The Ballyhoura Moonlight Challenge.

By | January 15, 2020

While most of us were tucked up safely in our beds last Friday night, four of the more adventurous members of the Blackwater Triathlon Club, Kay Quirke, Dave McCarthy, Adrian Collins and Peter O’Brien, were making their way to the Ballyhoura Mountains in Limerick to take part in the second annual Ballyhoura Moonlight Challenge. While Dave, Adrian and Peter had taken part in last year’s race this was Kay’s first attempt at the event, and also her first half Marathon!! The challenge took runners, hikers & walkers through the winter wonders of the Ballyhoura countryside following a trail of head torches. There were two distances available to participants on the night; a full marathon, starting at 9pm from Kinfinane, and a half marathon, starting at 10.00 pm from the halfway point of the marathon, the townland of Ballyorgan. For many of the people who turned out on the night, this was an opportunity to do something a little bit different from the usual road races that are available to runners. A whole new set of challenges faced those taking part on the night, from choosing the right footwear and clothing, to navigating their way through forest trails on the side of a mountain with just a head torch to light the way. The prime objective for many taking part was just to complete the course rather than focus on a particular finish time. The event was organised by the MMRA (Munster Mountain Running Association) and the general consensus on the night was that it was a very well organised event. The course was very well signposted and there were race stewards at critical junctions. Post race, there was a full Irish breakfast for the finishers. Kay, Dave, Peter and Adrian did the half-marathon event. The half-marathon course was a mixture of small roads and forest trails. The roads were mostly empty, except for passing runners and the odd car carrying organisers and stewards back and forth. There were a mixture of surfaces to contend with on the night. Some were in woods and were pretty good except for the odd stone or tree root. Some sections featured energy sapping mud and more challenging terrain. One section near the highest point had a lot of loose stones so getting a good grip was an issue. Overall, if you took your time then it was fine but running at speed had its risks, especially for the less experienced trail runners. Many of the gradients in the race were far more challenging than in an ordinary road race and on some of the uphill sections, many of the runners had no choice but to walk. The effort of walking up those inclines was the same as running on the flat. Then on some of the downhill sections, athletes were forced to walk rather than run for fear of slipping on the rough ground. The weather on the night was pretty favourable, dry, albeit a little windy and hovering around 3 to 4 degrees Centigrade. The entire BTC contingent really enjoyed the event, with Dave coming home in 1:42, while Peter and Adrian finished in 1:59. Kay found the whole experience quite magical, especially while she was traversing the route in the dark and turned around to see a whole line of lights lighting up the mountain trail behind her. The experience of being halfway through a half marathon at 11 o’clock at night in the middle of a forest in January is not one they’ll forget for a while! Definitely a unique and memorable race.