Race Report: Seven Sisters 30km WMRA World Cup – Rebecca Hormann

Pic by Juju Jay

Rebecca Hormann is relatively new to Ultra Running but she is a pro already! – among her accolades are first lady at the following – EcoTrail Wicklow 2021 80km race (her first 80km race!), EcoTrail Porto 2022 80km, La Ultra Trail de Tarrogona, The Gower 50 mile Ultra, The Causeway Coast Marathon and the list goes on…

In May 2022, Rebecca took on the gruelling 30km Seven Sisters WMRA World Cup Race held over the mountains around Mount Errigal in Donegal ! This is a tough course with 2100m of ascent and 7 of Donegals finest mountains. Here’s how she got on!

In the weeks leading up to the Seven Sisters Skyline 30k I was back and forth about whether to go at all. I didn’t feel any particular excitement about the race itself whereas normally I cannot wait to get to the start line. I had asked some past finishers about their thoughts in order to get a feel for it and responses were primarily saying that I should definitely go but to prepare for a challenge. A quick description of the 30k race brags 2,100m of ascent. Then add the fact that there would undoubtedly be rain and bog. Now, I may not be a very experienced runner at all, but I’ve run enough races to know that my legs wouldn’t be thrilled with either that elevation or terrain. I’m really not one to back down from a challenge, but some last-minute change of plans had me racing 52k up and down the Brecon Beacons the weekend before and I knew my laziness would kick in and I wouldn’t feel like making the trip to Donegal.

Despite all this, I found myself chomping down on my pre-race breakfast of yogurt and granola at 5am on the day of the race, trying to decide whether or not I should be wearing my rain jacket at the race start. Ross Smith, friend and fellow runner who was also running the 30k, picked me up from my Airbnb and we headed off to the finish line area to get myself registered and hop on the buses to the start line. On the ride over we chatted about goal times and paces and I awkwardly admitted that I had no numbers in mind, had not given the race profile much of a look, and was just going to see how it goes. This isn’t completely abnormal for me as I tend to just see what my body is willing to give on race day, but at the very least I normally give myself an idea of what I’ll be running. To be completely honest, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be there and was telling myself I’d just enjoy the views, chat with some runners along the way, and just somehow finish the race. I had no idea how to approach a 30k since it isn’t the type of distance I would normally run but was still aware that the elevation would make a 30k hit more like a 50k. It had also been very rainy and wet, making my shoes of choice not the best option. Add that to my ability to trip over every rock and fall into every bog and I knew I would be spending a lot of time on the ground.

Boarding the bus to the start line I kept getting glimpses of faces I had seen on social media, runners who I would lowkey fan girl over. This didn’t help me feel any less like I really shouldn’t be toeing the line at this race… people were showing up to really compete and I was out here for a [somewhat] nice day out. On the bus ride, as well as the short walk to the start line, I found myself chatting to a few others about the day and how we felt about the race conditions, etc. My biggest concern was still whether or not I was going to be keeping my rain jacket on at the start.

Pic by Juju Jay

I knew I’d be too lazy to take it off mid-race so if it was staying on, it would be on for the whole 30k (this ended up being the case and I still don’t know if it was the right call or not). There were plenty of people hanging about waiting for the countdown. I said hi to some familiar faces, awkwardly tried to look occupied, and still kept wondering about whether or not I should be wearing my rain jacket.

Honestly, what a horrible start to a race! As I mentioned before, I wasn’t sure how to approach this race. Right away there was a gradual uphill and, before you know it, you’re trudging your way up in a single file line trying to figure out if you should pass the person in front of you. The first climb seemed to do a solid job of spreading everyone out early on. At this point, the front runners were already long gone it seemed and I was having the normal conversation in my head asking myself why on earth we choose to do things like this while very clearly knowing that I was actually really loving every second of it.

It wasn’t until just before the first checkpoint that the bog decided to make itself known. As I said, I wasn’t wearing the right shoes for this so my descents became a mixture of sliding around either on my feet, knees, or bum. I remember running past Eunan Quinn by the first checkpoint and saying something like “good fun, that!”. Saying it out loud sometimes makes you believe it a bit more. This is when I started seeing the 55k runners who had started where we would finish and were running an out and back of the 30k course (more or less). More legendary runners ran by me giving a word of encouragement. I’d return the encouragement trying to emphasize that they were the ones to whom the credit was really due and my race was a walk in the park compared to theirs.

One of the things I had told myself before the race was that I’d just plod along and have a chat with the odd person… but no one had the breath to have a chat. After all, I’ve met some really cool people out on the trails, why couldn’t today be one of those days! Not so much… on the ascents, everyone was breathing heavily trying to keep moving, and on the descents, we were all focused on not falling down a mountain (or at least that’s how it was for me).

For the majority of the race, I was playing catch up with a few runners, both wearing bright yellow shirts. They must’ve had quite the show as I was falling about every 5 minutes, talking out loud to myself (the norm for me), and at one point ended up waist-deep in a bog and had to get pulled out. This was the same moment when someone pointed out that I was 4th female and my reaction, as I was stuck in a puddle of mud wondering if I’d lost my shoe, was to say “well, we’ll see how long that lasts!”

Pic by Juju Jay

Fast forward to the beast that is Errigal. See, before Seven Sisters I had never been to Donegal. In fact, I don’t tend to race near where I live as most of the races I’m interested in are a plane ride away. (That’s the American in me saying Donegal is near Belfast since it’s on the same land mass). I had no idea what this mountain was going to be like nor that it was literally endless. As I was headed up Errigal, headed down was Katie O’Regan who was cruising her way to 2nd lady, followed by Sarah Brady who finished in 3rd. Olivia Amber, the female winner, was probably chilling about at the finish line, beer in hand. On my way back down, Ricki Wynne was starting up Errigal, on the last leg of the 55km race which he would win not too long after. These athletes are incredible to me and I was just so proud to see them pushing on the way they were. Meanwhile, I just wanted to make it up the mountain and back down without falling. I didn’t. Somewhere in his archives, JuJu Jay has footage of my tripping my way down Errigal, not in proper trail running fashion.

Off Errigal I finally decided that I’d do my best to hold my 4th female position, why not, right? And so that’s what I did, plodded along for the last few miles to the finish line, telling myself that I was having loads of fun and loved nothing more than falling in the mud for 5 hours. Seven Sisters asks a lot of you, physically and mentally, especially when the conditions are as wet as they were. Thank goodness you’re not asked to navigate the route as well as I’d probably have ended up in another county. But I now see why the reaction to the race is a bit of hesitation mixed with excitement. It’s a hell of a course, probably one of those bucket list races that you should do at least once if you enjoy running up and down mountains. I thoroughly enjoyed it at the end of the day and have an endless amount of respect for anyone else who took on this challenge. I was also thrilled to see that 3 of the top 5 females were American! (myself included, even though race results seem to think I’m British and I’m getting used to my
nationality never being correct).

I stuck around the finish line long enough to get mistaken for Sarah Brady (very flattering), see Ricki Wynne (#keepshowingup) cross the finish line, and make awkward eye contact with the superhuman North Face Athletes. I was thrilled to hear that Ross had smashed his race goal by an hour as it’s a pretty nice feeling when everything just comes together perfectly on race day. A cup of hot chocolate and a pizza later I was on a train headed back to Belfast, very much telling myself I would have been an idiot to NOT have run that race… but not at all convinced that I’d be out there again anytime soon.

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