So it’s been 6 weeks since we decided to take on the Denis Rankin round in the middle of winter. We weren’t completely unprepared we’d visited each of the legs separately, you might have already read my ramblings about them over the past few weeks. If you did you already know the five of us are not what can be deemed fell or mountain runners. Still we had made our intentions known to the social media world, once those words were spoken there was no backing out. We’d picked a small window of a few days to tackle the round two weeks out. So for those 14 days I literally had 6 different weather websites open on my phone and checked them every 10 minutes. The weather man changed his mind about what the weather would be every day leading up to the attempt. On the Monday we all met up with a couple of guys who’d willingly volunteered to support us with our endeavours. Masks on, socially distanced, we bit the bullet and decided on Friday 11th December at 3 a.m. for D-Day. There was some discontent in the ranks about what kind of pacing schedule we should go for. Some of us might have been a little over ambitious with our first attempt and a few were maybe a bit too conservative, but we finally stopped bitching and decided on going for 19-20 hours. I quickly jotted down a plan of how long each leg should take and our stops at the end of each leg. In the words of Big Mike –
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” And as you’ll soon find out it is just as apt in mountain running as it is in boxing.
I’m not even slightly exaggerating when I checked the weather so many times in the week leading up to Friday, that I’m pretty sure I crashed one of the websites. I honestly praise my wife for not poisoning my porridge or some shit, as I must have been more annoying than thrush, with the amount of times I updated her on what the Mournes could potentially bestow upon us, for the 39th time that day since she’d finished work. The general overview was mostly fair, with little wind but there was a chance of fog which changed to mist and back to fog. If I’ve learned anything from this experience it’s the difference between mist and fog, because yes according to google there’s a difference. Mist good – fog bad! The days leading up to Friday were due to rain cats and dogs, so at least the ground would be soft whenever we fell over…but as it turns out rocks don’t get softer with rain.
The weekend before I’d gone mental in B&M and Asda buying culinary supplies, which I needn’t have bothered because the day before a box bigger than my ego was dropped on John’s doorstep. We’d been spoilt by KOM fuel with a box of more nutrition than you could shake a stick at. It was a greedy runners wet dream. Cheers guys! Ultra vest overflowing with food and spares for the sake of spares, it felt like it weighed more than Rick Waller’s lunch box. The last thing I wanted was to run out of energy and having to drag my sorry carcass around the Mournes. No chance of that I had about 2000 calories for leg one alone.
Departure was arranged for 1:30 a.m. so we met at 1:15, well everyone except Ettienne he was still sat on the bog, dropping the kids off. I was very jealous. Big Jakey was head sandwich maker and driver for the day, and he nailed it. He had a big 7 seater so we piled into that for the trip down to Donard Park. I don’t actually remember the drive down there I was probably still half asleep, 4 shots of expresso soon got me pumped up for when we arrived in Newcastle, with 20 minutes until GO time. Russ was sat there in his car waiting for us, complaining about how cold it was, even though it wasn’t cold, but I suppose when you weight the same as a quaver you feel the cold more. 10 minutes of photo shoots as if we were the England football team off to underperform at another big tournament, a little rub of the arch and we were off. Like 5 little piggies in shit, excited for the challenge ahead.
We didn’t want things to be too easy on the day obviously it’s only 90km+ with 39 summits to gallop over, so we didn’t practice any running in the dark whatsoever. Surely it can’t be anymore difficult than the day especially seeings as we’d all be sporting sexy headlamps. To be fair the first leg is not too savage of a navigational nightmare, there’s some actual paths to follow but there are some steep ass descents, you know coming off Binian in the dark and wet is basically as nerve wracking as going over the top of a roller coaster but without the harness, because that would be for pussies! For experienced fell or mountain runners it’s probably the equivalent of a normal human crossing the road, when the little red man is red, it’s naughty but if you have all your chromosomes you’ll likely be fine. We sauntered to the top of Donard through the forest and up past the saddle with no issue at all, nice and comfortable and were on top of the world, well Northern Ireland anyway in 56 minutes. I celebrated with a poptart, yes at 4 o’clock in the morning, I’d already had a Mars bar so this was almost a healthy choice. The weather man wasn’t far wrong to be fair, there wasn’t much more than a gentle breeze zipping through the night’s sky. Which was amazing because in running terms, for me anyway, wind is the middle ginger child covered in freckles that smells like a council estate bus stop.
John and I got to the top of Donard a few minutes ahead of the other 3 and this was pretty much how the rest of leg 1 went, John and I plodding along at the front chatting shite then realising we were a few hundred metres ahead, to stop and wait for the others at the top of each summit. We continued to tick off summits with ease and without too much effort. It was definitely slower running in total darkness but the fog wasn’t too thick, so really it was mist for the majority apart from on top of a few peaks. So we could see a good few metres in front of us with the lamps on. Unfortunately they were bright enough to see the mounds of rubbish and smashed beer bottles left at the top of Lagaman. What kind of Jeremy Kyle wank stain climbs all the way to the top of a mountain, with beer to just launch the bottles on the ground in an area of natural beauty? Their fathers should have done the world a favour and had a wank the night they were conceived. I ate more food while we waited for the others to catch up, before we made our way across the valley to Binnian.
I thought I was cruising down the descent it felt pretty easy and it’s a Rocky old bugger, it was quite wet and I didn’t think I was moving too fast. When I got to the bottom I looked back up and the other 4 head lights could be seen bobbing around in the darkness still half way up the descent. I wasn’t going to wait at the bottom I might have been abducted by aliens so I walked across the valley and began to climb up to Binnian. I really enjoyed the climb up, although I was totally alone and wearing my waterproof jacket, because it was so quiet with no one there moaning the jacket rustles on my shoulder and ultra vest sounded like something was moving in the bushes beside me, that or a yeti lives on the slopes of Binnian, I guess we’ll never know. Once I got to the top, I ate some more, had a little wee wee. Then got my phone out to do an Instagram live, I have never done one before so had no idea how it went, shite I’m sure as it was pitch black and 5 mins later when John got up the hill all they could see was his head torch and hear me chatting total bollocks. Another 5 minutes passed and the rest of the munch bunch arrived, ready to scoot around to the other tor and then down the tricky descent.
I hated this descent the first and only time I’d ever done it, but this time wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t as long as I remembered, maybe just because my legs were way more beaten up the first time, but we got down with little hassle. A quick spin up Wee Binnian and down to checkpoint 1, or so we thought. John and I got to the top of wee Binnian and waited for a couple minutes for the other lads and then made the decision to just make our way down to silent valley to resupply. A couple of hundred metres down the descent we heard voices, I popped my head over the wall and saw the other 3 coming down the wrong side. A quick “wtf you doing over there?” And a reply about a stile, and we continued on down. A few minutes later we rolled into silent valley where Grant and Jake were waiting for us. We were way over our planned arrival time, but the boys had managed to worm their way into a locked room thanks to the security guard. They’d got the kettle on and set out all our food drop bags, it was like being part of a proper ultra race. We waited for the other lads and waited, and waited…just over 15 minutes later the cavalry arrived.
Russ bounced in the door with eyes resembling a deer about to be flattened by a 40 tonne truck, blabbing about Mikey falling over and breaking his arm. In came Mikey holding his arm, he struggled to get his glove off and revealed his wrist. It looked similar to what would happen if you trapped the tip of your todger in your zip, it was a strange red colour and swollen. Some nervous looks around the room. Russ said he wanted to take Mikey to hospital but we had two vehicles here, so Grant volunteered to zip him to the hospital and reckoned he could still get back in time to be at Deer’s meadow. Russ and Ettienne had decided they wanted us to separate and for John and I to go rogue. It was probably the right decision but it didn’t sit too easy as we’d started together and agreed to stay together, but we were spending a lot of time on summits waiting for them to catch up, we were like the shit Christmas stocking filler…slinky!
John and I set off on leg 2 feeling emotionally confused just how I imagine women feel during that fateful week every month. Guilty to be leaving the boys behind but relieved we didn’t have to keep stopping for them to catch up. We must have said about 10 times in the first 20 minutes, right we can make some time up but let’s not get carried away here. I decided to take the direct line up to the top of Slievenaglogh, after following the wall up to the top on our first visit which was pretty easy. What a fucking tit, the direct route is a steaming turd of bog into a steep climb through knee deep heather. All I could hear behind me was John cursing me, I have a feeling I’ll not be getting a Christmas card. I managed to make my way to the wall, and into the fog. It was only light maybe it was mist, who knows or fucking cares. I got to the corner of the wall and busted out a flapjack and a pepperami, yes that classic combo. From here on out is when began the battle of the gut gas! I’d eaten way too much already, I was so worried about not fuelling enough that I’d gone the other way and turned my guts into a festering cesspit that would tingle John’s nostrils for the next 12 hours.
The rest of leg 2 went really well, we made up a good bit of time and it all felt really comfortable, it was pretty boggy in the middle section but no more navigational wobbles. The river crossing at the end of the lough Shanna felt like something from SAS: Are you tough enough, the river was smashing water down stream, so we took our time and made it across without getting our snacks wet. John began to feel a little bit fruity about 17/18 miles in, but he kept his head down and drove on. I lead which was probably a blessing and a curse, he didn’t have to think about where he was going but every now and then a green cloud of my shit particles would waft up his nostrils. If you’ve been to a big city road race and used a portaloo just before the race after 10000 people have released their carb loaded essence into the pan, then you can almost imagine what I was creating inside myself and dusting the Mournes with. Into Deer’s meadow in 2:43 feeling really good.
Andy had now arrived and set up an event shelter, Grant was back from the hospital and Jake was stood there ready to sort us out with whatever we needed. It was like a formula 1 pitstop – for me – you’d have thought John had just strolled into a restaurant. He sat down put his feet up, put his order in with Andy, Jake rubbed his feet (not really) but if he’d offered I reckon John would have taken him up on the offer. I probably looked like I had ants in my pants the way I twitched waiting for him to be pampered before we got going again. A few of the coaches from Willowfield had turned up to support us, great to see and really appreciated it. Andy had the stove burning away, I wasn’t too fussed about eating but I’ve never turned down food in my life so when he asked if I wanted some mash, I gave a solid “yes”. Totally the right decision, a bit of creamy mash goes down a right treat after eating what can only be described as a selection that Willy Wonka creates in his kitchen, sugar so much sugar. 14 minutes later and princess was ready to go.
Fair play to the lads they looked after us well. So we started off up the hill to the top of pigeon, it was squishy underfoot but it’s an easy enough climb. A jog down to the start of the ascent upto slivemoughanmore, a few hundred metres up I heard John shout up to me. He was feeling ropey and his heart rate had soared, I like him but there was no way I was walking back down to him to have to come back up unless he hit the deck. A little breather and he began trudging back up the climb, I made it to the top and there were 3 ladies sat down having a picnic, to give us some support and cheers. The descent is so slippery when it’s dry most other places, today it was like a ski slope, even the mighty mudclaws couldn’t get grip. I just let the breaks off and got down the best I could, and managed to get all the way down without tasting any mud. Great success (Borat accent). Some open ground across to windy gap, and up we go to Eagle. Onto Shanlieve and then the absolute destroyer of legs, the open expanse to the top of Finlieve, I don’t know why but it reminds me of the bog of eternal stench from Labyrinth, the scent seeping from my arse just added to the scene. You spend a good 20 minutes just jumping down into soggy craters and then climbing out the other side, just what you need after over 9 hours of going up and down. I’m 35 but every time I put my foot in a bog and it made a squelchy noise I laughed to myself, I know I’m cooler than Will Smith.
As we crested Finlieve we were in for a real treat the big burning ball of gas graced us with its presence. Unfortunately I’d packed my water bladder the one in my race vest not in my belly with UCAN, and normally I can chug through this stuff like Andy Fordham went through Heineken. Not this day, because I’d already consumed more sugar than Mexico that day it was like drinking rat’s piss. So by the time I got to the end of leg 3 I’d only drunk 250ml out of my bladder and had a mouth like Gandhi’s flip flop, so like a proper arsehole I ran away from John to go get a drink at the bottom of the climb up to SlieveMartin, it was a medical emergency what else was I supposed to do? I wasn’t expecting to stop for more than a minute or two here but when John arrived he decided that because the sun was out it was a perfect time to sit down and have a wee picnic. I’m not sure how long we were there but it felt like about 7 years. Anyway leg 3 was nailed and we were about 11 hours in and I felt like I’d only been out for about 45 minutes, so that was pretty sexy.
Crenville was a ball buster when we went to recce it, I didn’t find the slightly warn path – path again is being generous it’s some slightly beaten grass, but I found it this time and Jesus the difference it makes we cruised up to the top no worries rather than bashing our way through boggy undergrowth like before. A good start to leg 4 for sure. The next couple summits passed without anything noteworthy happening, a nice jog through the forest. Then the path along to Pierce’s castle where John had to stop for a comfort break, I got bored so got my phone out again and had 4G time for some more insta stories, I’m such a social media slut. I think I recorded a full sitcom then John came bouncing round the corner to fill me in on his poocapade. I tell a lie before I got the phone out I decided that seeings how my guts were giving off the aroma of a tramps arse crack, I’d try and lighten the load. I squatted down bared my Lilly white arse and proceeded to release a giant wet fart, I giggled pulled up my sexy leggings and then went live.
Half way up cock mountain the sun began to set so I busted out the headtorch and put my head down and powered to the top. Once I got there I busted out the peanut m&ms and got to snacking as it started to rain. John’s batteries had run out on his headtorch so he had to do a quick pit stop half way up, so I had a few minutes to send a few texts to my fans (just my wife) before we headed down to Spelga via Slievenamiskan. The visibility was pants at the top, but as we descended down the mountain we could see the bright lights of the cars passing by and the check point posse. Just before we crossed under the dam, I saw a light with about 4 billion lumens shining up the hill, it was Billy Reed he’d come out to play. He led us down to the car park, where our crew had nailed it again, seats out and shelter up. This was the first time I’d sat down all day, to be honest I didn’t really need too and could have grabbed some snacks and cracked on, but we’d decided to change trainers. For the last hour I had been singing to myself you’re going to get fresh socks soon, you’re gonna get fresh socks. Not sure it’ll make Christmas number 1 but it kept me entertained. It was nice to put on some new foot huggers, especially as I had ininji toe socks on and busted my big toes through the front of them, so they were whistling in the wind bashing directly into the front of my trainers on every descent.
There was some debate on what Billy should do, Russ and Ettienne was some way behind now according the trackers and I was pretty confident with the rest of the route. Which isn’t hard navigationally because 80% of it you follow the wall. So we suggested Billy hold our hand through Spaltha and Slievenamuck, then release us into the wild before making his way back down to Spelga to pick up the other two when they arrived. It worked well for us anyway it meant I didn’t have to concentrate for nearly half hour, just following Billy’s route through the mud. He nailed it for us, we relayed our thanks, did the COVID handshake, which makes me feel more awkward than walking in on your mum and dad having sex, but Boris said no shaking hands, rub those elbows boys. Just after leaving Billy, John asked if I’d left off a little bum burp, but I actually hadn’t this time, it turns out I’d farted so much that I’d eventually just tainted my skin with the stench of my own gaseous excrement, which is always nice to know.
It was now pitch black but this point but we had made it to the wall, so not much chance of getting lost but we’d only been on these mountains once before in daylight. The ascents are simple enough because you’re not going fast enough for the lack of light to matter but the descents are rocky and technical enough, for us anyway. Going down the rocky descents under headlight is comparable to trying to thread a needle with your arse cheeks, it’s a slow tricky trip. I honestly couldn’t tell you now what happened on each climb, except for Commedagh the last summit of the day. The weather had turned to a cesspit of wind and rain about half way through leg 5, but we were mainly protected from the brunt of it from the wall. My hands were getting cold, so I pulled out my gloves and took what felt like about 5 minutes to put them on while I waited for John. I actually couldn’t feel the ends of my fingers so wasn’t sure if they were in the finger holes or not, I must have looked like a virgin playing the pink oboe for the first time, as I stood up there in the dark trying to jam my digits into those gloves.
We climbed over the wall and ran out towards Commedagh cairn, and half way there as the rain smashed into our faces and the wind was strong enough to blast the stubble off my face, John decided to put his gloves on. Cracking timing, I wanted to scream FUCK YOU, in his face but I managed to hold it together as I knew his hands would be bloody freezing. We couldn’t see the cairn until we were within about 2 foot of it, we were going for the soft route home down along the Glenn river. The run back to the protection of the wall felt longer than a visit at your front door from a Jehovah’s Witness, I can only assume we ran through a reverse wormhole, which meant we ran 10 miles instead of 400 metres. The last 3 miles are all mega easy to navigate back to the car park, except for one tiny bit in the forest where if you turn 10 metres too early you end up getting buggered by felled trees. Guess who after 18 hours and 54 minutes of zero navigational errors turned too early. BOLLOCKS…this window licking error meant we didn’t come in under 19 hours, but let’s be honest who cares after that long out 34 seconds means zilch. Still it didn’t stop John and I ripping across the car park at 6 minute miling trying to dip under the time, as we emerged from the forest just the like young Spartans returning from their krypteia, we’d tamed the wolf. Our wife’s were hooting at us like two teenage girls meeting the Spice girls, it was great to see them and be supplied with a pint of Guinness from big Ray and a pizza from the girls. Bang tidy.
During leg 5 we had been trying to guess what Ettienne and Russ would decide to do, there’d be talk of calling it a day at Spelga we’d heard from the crew. Once we had finished Andy updated us with their progress, it was going to be close but if they maintained pace they’d be back within 24 hours. Thank the Lord baby Jesus, 4 out of 5 ain’t a bad result for 5 road running muppets. It took me two hours to get warm again once we finished and I checked my phone every 10 minutes to track where the lads were. I jumped out the car at 1:45 to try and get some pictures of them finishing and greet them as they finished. They came smashing through the car park at just after 2 a.m. and another 2 successful winter rounds complete, air punch.
I loved our adventures in the mountains and I’ll definitely be back, I can’t thank the lads who came out to support us, especially Andy, Jake and Grant for looking after us all day at the end of each leg, and thanks to Lawson and Ray for coming out to cheer us on at stupid times of the night and day. Obviously thanks to the wife for letting me go out to play for days at a time unsupervised, if your married don’t pretend this is a given we all know you’re full of shit. Now we just have to wait for Mikey’s milky bones to heal and help him get round. Denis Rankin Round – Completed it mate.