IMRA 2011 Calendar announced...
The IMRA Committee kindly provided MST with a preview of their 2011 calendar currently uploading to their site. The winter season dates became available first late last week and why not start at the beginning?
“Long” hard winter awaits IMRA
The 2011 incarnation of the introductory league will yield more credence to the talk of longer Irish winters: Competition starts innocuously enough with the one-lap version of the Howth route incepted in 2009: 221m of climb and 7km of running may just about feel manageable eight days after New Year’s Eve!
Ticknock Winter follows with Paul Mahon’s wide 10km loop on the hallowed mountain biking tracks in the Dublin Mountains. Things turn positively beastly from here as the new Annagh Hill course in South Wicklow, brainchild of Boards.ie moderator Paul Joyce, requires you to climb 500m over a further 10k if you want cast your eyes on this maiden territory.
Trooperstown Hill, long the grandfather of the Winter League, loses its patriarchal high-seat but returns to the Winter League nevertheless and the lonely brown hulk should prove popular once again both here and in the Leinster League where you will find it too.
Closing off the league will be the most daunting winter league route yet engineered: an extended 820m drag to the summit of Maulin approaching from the East rather than the North as in recent years. A preliminary description suggests this is based on the old Paddock Lake to Maulin route, infamous for its midges, but the little critters should not yet be awake on 5th of March, when the Winter League concludes and the climb alone should stand to deter.
Now, let us not further postpone answering the question on most IMRA runners mind: “When is the Leinster League starting and how does it look?” Well, you have two more weeks to train this week as the summer season kicks off on May 27th at Bray Head with Howth, the northerly cousin to this seaside knoll, follows as the second fixture. As an effect of the new scheduling, the Leinster League will start and finish later in the year, something to be welcomed by the many runners who felt the summer season terminated slightly early this season.
As for major fixture changes: Kippure, Dublin’s highest peak, enters the Leinster League for the first time, a move bound to shake up the dynamics: the series featuring more long races over exposed terrain than in any previous year.
Dublin mountain runners lose their traditional home outing at Ticknock but still get races at two Dublin peaks: Prince William’s Seat and Tibradden. The Sugarbowl race claims its traditional season-ending slot leaving the reminder of the league to focus on the Wicklow classics: Brockagh, Scarr, and Sorrell Hill. The success stories of the last few years, Powerscourt Uphill, Seefingan and afore-mentioned Trooperstown also make the cut ensuring plenty of climb, heather, and broken up trail.
Observant readers will note we have only listed twelve races: Well, the twelfth of the series will be the labyrinthine forest-bash that is Ballinastoe, one of those races you will either love or hate, no doubt its fans are already relishing it while its detractors have just found the best week to manage one of the volunteering stints required to avail of the End-of-League prize.
The Winter League and Leinster League will be buffered by a “Spring League” and not the potential resurrection of the defunct 2007 format although similar in scope with three races in March and April: Two before the Wicklow Way Trail/Ultra and one the following week.
IMRA has enlisted help in taking on the burden of this new league which will begin in conjunction with one of the Open Trail Series races in Wexford (Little Sliabh Bui, Kilbrannish South or Gibbet Hill) before the more familiar Hellfire course (part of last year’s Leinster League) takes over as the second race of the series. The third and final run will be in Meath and will likely take place over the same course as last year’s Meath Hill Running Championships in Mullaghmeen Forest.
I have great hopes for this initiative which should both bring more hill-runners to Meath and ensure a well-deserved raise of profile for Jane and Graham Porter’s Open Trail Series.
Since 2007, the Connacht Championship has seen Croagh Patrick and Ben Gorm linked together as in holy matrimony (fitting given the nature of the former) but this union will be dissolved in 2011 where Nephin, one of Croagh Patrick’s old “partners in crime”, is the Sunday feast for hungry hill runners travelling over for the weekend in Connacht.
Veterans familiar with the old route may be in for a surprise as our copy of the calendar refers to the name “Nephin Beg” (small Nephin) which may imply a trip to this smaller 627m peak rather than Connacht’s second highest peak (Nephin itself at 806m). We shall remain curious on this point, but either way a gentler second day race seems to await those aspiring to complete this year’s championship in the Western province.
Paul Nolan’s stewardship of the Leinster Championship brought with it races harking back to the roots of fell running. As the former Irish international continues his role as League Director so does the two most popular of his inventions: the short and steep “Tonelagee and the Lake” and the long challenge of the “Circuit of Avonbeg” which touched many, even those lost and immersed entirely in the route!
Black Mountain, long the nominal North Leinster representative in the Championship, finally gives way to the spectacular Carlingford Mtn. and little brother Slieve Foy, the championship starter on the 10th of April. Later in June, those prone to nostalgia will truly have something to savour when Mullaghcleevaun, Wicklow’s second highest mountain, reclaims a place in the championship after a seven year hiatus and English readers may fancy a trip for this for the 2001 record is held by Englishmen Simon Fairmaner whose brother Bill won the race last it was run.
Mount Leinster, always a straightforward enjoyable mountain foray and a great opportunity for runners in South Leinster to compete closer to home, concludes the championship for a third consecutive year.
Don’t expect too many surprises in the Irish Championship, IMRA’s premier event is the least mutable race series in Ireland, and its feature races are the country’s major peaks and they are not eroding any day quick.
The championship starts at Croagh Patrick in May, continues at Carrauntoohil in June, Lugnacoille in July and Galtymore in August. IMRA’s collaboration with NIMRA continues with the Slieve-Donard Commedagh race, once again rewarded championship status, and with a bit of extra spice as the IMRA versus NIMRA challenge is brought back and attached to the fixture, a move likely to provide a stern challenge for Southern competitors.
King of the Mountains peaks are still to be confirmed but expect a revision of the tie-breaker rule, in 2010 Jason Kehoe and Peter O’Farrell have ruled as joint kings but IMRA will seek to narrow the field down to one sovereign in the upcoming championship.
The dates for the European and World Trials have not yet been listed. For the moment, only the Youth Trial is confirmed for the 9th of April.
How we rate it…
The 2011 committee has produced another finely balanced calendar with just enough innovations to keep it fresh while keeping most of the popular races and those deserving the tag “classics”. The leagues are interspersed with a nice variety of stand-alone races: the Colleges Championship at Camaderry in March, the Wicklow Way Relay on June 11th, and the Dublin Plod in July. Post-Leinster League you will once again find an End of League handicap (course undisclosed at this time) and the three race Trail League series.
The Stone Cross to Lug relay and the Navigational Challenge are once again part of the late autumn schedule and for those who feared the Dublin Peaks and the Long Distance Championship would be consigned to the annals of history, rejoice and meet the challenge on the 5th of September.
Hopefully, this clash with the Lakeland 50/100 Mile Ultra Challenge will not be to the detriment of a race that contains great allure for many mountain runners, yet suffered from poor attendance in its two year lifespan. The Wicklow Way Ultra and Circuit of Avonbeg are earmarked as the other two counters of the long distance series.
A few points of contention are inevitable on any calendar but I suspect they will be few and whilst the calendar as a whole reinforces the trend towards longer races, this undoubtedly reflects the current “zeitgeist”, something that race organisers can reasonably refer to as more important than performance concerns.
On the flip side, this year’s predominance of race routes with significant sections of open mountain, such as Seefingan, brings Irish hill-running back closer to the roots of fell-running (if not Guides’ Racing). This will be welcomed by traditionalists and may cause concern for those worried about the preparedness of newcomers to the sport although the latter may see a useful deterrent in these races, hoping that first-timers will instead opt for increasing number of trail races available as their first experience with off-road running.
Overall, well done to the IMRA committee for laying out the framework for what appears to be a very promising season ahead, and least we forget, we still have Munster’s dates to look forward to!