by Robbie Marsh
On Sat 13th July at 2am five hearty souls stood under the arch in Donard car park ready to take on the Denis Rankin Round, this magnificent course has been hot over the last few weeks with some great attempts ending both with success and failure. They say a true challenge is one that completion is never guaranteed, and with only 24hrs to traverse all of the Mourne mountain peaks over 400m it would take a lot of skill and luck to complete the 90km course, with over 6500m of ascent strong navigation skills would be required to ensure success.
The team was made up of Sean Nickell the key lead out man and navigator who has more miles under his belt than the proclaimers, Marty ‘Chipper’ Campbell and Barry McCarroll all three of which had competed in races such as the 108 mile Donegal Hero, Keith Clarke Deca-Ironman and Mark Weir who’s experience racing through the Mournes would become invaluable. There was a harsh head wind and low visibility during phase one but the team who worked well together were in high spirits as they reached Binnian Summit for their first fuel stop at 06:48.
As the weather started to clear they had a simple hike through the heart of the Mournes taking on rewarding views from the summit of Doan and Muck before descending down into Deer Meadow for some warm soup and their second fuel stop of the day 11:25. Mark Wier was the only one hitting difficulty at this stage as the sole of his shoe decided to fall apart after kicking the mountain, this was a complication with grit and dirt continuing to enter his shoe making it difficult to protect his feet but he persevered to the next fuel stop where help would be waiting.
Moving into phase three the weather provided superb visibility which helped with the navigation, the sun came out and hydration become increasingly important and the third fuel stop was welcomed on top of Slieve Martin 15.16. Mark received a new pair of shoes and the team changed crucial items such as socks and replaced their calories ready to take on the next section. It was from this point that the challenge became increasingly difficult, long grass, deep moss, and the lack of trails meant that the team had to raise the bar and although Mark had a valiant attempt his kit failure resulted in him retiring at Pierces 18:01 his feet were destroyed and blisters prevented him going any further.
Three of the team met at Spelga 19:44 for their final fuel stop with Keith coming in 20 minutes later to refresh and collect himself ready for the next stage, slightly behind schedule the team set off for Spaltha with a strong determination to succeed. Tiredness started to creep in but as they rolled off the summit of OTT they were once again met with the guidance of the mourne wall, this was a welcomed sight with some of the more technical climbs ahead enabling them to focus their energy on moving forward and as darkness fell the winds started to rise and the temperature dropped.
As the team of three ascended towards Commedagh Keith stubbornly ascended down Meelmore towards Bernagh but it was becoming more evident with every step that he wasn’t going to make the cut off time and for safety reasons the decision was made to cut across the brandy pad missing out the last three summits seeing him finish in a time of 25hrs 31min. A team of five became a team of three and together Sean, Barry and Marty worked together to reach the last summit Commedagh at 23:47, it was a long decent but the fine line between success and failure this time fell on the right side for the remaining three finishing at 01:09 back to the arch in Donard Car Park where they stood 23hrs and 9 minutes earlier.
This report was written by crew member Robbie Marsh, you can read the report of their pursuit on the Denis Rankin Round Members page when published, in the meantime why not tune into The Inspirational Runners Podcast and listen to the latest episode where the team talk about their adventure covering technical advice such as safety kit, nutrition and the challenges that they faced.