Niall Gibney’s DRR Report

The Denis Rankin round had been on my radar for little over a year.  Having recced all of the course at various times this year and after an injury free season I felt it was a good time to test myself. A quick mention of the challenge in early June to club mate Gavin Hynds along with the irrefutable code word and he was sold! A date of Sat 29th June was set, recces were planned and both our excitement and panic levels grew.

Backpacks were stuffed full, checked and checked again and an early night was called for. With alarm clock set (I’ll come back to that one later), restlessness started to creep in, along with an irrational fear that I was going to lead us up the wrong mountains. After much checking of the route map on my phone, I managed to dose off into the deepest sleep, only to be woken by someone knocking on the front door thirty minutes after the time I was meant to be up. In a haze of sleep I realised it was Gavin and that my alarm had not gone off. I quickly got dressed, was handed a take away sugary tea (thanks Helen!) and we set off. Gavin laughed about it most of the drive to Newcastle, but I was still in shock about the whole matter!

We arrived at an eerily quiet Donard park (for once, not a boy racer to be seen or heard). Trackers were switched on, the obligatory photo taken under the arch and we were off. The early morning was very humid and brought back memories of climbing Ayers rock with my good friend Andy at a similar time in the wee hours nearly 20 years ago. Climbing up through Donard forest, our head torches caught the reflection of two young deer, which passed by us with little concern. We climbed up to the saddle with good pace and summited Donard right on schedule. The morning was very muggy and warm so we both opted to remove a layer of clothing. On the descent from Donard we started our planned hourly ritual of stuffing something into our mouths whether we wanted to or not. We proceeded onto the top of Chimney Rock and then, after losing the path down, had a bit of a dodgy section to navigate before the ground levelled out. As we headed over to the base of Rocky we were able to ditch the head torches as daylight was starting to improve. With Rocky climbed we headed northwards to cross the river and pick up the path to take us to the brandy pad. This path, quite often hard to find on previous recce missions, revealed itself well and flowed nicely up to the Brandy Pad. It felt a great milestone to reach the familiar brandy pad and as we ran along it we were hit with pockets of strangely warm air. From here Beg and Cove were climbed and as we reached the top of Lamagan a flock of horned sheep seemed a bit distracted by our efforts. The descent off Lamagan was also a challenge as the cloud and mist had really come down on us at this point leaving visibility poor. Nevertheless, we reached the col below and started the ascent of Binian. At the top of Binian South Tor we were greeted by a low flying light aircraft. As we made our descent I could hear a few Mourne accents – a group of lads doing the Mourne wall challenge. We were also treated to a great reflection of Slievenaglogh in the Silent Valley reservoir, truly amazing at that time of the day. The steep descent from Binian didn’t seem as bad as we had found on a recce the previous Saturday. We moved onto Wee Binian and as we dropped down to Silent Valley, loud rumblings could be heard in the distance. “Surely not thunder?” I thought to myself. Thunder was not forecast, and trust me I had been studying different weather forecasts obsessively all week! After finishing section 1 in just under 5hrs it was time for a break. I found a bench by the reservoir, sat down, changed my shirt and quickly demolished some yoghurt and oats. Man, did they taste good. But it was a quick stop and onwards we trotted.

We headed for the wall and after cutting across a bog found ourselves ascending Slievenaglogh. As we did so, the heavens started to open but we had no sooner put our raincoats on that it stopped. Down towards Loughshannagh Lake we headed, treading on the nice sandy path. We followed on to climb Doan and Ben Crom. At this summit I looked over and wondered whether it was worth taking a straight line to our next target, Carn, but since I had not recced that route, thought it was wiser to drop down to follow the Ben Crom river until it disappeared and then over a short length of boggy ground. Over to the stile at the Loughshannagh/Carn col and we then started the long pull up to Carn and Slieve Muck. From here it was a short sharp drop to Deers Meadow for our first proper rest and refuel after covering section 2 in around 3.5hours. Here we were met by the legend that is Therese and her daughter Eimear. We were treated to big mugs of tea and coffee, toast and homemade energy balls all from the
comfort of deck chairs.

 We changed socks and shoes, restocked our backpacks and our fluid bags were topped up with ice brought by Therese. Feeling restored we headed up Pigeon rock to start section 3 which I had in the past likened to an intense assault course. At Moughanmore we stopped at the top and remembered Denis but just at that moment rumbles of thunder began again. We moved onwards to wee Moughanmore and as we were returning to the wall at the bottom of Eagle, large hail stones started to fall. We got a good soaking but to this we were almost oblivious as we stopped to admire NAC’s Seamus Lynch dropping like a stone from the top of Moughanmore, leading the pack in the Spelga Skyline fell race. As we started the steep ascent of Eagle I felt a strange buzzing in my bag. It was indeed my phone alarm going off at 12.55pm (not 12.55am as I had intended it to!) Onwards we climbed, laughing about it and we had soon bagged Eagle and Shanlieve.

 At the top of Shanlieve I looked ahead and unlike previous recces had clear visibility over to the top of Finlieve. Gavin led the way here along the path before starting the obstacle course of giant peat hags. From Finlieve we dropped down the long steep grassy bank to cross the river. To our delight the river was a shadow of its former self some 2 weeks before, when it took us 30 mins and much bravery to cross. We followed a quad bike track for a short stretch before heading up the steep bank between the masts ahead. At Slievemeen we stopped briefly to admire the view and onwards we headed to Slieve Martin.

From here it was a nice grassy downhill stretch to the bottom of the dreaded hill that is Crenville. I didn’t find its terrain too bad and used its long wiry grass as a handrail to keep myself upright. I did think to myself that a wee flock of sheep would do a great job on this mountain for us runners. From the top of Crenville we dropped down to the forest and through a short stretch of trees picked up a path that we were able to jog along to the base of Slievemeel.  Another climb through rough ground commenced and we remarked how much the grass had grown since our last jaunt over it a fortnight before. From the summit we headed for a corner of forest in the region of Kilbroney red bog. After some bog hopping we picked up a trail which took us past the pond over the Yellow Water River through some trees to the base of Tievedockaragh. Up we climbed, knowing that we would be soon out of the jungle and into more familiar territory. From the summit we ran down beside the wall, bounced over it and found a nice flat trail to take us to Pierce’s Castle. At this stage the rough ground and downhills were taking its toll on Gavin’s knee. He quizzed me as to what mountains were left until he could get his hands on his pre-ordered ice pop. On to Rocky we headed. Realising the next food stop was getting closer. I went ahead of Gavin at this stage, stopping at the Rocky water river to refill my water bottle. I then commenced the long, leg sapping climb up Cock Mountain just as the sun really started to burn.  Not sure how many chocolate bars were consumed in the process but I do remember taking my first gel of the day here so it must have been bad. At the summit I did think to myself there is probably an easier way up here than the way I just took straight up the middle of it. From here I could see the cars at Spelga car park and having just drank the contents of my water bottle on the steep climb my thirst really started to grow. Downwards I stumbled from Cock to climb Slievenamiskan and from here made my way down to Spelga Park. At Spelga I was met by my daughter Orla shouting at me to run! If only she knew where I’d been I thought to myself. As I reached the picnic benches I could see that Helen had pulled a blinder with a great spread prepared and all my gear ready for the next leg. Kerry handed me an ice pop which went down a treat. I rested and refuelled on coke, pizza, coffee and watermelon (not in that order) but it has to be said mainly coke!

Gavin then soon arrived and after a quick turnaround we set off together on the final leg.


On the road again!

With bellies full, we marched on up to Spaltha first then back over to Slievenamuck. At this point Gavin was struggling with his knee and we agreed for me to go on ahead to make the 24hr completion time. We reassured each other of the peaks that remained to be visited. I set Gavin’s compass bearing to reach Commedagh summit from the wall/ tower. Gavin’s parting words to me were “knock yourself out mate.” People that know my mountain running history will know that was not the soundest advice to give me!

Up the Ott track I jogged and then up the short sharp climb to Ott Mountain. On the descent I took a high line to the wall. From this point on, I was back in my weekend playground.  Fuelled by the caffeine hit from the coke I seemed to pick off Loughshannagh, the Meels & Bernagh much more easily than I thought I would. At Hare’s gap I gleamed knowing it was just one final long climb all the way to Commedagh and then a freewheel downhill from there.  As I approached the tower at Commedagh, thick cloud came in and settled on top and I had a Joe Simpson ‘touching the void’ moment; feeling guilty for leaving Gavin on his own and worrying how he would get off the top safely. Downwards I started to jog off the last mountain and into the forest. As I emerged from the trees at Donard Park, I was met by Helen, Orla & Finn who raced me to the finish under the arch at Donard Park entrance. With the obligatory photo taken, I got a congratulatory call from Eddie from Primal Tracking who gave me great relief that Gavin was making good progress and was not far behind.

I had a quick freshen up and some food whilst monitoring Gavin’s progress on the tracker link. As he got closer I walked back into Donard Park to the first bridge to meet him. In between bats flying about overhead, I spotted a head torch coming out of the trees. After a manly hand shake we emerged together out of the forest to music blasting from O’Hares pub, to finish under the arch. Two happy boys, the circuit completed, a first for EDAC! A great day out in the magical kingdom of Mourne. This round would not have been possible without the help and support of Helen, Therese, Kerry & the lads from Primal Tracking, Eddie & Rowan. Thanks so much guys!

This round, dedicated to the memory of Denis Rankin, was also completed by me in memory of ‘The Best Man’ Andy Brown MRCVS, 10/01/78 – 11/06/19

Gavin Hynds Rankin Report

The Denis Rankin Round is a 56-mile run taking in 39 peaks in the Mourne Mountains with 6500 metres elevation and it has to be completed in 24 hours. It was created to honour the man of that name, a pioneer in mountain running in Northern Ireland from the 70s until 2013. The first time I had heard of his name was 2 years ago on my 40th birthday during the Hill and Dales when we went to do Moughanmore. Sadly a few years before, Denis had died while competing in the same race that we were about to do. I thought it was very sad that he had set out that night to do what we had been enjoying every Thursday at this time of year and failed to return. Now I’ll never forget his name.

The Round had came up in conversation between Niall Gibney and I four weeks before and it just snowballed with various dates coming up such as next full moons, Summer Solstice etc but we decided on Saturday 29th June as the Hill and Dale season would be over but it would be before I started training for Dublin Marathon plus there would still be plenty of daylight and the grass would not have grown too high. We wanted to try Commedagh in the dark so one Monday night we ended up coming off the mountain at 12.30 saying, “right that’s it, this is definitely happening!”

When you start this, you become obsessed and you read all the Denis Rankin Round Members’ blogs, looking at all the different routes they took as well as any small thing might help . We organised trackers from Primal Tracking. Rowan and Eddie were so kind and helpful and really went out of their way for us. So the date eventually came and we were set – lists done, bags packed and sent to our support team. I told Niall I would collect him at 1.20 am for our 2 o clock start . I pulled into his yard and realised after a few minutes and texts that he wasn’t awake. When I was able to wake him, he seemed dazed and slightly confused, but it turned out to be the only time I was ahead of him that day . No panic, we just started 15 mins later and I reminded him all day that his extra hour’s sleep made the difference.

It was a perfect night, clear and still and off we went. We hit the forest and were met with the eyes of baby deer reflecting by our headlamps and we were just hoping there was no stag close by. I was feeling uncomfortably warm and sweating a lot and was glad to hear Niall felt the same. Our jackets came off at the top of Donard and I was slightly worried that if I was sweating now at 2.00 in the morning what would it be like at 2.00 in the afternoon. We made good time over Chimney and we were able to turn off the head lamps as we crossed the stile to climb Rocky. we continued onto the Brandy Pad, had a nice run over to Beg, Cove and Lamagan in that order We went off the side of Lamagan as it was quite runnable without the boulders . As we heading towards Binnian, we saw a photographer set up to take a picture of the sunrise but it didn’t look like he would be in luck as it was quite cloudy. Our descent to Wee Binnian did not seem half as bad as it was on our recce just a week ago (things don’t seem as bad second time round in my opinion). We met a few guys who were doing the Mourne wall Walk and had a bit of craic with them on the way down into Silent Valley arriving after just over 5 hours which was bang on our prediction.

The round is split into 5 sections but we didn’t think it would be fair to ask anyone to meet us at 7am especially when the gates weren’t even open at that time and in a few hours we would be at the roadside at Deersmeadow at the end of section 2. We followed the wall round Slievenaglogh to avoid the steep bouldered direct line then up the Hill and Dales route of Doan. I started to feel pain in the back of my knee but hoped it would pass. I was slowing and was conscious that Niall was going a lot better than me. We took the river route from Ben Crom to the base of Loughshannagh then followed the wall round to Deersmeadow and the end of stage 2. We were met there by Therese Ruddle who pulled out all the stops – deck chairs, tea, coffee, toast, ice, chocolate salty balls – all you would want. I thought, “I could just sit here and watch the Spelga Skyline Race passing through..” but no, it was onwards and upwards for us. Change of clothes, bellies full and my knee strapped and we were fit to go.

The second half of stage 3 is not nice at all . As we went up Slievemoughanmore, the mountain on which Denis died, I had small thoughts of quitting. I didn’t feel good and even though the skies were dull and there was thunder overhead, I was sweating a lot and I felt I was holding Niall back. As we headed from Wee Moughanmore to the base of Eagle there was lightning then hail, but we were distracted by Seamus Lynch bombing down the mountain miles in front as part of the race. We gave a shout and he was able to give a quick wave . I had always wanted to see leaders run downhill as I am usually too far back. It was impressive! As we went up Eagle, Niall’s alarm went off (he had set in for PM not AM).
We were soon on to the peat hags heading over to Finlieve. When I read some previous reports, people weren’t happy about the hags but I didn’t mind them and there was a bit of a breeze which cooled me down and I was starting to feel better. We had found on our recce that there is a tunnel between trees over to Finlieve. We weren’t sure if they were planted like this on purpose but it worked for us. As we headed down towards the river we met Paul O’Callaghan who immediately asked if we were doing the Round as he said there is no other reason you would be in this area. He was on an anti clockwise recce as he had completed the Round clockwise 2 years ago. We headed up the quad tracks wishing we had a lift on a quad or even run over by one by that stage. We eventually reached Slievemartin and the end of stage 3. We were on the way back now.

Stage 4 – Crenville and Slievemeel will break your heart. Long boggy grass so you can’t see where you are putting your feet and you could go down very easily. The only thing is you are going too slow to hurt yourself. The second half of this stage, my knee and feet were really holding me back on the descents . Niall had gone on a bit in the knowledge I knew where I was going and we had agreed to meet at Spelga at the end of stage 4. We took the Hill and Dales route from Tievedockaragh to Rocky then back on to Mourneway with a huge climb up Cock mountain. I was starting to look at the clock and doubting myself. By the time I was coming over Slievenamiskan I was feeling really sorry for myself then I heard, “Come on Daddy ” from Kerry, Dillon and Ella and this was such a boost. I got stocked up again but couldn’t really eat much. I got changed again and off we went for the fifth and final stage .

I was looking at the clock calculating the hours against mountains and thinking that I might run out of time. My descents were painfully slow but my climbing was good. Kerry and the kids had come up and met me from Ott carpark. I told Niall to go on and I was truly glad he did as I didn’t want to ruin his chance of completion. I watched my son Dillon run down towards Ott carpark shouting back, “Are you serious…I am way quicker!” Haha if only he knew. I now knew I wasn’t going to quit but I did doubt I would make it on time. I wondered had anyone completed the round but run out of time. This was not what I wanted.

I got a confidence boost after Loughshannagh. My descents were still poor but my climbing was still good. Over the Meels I talked to myself. Yes, you can do this, come on! Over the wall and I shuffled down the lesser wall to the base of big bad Bearnagh ! I usually relish the challenge of Bearnagh but not that day. I used the wall as a handrail and pulled and pushed my way up. I was happy to see Hare’s Gap and was still doing calculations in my head but confidence growing. Darkness was upon me but it was simple, just follow the wall. I climbed strongly and I could shuffle in between. As I passed the spring, I knew there wasn’t far to the top, then over the stile but there was further drama. The wind and rain had picked up and there was mist. Visibility was very bad and I had to use my compass properly for the first time ever to find the col. I was cold, tired and couldn’t see, I just wanted off that mountain. I didn’t want to come so close and not make it, then boom there it was! Happy moment. I wanted the path around the ridge, not the one over it. I was aiming for the Mourne Highline finish which we had done in the dark before. The mist lifted and I knew I had loads of time but I took the wrong path. I was at the side of the forest. I didn’t know if I should try and follow the fence or try and go through the trees as I could hear the river on my right. I took my chances with the trees and got a nice path through and I was never so happy to see the Glen River path in my life. I shuffled down and was met by Niall who waited for me.

I hit the Arch a relieved and very happy man 22.41 in total. I am so proud of myself for completing this, and getting my name on the Members’ list. I want to thank Niall. I probably only would have talked about doing it and it was his knowledge that planned our route. I want to thank Helen and Therese for their amazing support, Rowan and Eddie from Primal Tracking (you guys were fantastic). I especially want to thank Kerry, you have been amazing throughout this, not just on the day but for letting me have the time to train for these things and understanding my need to do these crazy things.

Anti clockwise anyone ?

In case anyone reading this is remotely inspired – here are my hot tips

  1. Recce the whole thing to avoid nasty surprises
  2. Get waterproof socks and comfortable footwear
  3. Know your compass bearings (especially where you can’t follow the wall)
  4. Get people to do parts with you if you can, especially legs 3 and 4 as the mind can play tricks on you when alone with your thoughts
  5. Plan food that is nutritious and easily eaten when tired
  6. Stop talking about it and just go for it – the after buzz is incredible!

Good luck

Gavin (no 49)

Rankin Round: 56 miles at 56 years old

I remember being part of BARF team invited to Dawson Stelfox’s office in 2013, Denis was part of BARF and a legend in the mountain running community, he had done so much to promote mountain running and had achieved so much, he was missed and we wanted to honour his name. the meeting was to fine-tune the aspects of the round all the Mourne peaks over 400m, 56miles and 6500m ascent.

I had just completed the Mourne 500m, all the Mourne peaks over 500m so was amazed at what Dawson was suggesting; I really thought it was not possible! The first Barf team relay recce to see if the round was possible was carried out on a wet and cold September day but many Barfers came out to support, we did it in 23hrs and 13mins, ah, but that was a relay, could one person do it? Next year Billy and Greg smashed it in 20hrs and 29mins. Well, that lit a light in me; I’d love to try it. Over the years, in between injuries, I did lots of recces of the route, trying to find the best lines. My knee had prevented me running for two years but now I was getting stronger and I decided to set the date. My husband said I should go on Mastermind, specialist subject “The Rankin Round”, I was always pouring overtimes, routes, the website, it was time.

L-R: Gerry, Gareth, Kathleen
BARF recce (2013) – The very first Denis Rankin Round

Failed attempt
A failed attempt four weeks earlier when I pulled out at Hares gap due to palpitations and lightheadedness (perhaps due to too much caffeine) was hard to swallow, I had let so many people down so close to the finish. I was fast and strong most of the day, but definitely not good going into Spelga. Taryn had been there all day and was looking forward section 5, my legs were strong but I knew something was not right. I was thinking of my daughter Grace who made me promise I’d stop if I wasn’t okay. Despite Taryn’s best efforts which got me to Bearnagh, I really thought I could collapse on Taryn in the dark with heavy mist on top of Bearnagh, I had to stop. When I started talking gibberish, she knew she had to let walk out at Hare‘s gap, even though I still had plenty of time to finish.

Support
Organizing support can be the hardest thing, the logistics take a lot of time and effort. I was lucky that I was able to get so many supporters. It was a privilege to spend time with such amazing mountain runners who are there to help and support you. I had Mourne runners, Dromore AC, Nelson’s running group as well as BARF helping out. My best memories are of everyone who supported to the highest level in both attempts, I was so blessed.

I wanted a dry sunny but cool day for my next attempt and I got the best day, cool in the morning, and sunshine in the afternoon with a cool breeze and the longest day to boot.

Section 1: 5hrs 24mins
Jackie Toal and Steven Morgan ran section 1 with me as they had the first time, starting at 1am. After my failed attempt I wanted to go slower and not push as hard yet somehow we ended up slightly faster up Donard. The sunrise was so beautiful. I wasn’t feeling the strongest, I had been worried that four weeks might not have been enough to recover from the 54 miles and 6000m ascent I had done, this lack of confidence and sense of not being strong enough persisted, it was hard work and I was walking where I would have run before. We surprised campers in a tent at the top of Binnian.

Silent Valley

Section 2: 3hrs 12mins
I had porridge at Silent Valley where Sam Trotter was waiting and off to do the second section. We disturbed someone bivvying out on the top of Doan. I was happier with our line to Ben Crom, little things like that cheers one up. Whilst running to Muck summit a voice said, “keep going, you’re going well”, it took me a minute to locate the voices, it was Mourne runners on the other side of the Mourne wall doing the Spelga Skyline recce, I asked about Steven, Ricky and Ciaran (they had completed the Rankin Round the same night as my failed attempt) and I was told they were behind and would be coming soon. My run down to Muck was fast as I was eager to get to my support team, I was treated like a queen and was amazed at the care of Steven Wallace helping me with my shoes and socks, that was a first, this enabled me to eat my vegetable soup.

Section 3: 3hrs 38mins
I was so happy to be running with Aaron Shimmons, Stephen Wallace and Dominic McInerney, such mountain pedigree and previous completers of the Rankin Round, I was in very good hands. Clifford Morrison had been there for me at my last attempt and was there again to do part of section three. It was great to bump into Steven Bickerstaff and Ciaran whilst making my way to Eagle, I was able to personally congratulate them on their completion of the round four weeks ago. The craic was mighty and even though I didn’t feel strong the guys lifted my spirits and delivered me safely to the Slieve Martin Col where I was meeting Denise Mathers who would run section 4 with me and my old friend and BARFer Ian McCullough.

Section 3 with Dominic McInerney & Stephen Wallace
Section 3 & 4 support at Slieve Martin

Section 4: 4hrs 13 mins
The sun was coming out at this point which always helps. I now look forward to this section as Crenville always defeated me in the past. The tussocks and waist-high grass, it’s impossible to stay upright and the grass had grown so much in just four weeks! Denise on a previous training run had shown me a dream line off Crenville that made such a difference then we were on mountain bike trails for some of this section and my wonderful husband who had been supporting me at the support points rode by on his mountain bike. He drove 120miles that day, ferrying support runners back to their cars. Denise looked after me so well, she took my bag, fed me and gave me first coke of the day, I had been avoiding caffeine after the last failure. She and Ian were so encouraging getting me up the horrid climb of Cock mountain. At Slievenamiskin Denise could see the chippy van was parked at Spelga, oh I craved a sausage supper, no phone coverage so Ian ran on and a sausage supper with lashings of salt and ketchup was waiting for me as the next supporters Aaron again and Aine McNeill got my gear ready for the next section. I was happy, the sun was shining. Gareth one of Rankin round committee was there to cheer on and I felt ok, no palpitations, I could do this. I missed my good friend Taryn as she had been there for me all day on my first attempt and had done section five with me when I had to pull out, she was so good then and I was sorry she wasn’t there this time, I felt I had let her down and wanted to do this for her, though she had promised she’d come to the finish. She had other commitments that day supporting Eoin Keith in his 24hr Energia run.

Great support from Denise Mathers

Section 5: 5hrs 19mins
This was another joy as I got to know Aine better, she was so attentive and caring and the conversation helped that long section to pass quickly. It’s weird not having a pack and getting water and food from others.

Section 5 with Aine & Aaron

Aaron kept the show moving, his lines were great and I needed his encouragement at this stage as everything was hurting, he lent me his poles which were stronger than mine. Also, there was a fault with my head torch but Aaron had a spare one. Another joy was this figure at the top of Meelbeg, calling out my name and skipping down the mountain, it was Joanne Curran.

Descending Slieve Bearnagh

At Commedagh David Glass and Ian McCullough again showed up which was nice, that ridge is long in the dark, normally we run down it in joyful abandon but not tonight. Then Stephen Wallace showed up again with more encouragement. Eventually, we got to the car park, friends starting clapping and shouting, I was starting to get emotional running towards that arch was the most amazing feeling ever. Taryn was there with the biggest smile on her face, so happy for me.

Ricky Cowan was also there the oldest completer, we had a photo taken of the oldest man and the oldest woman to have completed the Rankin round. I had done it, and I had been so blessed with my support, I have so many memories of the little kindnesses which make me smile.

Stephen Bickerstaff & Ricky Cowan

Big thanks to Rowan and Eddie from Primal tracking for providing the tracker.