‘The part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia’ CS Lewis
As with so many great adventures it started in Valerie’s car on the way back from a cold and muddy field somewhere in Mallusk. We wanted a trip, a local event, term time was out and a distance for all. By the end of January we had the accommodation booked and entries in for the annual 26 Extreme Mourne Way Events at Kilbroney. Reassuring Lindsay and Lisa it wasn’t really that hilly or technical & it was mostly off mountain (a bit of poetic licence from the outset). Detailed preparation and planning commenced keeping consistent with the letter ‘P’ mainly around Pimms, prosecco and picnics, this energy may arguably have been best directed into a bit of trail technique and running a few hills but we had a solid XC season and this as John McGarvey tells us is the best preparation for racing. Valerie again led the charge on Friday afternoon where we took advantage of the opportunity to rest and recharge in the Rostrevor sunshine. Endeavouring to support a small Italian vineyard over the course of the weekend by 3 o’clock the first bottle was popped, safe in the knowledge the marathon entry could be changed to the half if absolutely necessary. After a pre race feast fit for NDAC Ladies determined to enjoy every second of their obligation free break, Friday evening’s pre race hill session was a dander up to the Cloughmore Stone. 230metres above sea level with a calculated mass of 50 tonnes. Local legend has it the stone was thrown from the Cooley Mountains on the other side of Carlingford Lough by the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill. We were treated to the most beautiful sunset as the sky turned the brightest red and orange. Back for a nightcap and after checking the weather forecast, the half and marathon were moved to a morning start time instead of the traditional afternoon, we could run in the morning and picnic in the park in the afternoon, this was shaping up perfectly! Race morning we soaked up the atmosphere at the park, meeting up with Clair, Matt, Alan and Stephanie. Stephanie waved us off onto the bus as we set off promising to support her at the finish line later in the afternoon. There was an option for some of us to hop on the air conditioned bus but in true NDAC style we stuck together and to the seats of the other bus. Arriving at the start beside Fofanny Dam, the clouds disappeared and we basked in the glorious sunshine dismissing notions of any additional warm up as it was roasting already. A quick route recap and confirmation which direction we started focusing on the 2 mile downhill start and that lovely 5 mile shaded stretch at the finish glossing over the ‘undulating’ middle section. We were running in open mountain with temperatures over 20 degrees, thankful for the 4 water stops and organiser support we knew we would be looked after. The race started with a beep beep as we followed Ian’s van along the glorious two mile road stretch past Spelga Dam which was glittering in the sunshine and Slievenamiskan towards Hen Mountain track. Hen and Cock Mountains sheltered us from the wind which any other day in the Mournes would be welcome, there was however no shelter from the sun and the temperature along the track was building. This was one of the more technical sections with narrow tracks and boulders reducing the pace significantly, concentration and making sure of each and every step using additional energy reserves. We arrived at the first water stop greeted by Bernard who perhaps was trying out for a role with the Irish Tourist Board as he welcomed us all to the country and regaled in true Mourne Way Veteran form the stories of the heatwave of 2013 and the giant hailstones of 2018, as with all these types of stories they do get bigger and better with age. Bernard seemed to know everyones name and he was the keeper of water, cake and strawberries so attracted quite the audience for a welcome break. Off we went again onwards and upwards along the Mourne Way, a 1 1/2 mile stretch along loose rock with 500 feet of elevation, For perspective the Scrabo Quarry climb has 364 feet of elevation. Climb complete we turned off before Pigeon Rock towards Rocky passing Slievemoughanmore giving the legs a little break from the climb and back to jumping over rocks and crossing the Rowan Tree River. In previous years this section has been boggy but with the recent dry spell parts were so soft it was like running on a mattress. The last big climb 0.85 miles, 383 feet alongside Rocky down to Leitrim Lodge and Yellow Water River water stop with more cake and giant strawberries. This led us to the final section and we were encouraged by the fantastic water stop crew. We had just 10k to go and it was ‘all downhill’. This was not necessarily true but did seem along with the much needed substance of giant strawberries to give runners a little extra inch in their stride. The Mourne Way then carried us along Rostrevor Forest where we received super enthusiastic support by kids from Friends School, Lisburn who were on the last day of their DOE Silver Expedition, this was most welcome as we were getting tired but we were not carrying rucksacks close to our own body weight and eating undercooked spaghetti for the third day in a row, those kids deserved all the medals. (I do hope they were offered some of those giant strawberries… apologies I digress). The final few miles as always are where the race really happens, we knew Clair was likely finished, Matt and Alan were ahead and in true NDAC camaraderie we supported each other to the end. There were pep talks, laughs, grumps but through it all smiles and a real sense of belonging and comfort. Running down the last 400metres towards the finish line was truly one to remember, the cheers and shouts of support really made it so very special. We finished with a jump and a smile, received our medal and the most incredible festival style atmosphere where everyone in the park seemed to be our friend. We were delighted to see Clair had finished 3rd Lady in the half marathon, a phenomenal achievement given her performance in Hill and Dale just two days earlier. BARF’s Andy Tees won the half marathon in an incredible 1hour 29 mins, coming close to the course record despite the relentless heat! Sharon, our adopted member for the weekend greeted us with a picnic rug, snacks and bottles of prosecco to celebrate and we waved Stephanie on as she boarded the bus for the 10k race. The 10k race starts at Leitrim Lodge, the temperature had been building throughout the morning and the 3pm start time made the conditions for runners that little tougher, however 26 Extreme ‘don’t do easy’ and it seems either does Stephanie placing 2nd female in the 10k race in 47mins just a week after running a PB at the Cork Marathon. We spent a few more hours in the park soaking up the atmosphere before heading back for some well earned post run grub. Valerie’s skills with the BBQ provided what we felt was an absolute banquet. The nutri bullet came out and we discovered all kinds of new ways to enjoy our five a day, Pimms, Hugos and Creamy Summer Lemonade. Alan and Stephanie joined us later in the evening and we could not help but admire Alan’s strength and composure sitting at a table with six rather jolly ladies. Sunday morning we attempted to place a late entry for the club parkrun tourism award by running the route as a recovery run but we knew Chris Downey is far too clever to fall for that one. Rostrevor is indeed a place of true beauty, a place for children and perhaps adults to feel that magic again, where fairies live in the Glen and imaginations can run free. CS Lewis’ love of the landscape is well recorded. Looking forward to next year already, we hope you will join us.
Group photos including (Half Marathon) Clair Quigley 01:54:02 Alan Massey 02:03:05 Matt Ormesher 02:07:33 Lisa Tomalin 02:26:21 Lindsay Doulton 02:26:21 Valerie McDonough 02:26:22 Cara Jeffrey 02:26:22 (and 10k) Stephanie Graham 00:47:00