CCC 2018 race report

There are times in your life that you realise how much we all change as life goes on. Only two years ago I swore I would never do a marathon and that adventure racing was the only thing for me. Now here I was, standing on the start line of one of the most iconic ultramarathons on the planet, The CCC, (Courmayeur- Champex lac- Chamonix), Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, only a few rows back from the pros and the thoughts running through my head were incredible. This would be my 4th ultra of the year as well as two trail marathons on top of that. The most important thing I was telling myself was to ease into it, remember all my experience and enjoy the day. 


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Myself and Owen Boyhan at the start of the CCC 101km.

The best thing about this race was the fact that I would have crew support in the latter stages and I had the chance to race with fantastic runners, like Owen above. Such a gentleman and all round just loves the sport. He is fully fanatical and it helps so much bouncing things off other runners before the race starts. Emma would be my tent crew and Sinead and Kieron would be the word in my ear as I entered and left. Little did I know how important a crew really is. I have heard all these mushy stories about how a familiar face can really pull you through the hard times in Ultras. Being honest I thought it might help but never as much as it actually turned out. My parents would be at the finish line and there was no way I was going to leave them hanging out there all night! 

For anyone that has 5 minutes and less time to read my report there is a video summarising my day if you scroll to the bottom of the post, or a link here. 

The UTMB race series is the biggest trail running event in the world. Over 10,000 athletes arrive with another 20,000 supporters and crew to the little alpine town of Chamonix for a week of running, good food and fun. Myself and Emma arrived on Tuesday night, I spent Wednesday crewing for Shaun Stewart as he completed the TDS, a mere 123km and over 7000 metres of ascent. Thursday was spent in Chamonix, registration along with 2147 other athletes and some time eating and chilling before an early night in preparation for the race Friday.  Before I launch into the race report I want to mention something that was said to me by a few supporters and non runners. They said that no matter what you tell people, there are no words to explain what these races are really like, what they do to the competitors and what the feeling of finishing is like. You have to see the race or experience it to really get the idea. I will try to put in words what my day was like on the 31st of August 2018.

We hopped on the first bus at 6am to arrive in Courmayeur Switzerland at 6.45am. The race wouldn’t start until 9 but being my first time I had decided to air on the side of caution for everything. The morning was calm, about 12 degrees and dry. The mountains loomed on every side of this beautiful alpine town and the buzz was gradually building. What better time for a quick nap! 

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Chilled pre race! 

I have to say I was pretty relaxed, excited and the body was feeling very much like a run. I hadn’t ran all week, bloody crazy I know, but you can’t beat the feeling of hunger to run before an event. 

The mandatory kit, water and some food added up to almost 3kg on my back and I kept my phone and Black Diamond carbon poles on my Arch max belt around my waist. I would run in shorts and socks with Salomon S-lab ultra runners and a cycling jersey on top with my foldable mug/bowl tucked in the pocket. It was a “no plastic bottle” race so we had to carry a cup/bowl for the aid stations. A super idea in my book. 

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Yup it’s official.

It was 8am, a last queue for the bathroom and on to the start line. I soon noticed that I would be in the first wave/pen alongside the elites and the pros. I hadn’t expected it to be easy to try and start in the top 300 but it turned out I was standing somewhere in the 200-300 group as we lined up (This is decided by your ITRA points from qualification races. Basically to do with where you finished in these races, therefore it tends to be accurate in terms of where you stand). The crowd gathered quickly and the anthems of Switzerland, France and Italy were played around 8.40 as the tension really started to build. The race of course passing through all three countries over the route. To give you an idea of how much it means to people and their families, there were numerous people crying and the emotions were running very high. It may of taken years of preparation or be a life goal for many to stand here on this line. The level of athlete was clearly high with streamlined people all around me, buzzing to get on the move. TV helicopters and drones hovered above as an Irish guy gave the introduction to the race. Weird to here an Irish accent announcing the race here in the middle of the Alps. Before I knew it the count down was on and the gun went off. This was really happening and now all I had to do was put one foot on front of the other for somewhere between 14 and 27 hours. No problemo!

Goals, times, places and pretty much all that side of things quickly went out of my head as I decided to race the first half of the race steadily, not go into the red at any stage in this period and hopefully be in a position to improve on my placing as the race progressed. Whether this would unfold or not was a mystery. 

From the outset my nutritional plan was to stay away from gels, eat and drink almost only Tailwind and hopefully be hungry enough in aid stations later in the race, to eat some real food. The Tailwind has been tested for nearly two years now and I have to say it is the best thing I have ever found. From the off I sipped away on my bottles, drinking lots, ingesting the Tailwind in my water and therefore taking in calaries (200 per sachet) as well as lots of electrolytes. 

The first 10km of the race are basically uphill with a few little runnable narrow trails. From the start we wound are way around the streets of Courmayeur and up along a winding road before stepping onto the single trail in a conga line of runners. The crowds along the road in Courmayeur and pretty much in every town all day were incredible. As we arrived at the single trail, I quickly took out my poles and would use them for every climb all day. We gradually climbed from 1000 metres all the way to 2500 metres, fast hiking the uphills and jogging the downhills and flats. If I felt an increase in heart rate, which I generally didn’t, I would ease off a little. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor as it is only another distraction and also drains the battery on my watch a bit faster. Listen to your body is the name of the game. Up and up and up we went, above the treeline, checking out the town of Courmayeur below, now in the distance. This was amazing. As we started the final 500 metres of the climb, the live camera helicopter hovered over us throwing dust all over the mountainside and creating an amazing atmosphere. I felt really comfortable on the climb and after about two hours I was on the top of Tete de la Tronche and through the first marker. From here we descended on a really runnable open trail all the way to Refuge Bertone at the 15km mark. The downhill was class and easy but I did hold back as I didn’t want to burn the legs too early. What I didn’t realise was that this was one of a few really nice descents and that the majority of descents later in the race were steeper and far more technical. I stopped in Bertone for some nice orange slices, some watermelon, a baby snickers and topped up all my water with Tailwind. Goal one over, now lets go find the next checkpoint!

The next 7 km was all along nice rolling terrain, technical in parts but I ran most of it and the field was starting to spread out into little groups. I could see I was generally in the same group that I had started in and took comfort from this. The views as we arrived at Refuge Bonati were spectacular with a vast line of massive steep mountains to the left of the trail on the other side of a valley below. Unfortunately my go pro camera was acting up a bit at this stage and I could only take videos. These are in the clip below. The trail was still very open and nice to run at this point. Small climbs meant slowing down and hiking and then rolling off the top of them and onto the winding trails again. I topped up on water in Bonati and realised the next stop was at Arnouvaz at the bottom of the valley. This would involve a big descent. I was half way down when I went to suck some water and found that one of my soft flasks was gone. Would I be running another 75km with only one water bottle. Slight panic set in for about a minute until I calmed myself and told myself that I could drink more at the checkpoints and then fill up in streams when needed. All would be fine. I cruised down to Arnouvaz at 27km and felt I was doing ok. I came across a big heard of alpine cattle on the trail and took a slight detour around them, not knowing how pleased they were with all these mad people carrying poles on their territory. I had just had my first pee and realised I would need to keep topping up on water and drinking as much as I could. Running at over 2000 metres for the first time ever with climbs like these was causing me to lose fluids the instant I consumed them. The really interesting thing was that when I drank, within minutes I was pouring sweat again. Logical you would think, but it made me decide that I wanted to be sweating all day. If I was sweating I was hydrated, if not I was running out of fluids. Simple but I’ve seen it go wrong before! Just before arriving at the checkpoint I spotted a soft flask on the side of the trail. Karma you might say but I was back to two bottles, nice one! 

After Arnouvaz I ran along the river and at a crossing there were dozens of kids out cheering us on. As I approached the far side of the river, beside the kids, the guy on front of me fell and I landed on his back on the ground. Hilarious for the kids. I picked him up and on we went. It just goes to show how easily a fall could end your race. It wasn’t long before the second big climb of the day. I locked into gear and started to fast hike as best I could. It turned out that my hiking uphill was really steady and would continue this way all day. I felt strong, as I was holding back a bit on uphills. All the hill repeat training was paying off. The top of this second climb, called Grand Col Ferret at around 2500 metres is on the border of Italy and Switzerland. After about 2200 metres the weather had changed and I had thrown the jacket on. The mist made it a little cold and my hands were cold on the poles so I grabbed my gloves. I passed a good few people on this climb, enjoying it a lot. It was after summitting Col Ferret and starting the decent towards La Fouly that I started to feel the downhill legs burning (mostly my quads). The descent was full of switch backs, running on hard mud and then much more technical towards the bottom. I passed through a scanning checkpoint half way down and from this point on the trail got steeper and it started to takes it’s toll. Towards the bottom of this descent of about 11km I came across a gravel fire road and then onto a paved road, running in a group, but this group soon left me behind. I was slowing on the road (as usual), the downhill on pavement beginning to hurt the legs. I let the group go, knowing I would see the majority of them again and there was no point burning too hard just now. The rain was now pouring down but with my Salomon jacket I was comfortable. La Fouly, at the end of the first marathon of the day, was busy. Some people were changing clothes but I decided it was only 17km until my first assistance checkpoint at Champex lac and if I kept moving I would be warm enough. We were also descending a lot over that 17km with one climb up to Champex so I didn’t expect to be cold in this section. It was like a soft Irish day after all, nothing out of the ordinary. I had a drink of coke, some oranges, another snickers and filled my bottles. My thoughts were, don’t stop when you feel a bit low, get going and run it off. 

The marathon had taken me almost 6 hours but on this terrain that was ok and it also meant I was bang on where I wanted to be. I had no idea at the time but I was around 204th position overall. I had decided pretty early in the race, on seeing the type of climbing and the terrain involved that today was about finishing, maintaining as good a pace as my body would let and learning for the future. After that everything was a bonus. From La Fouly to Champex was a long downhill slog. My old pain behind my left knee, floating down my leg, almost into the top of my calf muscle was flaring up. I stopped to stretch it out a bit, do some leg swings and on I went, descending down on paved roads, fire roads and then more paved road through tiny little farm villages. I began to lose some places but then picked up a few as well. As I ran a fellow Irish runner, passed me. I picked up the pace to say hello. Stephen told me he was from Dublin but leaving in Hong Kong for years. Another runner travelling a long way for this race! After about 12km of downhill I could see Champex up on the hill and realised that a 500 metre climb would bring me to food and the company of my crew. Bring it on.

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Arriving in Champex Lac, just over half way at 55km and happy out.

I was delighted to see Sinead and Kieron outside and Sinead told me she would see me at the exit again. I entered the tent and Emma was there with all my kit ready. It was great to see her and she informed me I was looking fresh and in great shape compared to others that were passing through. I ate a small bowl of meat and pasta, a bar and some sweets for dessert and drank some water. I changed my wet top and the dry t-shirt felt great. A few minutes later I emerged from the tent, a new man. It had been a fairly low 17km before Champex. I gained 8 places in leaving the checkpoint in good time. I ran along the amazing lake beside Champex and Sinead kept me company. She told me ” your race starts here, this is when you come into your own, you have it in the legs and we will see you again in 18km”. These words were hard to believe as I really wasn’t sure I had it in me like that, but I took them in and decided if Sinead, an accomplished runner, had this faith in me, it must be true. Right, let the race begin!! 

After a kilometre or two on the road I was back on the trail and it wound its way along for a good few kilometres, some of this on a fire road before the next 1000 metre climb started. I was in the middle of a few strong climbers and I decided to stick with them. I could see two of the guys were particularily strong and I called this right as the three of us soon dropped another three as we ascended. Relentless is a handy word for this climb. It was incredibly steep and technical. The inside of my elbows started to cramp but soon stopped. All the work my arms were doing was new to them. I had told myself that once at the top I had more than half the days climbing in the bag and almost 4 Carrauntoohils (Irelands highest peak). Only two more of those to go until the finish. This climb and the next few were all in the forest. The summits were just above the tree line at around 2000 metres. I climbed watching the altitude rise on my watch. I was counting it down 100 metres at a time, still feeling strong on the up and hoping the downhill leg pain might ease with the break. 

At La Giete, the top of the climb, I had gained 11 places, not that I really knew this, but I did know I was moving well on these climbs. I was drinking a huge amount, with Tailwind, and stopped to top up both bottles. The volunteers here were dancing around to music and having fun. They had been amazing at every stop all day and this was a lift to people. They told us there was a 5 km descent over 600 metres to Trient. My next chance to see Emma, change, eat and get ready for darkness. 

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Leaving Trient 7.51pm, a grand picture with the bathroom!

My leg was fine on the descent until the last 200 metres on the fire road. The light was fading but I knew I was timing it nicely before it died completely. I arrived in Trient, filling my water up on the way in with Sinead running alongside me. She was told to head into the spectator tent, which she did by jumping over a barrier at the last second. Nicely done Sinead! Emma was set up and ready in the tent and I told her I was feeling well and felt I had smashed that last section. She got me some tea with sugar, hot soup with rice and I changed into my thermal top and headlight for the night ahead. I ran out of Trient as the light was starting to fade. A long straight path followed and then into a 700 metre climb, similar to the last one, awaited. It took me about an hour and ten minutes to reach the top and I was passing people constantly throughout. Almost 5000 metres climbing under the belt, I arrived at Tseppes at 8.40pm, 11 hours and 40 minutes of racing under the belt and 76km. I started to realise that I only had just over a half marathon left and my second marathon was almost complete. Who would of thought the second one was almost more comfortable than the first. You may be thinking I’m making this sound kinda easy, but that is what we do when we are going well. The reality was that I was just about staying out of the red and had to push harder and harder on the climbs to keep pace, before concentrating on the descents. It was taking it’s toll and I was really feeling the brunt of all the downhill. 7km of downhill followed from Tseppes to Vallorcine. My leg was now screaming, but just about manageable. I wasn’t able to descend fast but I could run most of it which felt good. Lots of zig zagging, running under bridges and along footpaths followed before Sinead met me at the entrance to the checkpoint at Vallorcine. My headlight had been poor since I switched it on near the top of the climb and my plan was to switch to my other headlight before leaving on my final push to the finish. Emma was waiting and explained that they had barely made it on time to meet me. I had expected this as they explained it might be the case. The fact that they had made it was a big boost and made things alot less stressful for me. Once again being fed and watered, as we say in Ireland, helped a great deal, not to mention the fact that I only had 18km to the finish line in Chamonix! 

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Big smile for Castlegar Running club, only 18km to go!

I left Vallorcine and switched on my headlight to be delighted with my new found light. The previous descent had been so tough, not only with pain in leg but with the technical trail that I could barely see. I was psyched up now, the finish line in sight. The trail wound up a gradual slope on a farm road from Vallorcine, onto a long stretch of main road and then on crossing the road I started the climb from Tre Le Champ to La Flegere. Of course having not studied the course in detail I was unaware that this was split into two big climbs. The climbs were extremely steep, the first going up to about 1700, descending to 1400 and then back up to 1950metres. Mighty craic when your legs have very little left. The really fun part here was the descent after the first climb. It was actually a detour last minute as a climber was killed in a rockfall here a few weeks ago. This descent was incredible tough, jumping over boulders and massive roots, loose rock and the odd trail runner slowing to a stop! I spotted some lights just off the trail at this point and realised a huge group of hikers were lying under a massive rockface in their sleeping bags.  The second climb ended up following a ski field all the way up to La Flegere. It was midnight and the stars were out. My whole body wanted to stop and have a rest but I knew I just needed to throw myself 900 metres and 8km’s down the mountain to Chamonix. I had been semi-hallucinating for the last hour with my headlight making the grass move and things were a little weird to look at at times but with a cup of tea and a swig of coke I was off again. A lady passed me in the tent and literally sprinted down the mountain on front of me. Incredible! 

With 6082 metres of climbing under your belt you would think a little 8km to a finish line would be a piece of cake. Well, not so much. Pretty much every step hurt like hell. I was ok on the winding trails but the steep fire road sections were pure pain. I was, however, still running. The trail passed through a restaurant, literally through the outdoor seating area, closed at 12.30am of course and on down the mountain I went. I finally came to the town and bridge number one of two crossings of the road and river. Climbing up those steps was something else this close to home. I fell twice on the first bridge! These were my first slips in 100 kilometres, thankfully. I ran along the river, passing two and being passed by one before reaching the centre of town and there was Emma to run the final 500 metres home. The relief was amazing. I was almost there. Sinead and Kieron were out and following me, somehow scooting from the 500 metre to the 100 metre marks in seconds! I saw the line and lights and then my parents on the side. Holding back the emotions, really being too tired to cry I crossed the line 16 hours and one minute since leaving Courmayeur. I was in 163rd position making up 40 places in the second half. Holy crap that was pure madness, but one hell of an experience.

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The Irish on the finish line! 

As I stood at the line all the last energy drained and I became weak and cold instantly. A shuffle home to bed was needed. I didn’t sleep as my body was completely beaten up as well as excited. I was able to make the finish again to see Owen arrive in the morning. A job well done. 

It had worked, my pacing was a success, my training got me around and I felt as if I might even get better. It is such a fragile thing running 100km or really running anything further than a marathon. You really don’t know what is coming next. Bit by bit I am learning that experience is the key but you can never be over confident. The body will shut you up in a heart beat. The mind will continue to do somersaults.

Check out my Times and Stats here


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Hot Beacons

The Brecon Beacon National Park was our destination last weekend and in 28 degrees of heat it was sure to be a testing weekend for running but a perfect one for camping.

 

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Toasting in the hills.

 

Pen y Fan is the highest peak in south Wales, situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park. At 886 metres above sea-level, it is a fine mountain and spans along a group of mountains all with unique long spurs reaching out for miles. I hope to get a chance to head up there next time.  To the mountain runner the area is a dream with vast expanses of running ground down off the peaks on one side and good hard climbs on the other. You can also travel along from peak to peak along cliff like edges. The trails are technical but grassy and fun to run in parts as well.

 

 

The second furthest peak in the video above, of Fan Y Llia peak was our destination on day two. After a few steep climbs and long running in between we completed a 21km out and back run. The climbs were short and steep with over 1300 metres in total. This all on tired legs from a similar long hot run on Saturday in another section of the Brecon range. Training on tired legs is important at times, being aware to be careful of injury but at the same time simulating the racing feeling.

 

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Typical Brecon view, on a good day.

 

Saturdays run was possibly hotter with the sun never hiding from us in the vast open countryside you can see above. With over 1000 metres of vertical we were nicely wrecked by the end but some good Swedish coffee (with lots of double cream) and homemade cookies we replenished quickly! Recipe to follow tomorrow…

 

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Nutty oat cookies and Swedish coffee with just a wee bit of cream!

 

The Brecon Beacons are only an hour and a half away from Bristol and with endless opportunities to train here I will be back a lot. This back to back training on similar ground to Snowdonia should stand to me on Sunday week as I take on the Scott Snowdonia Marathon for the second year in a row. Last year I finished a happy 14th overall, so lets hope I can have a similarly good and even improved performance this time around. I have trained early morning, knocked out some good hill repeats and even managed a few trips out on the bike over the last few weeks, all in the heat, so it should stand to me.

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The weekend was greatly enhanced with more camping in “The Mueller” and in finding some secluded spots with our own private waterfall for a post race cool down, you couldn’t ask for much more, except maybe a little more water in the waterfall. It has been pretty much dry since April!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in the West

I was home for Christmas this year and besides now having a dose of the flu and being pretty rattled by it, I did manage some fun training over the mini break. We completed our annual crossing of the Galtee Mountain range on the 23rd. We were so lucky with a cracking days weather, running more than half the 24km route and enjoying the company of friends along the way.



Galtee mountains. 

Eight of us took on the mountains and everyone enjoyed a ridiculously mild and sunny day for this time of year. The hike includes some steep little sections with a peak height of 909metres on top of Galtymore, one of our 26 peaks back in April! The last time I was there was around 2.30am in the morning. I must say the views and the legs felt a lot better this time. Thanks especially to Rachel Nolan for running the second half with me.
So with some decent training of late I took on the Fields of Athenry 10k on Stephens day. I could feel my throat wasn’t right and I had had sniffles since the Galtees but thought a good run might clear me out. In hindsight I was wrong. In saying this I equalled my pb with a 36.41 finishing time and was happy considering not feeling great. It was fantastic to see over 1000 people running on Boxing day. My last race of a busy year and glad to be able for it, just about.



Running in the club colours. 


Working together we snatched our top 50 jerseys! 

Myself and Sean McDermott paced it out together to the finish. Hopefully I will give this course a go feeling fully fit some day.

Only 12 sleeps to the UTMB draw date. This will define my training for 2018 in many ways. Hopefully some of you can cross those fingers and toes for me on the 11th!

A quick 2017 summary to follow around New Years. I’m not sure where to start and finish that one, but these few sick days will give me time to think.


Galtee’s in the sunshine. 

It’s not a bad spot when the sun shines.

 

Kebnekaise

It has been a pretty busy few months but I am finally back in the blogging frame of mind and hope things stay that way for the foreseeable future. Sometimes we need a break from these things and after a few years on the blog I felt it was no harm to take a brief period off. Since my last post in Wales, I have been to Sweden and Alicante on two holidays, so all in all I can’t complain much. The other end of things wasn’t so nice with our little buddie Ferris, our cat, passing away and in the mix of everything I was rear ended in a road accident. Luckily I was in one piece, however my car did take the full brunt of the collision. Anyhow enough rambling, how do you write blog posts again? I will start by a little run down on an epic adventure in the North of Sweden, 2100metre mountains and some of the best scenery in the world.

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Not far from Sweden’s highest point!

So where exactly is Kebnekaise for those of you not too sure about Sweden’s geography?

Here is a very rough ,very quick idea as to where we were!

We set out to hike 20km to the base camp of Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise mountain. We would camp here for three days and one of the days give the mountain a whack. The hike in was flat but with 15kg on our backs and a nice 10km trail run in the legs from the previous day we were all tired by the time we reached camp. Emma’s sister Frida was joining us for the trip and would be great having her part of of it all, one any Swedish hiker or nature enthusiast dreams of making. Very few people outside of Sweden, or at least in Ireland even know these kind of places exist.

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Base camp in the shelter of the woods.

We secured a spot for our tents on the first evening. We pitched them in a howling gale and realised it was a hell of a lot colder than first imagined. We had travelled as light as possible but thermal clothes and down jackets along with good rain gear were the essentials. My new Alpkit Brukit Wolfe would do all the cooking and a diet of porridge and various beans and rice mixes would have to keep the engine ticking over for the few days. I would learn that I need alot more fuel than Emma and Frida to keep myself in check and I hadn’t quite packed enough.

After a pretty average sleep on the first night we set off to trek Kebnekaise the next day. We took a wrong turn early on and ended up hiking further into the valley under the mountain. I had some form of vertigo or at least an imbalance from sleeping in a stuffy tent and was glad we decided not to go for the summit today. It turned out the weather closed in pretty badly and very few summitted that day. It was nice to get a long hike and get used to the temperature of about 7  degrees depending on wind and rain conditions. An early night in order to set off early the next morning was the plan. I actually slept fine and was feeling great the next day. Bring on the mountain.

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The view early on, not far from base camp. Things were looking up!

The hike was relentless but we got into a nice rythm and the views were more spectacular by the minute. After a 45 minute climb to the first stop I cooked up some hot water and we had a coffee and some sugar as a break.

Coffee break.

From here I told Emma and Frida I would push on as I was going a different pace and instead of enjoying every second I would turn it into a bit of a training session, typical me! I literally ran up the next two climbs, reached a snowy wet point (adding a few layers here) and then descended a few hundred metres before starting the last long climb towards the first and second summits of Kebnekaise. A few Dutch guys asked me was I not freezing as I had stripped to a tshirt and shorts. I replied no I’m ok, as long as I don’t stop! I ran into a few more hikers, one of which had taken a wrong turn with a 20kg backback and in order to get back to his original route was having to go over Kebnekaise. It wasn’t his finest moment but he was taking it in his stride with a smile! I ploughed on up past 2000 metres and was suddenly engulfed in a blizzard. I could see the summit on my GPS but I could barely see my hand. I decided to descend back once near the summit and go in serach of Emma and Frida on the trail. I could head back up with them and enjoy the rest of the day even more. Our photos from the summit are a little blurred but I will throw some into my next post. There were people wandering around in search of the exact summit. A crazy dangerous thing to be trying with no proper GPS. I could see 2100 metres on my watch and was happy we were within a few feet of the top. I knew as well that there was a shear drop to our right and now was time to head down. As we descended the rain started and it followed us all the way home. It was torrential at times but we stuck it out. I think we were on the mountain arounf 9 hours in total. I would go up in a flash again.

It was amazing to see groups of people, young, old, and all shapes and sizes enjoying the hike. It is a gruelling hike but it seems hiking is one of those sports that attracts everyone and everyone can give it a go. It was great to see a dad with a little boy tied on to his side and the boy so excited to find the top. It was also great to see the safety being used in this instance. One thing that was for certain was that people in Northern Sweden know the type of gear needed on the mountains and for the most part people were very safe.

We slept ok the final night and our hike out on tired legs was relentless, being well over 20km’s when we clocked it all.Our bags were lighter than the journey in having eaten everything but my socks. In saying this they still felt twice the weight. A sure sign of tired bodies! Back to the campervan, clean clothes and an amaing appetite for a pizza. Kebnekaise, hope to see you again some day.

This is a brief account of our adventure but another fantastic experience. I learnt the amount of food I carried was way below what my body was crving in the cold and the mountains. I drank so much water even though I really only pushed hard on one of the days. A good rain coat is essential and staying warm even more so. Bring a second and third set of wet gear for relentless rainy days. Always use dry bags, as we did, and stick to boiled foods if possible.

A couple of reindeer under the mountains

It has basically been weeks and even months of training and working, with a short break in Alicante thrown in, since this Swedish trip. I ran in a few cross country races the last couple of weekends, shear torture but fun at the same time. Only cross country runners get what I am saying here! I managed to be part of a great team on Sunday and we won a county gold and I topped that off with first place in my category (senior), only 3 weeks off my over 35 debut that is. I promise to get back into the blogging scene and hope to share my goals and plans with you all over the next few months. Next up is the Mourne Skyline MTR on the 21st of October. A 35km killer of a mountain run/scramble!!

 

High Peaks Challenge 2017

26 peaks“So why not hike and run Ireland’s highest 26 peaks in 32 counties non stop and we may even beat an Irish record in the process.”

This was what Shaun Stewart and myself discussed late last year and we decided to give it a whack. This would be no easy task and we knew that we would both need to be physically and mentally ready for the task. A good team was the key and we were lucky enough to team up with Team Donegal Oil and the Ice Road Trekkers from Donegal. These guys along with some friends would be our backbone as we took on the mammoth challenge. We would ascend and descend over 10,000 metres, run up to 160km and drive over 1800km to reach the finish line on the top of Mount Errigal.

Image caption: The van with Shaun and his niece Cara Murphy. Thanks to Manor Motors Donegal.

The route would take us from Mweelrea in Mayo to Errigal in Donegal. The previous fastest time was 87 hours and 50 minutes. Our goal and motivation was to beat this time. We set ourselves a schedule that would see us at Errigal in around 60 hours. With an aim like this we would remain focused. We were using Kieron Gribbon’s High Peaks book as a guide throughout. This along with our own maps, GPS and, most importantly, the ViewRanger app would be our navigational aids.  This motivation along with the fact that we had chosen two charities gave us a clear goal.

My charity was Lakeview School in Galway that provides play therapy to children and is a local charity. Shaun chose Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, as his niece will be having surgery there in the coming years. The response to the event and the donations from everyone have been amazing.

The Start- Mweelrea, Mayo

On Thursday the 20th at 6am the van along with myself, Shaun and crew 1, Arthur Mcmahon and Shaun Doherty, left Louisburgh for our first peak in Mayo. Mweelrea is the highest peak in Connaught and a cracking climb overlooking the Atlantic and Killary Fjord. Our clock would start from the summit of Mweelrea at 8am and finish on the summit of Errigal, whenever that may be. Logistically things were now sorted and it was up to us and our crew to knock it into shape. Let the games begin!

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Image caption: Mweelrea Summit, ready for off!

Leaving the dropoff point at Dadreen on the Atlantic side of Mweelrea at 6.30am, we steadily hiked to the summit in just over an hour. Here we would wait until the clock started. The plan was to run down and meet our lift to the opposite side of Killary Fjord for 8.30am. The clock started and we were off, not at full tilt but we weren’t about to hang around either. The descent down to Killary was fast, steep and technical. Shaun was on the phone to Shane Young from Killary Adventure Centre and got the good word that the RIB was on the way and we would be picked up on the shoreline on arrival. I must say it was the most exciting start to a long event we could of asked for. We flew from the base of Mweelrea to the pier at Killary Adventure Centre in five minutes, ran up to the van and were on the way to Ben Baun in seconds. So far so good.

Video caption: Shane Young ripping up the Killary. No doubt we will see Shane again soon as he runs the Gaelforce events every year.

Ben Baun, Galway

After a brief journey from Killary we arrived at the start point for the epic Ben Baun climb. There was lots of local support with my family meeting us at the base and all of them spent some time on the mountain, including some of them summitting on the day.

We lept out of the van and hit for the trail. A long winding gravel road along by the upper stretches of the Kylemore River. The trail then crossed the river and we followed it to a little isolated house. From here we began the steep climb to the summit. We summitted in 52 minutes and were in really good time. We began to run down the way we came when suddenly a heavy cloud descended. We knew we had to take a left down a grassy valley to take the easiest route back and be able to run this section also. We found this and began to descend. We didn’t realise until a few minutes later at the base that we had made a massive mistake. Mistake number one was not checking our bearing on the map and GPS and mistake number two was being too eager, too early on in the challenge. A lesson learnt now but we both found out the hard way how a simple lack in judgement can cost so much. At the base we realised we were on the wrong side of the valley. We began to run around the base but ran into two more of the Bens. The only way back was up and over. We climbed the next easiest gap between two mountains and would then have a 6-7 km run back along the valley to reach the point where we originally started our ascent. Looking back on this now, it was really only a minor mistake and probably cost us 30 minutes but we would make this up at every opportunity.

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Image caption: Finally down off Ben Baun.

The run back along the valley was actually eventful. Long stretches of bog, hopping over drains and over heather. At one point Shaun was in radio contact with the team when suddenly a baby ram attacked. The ram pucked Shaun in the leg, ran past, turned and came back for another go. Shaun dodged this one, in almost more shock than the poor little ram. On the ram’s third attempt I swung my hiking pole and caught him straight on the nose. He fled across the bog, screeching as he went. On we went having a good laugh. It is funny the things that lift spirits when things have gone downhill as they had at this point.

We reached the van and were still only a few minutes off schedule. The lads spirits were high and this kept our heads up.

Arderin, Laois/Offaly

The crew decided on throwing the Laois/Offaly county high points in now rather than tracking back across the country later in the trip. We pulled up beside a boggy hill. Less than 20 minutes later we were back at the van after a quick run up the wet bog. The county high points were only metres apart. A quick snap and off we went, Co. Clare and the gorgeous Moylussa, overlooking Lough Derg awaited.

Moylussa, Clare

We arrived at Moylussa at 3.30pm and started the 10km run. Paul Tierney, a fellow ultra runner joined us en route. Thanks so much to Paul as he is currently carrying an injury. As always, it is amazing to have a local on the mountain. The route took us up some nice forest roads, along forest trails. A winding steep section near the end before a boardwalk took some effort but we were soon on the top in search of one of the two high points. A quick photo in the bog and we started off downhill. We ran back to the van fast and completed the route in just over an hour.

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Image caption: Top of Moylussa, Thanks to Paul Tierney.

Carrauntoohil, Kerry

Everyone has heard of this one, the highest peak on the island. We were steeped by the perfect conditions as we set off and even more delighted to see two friendly faces in Chris Caulfield and Linda O Connor. Both Chris and Linda have heaps of experience on Carrauntoohil; Linda having summitted twice last weekend in one day, just for the craic!

What an amazing hike. I was feeling a little woozy in the van with a bit of car sickness hanging around so couldn’t wait to be on a mountain again. We were eating on the go, fuelling on dehydrated food in hot water and trying to take on some fruit and calories before each climb. This sounds easy, but eating gets difficult when the body gets tired.

Image caption: At the bottom and at the top

There was not much time hanging around at the car and with good instruction from Chris we set off ahead before he caught us on the mountain bike. Linda soon caught us near the Devils ladder section. The hike consists of a few kilometres on the road before a tricky rocky and muddy section along a stream. From here you see the valley rising on all sides and the spectacular Carrauntoohil to the North East. The Devil’s ladder is a very steep section of boulder leading up to the final ascent at the bottom of the main cone of the mountain. We made good time on the ladder and were soon on the final ascent. This was a lung busting ascent but well worth it. No doubt the best view of the entire trip.

You can check out the videos from our climbs here.

We were the highest people in Ireland for a few minutes. The climb took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to the top and we would descend in about 45 minutes. The descent was reasonably quick apart from being extra careful on the ladder. An option to take the zig zag path was discussed but we reckoned saving the running legs for later was the smart move. At this point I was feeling reasonably good although the first few mountains had shot my quads. I actually think my quads never fully recovered from The Race a few weeks before this event. They would remain sore but not get a huge amount worse than this on the first day.  We arrived back to the team at 9.30pm, just as it got dark. Perfect timing and all going to plan. We were ahead of schedule.

Knockboy, Cork

Linda stayed as our guide for her local Knockboy Mountain. We took a quick break for a takeaway in Kenmare before heading to the mountain. The twisty roads were starting to take their toll on my system and I could only hope this would pass. Linda was a great guide. It was late and the visibility was poor in Knockboy. Linda left lights at points along the trek to be sure on the descent. The trek was heavy and boggy but we were up in no time and ran the majority of the route back to the car. A gunshot sounded on our descent and a quick work from the lads over the two way radios alerted us to some lamping going on on the bog. I later saw a car with some guys heading down the valley. They were lamping out the window and shooting at anything that moved. They could have had some mountain runners for dinner… I hopped into the car with Linda as far as Cork, which gave me a little rest and settled the stomach. I didn’t sleep much, which I really would have needed at this a stage. Galtymore was next at 2am and a long trek ahead.

Galtymore, Tipperary/Limerick

Image caption: Galtymore in the dark.

A top runner Adrian Hennessy joined us as a guide on Galtymore. Adrian said he was up the mountain hundreds of times. He had been watching our tracker all night and was waiting on the roadside to guide us to the start point and then join us for the hike. Top class guy. We left at 2.26am and arrived back to the van at 4.35am. Not a bad trek for the middle of the first night. We were starting to feel the cold a bit but the food from earlier seemed to be working. The trek here was 11km, some of which was over gravel road. It then turned into bog and heather before becoming a lot steeper toward the top. A 15 minute buster of a pull near the end saw us on top and the cairn was easily found. It was only months since I was here during the day but at night mountains are a different and far more dangerous world. A hop and a skip and off we went back down the mountain. It was good to think we only had one more hike before our first night was over. Another milestone, always needed.

Knockmealdown, Waterford

We arrived at Knockmealdown at 5.14am. It was still dark but the light would soon arrive in the sky. The weather was still very settled. From the car we were instantly climbing a steep rocky path which seemed to go on and on until the top of our first peak. The county high point was two more peaks away with some nice descending and ascending in between. It was a little demoralising to see that we were taking the longer route around to the peak. However, we decided the steep route up the side of Knockmealdown itself would not of been worth it. The sun rose and the colours across the valleys below were spectacular. I never realised Waterford was this beautiful. The bogs in April are at their best with all sorts of browns and greens as well as the gorse in full bloom. We took a quicker, much steeper and direct route down the mountain and called the team to let them know the point on the road we would hit. A total of an hour and a half on this county high point was a bit more than expected but another ticked off. A famous young man arrived as we were about to take off. Dillon Lynch, the youngest person to climb the 26 peaks in 14 months had been following us. Himself and his dad joined us for a photo and donated some money to the charity.

Image caption: Dillon Lynch and his dad, legends.

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Image caption: Knockmealdown, Waterford

Brandon hill, Kilkenny and Mt. Leinster, Wexford/Carlow

The next three counties high points were at Brandon Hill and Mount Leinster. Generally featureless mountains. The high point at Mount Leinster is home to an RTÉ mast while Brandon Hill in Kilkenny was boggy but we were up and down in 30 minutes. The aim was to get through these few quickly before the longer Lugnaquillia trek began.

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Image caption: Brandon hill Killkenny.

Lugnaquillia, Wicklow

We pulled up at Lugnaquillia to meet two endurance athletes, looking all fresh and smiley. Paul Mahon, a well known endurance racer and adventure athlete was one of our guides. Paul set up the Quest Adventure racing series and is involved in everything adventure racing. He has vast experience both at home and abroad. Our second support runner was Alan Kearney, a man I have met at numerous races and is always one for a motivational word, just the man needed at this point. Lug (short for Lugnaquillia) was a long trek but with the lads the time flew. Paul was throwing bagels and sandwiches at me and kept saying “eat, drink, sleep”. The food was very welcome and I managed to eat it, even though the last few hours in the van hadn’t helped my van sickness. The hike up towards Lug summit was a slow drag, nothing too steep but a constant gradient. It is real trail running countryside and there were plenty of hikers out and about.

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Image caption: Lug crew and me with a mouthful of bagel!

As you can see the top was covered in cloud so we didn’t take in many Wicklow views from here. We started our descent and were able to run the majority of the route back. It was great downhill running terrain but I couldn’t fully let go as we had a long way to go yet. We reached the van at 1.30pm, two hours up and down. Not bad for a 14km.

The next 5 peaks Cupidstown, Kildare, Kippure, Dublin, Carnbane East, Meath Mullaghmeen, Westmeath, Cornhill and Longford were reasonably boring to be honest. Absolutely nothing against the counties but they are not known for their mountains. Boggy runs along with some trail and forest park runs summed up these high points. If ever in Westmeath, Mullaghmeen forest is a lovely spot for a walk. There are some pretty nice views from the high point of the surrounding countryside. Longford was a classic tourist site. It was used in Glenroe and other programmes in the past. A mast is located at the top. The Dublin and Kildare sites are more TV masts and hikes along the road led to the peaks. Carnbane East was probably the coolest site of the lot. A quick sprint up a nicely cut grass hill to a tomb site and huge mound of rocks at the top. A woman was there looking at the tomb and was startled to see two guys run up, take a selfie and run away as quick again.

We changed over to crew 2 at Kippure. Denis Ferry and Leslie O Donnell took over and boy were the Ice Road Trekker boys keen. It was like a new lease of life in the van. Thanks so much to Arthur and Shaun who deserved some rest at this stage. We said our goodbyes and the boys just told us to keep her lit. Denis and Les have vast experience in Ireland and abroad. They have driven in The Andes on the world’s most dangerous road, have circumnavigated Iceland – just to name only a few of their amazing feats. Check out the link to an adventure in Alaska here.

 

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Image caption: Mount Leinster

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Image caption: Cupidstown, Kildare. Running and eating icecreams!

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Image caption: Carnbane East, looking a bit sleepy!

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Image caption: Mullaghmeen, awake after a nice forest run.

Seltanasaggart, Roscommon/Leitrim

It was Friday evening when we arrived at Seltanasaggart on the Roscommon/Leitrim border. A 6 km run was ahead of us but it was mostly on gravel road. The county high points for both Leitrim and Roscommon were hidden in a huge windpark. The turbines actually made things a bit more confusing and it took us some time to find our bearings at the top. Thanks to some good teamwork we eventually found the two piles of small rocks nicely hidden in the heather at both sites. We lost some time but didn’t put any extra distance on the legs, which is vital at this stage. The grounds around the turbines were full of rabbits and hares, definitely looking a lot more spritely on the feet than us at this stage. The second night closed in as we came down off Seltanasaggart and I was about to enter a world of pain.

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Image caption: Seltanasaggart

Truskmore, Sligo/Leitrim

On arrival at the Sligo high point starting point we were informed by Kieron Gribbon that we needed to find the Co. Leitrim high point here also. This was going to be a bit tricky as it was dark and very misty; visibility was extremely low. The motion sickness was really starting to flatten me and it was going to be a long night. I felt fine when out and about but within seconds of sitting in van I was buckled. I couldn’t eat, therefore I found it hard to sleep and, if I would vomit, it wouldn’t be long until dehydration set in. I managed to keep sipping water. A good adventure racing buddy of ours, Aidan Mc Moreland, met us for the Sligo peak and with his local knowledge and a bit of compass work in the dark we found both peaks after a bit of a soaking.

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Image caption: Sligo with Aidan.

Cuilcagh, Fermanagh

A new boardwalk has been built here after a stretch of about 2-3km on the road. This would lead us all the way to the plateau on top at Cuilcagh. The top was then a mud-bath for over a kilometre before reaching the county high point. Shaun was clever on the top and laid out spare headlights on strobe mode so we wouldn’t go wrong on the descent. I had vomited on the journey to Cuilcagh and had only managed water in the last few hours. Things were grim but my legs were still working. I knew I needed sleep soon to kill the sickness. The boardwalk was welcome underfoot after so many boggy hikes. As the boardwalk went on it got steeper and there were huge sections of steps. A pretty impressive piece of engineering it must be said. After finding the cairn on top we ran back on the boardwalk. A pretty fast descent after a long slog up the way. I found my map which I dropped on the way up as we descended. I’m deadly for dropping things!

Slieve Beagh, Monaghan

I have a feeling Shaun would rather I leave this one out. A long, long, LONG hike up across a bog, to a tiny little hump on the far side. The light arrived along the way and I managed to eat a bit of a bar and drink some water. The grouse were startled as we made our way through the thick heather. It was real hunting countryside so the bog actually suited me a bit. This definitely felt like one of the longest and most energy zapping runs of the entire trip. It was never ending. We managed to run little bits on the way back. The van, which I had come to hate at this stage, was actually a welcome sight.

Slieve Gullion, Armagh

On arrival at Slieve Gullion I was at a major low. The team decided that I needed sleep to overcome the sickness. I slept in the back of the van for 30 minutes. I woke up not having a clue where I was. Shaun’s dad, Patsy, and brother-in-law, Ronan, arrived at this point and someone handed me a ham sandwich. I sipped water and ate the sandwich as we climbed Gullion. Gullion was a gorgeous climb with real mountain trail all the way up. It was steep but well marked out. We found this in Northern Ireland. There seemed to be more maintenance and more marking on the mountains. The facilities were definitely top class. I ate almost all the sandwich and we summitted in no time at all. We were up and down in 40 minutes and left Gullion at 8.46am. I hopped in the car with Patsy and this was my saviour. I was instantly well and Ronan made me another ham sandwich using a plastic spoon in the back seat. I was on the way back. Now all I needed was a little sleep. I slept for 20 minutes before we reached Slieve Foye. The roads in the North were smoother and the chance to stretch out in the car seat was amazing.

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Image caption: Top of Gullion, after my first sleep. Only 48 hours into the event.

Slieve Foye, Louth

Slieve Foye rises from the sea at Carlingford. I think this was the one county in Ireland I had never set foot in and I have to say it was high up on the list for beauty.

The climb went straight from the village up across some sheep grazing land and was steep all the way to the top. The views were spectacular and I was finally feeling good again. My heals were sore and my quads were hating the downhill but my spirits were up, which is key. We finished the mighty Foye in 1 hour and 10 minutes. A really good effort at this point in time. An hour’s journey lay ahead and I needed sleep. I ate first of all and then slept for 40 minutes. Absolute bliss!

Donard, Down

This would be our last big boy before Errigal. I was asleep until we pulled into the carpark at the base of Donard. Donard is famous and people come from far and wide to climb here. It is mostly famous for being one of the few big mountains where your climb starts at sea level and finishes at 850metres. The course record is 53 minutes up and down, not one we were looking to beat!! A local mountain goat, Declan Magee, joined us in the car park. I was literally hopping out of the car when Declan and Shaun took off running. I had been asleep so had little idea what was happening. Denis got a fit of energy and started running with me across the car park and across the next field until I started to catch the lads. Denis patted me on the back and wished me good luck. I said I’m gonna need it to catch these two lads. I soon did catch up as the lads slowed a bit. After my first real sleep the body had shut down a bit. The Donard hike up was really tough and I had dizzy spells but kept moving throughout. The mountain was packed with hikers and passing people out along the way felt good considering what we had behind us. It was long and steep as we made our way from a forested area into the open and up along a rocky climb before turning left and facing “The Wall”! The wall was a few hundred metres of high gradient slog. People were really struggling here but we made our way up nice and steadily. A quick photo and a bite of a protein bar and we were away again. Declan knew all the locals so was stopping every few minutes. Once on the slightly less steep ground I found a wind and really enjoyed the fast running descent from here all the way back. We were up and down in less than 2 hours and felt like we were moving and on the home stretch. The plan was to really go for the next few peaks and try make up some time. Everything was still on target at this stage.

Truskan, Antrim

Truskan and Sawell were real bog slogs but we pushed through them as hard as we could. Truskan was more gradual with Sawell the Derry and Tyrone high point was  a decent climb. The views of the rolling Derry hills were really nice and the home straight was in sight. The team gave us a massive cheer as we came down off Sawell, knowing that we were nearly there. We were flying on the downhills again, especially the boggy ones.

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Image caption: Just finished the run down from Truskan , Co. Antrim

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Image caption: Heading off at Sawell

Errigal, Donegal

The one we all waited for! It was an amazing feeling to arrive at Mount Errigal to a huge crowd of supporters and realise we were nearly there. In saying that we were 4 minutes behind time and wanted to keep the clock under 61 hours. We bolted from the van and took off running.

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Image caption: The tracker after 60 hours.

A local man, Andrew Wallace, joined us, having barely managed to change in his car as we arrived. Errigal is reasonably short but steep and technical. It is a nasty mountain when you are tired but we were motivated to keep the time down. We raced to the top in 30 minutes and the clock stopped on the top at 60 hours and 35 minutes, shaving 27 hours and 15minutes off the previous record. The reception at the top was amazing. In the cold breeze and the setting sun we were met with hugs from locals and most importantly for me, Emma, Dee and Greg were there for a massive hug. I was more relieved than emotional to be honest. The emotion had hit me after Slieve Foye when I had gotten over the sickness and knew I was going to finish this challenge. The feeling now was ecstasy. Paul Doherty, a professional photographer, took lots of photos on the top and we took in the views for a while before everyone was too cold to hang around and we knew there was a crowd waiting at the base for our return. We ran down and across the bog at the bottom at full tilt! food, a celebratory beer and a huge crowd of amazing people awaited us.

26 peaks 2

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Image caption: A few photos from the summit/finish line on Mount Errigal , Donegal and more at the base.

The week since the event has been hectic with a lot of media picking up on the event. We are so thankful to everyone that has been involved and showed an interest and hope that in future more people will give this and other similar challenges a go.

Listen here to a few of our interviews!

Dermot and Dave interview from 34 minutes on the 26th of April.

Galway Bay FM post event interview from 1.35.30