The Seven Sevens – A Southerners Perspective

by Gareth Little

I had not planned to do this race at all so the decision to venture up north was very last minute for me. I knew Mike Jordan was keen to take part. Pol O’Murchu and Alan Ayling soon came on board too. It was to be the four solo boys from the Stonecross to Lug relay back for more madness!

I was driver for the trip so I was up early on Saturday. I got a good breakfast in and then hit the road to pick up Mike and Alan at Mike’s place. With the three of us in the car we headed for the M1 where we were to pick up Pol along the way. We arrived at the start location at 09:20 so had 40 minutes to get registered and packed for the day ahead. For £10 you really can’t go wrong here, the value for money is excellent!

We had just gotten our race brief from the guys in charge and we set off at 10:07 Straight away two runners took a different line but we decided to stick with the main pack for fear of getting lost. The four of us pretty much stuck together for the first two kilometres. Mike decided to head left and up the Black Stairs but myself, Alan and Pol continued on straight as we wanted a slightly longer but less steep climb up Donard. When I got to the foot of Donard I was now ahead of Alan and Pol was behind him. Seeing as we were all split up now it was very much race on between the four of us! I was interested to see who would reach the summit first between myself and Mike as we had both chosen different approaches. I was about twenty metres from the summit when Mike passed me heading down so his route turned out to be slightly quicker.

I handed my timing tag into the summit marshals and did a 180 turn and set off in pursuit of Mike. I passed Alan and Pol on the way down and then was able to catch Mike. I hit the saddle and was straight into another climb up Commedagh. Big drops that lead straight into big climbs were to be the story of the day. The mountains up here are a different ball game to the gentle rolling hills of Wicklow.

Climbing Commedagh

Climbing Commedagh

It was not long until I hit the summit of Commedagh, well it was not quite the summit as the marshals situated there checkpoint slightly south of the main summit. Timing tag two was quickly handed over and I left the summit and headed west along the mighty Mourne wall. After a few hundred metres of running by the wall I pealed off left and descended down to the Brandy Pad and ran towards Hare’s Gap. I knew Bearnagh from previous trips up to the Mounre’s and knew it would be a tough climb. I was at its base and could see it towering in front of me. It was a daunting task but one that needed to be ticked off the list so off I set at a slow but steady pace. I managed to get a few chats in with some of the NIMRA runners on the way up, all of whom were a very friendly bunch.

Bearnagh was a beast of a climb and one I was glad to have behind me. From here the nav was easy, it was just a case of following the wall to Meelmore and then onto Meelbeg. The weather was great and the ground conditions were excellent, perfect all round for the competitors out on the hills. I had not seen Mike or Alan behind me but knew that they were not too far behind so I pressed on. After Meelbeg there was a decent section of open mountain which provided some good running. I knew from the Mounre 2 Day marathon last year that there was a decent track along Bencrom River so tried to pick that up as soon as I could.

All was going smoothly until I went a tiny bit too far south while attempting to contour around to the Dam. As a result I could see some people pass me over my left shoulder a bit higher up on the hill. Only a minor problem and I soon found myself at the Dam without losing out too much. I was able to fill my water bag with some dam water that had been hoisted up in a bucket. It was not the nicest water to look at but I was not too worried about it. Just as I was filling my water Mike showed up. He had managed to catch up with me. As I was done with the water stop and he was only starting his, I shot off and tried to build back up some sort of a lead. I crossed the dam and and was greeted with what I can only describe as a monster climb up towards Binnian. I stood at that point for a good ten seconds straining at it. This was the direct route and the route I had planned to take but after staring at it I decided to contour around and take the slightly easier but longer route. I later learned that Mike and Alan chose the direct route and they said it was a killer!

I swung around the north of Binnian and started climbing up Buzzard’s Roost. The climb just went on and on, it really felt like it was never going to end! My legs quite tired now and I was suffering from cramps in my groin and calves due to the steepness of the hills. I was not sure at the time about Alan but I had a feeling Mike was going to take the direct route up Binnian so I was interested to see who would summit first.

What seemed like an eternity later I reached the summit and was happy that neither Mike nor Alan had passed me which meant that they were still behind me. I knew I had a slender lead on them so I vowed to really push hard on the downhill and try and extend my advantage. It was not long after I had started my decent that I passed Alan who was still on the way up. I asked him where Mike was and he said just behind him so I knew it was still very tight between the three of us two thirds into the race.

There were quite a lot of walkers on the hill which all had to be navigated around at speed. There was good running for the most part but some of the path was quite steep and rocky so that they needed to be taken at a more sensible speed. I had not really looked at the map too much so far but as I only had a small lead over my two companions I wanted to make sure I knew where I was going on the last leg of the race. I took out the map just after the saddle on the approach up the last mandatory peak of the day, Lamagan and had a look over it. It seemed straight forward enough, I just had to continue north and hit the Brandy Pad and then veer right which would then take me back to the style at the western foot of Donard.

As I was skirting around Cove Mountain and Slieve Beg I bumped into Denise Mathers who I ran with for a time. We were exchanging stories of past accomplishments and future goals. Denise had just told me about her recent completion of the Mounre 500 which is a fine achievement! We parted ways on the Brandy Pad and I took off still not knowing where the two guys behind me were. I had to presume that they were close so I could not let up in my speed.

I have noticed in a few of my longer runs that I get a burst of energy towards the last few kilometres. It must be the realisation of knowing that the finish is close. I crossed the style and I knew I was on the home stretch. I just had to run the path back down to the forest and I would nearly be home. I had a guy in front of me and a guy behind me for the last three or four kilometres and we were going at a fast pace. I had only been through Donard forest once before in this direction so was not 100% confident I knew the optimum route so I opted to stay in this little trio formation we had going on. After about three kilometres I chose to overtake the lead runner but soon realised that this was a bad move as the options in front of me started to open up and I was not sure which was best.

As I was deciding which route to choose the runner I had just passed appeared about 10m in front of me! He must have taken a little short cut to regain his lead. So we were back to our original formation for the moment. I knew I had the power to overtake him again but decided to wait to the last minute this time. We got out of the forest and back onto the tarred surface and with the finish only about 400m away I mad my overtake move to secure a 21st place finish in a time of 5h 10m.

I was delighted to have crossed the line but was truly wrecked! I looked quite the state too with a bloodied knee and shin but did not care as all I wanted to do was lay in the grass. I was a good 10 minutes before I got up and got some of the sandwiches and some orange drink from the race tent. Soon after I had gotten in I saw Mike crossing the line in 26th with a time of 5h 22m who was followed closely by Alan who crossed the line in 30th place with a time of 5h 30m.

Another hard day done

Another hard day done

The three of us were sitting by the finish very happy with our days work and to top off the day there was a local air show going on overhead. We got to see spitfires, vulcan bombers, euro fighters and the red arrows. A great way to finish off a great day!

After some showers and more food we saw Pol who crossed the line in 61st with a time of 7h 37m. We congratulated him and as soon as he got his stuff together we hit the road back to Dublin full of admiration for the Seven Seven’s. What a steal for only £10! Will definitely be back next year!

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