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  • Writer's pictureBarra Oconnell

Eagle AC-Trail running by Olga O'Sullivan

Despite having grown up in a large city, I should start with the fact that I’m an outdoor nut rather than a typical road runner. In addition to running, I love hiking, climbing, surfing and open water swimming. The mountains and ocean are my happy place. I never use a treadmill or go to the gym; vertigo aside, the indoor exercise just doesn’t do it for me.

Not sure why I’m here writing this article, when there are many club members, who are better trail runners than me, and we probably crossed paths at the IMRA races! With the unexpected circumstances, which we found ourselves in over the last 2 years, I find more and more road runners are willing to try trails, and I may even be guilty of converting some of them.

I love running alone, but I also enjoy sharing my love for the mountains with others. McGillycuddy Reeks in Kerry is my favourite playground, from the remote Lough Duff circuit to the Eastern reeks and Coomloughra horseshoe, and Carrauntoohil from every direction. However, due to the recent lockdowns, I perused every possible bit of trails closer to home. There are hidden gems everywhere, you just need to look for them. After the recent loss of my husband, who loved the woodlands, I’ve spent many hours running in the woods, where, surrounded by the trees, you can cry without being judged and remember without being interrupted.

I find solace in running far away from civilisation, alone with my thoughts. The air is cool, damp and clean. You are surrounded by the beautiful, lush, green, yellow, grey and brown hues, and sounds of nature: the trickling of a distant waterfall, birds singing, goats & sheep calling out to each other, or on a stormy day, the wind howling and drowning out everything else! If you time your run to witness a sunrise or a sunset, the experience is unparallel; it stays with you.

I enjoy running through mud and water, pushing myself up a steep hill, the concentration required to hop from rock to rock on a narrow ridge and using my hands to scramble across the bigger boulders. What goes up, must come down! Being up high, either surrounded by fog, snow, hail and rain, or enjoying the amazing views far below, is always followed by the exhilaration of throwing caution to the wind, applying the “brakes off, brain off” formula and skidding and flying down the mountain side through the scree, rocks, moss, mud and grass. There is something primal and raw about the entire adventure, which wakes you up and makes you feel truly alive, similarly to flying down a face of a steep wave on a surfboard on a winter day, with an offshore wind blowing the freezing, salty spray into your face.

Coming to the practicalities for someone who’d like to get into mountain running… Please respect the mountains and farmers who kindly let us use their land, wear the appropriate gear (it’s much colder at the summit!) and ensure you can navigate in a total whiteout (the old way, with a map and compass, if you phone battery dies). A good running jacket and trail running shoes are a must, and it’s safer to run with someone else, especially on the remote technical trails.

I found the hard way, that in Ireland, waterproof trail runners are a disaster. If the water can’t get in, it can’t get out, and following a stream crossing or sinking in the mud up to your knee, you’re way better off with a pair of fast draining running shoes!

Finally, enjoy! IMRA races are bound to return eventually, when some normality of life is restored, and those are a blast. You’ll meet some inspiring people and can start off with the fully marked short courses. My favourite was undoubtedly Sli Muscrai 2020 in storm Denis. I have never been so happy to run a race blown by the wind, up to my ankles and knees in mud for the most of it. Please refer to this link for the latest news and events:

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