We’re only 10 minutes into the race and it’s clear already that this is no race like any other. The Seven Sisters Skyline wants to be conquered. It tests body, will and equipment – and it rewards those who persevere. Even before the finish line after 55 km and 4200 metres vertical.
May is actually a good month in Ireland. It gets warmer and reasonably dry. Normally. This year, it is wet. Very wet. We notice that at the latest after 1.5 km of asphalt: On a pretty path around the local lake we line up one behind the other – and it’s getting boggy: the path is flooded, at some places ankle-deep. Some runners are already just going through it all, others are still trying to avoid the wet. I am glad about the long running tights and the rain jacket as it is raining. Of course. The locals run almost all in shorts, some even in tank tops. I’m already freezing just watching them.
Our track covers the 7 local peaks. At least for the 30 km course, which is also the opening race of the 22nd World Cup of the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) in 2022. We 55ers run this thing both ways and do all the peaks twice. Only the Errigal, reigning the landscape, has to be attacked only once. Wohow.
After the first 300 meters of climbing, we turn at the base of Errigal and the race shows its true colours: it’s going to be a falling competition as much as a true bog party. Damn, it’s slippery, muddy, steep. I hang on for a long time before I’m in the muck. After 14 km and the picturesque castle ruins, the first sister is finally in the bag: Aghia More. On the way up, one of the crazy locals in easy summer clothes pushes down the hill – while eating a sandwich. What the fuck?!
The next two sisters are relatively easy: Aghia Beg (South) and Aghia Beg. But it gets brutally windy up here, it tears at the jacket, the wind constantly tries to push the poles in front of my legs. We are 16 km into the race, the first aid station comes at 23 km. It will be a hard way. How can there actually be so much mud here? At least it’s not raining anymore. As the first 30s sprint down the boggy path towards us, it gets briefly crowded. Right at the front: the American Olivia Amber and the Irishman Ruairí Long, who will also win the race.
Eventually: The lovely aid station with super nice people, a most welcome kilometre on asphalt, the runnners’ field has loosened up. Then the climb up to the Muckish. As if a climb of up to 50% gradient would not be enough, the wind howls again as if it had nothing better to do. At the top, a kind of plateu, which is only runnable with caution. Rocks everywhere and none points in the same direction as the next. At least the wind comes from behind. But wait a minute: we only have to go down the narrow, technical and – surprise: extremely slippery – Miners‘ Path, then it’s time for the return trip. Hello headwind!
„Here the race really starts,“ Race Director Eunan had told me. Accordingly, I have run conservatively so far and now bag various other runners again. In the downhills, many runners here are immensely good. But uphill, just as many seem to run out of steam. I even have some energy left to look around a bit. Mud or not – it is asstonishingly beautiful here. But you can’t look around for too long. There’s no easy running as every step needs full attention in order not to slip, to fall or to sink in. And it really is the way back that breaks people. Of the 157 starters, 32 will become a DNF.
3 summits before Errigal, the boss, I catch up with an English woman. She doesn’t want to be left behind, attacks again, and asks in the most beautiful British snottiness, whether this is now the last climb. Well, sorry darling… She runs ahead again, but the next climb grinds her down. And there are still several hundred steep meters of altitude to go.
The last ascent. Errigal. Steep, high, with a long back that must be taken to the highest point. Loose scree, sand and a narrow path at the top. After that, almost 700 metres vertical downhill. I’m on autopilot, see the road below on which we shortly have to run and almost miss my turn along the slippery grass edge. Thanks, freezing Mountain Ranger for sending me the right way!
The final pretty forest path past the Guinness estate and through lush greens is a joy. Just run, only slightly uphill, all good. Use the last reserves and collect a few more runners. A last time over the now muddy-beyond-recognition path around the lake, over the dam, and off to the finish line, where burgers, beer and party await. And insanely nice runners. Everything is so incredibly warm-hearted here! After a short break in the sun – yes, it comes out briefly – I head back towards my accommodation. On the way lives a farmer, whom I met yesterday. He won’t let me go without me coming in for tea and getting gingerbread and scones from his wife. Even though I’m dirty and smelly. Sooo nice!
Here’s a few things I learned today: the Seven Sister Skyline and the Donegal region belong on every trailrunner’s bucket list. Also, when in Ireland, always wear a rain jacket. And it stays on until you can see the finish.