Wicklow Round – Group Effort or Go Solo?

As of 2011, three people have completed the Wicklow Round on their own. And one group of three people have finished it together. So which is best? Going alone or as part of a crowd?

Paul Nolan, Paul Mahon and Jason Reid completing the Wicklow Round as a team

The question only came to mind last week when I gave a talk at Basecamp on the Wicklow Round together with Paul Nolan. Paul was one of the awesome threesome that is the only group thus far to complete the Wicklow Round. During the Q&A session, it was obvious that we were giving pretty different answers to the same questions. And many of these differences seemed to come about due to our different team compositions.

The first obvious difference was around transitions, when we would pick-up food from supporters on the roadside. Paul’s regime was that they had a minute to complete it. What with three of them in the team, it was important that they kept moving, that no one faffed around. I took far longer. But this wasn’t because I am inefficient. It was because I hadn’t seen anyone for hours, and needed to quickly debrief to them what was going on out there. I needed them to know that I was fine. I needed a few minutes for them to give me a little bit of encouragement to continue on. As Paul and his team had each other for this function whilst they were still on the mountains, they didn’t need to use their transitions for such chat and catch-ups.

Paul, Paul and Jason heading towards Tonlagee from Wicklow Gap on their 2009 Wicklow Round.

Next issue was around route choice, particularly between Scarr and Knocknacloghue. Paul and co. took a route that involved stripping down and swimming across a river. I, on the other hand, wanted to avoid any intrepid routes that could potentially lead to sudden death. Being alone, and female, meant that I chose routes that I knew I could complete on my own. Being in a group, I may have risked taking other routes that I could complete with a helping team-mate’s hand.

Proving it to myself second time around that I could go solo. Photo courtesy of Andrew McCarthy.

Another thing differentiating group and solo attempts is around keeping motivation up. I often wonder if I would have completed the Wicklow Round back in 2008 if I had run with Andrew McCarthy as originally planned. Instead, when I was emotionally and physically drained close to the end of my first attempt, I made a stunningly slippery descent to giving up within the space of an hour with only 20 kilometres to go. There was no one around to stop me. Paul instead talked about their group’s scoring system on summits. On all the tops, their team members stated how they felt on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best. When one team member hit a score of 3, the others rallied around. It must have worked, as all of them completed the Round together on their first attempt.

Me going it alone in 2008 - All going downhill from here. Photo courtesy of Gavan Doherty.

The final issue of going group or solo is around speed. On your own, you can go whatever speed you want. When with others, there will always be someone feeling fine who’s picking up pace. And there will always be another hanging on for dear life. Paul talked about a team mate who naturally sped up after 16 hours. At one stage towards the end, Paul shared how he had told the other two to go on so that they could record a better time, and that he would finish behind. Paul was immediately told what he could do with that suggestion. They all finished together as one team. Also, given that I have recorded the slowest time thus far of the Wicklow Round, I think I would have felt guilty if I had teamed up with any of the others because I would have slowed them down.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do the Wicklow Round. Paul Mahon, a team mate member of Paul Nolan on that successful Round attempt, firmly stated to me once that he wasn’t interested in going solo. On the other hand, I needed to prove to myself that I could do it on my own. So it’s probably more about finding out what suits you as individual and deciding whether you want to do it with others or to simply go out there alone.

Want to read more about the Wicklow Round? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears”.

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3 thoughts on “Wicklow Round – Group Effort or Go Solo?

  1. +1, very interesting article. Each method is so different. The solo challenge is all the greater I feel. The motivational and other benefits to being in a group are great. And thats not to downplay the achievement of doing it as a group.. its a great achievement either way.

  2. Hi moire,
    This is something I have on my radar to do in the not too distant future and I think I would be like you in wanting to give it a go solo. Just gotta get up there for some recce’s soon

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