Union Wood Hosts Exciting Kickoff for IMRA West League

May 15, 2024

The Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA) West League began with a thrilling opener at Union Wood last Saturday. The event drew 87 runners of diverse backgrounds and skill levels from across the West of Ireland, showcasing the region's vibrant running community. The picturesque setting of Union Wood, adorned with bluebells and bathed in a benign day's glow, belied the challenging nature of the course—a true test to kick off the league.

The course itself was a medley of terrains, blending fast trails, mountain bike tracks, single-track climbs through forests, and a wild meadow stretch. The highlight of the route was the demanding ascent to Union Rock, followed by a rapid descent back to the finish line—a true rollercoaster of a race. For those opting for a shorter challenge or the junior category, the summit section was bypassed.

In the men's race, familiar names and talents vied for supremacy. Leitrim's off-road Ultra legend, Ricki Wynn, stamped his authority early on, navigating the faster segments with finesse before dominating the technical stretches to clinch a comfortable victory, finishing roughly a minute ahead of Mayo's Alan Dunne. Michael Casserly secured third place, fending off a challenge from the experienced David Sands.

The women's race saw an intriguing battle between seasoned competitor Mari Johnson and rising star Caitlin Hughes from Mayo. While Mari put up a strong fight, it was Caitlin who emerged victorious, building on her previous successes, including a short-course win on Benbulben the previous year. The participation of three junior runners added a dynamic element to the event, with Roxanne Sands and sisters Holly Jane and Ella Grace Ginty showcasing impressive performances.

Noteworthy was the significant female participation, with 20% of registrations coming from women who had recently taken part in the Sligo Women's Trail Series organised by IMRA and the Sligo Sports and Recreation Partnership. Susan Aldridge stood out as the fastest graduate, achieving an impressive podium finish in her full racing debut, followed closely by Amanda Hynes and Joanne Kilfeather.

The success of the event was not just in the competition but also in the seamless organisation led by Race Director Barry Gallagher and the dedicated volunteers who ensured a smooth and enjoyable experience for all participants. Massive credit must also go to league Director Turlough Conway for his commitment to growing mountain running in the West of Ireland. As the IMRA West League gains momentum, the upcoming race at Carrowkeel promises another exhilarating chapter in the region's mountain running growth on May 26th.

Featured Image: by Anne-Marie Flaherty

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