Chasing after the Danes in The Sperrin Mountains’ Raid

“We have to go out fast”, our team leader said. We all agreed. Looking around the room, there was some serious competition. Not only had Irish team “Get No Sleep” turned up, but there was a group of foreigners in our midst. They had to be good if they were sponsored by Salomon and had travelled all the way from Denmark just to race.

Night biking during CCAR’s Raid in the Sperrin Mountains.

We were in Northern Ireland’s Sperrin Mountains for CCAR’s Raid, a 24 hour adventure race on the cusp of winter time. We were prepared for 13 hours of darkness and wet, boggy mountains. We were even ready for the clocks going back by an hour in the middle of the night to mark the official beginning of winter.

Andreas Kusch enjoying riding the Sperrins before it got dark and cold.

Other teams had similar race tactics of setting a brutal pace. No sooner than we were started, everyone charged up Crockbrack Mountain for the first control. We reached there first, but were quickly followed by the Danes. I had figured that, living in a flat country, they’d be useless on the hills. Little did I know how wrong I’d be.

Our team, Outfront – Peter Crommie, Me, Paul Mahon and Adrian Hennessy – running after the Danes.

With the Danes now ahead of us, our race plan had to change. “Going out fast” changed to “Follow the Danes”. It was a inspired idea. We headed to Derrynoyd Wood and proceeded to follow them around the orienteering course. Their slick navigation saved us minutes and we came out of the woods neck and neck.

Hillary picking up an orienteering control in Derrynoyd Wood.

We sat together for the next few hours whilst we trekked over the mountains, watching and waiting for the other team to make a move. It was only when we headed towards the waterfall south of Meenard Mountain that we went our separate ways. We decided to contour around Mullaghaneany Mountain on better terrain whilst they went to the saddle west of the mountain’s summit. And, though their route choice gave them a lead of some 5 minutes on us, our speed on mountain slopes meant we arrived at the control at the same time, just as darkness fell.

It was around 7.30pm when we arrived at our bikes, having cleared all of the controls thus far. It was dark and raining. My hands wouldn’t fit into my gloves. My socks were wringing in cold bog water. But despite all this adversity, we still managed to edge away on our bikes before the elusive Danes.

Trekking up Sawel Mountain in the dark.

The lead wasn’t to last. First we overshot a control by accident and had to go back for it. And as we returned for it, the Danes cycled past. Then with three punctures in quick succession, it marked the last we saw of the Danes.

At 2 am, we arrived at the Shepherd’s Rest Inn for a spot of rifle shooting. All 4 of us had 5 tries each, and though I had never shot such a gun before, I managed to get all 5. “What do ye expect?”, said one of my team members. “She’s from Derry” a notorious place during Northern Ireland’s troubles.

Wet and dark weather for half of the Raid Adventure Race.

Our misses though were to make the race all the more tight. The Danes had scored 19 out of 20. And they were now over 30 minutes ahead of us. We were resigned to letting them go. But later on we found out that Team Get No Sleep had gained the perfect score. Though they were behind us, they had more points, meaning that we were now in the race to keep our second place.

On through the night we rode picking up all the controls, whilst taking our time on the night foot orienteering section to make sure we didn’t lose our way. A careful eye was kept on the clock to make sure we didn’t miss the kayak cut-off time. Teams were to be on the water from 7 am to 8.30 am. Arrive before then and you got to go off the clock if you had all the controls up to there. So we were a happy bunch when we arrived at the shores of Lough Neagh at 6.50 am, earning us 10 minutes to eat and change. The Danes were already there snuggled up in their sleep bags, luxuriating in having arrived over an hour before.

Peter and Paul enjoying their kayak on Lough Neagh.

By 7.30 am, we were on the water, paddling the short distance up to Ballyronan Marina from our Battery starting point. It was a novelty to be sitting down and to be travelling in daylight. It didn’t last long as after 90 minutes we were back on our bikes and cycling towards The Jungle and its high ropes. I hate heights and high ropes and anything to do with falling. So it’s not surprising that I did the bare minimum and lost our team bonus points.

Martina Nolan showing us how to do the high ropes.

Our calculations were that Team Get No Sleep’s score was perilously close to ours. But they were behind us on the course. The only strategy we had left was to get the 100 point control by trekking to the summit of Slieve Gallion, and hope that they wouldn’t have enough time to get it. It was miserable up there. The wind and rain was howling, and the trail was badly eroded and sodden. The things you do for a couple of points is quite ludicrous.

From the top, we ran down to Lough Fea and picked up our bikes, two hours after having left them before. A 30 minute cycle and we were back in Sixmile town and crossed over the finish line. Our calculations had been spot on. We secured second place with our Slieve Gallion visit, behind the well-deserved Danish winners. But regardless of places, we all headed to the Shepherd’s Rest Inn for food and pints, to retell the tales and relive the battles that took place on that wintery weekend in the Sperrins.

All photos courtesy of Andy Lyle.

Want to hear more adventure race tales? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears” with stories from the World Adventure Racing Championships.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Chasing after the Danes in The Sperrin Mountains’ Raid

  1. Moire,

    so many races, so many stories. In terms of trying to get started is there anyway you could compile a brief compendium of the main races/events on a Jan-Dec basis. I would be quite happy to contribute via pay-pal for something like this. Overall info is vague and not easy to find. perhaps because of the low-key nature of the sport?

    Cheers

    Andy

    1. Hi Andy,

      I’m afraid I’m not really up to date with all the adventure races that are happening in Ireland. However, best you check out the following lads (and follow them on facebook):

      Outfront (new name for MultiSport Adventure Ireland): http://msai.ie/ – Have a wide range of races, especially the WAR series
      Causeway Coast Adventure Racers: http://www.causewaycoastar.co.uk/ – They have a winter AR series at the moment in Northern Ireland, starting in November
      Sleepmonsters (http://www.sleepmonsters.com/calendar.php?visual_year=2012&event_location=Ireland) – Have a lot of races listed
      IMRA (http://www.imra.ie/events/) – For mountain running races. The forum sometimes mentions other types of races

      Hope this helps!
      Moire

      1. Thanks Moire,

        there’s plenty of like me ex-competitive runners I hit 3.54 1500m aged 19 and 1.54 800m who pushed on to become good County runners and above.

        Once You hit M.40+ the club running world to me becomes awkward and ambiguous, win win, compete compete the act of being able to run itself gets lost in the translation. There are plenty in older age-group who compete well there are plenty like me who are looking for a change. In the South-East I have found it increasingly difficult to find a club with bonhomie and camaraderie. I admit that could be my own baggage as well but I hav’nt found one that is not stuck in the ‘washing machine cycle’so hence I am with no club but training hard and determined to find something.

        I’ll track the links and put together my own compendium of what I find.

        Keep moving, keep finding. New chapters dawn. Look forward to your follow up book. Inspirational qualities you have.

        Andy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s