‘You won’t find reasonable men on the tops of tall mountains’
– Hunter S. Thompson
The Mourne Way Ultra is set (You’d never know by the name!) in the Mourne mountains running from Rostrevor to Newcastle on probably one of the most picturesque & beautiful areas of the planet. Over the years, the event has really become a staple in the off road running calendar in Ireland & with the guys from 26extreme in control, it just gets better every year. I’d ran the marathon in the last 2 years but had always wanted to run the Ultra which involves running the marathon back-to-back over 2300 metres elevation. I had entered Davos 78k last year which had stopped me from running the Mourne Ultra but this year I was finally going to get a crack at it. And with the Lakeland 100 on the horizon at the end of July, this would give me an indication of how ready I am for that one!…
So, up at 3.45am to head to the start line in Rostrevor with Matty (Troy McClure voice “You may remember him from previous ultras such as the Causeway Crossing”)…I say 4am but what I really mean is up at 4.32am and out the door at 4.35am…a newborn baby has not exactly been condusive to a full nights sleep but I look at it as good training for the Lakeland 100, the night sections should be a breeze So yeah, after me sleeping in we beat our way down the road and got registered. The usual buzz around the start line and it was great catching up with a few of the lads from the Causeway race like Declan & Noel (Mr MDS) and good old Richard who was sure to beast his way round this one. Of course we all downplay how we’re going to do & everyone of us seem to just have the aim of making it round in one piece! I think this more than anything highlights just how challenging this course can be!
So after nervously pacing about and getting eaten alive by the midgies, Ian Cumming sent us on our way. I always wreck my head at this stage in the race as after about 300 metres climbing up the grassy slope into the forest, I can feel myself getting it tight & I’m busted. I might just stop now. Just a little game my head likes to play with me
The first 10k is all on trail out of Kilbroney forest into the foot of the Mourne mountains. This is a section I wanted to make sure I took advantage of on the way out and especially back (Its mostly downhill on the way home) but the guys around me seemed to REALLY want to take the good of this good trail and the pace here was pretty quick! (about 8.30 min miles uphill!) I made a few jokes about being busted here (I was only half joking!) but then decided to drop my pace and let the guys plough on. It was a long way yet and I didn’t want to do myself in yet!
At the end of the trail we hit the first checkpoint & with it we’re onto far more technical terrain & our first major climb. Very few even tried to run this section so its was hands on the knees and getting up over the saddle of this mountain just as quick as your body would take you! Now for a disclaimer, I love running in the hills and especially love tricky terrain. But to say I’m any use at it would be a lie! Coming down this first mountainside was pretty tough to start with, it had literally been lashing rain all week and the Mournes were certainly showing that they had their fair share of rain that week. Running down I felt my feet start to slip under me a few times so started to get a little bit cautious as to where I was planting my feet which in turn was slowing me down, I then heard a few of the other guys catching on me extremely quickly so in a bid to not look like an ass I just shifted over to let them take over so I could take the decent at my own speed and get into the groove (It did come eventually! Honest!), but just as I went to the side I ended up on my backend to which I heard “Get up Fatboy!”, it was a mate John passing and I know I just made his day with that one! But he was looking incredibly strong at this point & I could see he was really enjoying it, flying on that terrain was a good sign & it really proved to be as he smashed his time from last year by 1hour 30 mins!!
I kept with the guys here for a while but was then on my own again as we progessed across the Bog that had been created by the previous weeks weather. It wasn’t long before I was then at Spelga Dam having clocked the first 13 miles of the race. Had a chat with a guy who had ran the Hardmoors 110 the previous week & was running this injured, fair play to him! Sleeping in that morning came back to haunt me here as I had been running from the start really needing to make use of the lav! Usually when I get up on time, I get the chance to have a word with the old bowels & tell them to sort themselves out but alas not today…anyway now that was out of the road everything would feel alot better…or so I thought!
Running from Spelga to Trassey is all on open mountainside (After about a mile of road) and I know this section extremely well from coming up to train throighout the year. But just as I was coming across here I could feel my stomach start to turn but this happens from time to time so I wasn’t too worried as it would pass. It didn’t so I just kept going and tried to get some electrolyte in me (I’m useless at the science behind nutrition but I think this is a symptom!? Maybe…) After keeping my pace up reasonably well, I then felt my calves starting to tweak. Drat. And they started to go badly, it was rough terrain so everytime I jumped a stream or tried to climb any kind of hill or swell in the ground I would just feel them pull, not good with 30 miles to go! On reaching the next aid station, I wasn’t feeling great and let the guys know (I’m sure these guys listen to alot of whinging as us guys pass!) so after topping up on water & Baby boiled potatoes (Yes! I know!) I continued into Tollymore forest park which would lead me up on to open mountainside above the turnaround at Donard Park.
I’ve loved Tollymore ever since I was a kid and just love every opportunity I can get to run here but i can say I certainly didn’t enjoy it today on the way out…cut short, 3 bokes later I reappeared out the other side to climb up to the descent into Donard park. Boking can be extremely therapeutic and I felt far better now, but of course I could see a theme developing and after getting the calves sorted (Saltstick caps are my saviour!!) , now my left knee really started to ache. It wasn’t looking good, I hadn’t even got to halfway but everything seemed to be going wrong. A few guys stopped with me as I tried to sort the knee out (Via the art of just rubbing it!) to make sure I was ok and didn’t need any water or food etc. I honestly think Ultra runners must be in the top 1% of the most decent people in the world. Everyone just really helps one another. Like the Waltons or something…:D
Anyway, I got going again and after passing a few of the guys including Matty, John, Richard & Billy who had been to the turnaround and were starting their journey back to Rostrevor, I arrived at the halfway checkpoint. Prior to the race, I had said to myself not to be spending too much time here so really a maximum of 8 minutes or so to get a change of shirt & get a bit of food into me….eh so this plan kind of didn’t happen, I took probably about 20 minutes to get myself sorted. I was still happy with getting to halfway in about 4hrs 45mins as I wanted to just get there under 5 hours so from this point of view, it was all good. But mentally & physically I had took a bashing, I really questioned how much further I could go if my stomach & legs kept giving me problems as I had never suffered any problems in any of my previous ultras but knew that I could not throw the towel in as it would really knock my confidence for the Lakeland 100.
So after eating some Peanut Butter & Jam sandwiches & calling Stace to let her know how badly it was going I walked up out of Donard and was really feeling a hell of a lot better…I picked up the pace and headed down into Tollymore again, this time feeling sooo much better. I kept going until I was halfway through the forest & the knee was starting to just niggle slightly again. Another runner gave me a couple of Ibruprofen at this point which really helped shift the pain but not just temporarily, this lasted the rest of the race! I was able to bound across the undulating terrain on the hillside again and really started to make up alot of time I though I’d lost. Like a big child I was aiming for the puddles and streams now and made it up to Spelga again in what seemed like no time. The next stretch was pretty uneventful and I was now at the climb where it all started. I made it up to the top of the saddle again and redeemed myself coming down the other side of the mountain this time. I got into the final checkpoint before the finish and knew that this was my chance to really make up a good bit of time before I crossed the line as it was all pretty good forest trail.
I was feeling the best I had all day when I unfortunately came upon Matty who had took off like a shot at the start and really kept a good pace until about 60k when his legs just went on him. He just walked in from here but did well to finish after suffering from a bit of flu the previous week. I stopped and made sure he was alright then got going again.
For the first time that day I was able to think about the finish and seeing my wee man & Stace at the finish line. This made sure that I got there that bit quicker & I crossed the line in just over 11 hours. Evan (The Aforementioned wee man!) of course was oblivious to me crossing the line but hopefully someday I can tell him all about the day his Daddy boked, pooped and hobbled around the Mournes!
Oh, and thanks to Pat O Keeffe for kindly letting me steal his shots from the day!