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World Cup Kicks Off at Seven Sisters Skyline

The WMRA World Cup kicks off this coming Saturday, May 21st with the 5th edition of the Seven Sisters Skyline 30 km in scenic Dunlewey, Ireland. Located in the rugged, windswept Derryveagh mountains of County Donegal, this will be the Northernmost race in the 2022 WMRA Mountain Running World Cup.

SMLIMG 8674The Terrain

Donegal is a mystical, magical place, which boasts wild rugged unspoilt landscapes, and an incredible coastline with some of the most spectacular views in Europe. The Derryveagh mountains are the major mountain range in Donegal. Commonly known as the “Seven Sisters”, each of the seven mountains have their own gaelic names of Errigal (751m), Mackoght a.k.a. Little Errigal (555m), Aghla More (584m), Ardloughnabrackbaddy (603m), Aghla Beg (564m), Crocknalaragagh (471m) and Muckish (666m).

Like its namesake suggests, the 30 km race route with over 2134m of total vertical climbing, runs along the top of all of the Seven Sisters from Muckish to Errigal. The technical course is renowned for its variabile terrain and amazing beauty, along with a route that is very demanding on wild open mountains. The route also has many wonderful features, and makes this course unique in Ireland. The miners path, Heart-attack Hill, Altan Castle, Mackoght with amazing views of Errigal.

The Athletes

In addition to many talented runners from the island of Ireland, several international elite mountain runners are expected to toe the starting line. These include U.S. resident and Wexford native Paddy O'Leary who competed for Ireland in the 2019 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. Paddy was also featured in the 2021 film “Coming Home - Ag Teacht Abhaile” about his fastest known time attempt on the self-navigated 115 kilometer Wicklow Round.

The Wexford man will have to deal with two young challengers in Seek Vert teammates Ruairi Long (IRL) and Matthew Mc Connell (IRL), both regulars on the top step of Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA) races.

Enda Cloake (IRL) comes into the race having placed second at the Ballyhoura qualifier for the Irish European Championship team and will surely be in the hunt for the win. Local man and two-time winner of the 55 km event, Shaun Stewart (IRL) will also be in the mix. His focus has mostly been on multisport racing this year but the lure of a WMRA Mountain Running World Cup race on his doorstep is hard to pass. Other strong contenders include Aiden McMooreland (IRL), Pearse West (IRL) and Luke McMullan (IRL).

On the women's side, North Face athlete Olivia Amber (USA) should be a strong contender for the podium. Amber is a cross country skier turned mountain and trail runner who finished 3rd at California’s iconic Lake Sonoma 50 Mile just last month. Also crossing the pond for Seven Sisters Skyline and no stranger to racing in Ireland is Kathryn O'Regan (USA) who finished 3rd at the 2019 Gaelforce Mountain Run 22 km in Leenane. Joining them is strong Irish runner Sarah Brady (IRL) is fresh off winning the 24 km Copper Skytrail in Wales.

It’s not just elites running Seven Sisters Skyline. Mountain runners of many ability levels are converging on Donegal from around the globe for this challenging event including athletes from the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Isle of Man, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Tune in Saturday to see if anyone can challenge course records set in 2021 by Ryan Stewart (Scotland) in 3:40:15 and Hannah Shields (Ireland) in 4:56:07. LIVE track of the race is available at: http://live.primaltracking.com/skychallenge22/

The Race

SMLIMG 8689In spite of this event's young age, the Seven Sisters Skyline has grown quickly and is on pace to become a bucket-list race for all mountain runners. In 2018 the race had just 120 participants for what was then a 21 km and 42 km pair of events. In 2021 there were over 200 participants for the 30 km in spite of the ongoing pandemic. This year there are over 650 registered across two events - a 30 km and 55 km - making it Ireland's premier event, and biggest Mountain Running event ever on the Island.

According to race director Eunan Quinn, “As they say up here it's different (Donegal), and this route is different to anything else in Ireland. A point to point route that is true mountain running on open wild unforgiving terrain. Everyone who competes in the event tells us how tough, demanding, energy sapping the course is. The terrain is varied with a little tarmac, gravel path, loose scree, rocky terrain, lots of soft boggy terrain and steep hills. With very little defined tracks or trails on the route full concentration is needed at all times, and one hill leads to the next with little or no flatter sections on the route.”

A GPX file for the 30 km World Cup course can be found here.

Richard Bolt for WMRA Media, photos courtesy of Excel Sports.

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