While the good people of Dublin battled hoards of bargain hunters on Saturday morning in search of Christmas gifts, four hard core shopping procrastinators hit the snowy Wicklow Mountains for the annual Wicklow Way Christmas Ultra run. The route follows a 52km mountain trail from Glendalough (deep in the Wicklow Mountains) to Taylors Three Rock Pub at the foot of the Dublin Mountains.
Paul Mahon and Rene Borg descending along the WW with Roundwood in the background
The concept was initially thought up in 2008 when a kiwi mate and multisporter, Gavin Lloyd, and I decided that an ultra distance 'fun-run' would be a good way to engineer a suitable calorie deficit before Christmas. Now in it's 3rd year, the event has not yet failed to provide hostile and demanding wintery conditions.
This year the crew was made up of Paul Mahon, Eamonn Hodge, Richard Nunan, and myself. Eamonn and Richard were both first-time participants in the run, and were keen to prove a point after I purposefully suggested last week that Paul was the only Irishman tough enough to make the distance. We were joined for the first stage by Rene Borg and Aoife Joyce, who provided some helpful moral support upon turning around after an hour - "we'll think of ye lads when we're sitting in front of a fire in half an hour drinking hot soup"
Myself, Eamonn, Paul, Richard, and Rene: still fresh, at the foot of Scarr Mountain
Next was a road section at the foot of Scarr. We were hoping to make up some lost time after being slowed by a snowy section. But instead of hitting the usual potholed pavement, we found that the road had turned into an ice sheet! Unfortunately we hadn't thought to bring our ice skates, so we tentatively took to the ice in our running shoes and adopted an unstylish penguin waddle as we maneovered along the treacherous road.
Jase trying to stay upright on the road section above Lough Tay
Djouce mountain is tough, even in the summer. This is the highest and most exposed section on the route, at 700m above sea level. This year we reached Djouce mountain after 2.5 hours. The weather was accommodating, but the snow was deeper than previous years. On the one hand, trying to run over a mountain in knee-deep snow can be quite fun. On other other hand, it is slow going, and we had 27km still to cover before sun-down.
Paul struggling in knee deep snow on Djouce Mountain
By the time we reached Curtlestown (34km, 4 hours), we were pining for a hot meal and a pint of Guinness. Eamonn had made the mistake of mentioning Fish'n'chips hours before in a moment of weakness, and the thought had since lodged itself in my mind. The patience starts to wane after stumbling along snowy trails for hours on end. Every footstep seems to slip laterally, or backwards. So much effort required per yard gained. Normally the downhill and flat sections would be a welcome respite from the climbing. But in the snow, every gradient feels like uphill. At this stage I'm wishing that we'd just entered a 5k Santa run in Phoenix Park.
Five hours and 40km after leaving the car behind in Glendalough car park, we were descending towards Glencullen, dangerously close to Johnny Foxes (the highest pub in Ireland). We overcame temptation as we hit enjoyed a clear run on the final short road section, before attacking the final ascent up to fairy castle summit (570 metres).
Finally with 6 hours 10 minutes running time on the clock, we collapsed through the doors of Taylors Three Rock Pub in South Dublin. Although we were an hour slower than previous years, we were stoked to have overcome the deep snow and ice to finish at all! Another successful Glendalough Santa run in the bag.