all have their own races. However, for variety, as we only can put on about 50 races a year and we have a lot more mountains, we vary the races.

Entry is simple and is taken on the day unless notified on our calendar or our website. Just roll up 20 minutes before the start on a pair of strongish legs and, with a good heart and an entry fee of 5-00 (USD6-00) in your pocket, you'll soon be under way. You will only be allowed to start once you have completed the Membership Form - copy available for printing here from the website.

There are different age categories for everybody and include junior and veteran age groups. The distances are in kilometres and the heights gained are shown in metres. Once you get to the top, you have to come down the same amount of metres. So, your skill in the descent can help you pass other runners, as well as giving you an exhilarating buzz!

All this exercise helps to give you a magnificent pair of legs, and, of course, a matching thirst... Needless to say, the Irish pubs are wonderful too!

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