Race report by Louise Jackman

I could abbreviate my race report into a single sentence; I followed Shay!

For those of you who have moved on from primary school history, the race is based on three prisoners escaping Dublin Castle via the sewers into the night. Art and Henry O’Neill, along with Red Hugh O’Donnell escaped from Dublin Castle on the night of 6 January 1592 making for the safety of Glenmalure. Art succumbed to hypothermia during the escape, hence the race is held in commemoration. Madness..

Nevertheless, Friday night at ten, I find myself dragging a backpack through town towards Dublin Castle. Snag one, I can’t find the way in. How am I going to navigate to Glenmalure if I can’t even find the entrance?! About six more misfits are lurking, clearly in the same boat. We stand out like sore thumbs in high-vis loaded with gear. En masse, we skirt around to the side entrance and in I skip. Registration has a few steps: gear check; bag-drop; and tracker is taped on securely. All done and dusted quickly. Midnight rolls around at last. Out to the courtyard for the countdown. It’s a perfect night for running – cool and clear. I certainly didn’t think I’d be starting this race in a t-shirt! 

The klaxon sounds and off we go. Round the corner and straight past Leo Burdocks. There’s a ripple of laughter, we’re all cracking the same jokes about stopping for a bag at this stage. It takes a few minutes to settle into a pace, but quickly Shay and I are jogging along taking it all in. We head along familiar roads – Clanbrassil Street, Harold’s Cross and we’re turning at the Blue Haven before I know it. We leave the security of streetlights and footpaths as the road begins to climb. And climb it does. We’ve agreed to make this 30k as easy as possible. We walk the hills and run the rest. It works well. We end up playing leap-frog with the same six or so runners who struggle up the hills for us to pass them again when it flattens out. I’m happy to save the legs thinking on what lies ahead. The mental checkpoints tick off. Stone Cross, Kilbride Camp, Shay’s pal’s house (the last landmark before THE TURN!) Shay has pointed this nondescript gate out to me every-time and it still looks like a gate into a field. There’s more of a hint tonight as the lights from head-torches bob as runners ahead jump it and start the slide downhill in the tractor-tracks. Back on road, the climb starts again in earnest. We look back at the stream of torches behind weaving along the roads and down the field. I wish I’d stopped for a photo. 

In to checkpoint one before I know it. Well-warned to stay away from the heat of the camp-fires and the lure of the seats, I sit on the ground and swop running gear for heavier trail clothes. Head-torch finally goes on and I switch the GPS on. A quick coffee and off we go again. Later I look back and the timer says we were twelve minutes in CP 1! Twelve! And no wetsuits involved. We jog out of camp and I realise why we seemed to get there so quickly. It’s 2k closer to the road than usual. D’oh. We turn up out of Ballynultagh Woods and start hiking. A fog has rolled in and it’s raining heavily. Visibility has dropped to a couple of metres. We hit the same track we recce’d on Wednesday night, but it’s a different place. We hit the planned turn and jump the stream. More hiking to hit the ridge. On Wednesday, Blackhill, Mullaghcleevaun were obvious landmarks. Now we’re working off compasses and altitude. We end up veering slightly off-course closer to Blackhill than we should. We are descending sooner than we should and with no visibility, we backtrack. I shove the GPS into the bottom of my bag and follow ViewRanger on the phone. Back on track we descend into Billy Byrne’s gap, on the other side of the valley to plan, but this ground is good enough we can mostly run. We’re running at the same pace as another group so all stick together and can have the chats. The streams are bigger than on the recces but the head-torches light up the rocks enough to hop across safely. One last stream and through the gates at Sheep Pen i.e. back on fire-road. Yesss. The group breaks up at this stage as we can properly run at this stage. We fly down the track, cross the road, back onto the track before running into CP 2. 

More coffee – I’m not obsessed, CP 1 was two hours ago! Two minutes later, we’re back on the track, albeit with cheeks full of chocolate in my case. I’m delighted with life, having put in fresh batteries in my head-torch. We hit the foot the steep climb I’ve been dreading and start making decisions. We had already decided bypassing Art’s cross was a given. It’s a slower route and in darkness it’s not so meaningful if you can’t see it. Randomly we land back into the same group. The girls who were slower on the fire roads seem to have skipped CP2 and hence we all catch the front guys who are slower fording a stream. They are keen to take a route we hadn’t planned on. Disclosure: I’ve done CP2 – Glenmalure once, and that was in darkness. All I know is there are endless peat hags which equate to leg-sapping misery and losing one’s sense of direction constantly. The security of a group is tempting, so we trudge on as a unit. My sense of time is sketchy here, but I suspect we hiked up water-logged bog for about an hour before there was even a chance of running again. We progressed from single file hiking to single file running. I wish I’d been wearing a Go-Pro, both to capture the fun of running freely with streams and rocks appearing with a split-seconds notice, but also the falls. Running fast on an uneven surface means you’ll probably fall, adding in wet rushes means you’ll slide. We all took a few spectacular tumbles. We hit Table-track without me ever being too sure of where we are. Sneaking a look at a phone or watch almost guarantees a fall and a few seconds on the ground means running a risk of getting separated.

As soon as we hit the rocky path of Table-track the three guys in front get a burst of speed. They look like they’re at 5k pace, strange for 50k into a race and on a slippy surface. One girl picks up a similar pace, which makes up my mind for me. The are three girls in our little group and we have made serious progress over the mountains section. I don’t fancy trying to outsprint anyone in the last 100m should be told we’re vying for places. I spend the next 50m or so trying to get by this girl on a narrow track. I get a few thorns to my face for my troubles but I squeeze by. Suddenly my tired sodden legs are forgotten and I try to chase down the lads. It’s easier to run in the stream of water where possible than on the track proper. The track is a cruel combination of smooth rock or loose shale. It’s like trying to sprint downhill on ice, making it the most unnerving 4k of all. I look back for Shay’s torch and promptly smash my ankle on a rock. Genius. Briefly light-headed with pain, I try to put my foot to ground but can’t put any weight on it. I have visions of not finishing which kicks me into action. I hop a few steps and start partial weight-bearing. I’m able to limp-run quickly enough. I can feel the sticky trickle of blood, but decide I’ll look when I’m done. As the ground flattens out, I look behind again.. There’s a head-torch about 100 metres behind. It’s the impetus I need. I pick up the pace with gritted teeth. I even manage to pass a man toughing it out on his own. Of course he then picks up the pace then so it’s hard to work out if the head-torches have also chased me down. I feel a light right behind me, then they draw level. I give a side-glance, to see that it’s Shay! 

Perfect timing – we cross the final bend, barely notice the river and are at the finish! It probably takes us a minute to remember to cross with all the chat. I’m 3rd lady, which is a nice surprise. It’s such a surprise, I forget about my battered ankle(s) especially when I see the breakfast roll tent. I still don’t remember in the pub; helpfully open at 9 in the morning. DMRT know how to organise a race alright! 
In summary, everyone should stick their name in the lottery for an entry next November.

1st man Florian Reichert 4.51.06- new course record

1st woman (joint) Aoife Fennell / Diane Downes 7.46.28

Shay Brady 7.48.45

Louise Jackman 7.48.45