Mourne Skyline MTR 2018

Another year, another stunning edition of the Mourne Skyline MTR awaits. This race over the last-years has personified the true ethos of going fast and light to the mountains. Created by Justin and Ryan Maxwell, the race has been a permanent fixture on the Skyrunning UK calendar.

In 2018, over 250 runners will toe the line to undertake what is one of the toughest challenges out there, a 35k race, incorporating 3,370m (11,057ft) of accumulative ascent, set in the heart of the scenic Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland.  The event, which is now in it’s 5th year, will take place on Saturday 20th October 2018, starting at 0900. The race is brought to you by NiRunning (Northern Ireland Running), Northern Ireland’s most popular running website, with assistance from the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA).

Race website HERE

The Mourne Mountains are a granite mountain range in County Down in the south-east of Northern Ireland. Owned by the National Trust, an area of outstanding beauty, it includes Slieve Donard (850m), the highest mountain in Northern Ireland and Ulster and as such it provides a perfect location for a mountain race.

Among the more famous features, the Mourne Wall is a key element of this region and a key aspect of the race. Construction of the wall was started in 1904 and was completed in 1922; its purpose, to define the boundary of an area of land purchased by the Belfast Water Commission.

Comprised of forest path, fire roads, single track, granite trail and tough uneven broken fell, the race is a tough challenge. In just 35km the course has a brutal 3370m of ascent and no less than 9 peaks, the highest being Slieve Donard at 850m.

“…this would be a tough one, with 11,000 feet of climbing over 22 miles, a serious amount of ascent and descent that equated to 500 feet per mile,” said 2015 5th place runner and Lakeland 50 champion, Jayson Cavill. “That is almost double the climbing of the Yorkshire Three Peaks route over a slightly shorter distance.”

The coastal town of Newcastle hosts the start of the race and a short section of road leads into Donard Park via the promenade entrance and the ‘Granite Trail’ awaits for a long and relentless climb. Dundrum Bay is visible to the west, before a fast downhill section to a climb of the stony and challenging Glen River Path to the Col between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh.

At Hare’s Gap, the first major peak awaits, Slieve Bearnagh, first passing the North Tor before reaching the summit quickly followed with the technical ascent of Slieve Meelmore. The Mourne Wall becomes a key feature of the race and for the first time the runners follow its line for just 0.4km before veering right and descending towards The Mourne Way path. 

Fofany Dam precludes the only road section of the course which leads to the Mourne Wall and the style between Ott and Slieve Loughshannagh. The climbs and summits come thick and fast now; Slieve Loughshannagh, Slieve Meelbeg and the course continues to follow the Mourne Wall leading to a repeated climb of the technical and challenging Slieve Meelmore, this time in the opposite direction. The toughest climb of the day follows, Slieve Bearnagh. 

Passing around the North Tor it is downhill towards Hare’s Gap and a steep climb next to the Mourne Wall towards Slievenaglogh and Slieve Commedagh, Northern Ireland’s second highest mountain. It is ironic that Slieve Commedeagh should lead into Slieve Donard and the highest point of the race. On a clear day the views are magnificent out over the sea, inland towns and villages are visibleand of course, the Mourne Mountains. From the summit, it’s all downhill to the finish via the rocky Glen River Path and a fire road that leads into Donard Park and the finish.

J Marshall Thompson, an experienced ski mountaineer from the USA raced the 2014 edition and placed 3rd, an incredible result for someone who had never experienced such technical terrain.

“That was some of the most crazy terrain I have ever run. It was relentless. It was beyond technical. You had no idea where to put your feet and I can’t tell you how many times I fell over; I loved it’

But the technicality and challenges the Mourne Mountains offer are not for everyone, Jo Meek has raced for team GB and has placed top 5 at the iconic Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa:

“I really did push and race hard but the relentless ankle twisting and gnarly terrain beat me down and in the latter stages. I eased off a little knowing that 2nd place was secure.”

The mountains of Northern Ireland may not have the height or elevation gain the the Alps or Pyrenees offer, but what they lack in height is more than compensated for in technicality and repeated roller coaster climbing. Ask anyone who has run it, the Mourne Skyline MTR is no easy race.

The race description is taken from the book RUNNING BEYOND HERE

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