IMRA Connacht Championship

While BARF hosted the Spelga Skyline last weekend, 3 BARFers headed West to take part in the Mweelrea and Nephin IMRA races in Mayo, together comprising the Connacht Championship. Report by Jonathan McCloy.

Jonathan, Shirley and Andrew in the Wild West

It’s the first time I’ve been to Mweelrea and Nephin but it felt so familiar, like races did 20 years ago. A small field of mountain runners, courses which were still rugged, not worn down to bare rock or bog and a good sense of community. Everyone chatted away and it would have been easy to yarn at everyone, yer man with the bright yellow shoes getting the brunt of my low quality humour (he beat me, so I don’t feel bad about it).

At Mweelrea starters orders were to go to the col, I think they were cautious about weather, so the notion of going straight to/from the top was dispelled. Starting beside the beach with a quick run up the road to a farm track had the field warmed up, on to the open mountain and a small path parallel to the river was the choice of the main crowd but Andrew went straight. I veered off from the crowd and followed, watching as Andrew took some valuable meters out of the apparent leaders. From there it got steeper and rockier towards the col. The course is similar to a Commedagh race, slow climb up the glen, getting steeper to the col, then a steep climb to the top with a small break in the middle. The view from the col out across the ridge to the north was very inviting, a future hike. Andrew came past on his way down and was battling it out for first. Climbing¬†higher along the ridge opened up a view of the valley below and mountains beyond. I took a walk around the cairn to take it in, I think the summit marshal was a bit confused. Turning and setting off downhill it was time for the fun part, the ground at the top is rocky but stable and allows for a fast descent, winding down from the col it returns to the soft grassy glen, allowing you to open the stride and glide down the mountain with no fear of real injury. I had taken a few on the way down but coming towards the track I wasn’t sure I had hit it right and had to ease off to take a look around, allowing one to come by. Back on to the road and I was happy to just cruise home, looking forward to to playing mountain running again the next day on Nephin. Andrew came in second, gaining some valuable IMRA Championship points to add to his Donard result and had a solid second before moving to day two, race two of the Connacht Champs. Shirley was also racing, taking the opportunity while on holidays to get a race in and had a solid race, 4th woman home.

Shirley on Mweelrea

Nephin is what drew me to these races, I had seen it while in the area a couple of years ago and thought a run around the coire must be class. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that’s exactly what the race does. We started in a field beside the Coillte and took vague lines up towards the centre of the coire, climbing along a small stream cut into the hill. As the sides of the valley opened out it was time to move on to the the west ridge and climb through moderate heather, rewarded with views of the Nephin range. As we got higher it got rocky and loose, a distinct increase in exposure looking at the ground drop off on each side. The mist came in across the top creating a very atmospheric view of the leaders running along the skyline ahead. Race directors instructions of always keeping the cliff on our left kept people right (boom boom), rounded the trig point, and time for the reigns to come off. Again, stoney but stable ground allowed a fast descent, after the cairn it got rocky and loose again, prime opportunity for the descenders to gain some ground. Further down the ridge it was back to heather but now there was route choice, straight and over fences or veer left and avoid them. Two were ahead and went left, they were going to be hard to reel in, so I went straight, had to jump two fences but also jumped those two places. Down through the lower fields to finish another top quality route. Andrew had a solid race and was in the leaders the whole way, thinking he had it wrapped up on the descent, he also got some unexpected company but held off the challenge and took the win and the overall Contact Champs.
I highly recommend these races but please don’t all rush at once, the untouched character was fantastic and something to be savoured these days.