Mountain Running is a branch of athletics that's been around for thousands of years. It's interwoven through the myths and legends of many countries. The sport's modern heroes now have their own legends in this dual facet discipline. What goes up must come down. It demands strength and stamina on the uphill route to the mountain summit, and skill and agility on the descent back down to the finish.

In Ireland, mountain running terrain varies enormously from race to race. The underfoot conditions on Irish mountains can range from smooth grassy slopes, heather covered open mountain, to rocky scree. There are many spectacular hills whose scree covered slopes vary from large rocks, right down to ball bearing like pebbles. In the latter, a great sense of balance really comes into play as you plunge downwards - arms flailing - on the edge of control.

Like many facets of athletics; steeplechase, hurdles, etc., the skills must be acquired by practice. Good descenders all try to perfect their technique through practice on the varying terrain available. The technique required is to lean forward and land with slightly bent knees. A good descent brings out the "WheeEE..." factor in everybody. Falls are surprisingly rare as the body adjusts rapidly to the speed and terrain. The runner must concentrate on his footing (picture) with the occasional glance up to ensure he/she doesn't go in the wrong direction. The motivation for faster descents in Ireland is often a great thirst as the race start/finish here is generally beside a pub!

In some countries in Europe which touch the Alps, mountain races can be uphill only. They often feature 1,300 metres of climb or more and no descent. At the finish, the competitors must walk or drive down. However, throughout the rest of the world, mountain races go up and down. Good descenders like 1995 World Champion Lucio Fregona can pass 4 or 5 international level runners on the descent to win races. The lure of the descent is generally the main attraction for most mountain running afficionados who just can't miss that adrenalin rush!

A 10k mountain race demands the effort required for a 15k road or cross country race, a 20k one the effort for a 30k road event. Athletes should prepare with hill training and a mix of long intervals, fartlek and steady running. Preparation for the descent is beneficial, and can be achieved by training on a longish grassy slope. The technique mentioned above is effective, but downhill training should only be done sparingly as it's demanding on the body. You should never train on hard surfaces for descending.

The picture below shows Ireland's 1991 World Champion John Lenihan descending the easier part of the Snowdon International race in Wales. The Kerry runner - a multi times Irish Mountain Running Champion and twice Irish 1/2 Marathon Champion - won this race in 1989.

John Lenihan flying down Snowdon

List of Irish International Mountain Runners

Irish Calendar

Large version of Lenihan picture

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Last updated by Douglas Barry