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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Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 3 ‘Arpilindika Marathon’ – 42.195km (Cancelled)

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‘Arpilindika Marathon’ – 42.195km – cancelled

Adversity brings out the best in people, it’s the ‘Dunkirk’ spirit where everyone rallies around to make individual hardships a group hardship and with a little commitment, dedication and tenacity, woes and problems are taken away.

This is very much the spirit this morning on day 3 of the 2016 Big Red Run.

Race day has been cancelled due to out of the extraordinary weather during the night of day 1 and throughout day 2. In summary, the rain came in during the night and turned the Simpson Desert into a mud bath of some of the most sticky clay I have ever witnessed or in certain places, flooding!

Yes, the desert has become something akin to a UK Lakeland fell or Yorkshire moor.

They are freak conditions that have left the race team and runners in somewhat of a dilemma.

A night of reflection gave Lucas and Greg (race directors) an opportunity to look at options and an early departure from camp to recce the surrounding area confirmed several things:

  1. Racing would not happen on day 3.
  2. Camp would not be able to be moved due to excessive flooding, boggy ground and unpredictable roads that would potentially leave numerous vehicles bogged down.
  3. Day 4 will have to be a ‘new’ route to avoid some of the worst conditions and to ensure that vehicle access is possible at certain sections of the course for safety and checkpoints.
  4. Day 5 will hopefully still remain a long day of 80+ km but due to camp not moving, it will have to be re-worked to allow for the new start and end locations.
  5. Day 6, the final day is yet to be confirmed.

Greg confirmed at his early morning update that all of the above could change as they work through plans to make things happen. However, the sun has come out, the skies are blue and the conditions are already starting to dry out.

In camp, the Dunkirk spirit is at it’s best with groups of runners grabbing spades and clearing walkways to help alleviate everyone from the muddy mess. Clothes are being dried on make-shift washing lines and bushes, feet are being warmed by a fire and in an amongst all this there is a great deal of laughter as music fills the camp. The only real downside is that the flies have returned…

Today, the Simpson Desert and the Big Red Run is turning into a scene of ‘Survivor’ and on reflection, although everyone would have preferred a full racing day, the experience will be one to remember.

Greg and his team are now working flat out to make things happen and in the last 5-minutes I have had an update on plans for the coming days.

  • Tomorrow, stage 4 will be approximately the same distance as planned with a re-working of the route to miss the most affected areas and allow vehicle staff for crew access and safety. Overnight camp will remain in the same place.
  • Stage 5 will be a long stage of 80+ km (tbc) and the route will have slight modifications but it will finish at the original camp site as planned. This will allow Greg and his team to move the whole camp from it’s current location to the originally planned location while the runners are out on course.
  • Stage 6 will be as originally planned, a short un-timed run into the town of Birdsville.
  • The Big Red Bash – an open air concert originally planned to take place next to the Big Red Dunes has now been moved to the town of Birdsville. With over 7000 people travelling to the concert, the risk of vehicles getting stuck in the outback was far too high.

All-in-all, Greg and has team have done a remarkable job to pull all this together at such short notice. As I said, the 2016 Big Red Run will be one to remember!

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