It was the first time I’d held a loaded gun. It was a .44 Magnum and Jim Brown, the Chief Organiser of the event, disappointingly, had pleaded with me not to kill anyone. As Jim explained the committee hadn’t paid for the adequate insurance cover. Flesh wounds were fine though and so off I went on Day One feeling very powerful indeed as an official Secret Marshall. Having competed in previous years, so far matching my GCSE results of 5 C’s and 2 B’s, this was a Virgin appearance as a member of the “working crew” A chance to see how an amazing event like the Mourne 2 Day actually functioned and how the BARF Club, assisted by a seriously competent and multi tasking back up crew, managed to pull it all together, apparently seamlessly.
I set off to my appointed roosts, a four control cluster area on the slopes of Binian, with the express instructions to enforce Golden Rule Number One, “Teams must visit all controls in their pairs and carry all of their kit”. As I rumbled up Binian I practised looking fierce and what I would say if anyone dared to sneak into a mountain side control alone while his knackered buddy guarded the rucksacks in the thicker air back at sea level.
“You gonna go back and get your partner ? This being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk? “
The morning was bright but the conditions soon deteriorated and it became a wet and windy soul munching kind of day. There’d been so much rain already this summer. Tollymore had introduced Glen River White Water Rafting as an outdoor alternative. The Mournes had morphed into a vast expanse of peaty quicksand with mud thicker than Bill Gates wallet. There was a lot of suffering to come for the hundreds of teams taking part.
Late in the day I encountered my old C Class rivals Gerry Mahon and Mike Nangle. Mike saw me and immediately broke into nuclear grumble mode. A regular state for him. His Mountain Marathon had had a disastrous start. Gerry smirked over his shoulder while Mike detailed his Saturday morning horrors. The night before Mike had put his beloved Mudclaws into the car so that he definitely wouldn’t forget them.
Then ! Disaster. Wife loads Mike’s car up with with rubbish and takes it to the dump. The beloved fell shoes are now the dearly departed fell shoes. Apparently Mike’s Mudclaws (he used to sleep with them under the pillow) are currently being re-cycled. Cue fast dissolving harmony in the Nangle household. The result – divorce – but even worse he had to wear Gerry’s spare pair of Mudclaws – good – but one size too big – bad. His feet were like “Well squashed roadkill” He looked so miserable I almost took out my Magnum. Better dead I thought. I hate to see animals suffer. Actually I liked that vision a bit too much !
There weren’t too many leaving their tents that night. On Day One they had endured the kind of relentless Irish icy precipitation that actually penetrates the blood on a molecular level. Bio-chemists says it’s unique to the Emerald Isle. Mike and Gerry retreated to their sleeping bags. They sucked their thumbs and when they got bored with that they sucked each others. Mike picked up a freak and unique condition. Trench Finger. He told me all about it while grumbling on Day Two. “Can’t grip the bloody compass” That’s what I love about these titanium tough mountain people. They just get on with it.
The teams who had taken part in the one day “Score” event had now departed the scene. This was a first for the Mourne 2 Day and the reviews appeared to be generally very positive. My training partner Greg McCann and daughter Aine had finished a superb third. The difference between me and Greg, a top orienteer, is that I think I know what I’m doing but he actually does. And here was proof.
I slept in the car which was Five Star accommodation compared to what the rest were enduring in the campsite. For Day Two I had an official checkpoint job halfway up Chimney at an old Quarryman’s hut. I was teamed with Mourne 2 Day Treasurer Kerry Hall and fellow first time volunteer Marshall Chris McFarland. Chris is an interesting character and the exact personification of ideal Marshall material. He found himself a perch close to the control. Chris called it his “Power Rock” …. I’m serious here… and shouted at incoming pairs. “Ver is zee partner” in a loud and terrifying voice. He occasionally added “Schweinhundt” which I thought was unnecessary. But the method worked. Next year Chris has asked for a loud hailer and sound system. He needs neither.
At the finish line there were many stories of heroism and terrifying tales of ascents and descents of the Devil’s Coachroad and off piste adventures into the Cove Cliffs. It really is a seriously demanding event and now that I’ve seen it from both sides I’ve even more respect for those who compete and those who make it work.
The calmest man is the one person who would be excused for binge eating Immodium. The Head of Results, Timing and Safety Mark “Brains” Pruzina. I would have been a wobbling, dribbling, tearful mess. And then there’s our beloved Course Planner. This yearly post marathon blog would not be complete without mention of the evil plotter. Terry McQueen with his Hannibal Lecter smile. A census taker once tried to test Terry. He ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. Every competitor will understand my carefully selected annual metaphor.
Now for my excuse. There’d been a reason for missing the 2017 Mourne 2 Day … I’d “accidentally” competed in an Ultra three weeks before the Mourne 2 Day … and I was knackered…. and it was all Greg McCann’s fault. You see Mr.McCann is an Ultra runner. We met for an introductory run. “We’ll go at a slow pace” smiled Greg, “That’ll suit you” A well meaning comment but a huge insult all in the same breath. “You should do a couple of races” he cackled. A winter of training was followed in March by a gentle 50 miler in the boiling heat of an African Safari Park ….. this turned out to be an NDE (Near Death Experience but without the tunnel of Golden Light and welcoming Angels). That race is detailed elsewhere on this blog site. If you like killer snakes and jolly tales of predatory animals ripping carotid arteries you’ll have a real laugh reading it. I have included the photograph of a fellow NDE sufferer below so that you know I am not lying about the heat…!
Unfortunately during my Spring time in Africa I picked up Hepatitis E. I didn’t even know there was an “E”. Maybe there’s a whole alphabet of it …. I dread to think what Hepatitis X is like. Anyway back to my vowel based version. “Very common in African Pygmies” said my Doctor. I couldn’t remember eating one of those. “AFRICAN PIGMEAT” …. no need to shout Doctor ! Anyway the result was a nasty liver virus and 16 hours a day in bed for the best part of a month. There’d been a ten week incubation period. June wasn’t a huge amount of fun.
During our winter of tortoisian slouching round the Mournes Greg (family flowers only please) had persuaded me to enter the above race. A race he had done. “You won’t get in though. It’s the 10th running so there will be big demand” I entered just so I didn’t look like a complete wimp and hoped and prayed Greg was right. I did the Camino Trail, visited Lourdes, joined the DUP, embraced creationism and faced Mecca for additional spiritual support. The “Tour Des Lacs” … the race Greg had suggested … was a tough technical 82k route with 5,100 metres of climbing including a beastly summitting of the Pic Du Midi De Bigorre at over 2,800 metres.
I turned all atheistic when to my horror my entry was accepted. Maybe Mecca was in the opposite direction. Navigation has never been a strength. Greg grinned and I vomited. “A nice introduction to high mountain Ultras” said Greg without changing his expression. “Nice” ?? Don’t you love people who can lie with absolute sincerity.
The Pic Du Midi De Bigorre …. terrifying for a man who finds Butter Mountain intimidating !
Due to the after effects of the Hepatitis (My Doctor said I was the first person to eat a Pygmy and survive) I honestly didn’t have the strength to do much training for the http://www.grandraidpyrenees.com The later Hill and Dale runs nearly killed me. I met a tadpole at the start of the Moughanmore race. He was a frog when I finished. It looked like I’d have to bin the planned Pyrenees Plod. But there is one advantage to being a Non Practising Presbyterian of Scottish ancestry. You see I had paid for the flights and there was no re-fund. So I HAD to go. The plan was to get my money’s worth by enjoying a few days in the Pyrenees and try to make it to Checkpoint Two at 31k. Anyway I wanted to uphold my reputation as the Karl Pilkington of Trail Running. Everyone at the start was encrusted in that Southern European way with impossible sun tans… and rope muscled. I was pasty and chubby. I hid at the back behind a lamppost.
Virtually no-one spoke a word of English. The race village Saint Lary-Soulan just about hangs onto France close to the Spanish border. Apparently the language is a sort of Basque/Catalan/Franco-Spanish combo dialect. I thought my GCSE classroom French would suffice. Every time I tried it I got these strange looks. My confident proclamations were probably translating into something like, “Can you help me my undergarments are full of diesel” or something to that effect.
So off we went … three mega climbs on the route. Stunning scenery. There were a lot of lakes. It was like Fermanagh on amphetamines. Very quickly I discovered that my clever summer training plan of doing virtually nothing had been a miscalculation. Add in the after effects of eating that Pygmy (I’ve written to the family – it was an honest mistake. It was dark. I was hungry. He was asleep. These things happen)
I had ONE pace. 1.87 miles an hour. Uphill, downhill, flats. It didn’t matter. I kept surviving the humiliation of check point elimination by ever decreasing margins beating the cut off at the Pic Du Midi by four minutes. France clearly suited me I was moving at the pace of a sedated escargot.
Look closely … the Pyrenees are upside down which makes them very hard to hold onto. I told you it was a technical race.
One of the problems with being old and slow is that you spend a lot more time in the dark. For me that meant approximately 13 hours in the pitch black… two at the start and the other eleven after nightfall. The final long lonely wet and windy climb up to the Col De Bastenet at 2,500 metres was an experience I won’t forget for a while. At the checkpoint there were several people lying in the tiny marquee in survival blankets shivering and throwing up. They looked like they’d just read one of my blogs.
Fortunately at this point I was able to hook up with two locals. The fine ladies above. Twenty kilometres to go, mostly in the dark, but with company. The mental lift was incredible to be honest. We stumbled into the final checkpoint at Merlans half an hour OUTSIDE the cut off. The Race Director was there. Fortunately a man of empathy. I tried to explain, through a cascade of tears, that I had made a long journey from Ireland and to eliminate me now would be a cruel cut indeed. Or maybe I was saying, “My cheeseboard is collapsing inside my hovercraft” Anyway he got the message and said we could carry on as long as we took a sweeper. One of those impossibly tanned rope muscled types I’d hidden from at the start. How embarrassing.
The only member of BARF in the field. You may only become a BARF member if you can prove a certain level of eccentricity. “Bohemian lunacy” It’s in the constitution.
Twenty six hours and thirty two minutes and 934th out of 937 finishers. But FIRST Irishman. Maybe they’ll build a plaque at the finish.
The end of another shuffling summer. My lawyer says it’s risky under libel law to describe myself as a runner. My admiration for anyone who takes part in any mountain endurance event has been enhanced even further. I still feel like an imposter looking in. Having the pace of a snail with superglue for slime is a kind of confirmation. Helping out at the Mourne 2 Day was one of the highlights. Seeing an event from the observers position was enlightening. Now to think about next year. My chances of making the Salomon Ultra Team may have gone but “Saga Holidays” and “Complan” are showing interest. A sponsorship deal. Time to negotiate.