It had to be done: a night run from Drumgoff to Glendalough. So instead of the usual warm pub and cold pints last Friday night, I found myself instead in the dark in Glenmalure Inn car park at 7.30pm. Paul Nolan, Jason Reid and myself had thought it a grand old idea to go running around the mountains in the dark, to see how much you can really see up there under the moon and the stars.
So why would want to ever do a thing like that? Well it all goes back to the Wicklow Round and the time you decide to start your attempt.
Back in July 2008, I had a go at the Wicklow Round, a long distance run in the Wicklow Mountains up 26 peaks over 100km with 6,000 metres of climb to be completed in 24 hours. My training splits said I could complete the Round in 20 hours. This meant that I could do Kippure (the first peak) at night, the sun would rise around 4am, and I could get home again before darkness descended once more. My utter fear of the dark and the desire to avoid it at costs meant that I opted to start my attempt at 2.30am in the morning, arriving in Sally Gap just as the sun began to rise. My aim was to get off the third last peak, Tonduff North before it became dark again around 10.30pm. However, mist and tiredness throughout the day delayed this descent, leaving me on the top of Tonduff in the pitch black with howling winds and coldness setting in. I mentally and physically unravelled from there.
The other disadvantages of starting at such an early morning time have since become more apparent to me. First by beginning at 2.30am, you are effectively starting the round having already been awake for a full day. The day before my attempt, I tried to sleep from 5pm-11pm, but only succeeded in tossing and turning the whole time. Secondly, you can only really have a genuine stab at the Round if there’s fine weather. Back in July, I wonder if the heat of that fine warm weather on wet boggy hills caused mist to fatefully stick in West Wicklow until 10.30am. Lastly, there was definitely a psychological effect caused by having to run all day wondering if I’d make it to Tonduff North before dark: any minute lost only caused more stress as it was practically impossible to make those minutes back on route.
The alternative to starting at 2.30am is to start around the middle of the day. Instead of then racing all the way round to Tonduff North, you are aiming first to only get halfway, and to arrive in Drumgoff before sunset. Drumgoff to Mullacore to Derrybawn to Camaderry to Wicklow Gap are all on forest tracks and vague mountain trails which can then be done in the dark. Then, if you are attempting around May / June / July time, the sun should rise around Tonlagee, and then it’s a run all the way home in the daytime. With three distinct parts to the Round, I figure it could be easier to pace yourself and mark off the milestones. In addition, you’re starting your round after a good night’s sleep and a full-on breakfast.
And that’s why we were out last Friday scouting out Mullacore and Derrybawn when most others were enjoying themselves in the local pub. With a three quarter moon and an overcast sky, we were still able to see quite clearly the outlines of the hills. I remained cautious however and fastidiously followed my compass bearings. It was amazing though that, despite the lack of light, my splits were quite comparable to those done during broad daylight.
All in all, these are the two realistic options about what time to start the Wicklow Round. Already, there are some who insist on an early morning start. There are others who are on for beginning in the middle of the day. In the end, it depends on individuals: how fast they run, how comfortable they are with night navigation and how good they cope with sleep deprivation.
So there’s my thoughts on the matter. What do the rest of you lads think? Silence will obviously mean you all agree!