Interview: Nicola Cleary

Nicola at Transvulcania 2017

Tell us how you got into Trail Running?

Before I turned 40 I set myself a challenge to run 5km. I had never run before or didn’t even own a pair of runners! So, once I got the 5km done, I hooked up with some of the parents from the school and we entered Hell & Back – It’s not exactly trail running but I really enjoyed the challenge. We then entered The Debra Ireland 10km race that started in The Wicklow Gap in those days and ran to Brockagh carpark. I found that race to be so exciting and tough. I loved the technical sections, the ups, the downs, the mud and basically was fascinated that people even ran these types of races. That year, the 21km was on at the same time as the 10km and I was in awe of the people doing the longer distance. So, after the 10km, I had it in my head I would do the 21km the following year and that’s exactly what I did. That was in 2015!

First Steps in 2015

How often do you hit the trails?

I am so lucky to live in Co. Wicklow and I have beautiful trails on my doorstep! I do 5 or 6 sessions a week and 4 of them would be trails.

Are you following a specific training plan?

If I am training for a specific race, I will do out a plan a couple of months in advance and work to that as much as possible. Life gets in the way sometimes but I like to have a plan to work to every week. It gets busy with 3 kids and work so it’s great to have some sort of a plan to fit into the week.

What are you training for at the moment?

The next race on the cards is the Maurice Mullins 50km on the 26th March and then the WTF Festival on the May Bank Holiday – that’ll be my first multi day race so that’ll be interesting!! It’s a 43Km looped route – day 1 is anticlockwise – day 2 is clockwise and day 3 is the race director’s choice and we will know at the end of day 2 what way it will be run. By all accounts this is a fantastic weekend and one I am really looking forward to. All the family are coming for this one!

Nicola at Seven Sisters

What are your favourite trails?

I am a big fan of what I have on my doorstep in Wicklow – as I get to know the mountains and trails more, the more I love them. There are so many different trails to choose from. We have all the mountains too and there are some great loops and out and backs. The Wicklow Way is so great for a lazy run when you don’t want to think of a route – just do an out and back and follow the little yellow man! It’s a stunning trail with bits of everything.

I try to go to different races around the country to experience the different trails & mountains – it’s a great way to get to see new places. IMRA have some great races – Ballyhoura, Glen of Aherlow, Knockmealdowns, Galtees, Slieve Blooms are just a few! All stunning & challenging places to run!

What are your favourite races in Ireland or abroad?

We are so lucky to have some of the best races here in Ireland. Between the terrain on offer and the weather, we get to have some of the most varied and interesting races which are never the same from year to year! The Seven Sisters in Donegal has to be one of my favourite races. Each year was so different just due to the weather – hot hot one year and jacket and gloves another year!! But, a really tough race with absolutely great mountains!!

I loved IMRA’s Wicklow Way solo race last year. I’ve probably forgotten the painful bits but absolutely loved the experience of running through the 12 hour night, the sunrise, the people along the way & of course, the feeling of pure joy getting to Marley Park in one piece!

My first Ultra experience in La Palma was an amazing experience too. Although looking back on it now, I know I really wasn’t prepared for it! I just didn’t get enough miles in beforehand!  It was 75km through the Island, over volcanic terrain and beautiful forests and a 25km downhill rocky section at the end. It all went as well as it could. I thought I had 10km to go at the end but in fact had only 3km as my watch was acting up so that was a very happy surprise! But, it was wonderful to see the Island before the volcano ravaged it. Such a beautiful spot and I will definitely be back to give Transvulcanica a go again!

What running achievements are you most proud of?

Oh gosh, probably the one I am most proud of is The Art O’Neill as it was something completely different for me to take on. I know I can do the distance but the navigation was a whole new world!! So, I was very proud of myself to get from Dublin Castle to Glenmalure self navigated and solo in the middle of the night. I absolutely loved it!!

Art O’Neil 2021

Do you have any personal advice you would like to share?

I think I would have joined an athletics club earlier than this year!! Find a good mix of people to run with – there are loads of trail running clubs or groups in every county. Surround yourself with people who will bring you on. If you are training for a particular race, get someone to help you with a training plan. Try to go to someone who knows their stuff and who has a proven record. Don’t be afraid to try something new. And try to believe in yourself. Also, don’t compare yourself to others, we are all so different and all come from different circumstances!

Have you any trail running stories you would like to share?

Heading over to Transvulcania in La Palma, we had to get 2 flights, connecting flight was in Gran Canaria. There were 6 of us travelling together. We had a bag checked in as we were bringing poles and didn’t want to chance them in hand luggage. The time between our flights was quite tight and there was a big queue when we got off the plane to get to the baggage area.

Out of the 6 people there were 2 checked in bags. So, we sent Tom (who only had hand luggage) off to see if he could get to the connecting flight and hold it if necessary. The rest of us went to get our luggage. We waited what seemed like forever and then we literally legged it to Binter airlines where our other flight was going from.

Just as we arrived, we could see a plane reversing out onto the run way – it was our plane to La Palma!! At this stage we were all split up. We couldn’t get through to Tom so didn’t know whether he had got on the plane or not. 5 of us were now left there. The next plane to La Palma was early the next morning and the chances of getting stand by for the 5 of us were slim so two of us decided to get a plane to Tenerife and get the ferry from there the next morning! The other 3 checked into a hotel to hopefully get on the 6am flight standby!

So, 2 of us got on a flight to Tenerife, got a bus when we got there to where the ferry would be going from, stayed in a hotel for the night, got up at the crack of dawn and got the ferry (I think it was a 3 hour journey) to La Palma. The others in the meantime had got on the early morning flight and Tom (who was nicely rested and car rented) collected us from the Ferry Port.

It was quite an adventure before the race even began!!

What is your favourite piece of gear/kit?

I love running jackets – rain jackets, wind jackets or any other type but my absolute favourite one at the moment is the Columba FKT 11 lightweight jacket-it feels really nice, it’s so light and it has great coverage for a not so rainy day. For a rainy day, it has to be the Columbia Outdry jacket. They are just an amazing piece of kit. 

Wicklow Way Race: Nicola and Crew

If you could do any race on the planet, what would it be?

I would love to do a multi stage race like Marathon Des Sable or a Jungle Ultra in the Amazon. Or, definitely a race in Iceland!

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