Shore to Summit Multisport Race – Crossing Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula from East to West

Since moving back home, I’ve had a chance to explore the corner of Ireland where I grew up. I now live on the Inishowen Peninsula, which is lodged on the north-west tip of Ireland. It houses the island’s most northerly point, Malin Head, as well as harbouring some of Ireland’s most rugged, wild countryside.

Peter Crommie, race winner, running down towards Carndonagh on the first leg of the Shore-to-Summit race.
Peter Crommie, race winner, running down towards Carndonagh on the first leg of the Shore-to-Summit race.

So when there was a chance to race across the Peninsula last weekend with Extreme North Events, I couldn’t help but sign up. Starting on the east coast’s Redcastle, the plan was to spend the next 62 kilometres biking, running, and kayaking across to Buncrana on the western side.

37 of us turned up to the start line on Saturday morning, on a surprisingly dry, sunny, and mild day. It meant I could forgo my hat and gloves that I had brought along. The forecast had wrongly informed me that there would be showers throughout the race.

Peter Cole on the first run on the Shore-to-Summit race course.
Peter Cole on the first run on the Shore-to-Summit race course.

At 9am we were waved off by the race director, for a 13km run up and over Puckan Hill down towards the bike transition near Carndonagh. There were only two other girls in the line-up, one of whom was in a relay team. The first stage is always the most difficult to control, trying not to race even when you see others sprinting off. But I knew we were in for a long few hours, so held back so there’d be energy for what was to come.

I arrived at the bikes, convinced I was at the back of the pack. It was heartening to see quite a few bikes still there, meaning I was more in the middle that I thought. Bike choice was key for the race. Though there were rocky off-road sections, I still opted for my road bike fully equipped with puncture-proof Gatorskin tyres. The route still had too many road sections to transfer to a mountain bike with slick tyres.

Bike choice key on the off-road section.
Bike choice key on the off-road section.

It was a short 18km section to the base of Slieve Snaght, Inishowen’s highest mountain. Dumping the bikes on a layby, we had a 400 metre climb to get to the mountain’s summit. It was a boggy affair, with a glacially cold marsh traverse before a heathery, rocky ascent to the top. My feet were frozen from the bog waters that were impossible to avoid. And my lungs quickly reminded me that I’d not been on mountains for a while.

Dropping the bikes before ascending Slieve Snaght Mountain.
Dropping the bikes before ascending Slieve Snaght Mountain.

Back to the bikes, it was a short cycle towards Loch Fad for a quick paddle around. I skipped the section as my body’s not able to kayak at the moment. The race director kindly let me off and gave me penalty points instead.

Kayaking on Lough Fad during the Shore-to-Summit race.
Kayaking on Lough Fad during the Shore-to-Summit race.

From Loch Fad, it was a quick road descent to the main Clonmany to Buncrana road. But we weren’t on the tarmac for long before we were climbing again, this time on a dirt road to the wind turbines on top of Drumlough hill. It was a steep painful ascent after the climb up Slieve Snaght. And it was the fast, rocky descent back to the main road that made me sadly miss my mountain bike.

Cycling up and over the wind turbines above Buncrana.
Cycling up and over the wind turbines on Drumlough Hill above Buncrana.

The worst was over now, and it was a quick road cycle to the Lifeboat Station at Ned’s Point where I dumped the bike and ran the final 2km coastal path into Buncrana town. We were welcomed at the finish by Harold, intrepid race organiser, who had laid on a tent filled with hot soup and food from where we could sit down and admire our impressive medals.

The final descent on the western side of Inishowen Peninsula towards the finish at Buncrana.
The final descent on the western side of Inishowen Peninsula towards the finish at Buncrana.

I was back home in time to watch the rugby and see Ireland get thrashed by Italy. But at least my mood couldn’t be wrecked after a good day’s racing on a great course in a part of Ireland that many have still to discover.

Results can be found here.

The next Extreme North Event is on 12 May 2013 on Inishowen – the Rocks and Rolling Ultra Marathon.

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