Wicklow Round 2012 – Report
The Wicklow Round had been lurking in the back of my mind for a number of years. Its something different, a challenge, not a race, an itch that needs to be scratched. These are the main elements which attracted me to the “The Round”. Only now did I consider myself equipped to take on the challenge. The experience gained over the last number of years through Adventure Racing, Mountain Marathons, Navigation Challenges and Orienteering led me to believe I had what was necessary. Thats the logic anyways… funny enough how it would turn out to be my first proper Ultra!
I wasn’t alone. I had talked to Richard on a number of occassions about a Round attempt. We decided 2012 was the year. In the months running up to the attempt, and as word got around, we were joined by Greg Byrne, Adrian Tucker and Billy Reed. Alot of time and effort went into preparation. Adrian’s previous unsuccessful and successful attempts were of vital asistance. We also called on the expertise of current Wicklow Round record hold Eoin Keith for advice on the most optimal route. We knew the majority of the route but their were question marks over some sections (Silsean – Oakwood, Carrawaystick – Drumgoff, Scarr – Knocknacloghoge, Tonduff North – Prince Williams) Each of these sections were recced and we were happy with our choices.
We had originally planned for an attempt in early May but the weather Gods conspired against us. I was happy enough as it gave me an opportunity to recover from the GodZone Adventure Race and slowely get back into training. The weeks passed and the weather showed little sign of improvement. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and just wanted to go. Richard was glued to the weather forecasts and we received updates almost daily. “Met Nunan” was on top of it but just as the weather started to turn in our favour Richard picked up a nasty chest infection. At the same time Adrian had to pull out after getting plantar faciatis, so we were a man down. It was bad timing. As the June bank holiday approached it looked more and more like this would be our only chance. Richard was no closer to recovering in the week leading up but we made the descision to go Sunday morning at 2 a.m. A late weather warning on the Friday meant we had to bring it forward 24 hours. A flurry of emails on the Friday and a last minute phone call to Billy and we were all set to go Saturday morning at 2 a.m
We met at Gregs apartment, transfered our gear to the support vehicle and made our way to the start at the Kippure service road. It was a mild night but the cloud cover meant we would get little benifit from the full moon. At least we had no mist to contend with. After a few photo’s and words of encouragement we set off 5 minutes early at 01:55am. Eoin yelling after us “now lads, don’t fall over in the first 100 yards like Jason!”. It felt good to be finally on the Round. Leaving the service road our taughts immediately switched to conditions underfoot. We were pleasantly surprised, conditions were good, not perfect but considering the weather we had we were happy. Summiting Kippure we had a magnificent view of the Dublin city lights. The view was interrupted by Richard who was already vomitting and struggling with the affects of his chest infection. We took the road down off Kippure and there was not let up in pace approaching the Sally Gap. We each picked up a small rucksack each with bladder and made our way up Carrigavore. It was still dark but we could see the sillouettes of Gravale, Duff Hill, Mullaghcleevaun and the immediate route ahead. We had a magnificent view of the sunrise as we summitted Mullaghcleevaun. It suggested we may have some warm weather to contend with for the remainder of the day. Our splits up until now had us on track but we were now starting to fall behind. We had hoped that Richard’s condition would improve as he got into it but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. It was clear that he would be unable to continue once we got to the support point at Ballinagee Bridge. Crossing from Moabane to Silsean Richard instructed us to go on ahead without him. It was a brave attempt on his behalf.
We were now three. Eoin and Karen were waiting for us at Ballinagee Bridge and fresh from an hour or two sleep were happy to see us. We had a slight dillema as Karen’s small car would not have enough room to take an additional passenger now that Richard was pulling out. Eoin quickly changed into his running gear and fell in behind for the next section across to Drumgoff. It is worth pointing out that Eoin did not help us in anyway breaching the rules of the Round. He did manage to take some wonderful photo’s all the same It was still early morning and the mild temperatures made conditions excellent for running. The terrain heading up Oakwood, across by the 3 Lakes and to Table Mountain is some of the most difficult on the Round but we seemed to move well. We had some great running on our approach to Lugnaquilla and with clear sky’s we had a magnificent vista. We had plenty of time to take it all in as we trekked toward the summit. Spirits were high and stories a plenty. We took the opportunity to get some fluids on board in preparation for the descent to Drumgoff which would be fast. After Carrawaystick we hit the fire road and then it was all downhill picking up the Wicklow way before hitting Drumgoff. The downhills are punishing and this particular descent goes on for ages. As we approached Drumgoff we were greated by Adrian who came out to offer his support. It was great to see another friendly face and in particular someone who had done it all before and knew how you might be feeling.
There were more friendly faces at the support car. Richard, Trish and the kiddies. We took some food on board and switched from our rucksacs to lighter bumbags. We had completed the two longest sections and would now see the support vehicle at more regular intervals. Distance wise we were roughly half way and now turning to head for home. The toughest climbs still lay ahead but it felt good that every step was a step closer to the finish. It was a good time to take stock. Without saying it in the run up to the attempt I think we all wondered how taking on the Round as a group would work out. It’s a very difficult challenge to find the perfect balance but I think our experiences of Adventure Racing played an important role in us finding our rythmn. The pace was fast, no one was in their comfort zone but yet the unit was strong. I felt on the limit but in control, exactly where I like it.
Heading up Mullacor I looked back to see someone chasing us down in full cycle gear. It was Paul Nolan who had missed us at Drumgoff but caught us up. He wished us luck before returning back down the hill. We were blown away by the gesture. It seemed like no time until we were skipping along the ridge across to Derrybawn before descending to Glendalough. As we approached the support car Karen jumped out in shock saying “your not suppose to be here yet!” We had given instructions to have some hot food waiting for us from the cafe but we were ahead of schedule. Karen still managed to get the hot food by skipping the long queue. The trek up Camaderry is tough on fresh legs but with 70+ km under your belt and a bag of chips in your hand it takes on a whole new dimension. We were still power hiking our way up Camaderry and moving at a fair clip on our way accross to the Resevoir and down to the Wicklow Gap. We noticed a few rain drops on the descent and we could see cloud coming in over Tonglagee. We’d been blessed with the weather so far but it was begining to show signs of cracking. The climb up Tonglagee was long and visibility was poor at the top. We took a bearing before starting our descent and heading to Glenmacnass waterfall. The descent to the carpark was fast. It was a little colder now and we took the opporunity at the car park to change some gear before the heading out on the next section which was longer. Heading up Scarr we let our taughts drift for a moment toward actually finishing. We had faught the temptation all day. Having recce’d this section I was happy to put off any such taughts until we reached the summit of Djouce. The route from Scarr to Knocknacloghoge was to backtrack and head back down to the forrest before crossing the river and picking up Logans way. The recce’s were paying dividends and we had very little use for our maps all day. We still had a fair amount of daylight to chase on the way home. Everyone was still strong and in good spirits so we had no problem chasing. The view from Knocknacloghoge was stunning. I had only been to this summit once before and it is quickly becoming my favourite. Lugalla next and the route was simply a straight line down and then back up. It was a tough climb at this stage of the Round but there was another more difficult climb in the form of Djouce which lay ahead. Coming acrooss Logan’s way, heading up Knocknacloghoge and across to Lugalla you couldn’t help notice the signs of immenint growth which would no doubth have made our route more challenging if we had to postpone to a later date. At the summit of Lugalla we could just about make out Karen’s small car parked at Sheepshanks bridge. We stayed high before turning at right angles for the bridge. The heather was up but we still had some good downhill running conditions to the stream before making our way up to the bridge. Here we were greated by a large group of supporters. Brendan Lawlor, Grainne, Richard, Karen and Adrian were there waiting for us which was great.
The weather was about to turn against us and we geared up for what would be a very wet section. Our large band of supporters wished us well as we set off. The route from the bridge up Djouce was again a straight line. The rain must have distracted me because I remember thinking that the terrain was worse when we had completed a recce of the section a couple of weeks before. Reaching the summit of Djouce we didn’t hang about, it was cold and the rain seemed to be getting alot heavier. Visibility was poor and growing worse by the minute as we made our way over War Hill. The summit of Tonduff North was covered in mist and we wasted a few minutes pinpointing the summit. We actually ended up visiting the summit 3 times and in the process hit Tonduff South twice with Billy counting paces to ensure we hit the correct summit. Eoin tagged along for this leg and in the surrounding mist was a haunting presence, an especially useless haunting presence. We were working completely off map and compass at this point and two bearings later we found ourselves back at Military Road exactly where we would have wanted to rejoin it. Here we met Adrian who took some fantastic photo’s which he entitled the “Gorilla’s in the mist”. Adrian drove behind us for safety purposes allowing us run in front. I’m not sure how but we were all still strong and moving well. Karen had the car waiting for us at Lought Bray. At this point we were soaked to the bone and the cold was taking its toll. A complete change of cloths was required before setting off on the home straight. The weather was miserable but it couldn’t dampen our spirits. We were within touching distance of the finish. We had a convoy of cars behind as we sped down the road before reaching the forest entrance and starting the gradual climb to Prince Williams Seat. The legs were sore and the pace dropped. We had chased the light all day and it finally ran out leaving the summit of Prince Williams Seat and heading for Knocknagun. We bumped into some people from Mountain Rescue en route to Knocknagun who were surprised to meet 3 hardy souls in race gear in what were now inclement/complete shite conditions. Back on the road and back on the gas for the final kilometer to the finish. We were determined to break the 21 hours and we did, finishing in a time of 20 hours and 56 minutes. The 3 of us stood in the middle of the road in the pouring rain grinning from ear to ear happy with our days work We were congratulated by our large group of supporters which had swelled further to include Gareth Little. We received a bottle of champagne, kindly provided by Eoin, which was opened with care as we were in desparate need of refreshment other than water or some form of electrolyte mix.
After having some time to reflect and recover from the Round I finally set about writing this report. It wasn’t an easy task. I’m use to writing reports about Adventure Races or Mountain Marathons that tend to have many dimensions be they tactical, strategic or otherwise. The Round is very different. You eliminate as many of the risks in advance through recce’s, weather reports, watching moon cycles and conversations with people who have made attempts. The preparation is vital, can sometimes feel endless and can become frustrating. At the end of it you are still left with the same challenge:
“A looped course covering 26 peaks totaling over 100K and over 6,000M climb inside 24 hours.”
As challenges go its probably the purest form of endurance I have experienced. I don’t have the words to give a proper insight into what you will experience during a Round attempt. You’ll meet your own deamons along the way but I am continually surprised by the punishment the human body can withstand.
On behalf of myself, Greg, Billy and Richard I would like to thank our support team of Karen and Eoin. It was great to have such an experienced bunch supporting us on the day. A special thank you to everyone who came out on the day to offer words of encouragement. It is also worth mentioning the patience of our partners who had to sacrifice weekends and put up with each of us obsessing about the Round.