Category Archives: Northern Ireland Info

Information about local news, and locations of interest

Mourne Way Marathon and Ultra Marathon 2012

Everything aches today, and it is to be expected. The rain held off on Saturday, and the temperature was good in the Mournes (not too warm, with a nice breeze), the real challenge was the state of the wet ground underfoot. In places the conditions could only really be described as a bog, with feet sinking up to a foot in depth, and shoes coming out caked in a rich, gloopy, soft mud. I took each stream crossing as an opportunity to get rid of some of the drying, caked on mud from my shoes, and the coolness of the water eased my aching feet. The organisation was first class: the route well marked, and staff at all stops were in great form, and very helpful, with cake, water and oranges galore. For me, in the ultra, the toughest part was the route from Kilbroney park to Donard park, the first marathon, as each step is a move away from the ultimate destination. It’s also about knowing that all the tough ground covered will be met on the return. Though I was running solo for most of the distance, I enjoyed the chat as I was passed, or I occasionally overtook other ultra runners. The two Dave’s deserve a special mention as I really enjoyed their company as I flew along for about an hour at their fast pace, until I realised I needed to pull back or run out of steam on the way back. From the results online it looks like they achieved an amazing time of 10 hours 30. The turn around point was a welcome stop, and time to enjoy a couple of sandwiches and extra liquid. I reduced the number of gels this year, compared with last, as I know I get fed up and nauseated over time by their sickliness. This time I made much more use of trail mix, cakes and oranges (supplied at each water stop) and flapjacks, and my stomach thanked me for it. On the return my legs were suffering and I felt very tired. Another 26 miles seemed an immense distance, so I broke the journey down into distances to the next water stops i.e. 8, 14, 17, 20, 23 miles, rewarding myself at each with some sort of treat – I was getting cravings for the salt in the cashews I’d brought. Eventually, and it felt like days later, I arrived in the forest heading towards Kilbroney park. For a short while I enjoyed the company of a friendly marathoner, over from Bristol (Carl I think). Though I soon had to let him head off, as again the pace was too much up some of the smaller inclines. The last 3 miles were a real effort, but as I finally reached the sloping grass of Kilbroney park I savoured the feeling of success, and my name being called out over the tannoy. 52 miles is a long way, over mud, rock, and through water, up and down the mountains, but its something that you will never forget. Congratulations to all who took part in the challenge, and thanks to the organisers ‘Extreme 26’ – an excellent job – but also to all the other runners and supporters for their good wishes – including the lady from Murlough AC who supplied me with Jelly Beans and a banana up the road from Fofanny dam.

Fell running in Northern Ireland: a pair of Walsh PB’s and Slieve Donard

Walsh began making running footwear in the 1940’s, and during the 70’s teamed up with the legendary fell runner Pete Bland, to produce running shoes that took British fell running to new heights – the Walsh PB. The grip was, and still is, astounding on mud, wet grass, rock and ice: it is a shoe that may see further, renewed interest with the current trend towards ‘natural’, ‘barefoot’ running. As I slipped a pair on for the first time, it was impossible not to be surprised by both the bright yellow and blue colouring, but also the level of comfort, in a shoe that is incredibly uncomplicated. But the only way to judge a fell running shoe is to find a handy mountain. With that in mind we took a trip to Newcastle, and ran down the highstreet, before heading into Donard Park and started the climb up towards Slieve Donard – the tallest of all the peaks in the Mourne Mountains, and indeed Northern Ireland. Check out the attached link which has some good photos of the Slieve Donard, including the Ice house, and the Black Stairs which was the route we took to the top.

As we climbed the temperature dropped, and the wind increased. Underfoot the ground was wet, icy, some residual snow, along with plenty of mud. The Walsh PB delivered a firm grip, and only its owner caused issues due to poor balance and inability to land in the best place. A great, albeit tough, climb, to the windswept top, and a brief respite out of the wind leaning against the wall of the stone hut beside the higher cairn. Whilst there we spoke to a couple of walkers, one of which had bravely brought the smallest of dogs, shivering respendeltn in a bright red jacket. Fearful of seeing the canine blown of the summit we began the descent, trying to avoid any serious falls. Walshes are truly amazing shoes, designed over 40 years ago, and yet as tested on Saturday, a match for anything that is currently out there on the market – and many would say better. I like not only the grip, but also the low profile of the shoe. My feet felt secure, and low against the ground, feeling the mountain underneath, rather than bouncing over the top. I would recommend the shoe for anyone looking a hard working, performance mountain shoe, who is looking flash technical claims, but rather something that delivers.

Snowy running in the Mourne Mountains

An early start on Saturday in the Mourne Mountains started with light rain and a temperature of 6 degrees. A short way up Trassey track we turned right at the wall and followed the Mourne Way to Fofanny dam. Up onto Slievenaman road, we continued south for a short distance to the track on the left opposite the car park. Following the slippery, rocky track, the climb took us up Carn Mountain; the temperature cooled and there was an increasing amount of ice and we soon encountered snow. By the time we reached the top, and the welcome site of the Mourne Wall, the snow was, in places, a very soft 2 to 3 feet deep. We planned to cross the wall and take a path the other side down to Lough Shannagh, however it was impossible to find because of the poor visibility due to the mist, and covering of snow. Instead we followed the wall up and over the top of Slieve Loughshannagh, then up and down Slieve Meelbeg. It was not so much running up, as fast hiking and sinking into the deep snow. I regretted not wearing my Mudclaws or the chains that slip over the soles of my running shoes or walking boots. Nevertheless a great run/walk/hike through some tough wintery weather, before returning to the lower fells of Slieve Meelmore following the wall parallel to Trassey Road.

A few events to think about, ‘local’ to Northern Ireland

With Christmas an increasingly distant memory, and the bank statement now through, its worth thinking of a few more local events in Northern Ireland. These races tend to be a lower entrance fee, and minimising travel costs:

Wicklow Way Ultra – 51km’s ultra through the Wicklow Mountains, with 1940m climbing, March 24th

Donegal Ultra – 39 miles between Inishowen and Ballyliffin, 20th May

Mourne Way Marathon/Ultra – this is an excellent off road marathon or ultra (52 miles) between Donard Park and Kilbroney Park in the beauty of the Mourne Mountains, June 9th

A Running Start to 2012

Having recovered from a bad dose of ‘man flu’, New Year’s day was a great start to 2012. With a temperature around 8 degrees, and the sun coming through, the dog and I headed up into the Mourne Mountains for a well deserved, and, after numerous mince pies, much needed run. Rather than the usual route over Hare’s Gap it was off to the right, round the back of Slieve Bearnagh, which provided a wonderful, albeit muddy, rocky climb. This was the same route as the Boxing Day, NIMRA, Turkey Trot, which was according to a first timer I spoke to, a great success. On the descent, I washed the dog, and we both scampered passed the numerous walkers now arriving, brandishing multiple walking poles.

Checkout the Walk NI description.

Happy Christmas

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It’s been a mild Christmas this year: the ice from a couple of weeks ago has been absent over  the last 7 days. In some ways that makes it even harder to stop the training and take it easy. But its ok to take a rest, and good to spend time with your undoubtedly understanding family – our nearest and dearest are usually good at accepting our absences for a run or cycle throughout the year after all. It’s also a good time to reflect on successful training, or races, over the year and let ourselves mull over plans for next years events. So have a very Happy Christmas, and I hope Santa brings you a year of good health, and maybe if you are good, a set of Skins Compression tights.

Cycle up Slieve Croob

Saturday morning was a cool and bright start to the weekend, and a perfect day for a cycle. We took the fine weather as the perfect opportunity to struggle up the steep climb of Slieve Croob. Slieve Croob or in Irish, Sliabh Crúb — the mountain of the hoof — rises to a height of 534 metres (1,755 feet) and is the source of the River Lagan.

Once at the top there is a car park, and we headed through the ‘kissing gate’ (though we all maintained a safe distance from one another), and continued up a winding, and at times broken, tarmac path, still struggling on our bikes to the very top. The view on the way was spectacular, and well worth a visit. For runners, or walkers, there are a number of stiles that may be hopped over to continue along the remaining Dromara Hills. The descent was fast, and we made a top speed of 45 mph, which was fairly hairy on two wheels, but we held on tight, and loved it.