A few years ago I thought I wouldn’t mind doing the mourne wall walk. This type of walk would be very challenging due to the fact that it long (22 miles) plus the fact that you are going up and down 7 mountains one after another. Anyone who has went up Donard can tell you that it’s difficult enough.
I came across the www.mournewaymarathon.com and thought I’d do it. Its basically a hell of a lot easier in that although longer in distance (26.2 mile), it would be generally walking trail paths with minor gradients throughout.
Prior the event I enquired about whether my dog McGregor could go and was advised only if on lead. I stayed the night before at the folks house in Newcastle then on the morning went to Rosstrevor to register, leave car and get bus back to start in Newcastle Donard Park.
When the bus was taking us to Newcastle the driver was very thoughtful in that he thought it would be a good idea to acclimatise us for being outside for several hours so he turned his heat full blast which felt like 30 degrees resulting in me nearly nodding off for ½ hour trip. Thankfully I woke up on arrival and decided that when everyone else was setting off starting at 8am I would delay my start and nip around and collect McGregor at my folks house. 20 minutes later we were passing through the timing mat on our own with everyone else ahead of us. After entering the Donard Forest I let McG off the lead and no sooner had I did this he did a runner to his local river spots seeking a play and fetch game with me. Little did he know that I had ignored him and had dandered off. 5 minutes later I realised he wasn’t behind me. It took me 15 minutes to eventually track the little bugger down. When he came running up to me he was frantically panting obviously he had been running around searching for me as well. Little did he know what lay ahead of him. So we set off.
Have to say that the initial signing of the course was a bit poor with multiple arrows at some junctions. I had to get the iphone mapping system and my ordinance survey map I had out to clarify and guess the initial part of course in the first mile or two. After 20 minutes of walking I had my first encounter – two dogs walking directly towards us. I feared that Big Mac would start fighting them, but strangely enough he was fine with them. I very quickly realised why, in the distance behind the dogs was there owner – my uncle Frank. You see my uncle is known for his daily long mountain walking routine and I put two and two together, McG had obviously been comfortable with them as I’m sure my dad had previously taken McG out with my uncle and his dogs before. After a five minute chat with Frank I set off again hoping that we wouldn’t be delayed any further.
After this it was fairly quiet for the next 6 miles or so heading out towards Tollymore forest and into the heart of the Mournes. In Tollymore there was a long river that McGregor loved playing fetch the stick. This worked out well as the water would cool him down for the walk ahead.
After about 6 miles we had our first bite and had a chance to take in some of the panoramic views.
The route trails consist of stoney paths, large pebble pathways and mud paths to a large extent. Occasion signposts are official mourne way signs also. Within the first 10 mile I realised that I made a mistake in sock choice wear with my boots, I was wearing cheap sport socks instead of walking boot socks.
At about half way I started to feel the difficulty setting in and decided to eat one of my flasks of either soup or beans. Little did I realise 4 hours is far too long to expect these to have kept warm so I had cold soup while I decided to give McGregor the beans which refuelled my walking buddy – I could see he was starting to feel well walked already J
The feet were sorer as I progressed although I thought that it would never get too bad. (I was wrong). From here on in I started to see more frequently others either I passed or they passed me. I also saw some crazy people - people who were running the entire way, then I later encountered some real nutters –the ultra runners – two marathons back to back !!!
Anyhows, the latter part of the route was fairly busy. I seemed to hit the last 10k at the same time as a 10k race had begun resulting in me and mcg struggling to keep out of the torrential stream of runners running past us. Mcg didn’t know were to walk – poor mcg.
Have to say the last 3 or 4 miles was very difficult. Every step was very painful on the blisters on both my heels. Fellow competitors as they passed offered their sympathies and I tried to take my mind off it my deep breathing – I must have looked as if I was having contractions J
As I approached the final few yards I was pipped to the post by Hannah Shields (if you don’t know who she is she is the first NI women to conker Everest – I had met her before doing the Ben Nevis Walk for Ulster Cancer Foundation many years ago) Some may say that a few seconds behind her isn’t bad, however when you hear the MC guy shout out ‘congratulations to Hannah Shields –Ultra Marathon Finisher’ followed by ‘and well done to Philip Ward - walker’ it all puts in perspective the entrants – theres me out for a wee stroll through the Mournes…..and then there is those crazy nutters running not one but two marathons in the friggin mountains !