Athletics: Rath' conquer the Wicklow Way Relay
A HIGHLIGHT of the year for off-road runners is the Wicklow Way Relay - an eight stage 127km relay from Kilmashogue Woods in Co Dublin to Shillelagh in deepest Co Wicklow.
Putting together a team is a challenge in itself, with the stages ranging in distance from 8km to 22km and the underfoot from rough open and bog to undulating roads.
On top of that, each team must include two women and two masters - at least - in its line-up and must have thoroughly 'recce'ed' the route.
These 'recce' runs in the weeks leading up to the day itself are part of the fun, getting runners away from the city paths and building up team spirit.
It's one reason why the same teams and the same faces return year after year - and not just the runners.
The race founder Joe Lalor still looks after the finish and other 'old hands' can be spotted along the route.
Good weather always helps and again the weather gods were in benign humour last Saturday when the conditions were sunny but not too hot.
This was ideal not just for the runners but for the helpers and drivers who ferry team members up and down the route, all the time trying not to get in the way of locals and keeping the whole enterprise as 'green' as possible.
Rathfarnham WSAF, who tend to dominate up front were going for a fifth win this year. Taking them on were a team called TT Racers (Trinity Track) led by Terry McConnon and Paul Fleming.
With Barry Minnock and Brian McMahon on their first two legs, the official Rathfarnham team quickly opened a lead on TT Racers until a navigational error by Donna Mahon on the 8km leg narrowed the gap to 35 seconds. On that same third leg, a strong run by Emma Donlon on this leg pulled the Wicklow Warriors into third place.
By the end of the fifth leg from Glendalough to Glenmalure, Rathfarnham were again in control.
Because of a local funeral, the finish this year was not in Shillelagh but at the Dying Cow pub with an extra loop added.
It made no difference to Rathfarnham, with captain Brian Furey bringing them home over 14 minutes ahead of the chasers. Second were TT Racers, while a steady performance by Sportsworld brought them into third place ahead of Wicklow Warriors.
Behind them came some 20 other teams, all with stories to tell. East Cork arrived 15 minutes late to the Kilmashogue start and then lost another 40 minutes on the fifth leg.
Yet Tim O'Donoghue came close to his own record when he completed the challenging 22km leg in 75 mins 55 secs. The team - on paper one of the strongest - finished ninth. That's why the Wicklow Way Relay is such a challenge.
Here's to next year!