LUCAN man Mark Ryan became the first Irish male individual champion at a European mountain running senior championship last week when he finished first in the Over-35 catergory in Ludwikowice Klodzkie, Poland.
He was part of a double success for local runners at the fifth annual European Vets mountain running championships as his training partner Brian MacMahon came home first in the open category with a similarly impressive performance.
For Ryan, it was a superb return to form having shown great promise since finishing 26th at the World Mountain running championships in 2011, though injury has curtailed his progress since then.
Speaking after the race, Ryan said he was delighted to be back in action after major surgery.
“It’s a special feeling having been out injured for so long, and at times not thinking I would ever get back,” he said.
“The turning point came at the start of the year, having overcoming knee surgery, I gradually got fitter and stronger. I really felt if I ran to my potential I could make the podium, but winning the gold medal was a dream come true, and hearing the Irish national anthem is a moment I will cherish.”
This year’s championships were held on an uphill only course on the historic “Run of the Great Owl” route. This is the highest mountain (1,015m) in the Owl Mountains.
The 9.4km course with a climb of 570m varied between road, trail, mountain paths, and a technical 500m climb to the summit, with the finish at the famous Big Owl tower, a lookout tower 25m tall that was built in 1906.
The categories started in descending order with the O-35/O-40 the last race to commence. A lead group formed after 500m consisting of athletes from Germany, Italy, Poland, Czech Rep, Austria and Ireland.
The first significant climb came about 1,500m into the race, where Ryan began to push the pace and gradually pulled away from the group. The lead gradually increased right to the finish, with Ryan winning in a time of 38.04 and winning the Over-35 European title.
MacMahon won the open race on the same course in a time of 37.45 after being challenged by a Polish athlete throughout the race.
The Finnstown man was the top finisher overall, holding off the attentions of Poland’s Kamil Jastrzebski.
Eoin Flynn and Tom Hogan will join MacMahon and Ryan on a strong Irish senior men’s team at the upcoming European Senior Mountain Running Championships in Gap, France on July 13.