Denise (new ladies' record holder) & Dale Mathers, and Mark King, 13/07/21

Denise, Dale and Mark, all smiles - meaning it must have been about 2 days later

(Edit: DENISE SET A NEW LADIES' RECORD  OF 15hrs 5min ON THIS ROUND - A FANTASTIC ACHIEVEMENT)

Starting out at 5:15am from Spelga Dam (with 20m visibility) the three of us was were excited but apprehensive of what lay ahead. We headed up Slievenamiskan first even though it is not a 500 we thought it better to stick with a track rather than get lost within the first 10 minutes. So compass and bearings out when we hit the Cock summits.

5:15am, the visibility was gloomy, but the mood was not!

Having decided on a different route this time (albeit the same route Shane and Stephen had gone on their record breaking round last year) it was a straight bearing to the Windy Gap over some rough ground. Hitting the Windy Gap spot on it was up Eagle , Shanlieve and then out and back to Finlieve. As we summited Eagle we emerged through the cloud to a magnificent cloud inversion and though and behold a clear view of Finlieve – (Happy Days).

So quickly over to Finlieve but by the time we turned to come back to Shanlieve the cloud was back , so some navigation was required to get us back.

Back to the windy Gap and then up Moughanmore and the Pigeon Rock summits down to the Deers Meadow – Time taken was 3:30. Whilst descending Pigeon Rock we encountered Ciaran McAleenan who was on the newly designed Mourne 600’s route. We ascended Muck together where at this point we parted company with Ciaran as we contoured out to the lower point on Muck. Cloud was still thick and I was glad of all the bearings I had noted.

All good going to Carn and leaving the wall at the Ott style we headed out to Doan and then over to Ben Crom , just as we hit Ben Crom the sun broke through and the glorious Mourne’s were revealed. We got a good line of Ben Crom down to the Ben Crom Dam. We reached the Dam in exactly 6 hours.  At this point the sun was getting very hot and we thought we could be in trouble with the heat.

Denise proud to show off her "Up The Mourne Bumps" cap

The sun beat down as we climbed Binnian which was a tough climb with not much chat from Mark at this stage. We took the three points on Binnian and returned to the Lamagan col via the Binnian Lough. By this stage the cloud had built up a bit which made the sun not as strong and there was also a nice cooling breeze from time to time.

As always the Lamagan climb is never enjoyable but had to be done , once over we made good progress over Cove and Beg. We exchanged waves to Ciaran as we climbed Beg while he was descending to the Cove col.

Next a run round the Brandy Pad to the Bog of Donard to do the Chimney Rock loop, we did this clockwise – Chimney first then Spences and Rocky. Good decision as would not like to have climbed Spences – the heather was very heavy here.

Two men outstanding in their field

A short food break was taken back at the Bog of Donard before we headed for Crossone. I think we were all quietly dreading the climb up Donard from Crossone. Not to disappoint we were right – it was dreadful. Although I felt we were on the home straight now – sure only to follow the wall back (with a few out shoots) to Ott style with only 4 of the seven 7’s to do. Easy!!!!

We made it to Shan Slieve in exactly 12 hours - now we started to think what time could we make it back to Spelga – 15 hours something was being hopeful. Having picked up water as various points (found some nice water sources on way round) we headed to the Commedagh pipe to refill – hoping this would get us home.  

Along the wall then out to Slievenaglogh point we got to the Hare’s Gap , the climb up Bernagh was tough and by the time I was starting to climb Meelmore I had nothing left in the tank. I think the guys realised my lack of movement and quickly feed me some sweets, these revived me and with Pete’s pipe to refill with water again I managed to get over Meelmore. From Meelbeg we could see the finish at Splega which gave us a lift.

We continued over Loughshannagh, Ott and the final 500 summit Slievenamuck (commonly known as Butter) we descended with a gentle jog back down to the Spelga car park, finishing in a time of 15:05 hrs.

Brilliant day out was had by all.

(Report by Denise Mathers)


Peter Coyle - Home in under 15!

Congratulations to Peter Coyle who romped home on a Mourne 500 round in 14 hours and 57 minutes on Friday 18th June.  Peter's excellent report below.


I had the Mourne 500s in the back of my mind after finishing Cassies with Kevin Murdock at the end of April. And so, after seeing a favourable forecast, I made the snap decision to contact Rowan from Primal tracking on a Monday morning and asked him if he could get me a tracker ready for Friday morning with a 4am start.

My wife Leigh drove me up to Ott carpark and as I got ready to leave, we watched the beautiful dawn colours break through in the East on what promised to be a good day. As soon as I headed up the side of Slievenamuck any pre-run anxiety immediately lifted and I settled into finding a steady rhythm, happy to be on my way. It was a fantastic morning. Leigh was waiting at Spelga for a final good luck as I passed by.

Some low-lying cloud on Cock moved to the south just as I arrived on the summit where I met a guy by the name of Brian from the US who said he was doing Cassies.I had seen a winking headlight on the side of Miskin as we drove up to Ott car park and wondered who it might be. We exchanged very brief good luck to one another at the Col and headed in opposite directions, as I moved on towards Pidgeon. A magical sunrise appeared as I climbed upwards just before entering heavy cloud on Pidgeon, which remained until the highest point on the Plain of Finlieve. As soon as I was in the cloud, it got colder, and I had no concept of it being morning time any more. I had to take a bearing to Pidgeon south happy to see the summit cairn appear from the cloud and then turned back to the handrail of the wall. I took another bearing from Shanlieve and headed out over the tricky ground towards Finlieve. I had been up there a couple of weeks prior in zero visibility and wasn’t concerned about finding my way, just that it would slow me down a lot, navigating on my own through the hags. Then, like a gift, about 3/4 way across, I came out through the cloud to brilliant morning sunshine and a clear view of Finlieve, Sliabh Martin and the Cooley’s beyond. From the summit, I then pushed on down across the heavy ground of the Red Bog and picked up the trail along the Red Moss river where I stopped at the junction with the fence to refill my water flasks.

It would be a purer and more aesthetically pleasing route from the top of Sandy Brae to Binnian to avoid the road and I had looked at crossing to it via Sliabhnagore but some of the route I looked at crosses private land and so I decided to go the 4 miles stretch along the road. As I approached and looking over at Binnian, I made the decision to take a direct line up Binnian East instead of going up the gulley towards the style. Just below the summit, I spotted a hare!!!! We both stood still looking at one another and then it scampered off over the steep heavy ground. It was a great sight and lifted me as I was starting to feel my first low of the day.

After 5 hours on the move, and with my energy levels dipping, I made the deliberate decision to make myself sit down on the style before Binnian summit for 3/4 minutes to regroup and get some food into me.

Up over Binnian, I then followed the familiar path to Rocky in a fresh Northerly wind which was cool enough to make me stop and pull on my gilet. By the time I got to Rocky, I knew I was keeping a consistently steady pace and was hoping that I hadn’t gone out too hard early on. The wind died off and the clouds cleared and suddenly it felt a lot warmer as I climbed up through the deep heather to Spences. I stopped for another 3 to 4 minutes on the top of Chimney to refuel as my energy levels dipped again and knowing I had some rough ground to cover to Crossone and Donard. On the way across, I stopped to refill my flasks again in the Bloody water river. I just focused on keeping a steady rhythm on the climb from Crossone to Donard picking my way up across the scree. It’s steep ground but the saving grace is that the southeast side of Donard has no false summits and I was suddenly popped out at the top to a large group of people sitting down having lunch and taking photos. I’m not sure what I looked like as I just appeared and pushed on over the style and headed down.

It was just after 1pm and I had been moving for 9 hours. The afternoon was now windless and it was warm.  The route onwards was straight forward and familiar and leaving Shanlieve, and feeling good, I made a conscious and deliberate decision to push on as hard as I could. The day had developed its own momentum and even though I was tired with the early start and time on my feet, I knew I was going well and I just concentrated on picking off the summits as quickly as I could and on pressing forward at a steady and consistent pace. The afternoon was hot and I focused on staying hydrated but was finding it difficult to take solid food at this stage. I reached Loughshannagh summit in just over 12 hours and I began to consider the possibility of a sub 15 hour finish and this drove me on although I knew it would be very tight. Crossing to Ben Crum and over to Doan across the river was hard going through the heather and long grasses and the heat of the day, the only relief being a short stop to refill my flasks for the last time at the Ben Crum river and quickly wash off my face. Leaving Doan, I rewarded myself with a full flask of coke that I had saved all day for the final stretch, and I was happy to be running again on a bone dry track which was much easier going over to the wall to Carn.  From the wall, the view of the mountains out to the East was spectacular. I couldn’t has asked for better conditions. And now I was chasing a time.

From Muck the south summit appeared a fair way off. I hadn’t been out there for some time but the route ahead was clear and runnable, however I made what could have proved to be a very costly mistake of going further then the South Summit to a lesser distinctive point further south again which cost me some extra minutes. I hadn’t recced the section and looking back I can only think that it was my tired condition and eagerness to push on that prevented me from simply pulling out my map to clarify the issue.  Running back to the South Summit, I knew I had made an error but there was nothing for it than to keep moving onwards and when I got back up to the summit of Muck, I had 30 minutes or so to get to the finish. It was a clear, warm, windless evening in brilliant sunshine as I crossed the style and set off to Ott as fast as my weary legs would carry me and while I was suffering badly, I knew that regardless of the time, I had had a fantastic day out in the mountains and was nearing the end. The icing on the cake of course would be if I could get in under the 15 hours. And so, I just ran. How stupid it would be to roll an ankle at this late stage.  The boggy ground and long grass between Carn and Ott slowed me up but back on the well-worn path, I managed to run/walk to the summit of Ott and checking my watch saw that I had 10 minutes to go and knew I was nearly done. Just as I crossed the fence onto the road, I heard a horn of a car behind me. With perfect timing it was Leigh and my daughter Lorelei who had come to see me in. With 14hours 57mins on the clock after I had started out, I was finished. I had just made it. I crashed out on the grass, both shattered and very content at the same time.While I would have been happy to linger,within minutes the midges descended and before I knew it, I was lying in the back of the car heading down past Spelga and the Newtown road to Warrenpoint looking over at the peaks that I had crossed earlier that morning. It had been a great day.

Thanks Leigh as always.

Peter Coyle.

Sunrise on Pigeon


A Mourne Variant - Clive Coffey | Helen Cassidy | Stevie Cassidy | Jonny Hobson

Clive Coffey | Helen Cassidy | Stevie Cassidy | Jonny Hobson

71.4 km in 18 hours, 44 minutes.

(Report by Jonny Hobson)

Here's the 1-minute summary video https://youtu.be/avi_vu9CUXs 

Saturday 27th February 2021, dinner at 8pm and then what?  Retire to the living room to sit in front of the fire, glass of wine perhaps?  Not this Saturday night - Coffey and the Cassidys had other plans.

“Fortune favours the brave”, someone said...

Rewind a week to the beginning of the Coffey Cassidy Mourne 500 training regime – a tramp from Spelga to Sandy Brae, just three short hours, and the fateful car park comment “it’s a full moon next weekend…”.  A few WhatsApp messages, tracker booking and a kit list or two later and we’re committed – “fortune favours the brave”, someone said.  Meet at 10pm, bail out cars at Bloody Bridge and Attical, and to Ott Car Park for a prompt 11pm start.  The night is cool but not cold (4 degrees), the gentlest of southerly breezes (5km/h), a full moon and a mostly clear sky – just what we needed for the night section, particularly for the non-descript peat-hag maze that is Finlieve. 

Masks on

Masks on... and we’re off. Adrenaline levels high, the first five kilometres up Butter, across the dam, Slievenamiskin, Cock and well on the way to Pigeon at an average of six clicks per hour – it felt fast, but everyone was keeping pace and we were up on our early splits – 5 minutes up, 10 minutes up, almost 20 minutes up.  A first pause to adjust layers by the pond on Pigeon and the silhouette of Slievemoughanmore looked almost inviting in the clear night sky.   Tempo still high, the good light helped the traverse back across to the wall and up – Slievemoughanmore, Eagle. 

I’m not a particularly experienced mountain event participant, but a c.70km, +4,800m route didn’t feel like the place to be setting any personal records.

Neither the time nor the place for PRs

Cue the challenge.  Feelings of nausea began to creep in on Eagle – the early pace perhaps beginning to tell and the first of what would become a record setting series of poo-stops.  The clear, bright night sky that would minimise any time lost through Finlieve gave way to thick fog and wetting mizzle, literally just as we left Shanlieve.  As such, there were two distinct routes through Finlieve – perhaps best described as the bearing and the bear – thankfully both routes converged, and so on to Willie Marks lane! 

Finlieve - The Bear Route

No-one looks forward to the road section, and I don’t think anyone was convinced we could make it down Sandy Brae and all the way to Willie Marks in the 1 hour we had allowed ourselves – kilometres 17 to 25.  The drizzle persisted, the nausea turned to retching.  Thankfully Willie Marks lane appeared in just over the allotted hour, but the nausea showed no signs of letting up.  On up Binnian to the East Top (Brown Owl to locals, we learned), until at about 4.30am we were joined by the infamous Sleepy Gonzalez – one foot in front of the other at all costs, no matter how wobbly. 

Slow, tricky descent off Binnian North Tor in the dark, another stop for dodgy guts.. but the fog has cleared, there are fleeting glimpses of other eventers, and dawn is on its way – things are looking up and the prospect of a spectacular sunrise from Slievelamagan quickened the pace once more.

 Sunrise from Lamagan

Buoyed by the warmth of the morning sun, a bite of breakfast on more settled stomachs and the comparatively welcoming undulations of Cove and Beg, our band of less-queasy hopefuls passed through the half-way point on the Brandy Pad beneath Donard. 

But we’re down on our target time.  With more than 36km still to go a sense of urgency took hold. Race pace along the wall to Rocky before SC (path-finder extraordinaire) found the motorway up Spences, allowing us to regain lost time by the summit of Chimney Rock.  Other humans were there.

Stevie Cassidy after having found the motorway up Spences

Off Chimney in the beautiful morning sun, SC and I fall in behind the Mourne 2 Day legends in search of a more forgiving traverse from the quarry to Crossone – located with pinpoint accuracy.  The traverse to Crossone slowed only by a bout of gangliness over quarry stones – conditions were perfect and we might have hazarded that time was now on our side, until the realisation that we had five sevens still to climb.  Five sevens became the focus – do Donard, that’s hardest.  There’s a reason why people don’t choose to climb Donard from the East side – endless, momentum sapping monotony.  Yoda would have struggled to beat his age.

At this point I need to apologise to my fantastic co-eventers for the singular nature of the next paragraph – all I can really remember was my own inner battle..!

Busy on Donard but, honestly, I could have met my wife, my two daughters and / or my own mother and not acknowledged them – my own energy levels were low, as was my mood – gone inward.  Four sevens – still so many..  In much need of a pep talk, HC’s sixth sense must have been in overdrive – by pinning a milestone on Bearnagh the focus shifted from four sevens, to quite simply, Bearnagh.   Still, Commedagh felt like such a slog – forced tuna bap at the top HAD to work, I needed a lift, in energy at least – SC hung back, CC and HC paused on Shan Slieve, and CC engaged in distracting conversation – all very much appreciated, and much needed.

Some combination of those things worked, thankfully, and Corragh, Slievenaglogh and Hare’s Gap in the afternoon seemed more familiar – HC’s Bearnagh milestone once again became the focus, and it felt achievable again.  Little did I know at the time, but another HC masterstroke of ‘hugging the wall’ made the Bearnagh milestone interesting – enjoyable even! 

On route to ‘hugging the wall’ up Bearnagh

Bearnagh East, wall corner south of tor; Bearnagh, wall corner NW of summit – DONE!

Bearnagh milestone

Slowing pace anticipated, we stayed c.25 minutes ahead of our target 19 hours – Meelmore, Meelbeg, Loughshannagh – checkpoints 30, 31, 32 – 8 checkpoints to go – hints of adrenaline, dare to dream, “fortune favours the brave” someone said. 

All the way out to Ben Crom – kilometre 61, with enough time for a team photo – hold it together, nothing silly.

Team on Ben Crom

A moment of minor panic as we looked back towards the home straight and, questioning how we match our benchmark time back to Doan, CC suggests we take a lesser known “lovely wee track” up the SE side of Doan.  We opted for the peat bog-river combination – I expect he’s been back to take that wee track since..  Doan, aching bodies, up towards Carn and then only Muck and Ott to go.

It might have been the light as the sun moved lower in the early evening sky, tired limbs, tired minds, the monkey on my back but I could swear that I have NEVER seen a bigger, more distant mountain than Muck from the top of Carn that evening.  No matter, we were pretty much there now, just a few checkpoints to go, on to Muck.

It might have been the light as the sun moved lower in the early evening sky, tired limbs, tired minds, the monkey on my back but I could swear that I have NEVER seen a more southerly 600m peak than Muck, south.  No matter, nearly there now, on to Muck south.

On to Muck South

It might have been the light as the sun… back up Muck from Muck SOUTH!  No matter.

Back up Muck from Muck South

 Fortune favours the brave


Kevin Murdock, Cathal McGreevy, Ronan Mynes & Adam Ervine - 17hrs, 35min

(Report by Adam Ervine)

After I found out that Kevin, Cathal and Ronan had carefully planned a Mourne 500 attempt during the preceding few months, a week out from the big day, I jumped at the invitation to join in on the Winter Round attempt.

At 4am on the 26th February we set off from Ott Car Park, socially distanced of course as is the craze at the moment. Rony kissed his beloved Transit van goodbye; Kevin was muttering about the 3 Musketeers and D’Artagnan and Cathal was making sure his map was securely packed.

The first few peaks passed quickly in the dark and the full moon along with great visibility was certainly helping us. Cathal had me get his map out at the top of Pigeon and somehow it got lost between there and Finlieve. Cathal loved that map. So if anyone finds a laminated map in the Western Mournes please let us know. Reward offered by a reputable builder’s merchants for it’s safe return. 

Last photographed sighting of the map

The 3 Musketeers made full use of the Moire O’Sullivan Navigation Course between Shanlieve and Finlieve. Counting out the paces across those peat hags is definitely a unique skill.

Kevin then took us abseiling off Finlieve towards Sandy’s Brae, which played up with Rony’s stomach. We had a stunning sunrise as we made this descent as well. Kevin pushed ahead to look after himself and ensure he avoided a much feared encounter with any local landowners. He figured that the last to cross no-man’s land would be picked off by the shotgun. Luckily everyone made it and we then continued along the veteran mountain runners route over to Binnian. Roads are for young fools apparently.

Sunset coming off Finlieve

Rony got the jokes out at the top of Binnian. Spirits were high at the top of Lamagan and we had a snack with a view. The weather was top class. Hard to believe it was a winter round, given the beautiful blue skies for much of the day.

Lunch on Lamagan

The next few peaks came and went. Donard sucked a lot of our energy out and the ascent from Crossone had to be the toughest climb of the day.

Ticking off Crossone before the vertical ascent of Donard

The time between Donard and Loughshannagh was made slightly tougher with fewer water sources along the way. Dark was closing in as well and we knew we still had that tough out and back to Ben Crom and Doan. Once we had those in the bag though and had traipsed out to Muck South, we knew that Rony would soon be reunited with his Transit.

Coming off Ott, I made sure to thank the lads.  It was a great, tough day out and a pleasure to be in the company of the 3 Musketeers.

Ciarán McAleenan, David Bell & Stephen Bickerstaff - 16 hrs 52 min

That elusive 3 in 6 months – Journey to the Mourne 500

(Report by Ciarán McAleenan, from successful round on 25 July 2020) 

2019 was a much different year! Pre-pandemic everything was open, and all was to play for. And so that is how 2019 panned out for Stephen and I as we strived to meet mountain challenges that only a year earlier would have been beyond our wildest dreams. And as 2019 drew to a close we had conquered the Denis Rankin Round, been persuaded to and completed Cassie’s Challenge (1 minute outside of the FKT for the round – at that time at least) and late in the year had taken on the Mourne 500s round to, as we had hoped, complete the trio of Mourne mountain challenges within 6 months of each other. But alas that was a step too far – 33 miles and 30 summits in we called it a day on the Mourne 500s. Never mind 2020 was looming and the opportunity would present itself again. Or so we thought. Who knew then that in the early part of 2020 the mountains would be off limits to all but the lucky few, whose back garden is the mountain range?

Strange little stone monuments on Muck

3 months of road running (wow that took me back a long way – all the way back to the Dublin marathon in 1983). Still! slowly and steadily the body adjusted, and the legs played along. Virtual runs, marathon distances that took me no further than 2km from the doorstep, even a spell of barefoot running and the miles were clocking up. But, living near the shores of Lough Neagh, probably one of the flattest parts of the island, 500 kms of running barely equated to half a Slieve Donard in elevation. Would the legs ever get their climbing capacity back, would the mountains ever open, will 2020 be the year of the Mourne 500s at all? Too many questions, too many hours on the road with too much thinking time.

As the lockdown eased the mountains became accessible once again and a quick jaunt round the Mourne Skyline, just to see how the legs were proved that with a slow and steady build-up all was not lost. The mountains called and we answered. A Spelga Skyline, a bit of a DRR and a few sections of Cassie’s Challenge (support crew for Dale and Billy as they set the new FKT for the round – 2020 champions) and we were ready. This time a new member joined our crew and at 3:00AM; 25th July on what promised to be a ‘hit and miss’ weather event David Bell, Stephen Bickerstaff and I headed out from Ott car park up over Slievenamuck and into the dark mist on a trek that proved to be both challenging and epic in its execution and in its delivery.

Clocking an average moving speed of 2.9 mph with a maximum of 10.7 mph (that has to be that final sprint off Ott) we met Rick’s challenge with a few hours to spare racking up a 16:50 completion. Clearly the influence of our new crew member and veteran mountain runner David Bell was abundant. Thus, this most handsomely executed and pleasantly imbued embryne vanquished the demons of last years failed attempt (sorry for channelling my inner Jane Austen); if you can call 33 miles and 30 summits a failure that is.

And so, to some of the highlights…

Finding the Meelmore spring giving forth the ‘water of life’ (not the ‘Uisce Beatha’ that you Gaels might be thinking – but the literal translation). A glorious and uplifting moment where you suddenly realise how much liquid sustenance it takes to complete one of these challenges.

On the trip between Shanlieve and Finlieve as dawn was breaking a badger appeared and took the lead as we meandered, single file, across the vast open space that lay ahead. Not one to be outdone Stephen was ‘sett’ for the challenge (sorry couldn’t resist that one) and charged off putting more than one inch to his step. It was all we could do to try and remind him that might be breaching environmental legislation. It would have been a bit much to try and cite the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 or quote articles from the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, especially with the wind howling around our ears. Suffice to say shouting “that animal is protected, don’t be badgering it” did the trick.

Off Finlieve and down through Attical, all the while looking out for a lost rain jacket that mysteriously ousted itself from inside a zipped up running vest a week earlier – curious! But it was nowhere to be seen. A possible trip down the Red Moss River to the sea near Greencastle. Surely a possible pollution incident even it wasn’t intentional. Hmm!

Taking stock and nourishment on top of Crossone before the assault on Sliabh Donard, with timing good and many hours still on the clock.

Finding the Meelmore spring giving forth the ‘water of life’ (not the ‘Uisce Beatha’ that you Gaels might be thinking – but the literal translation). A glorious and uplifting moment where you suddenly realise how much liquid sustenance it takes to complete one of these challenges.

And so then to the penultimate and the final summits:

Ott – It's all downhill from here

As we approached Ott (the final summit) the thought that we could break the 17 hours barrier came strongly to our minds, well initially Stephen’s and mine first, so we upped the pace towards this final summit before the long grassy, exhilarating descent to the finishing line. Then we thought to tell David our plan and I believe he bought into it because after a quick stop to get the last ‘selfie’ for the day off we went at a hare’s pace towards Ott carpark and the welcoming crowd waiting in the rain (now falling quite hard) to greet us. And as it turned out well under the 17 hours. And so Mourne 500s complete, a little later than originally planned but given the year we are having no harm done in that regard.

I opened this discourse lamenting the lateness of completing the Mourne 500 challenge and in so doing becoming first people on the planet to have achieved the highly coveted position of having completed all 3 of the Mourne Challenges. Having missed the 2019 target the scene was set for a strong series of training over winter to meet the objective in Spring 2020 – Easter week to be precise, but along came the pandemic and the lockdown and things moved along – March, April and May a washout – though not literally since 2020 probably has had the driest and warmest Spring in years. So anyway a few weeks preparation in the mountains (June and July) brought the three of us to 25th July’s performance and that jaw-dropping 16 hours 50 minutes round which for three men whose combined age totals 179 I remain impressed.

So, reflecting on 2019, with its Denis Rankin Round and Cassie’s Challenge I would have to say that failure is never an option. In fact, not completing is not a sign of failure (unless maybe you give up) it’s more a chance to learn how for you can push your body and when that limit has been reached take time to reflect, learn and get on with finding the ways to get even further.

Ultra-runners (and I think I can probably call myself that now) don’t fall down (well they do sometimes) but that isn’t the point. It’s not the falling down it’s the willingness to get right back up that makes a runner great and a great runner. Don’t be fooled into thinking only the big names in the sport are the great runners, rather it’s the dedicated many who run the mountain ranges here in our country and around the world who are the sports true greats. And for ultra-runners it’s the supporters who help make the ‘ultra’ dreams a reality.

Now as Rick is quite strict; that is this is an unsupported run (no stashing stuff out on the course neither) there isn’t a support crew to thank this time.

But I am extremely grateful and appreciative of Patricia who came out to Ott at 3:00AM to wish us well as we started and who was there at the finish line, complete with bright red and white (spotted) umbrella in hand and a welcoming smile. She is my constant inspiration and support.

The welcome home crowd; Patricia, Ronan & Lyn, Pia & Ryan, Ricky & Sarah, Sam & Beverly, Stewart & Mary, Harry & Edna. Thank you all for braving the heavy downpour to welcome us safely home and to take time to listen to our adrenalin filled stories of the day that had just passed. Until next time… Ciarán

Mourne 500s Stats

  • Challenge completion date: 25th July 2020
  • Challenge completion time: 16:52
  • Challengers: Ciarán McAleenan, David Bell and Stephen Bickerstaff
  • Weather: Damp, with occasional showers, sunny spell mid-afternoon, heavy rain at the finish
  • Average Pace: 23:04/ mi
  • Average Moving pace: 21:01/ mi
  • Average Speed: 2.6 mph
  • Average moving speed: 2.9 mph
  • Miles covered: 43.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 17,598 ft (0.6 of a Mount Everest)
David Bell, Stephen Bickerstaff & Ciarán McAleenan

Colm Kelly & Jeff Sempey, "The Covid Two" between lockdowns

A fine round from Colm Kelly & Jeff Sempey on 20 September 2020.


A short vague report in their own words: 

Run went grand, was fierce tough during the heat of the day (Editor: I think this is all Ulster Scots).  

Lamagan, Cove, Brandy Pad, Spences and Chimney were tough, but coming off Donard we got a wee bit of a second wind.  It might have been the setting sun that spurred us on!

Started about 0545 in the dark and finished 16 hours and 27 minutes later somewhat busted after a few more hours of darkness.  Plenty of wind but no rain thankfully and loads of sun.

Managed to knock about 50 mins my 2013 time despite being 7 years less young - I'm well pleased, in 7 more years I'll be even quicker hopefully!

Colm Kelly & Jeff Sempey

Shane Lynch & Steven Shields - New Mourne 500 Champs!

On 5th July 2020, Shane Lynch and Steven Shields recorded an incredible time of 10 hours and 18 minutes (and 8 seconds) for all 39 Mourne 500 points. If you’ve had a crack at this challenge, only then will you appreciate just what an achievement this is. If you haven’t had a crack at it, there’s the target, but don’t worry about the time, just get into the hills and have a go. Well done, lads, you must have been on a Shredded Wheat binge for a week beforehand!

Aaron Shimmons - New Mourne 500 Champion

In a well-planned assault on 13 July, Aaron Shimmons SMASHED the previous Mourne 500 record set by Billy Reed way back in 2011, recording a time of 12 hours and 38 minutes. All the more impressive when you consider the weight of cap-peak he carried with him for the round! Congratulations, Aaron.  Report to follow.



Brendan Murphy Canters to 500 Success

Happy to be back at Ott car park before midnight
Congratulations to Brendan Murphy, who completed the Mourne 500 on 5th July in 19 hours and 52 minutes.

His attempt started at Ott car park at 03:41 and he hauled himself round to finish in triumph at 23:33.  

A calf problem on the way up Binnian east took the wind from his sails a bit, but he kept hammering away and still managed to finish with a smile on his face.  

Challenge report from the man himself


Mourne 500 Challenge (July 5th, 2016)

Pre Challenge

I first heard about the Mourne 500 challenge in 2013 and was immediately attracted by the simplicity of climbing all of the 39 summits over 500m in the Mournes, unsupported. The seed of making an attempt was sown and I started planning for an attempt. I didn't get time to get up to the Mournes much for a while after that, but after doing the Mourne Skyline race in 2015 the idea was rekindled in my head. After the Skyline race, I dusted off my map of the Mournes and started planning a route for the Mourne 500.


I made four trips up to the Mournes in early 2016 to check out dierent parts of the route. My first trip was a complete washout and I only managed to check out some of the start/finish of the route (Butter Mountain, Carn Mountain and Ott Mountain) and a few river crossings. A clear day in the spring allowed me to cover the first section from Ott car park to Finlieve and I worked out a route to the base of Slieve Muck. My next trip up allowed me to run from Ott car park to Bloody Bridge and to check out a section taking in Slieve Loughshannagh, Doan, Ben Crom, Slieve Binnan (3 summits), Slievelamangan, Cove Mountain and Slieve Beg. One more trip covered a loop including Chimney Rock Mountain, Spences Mountain, Rocky Mountain, Crossone and Slieve Donard. So, between the Skyline race and my recces I was more or less ready for an attempt.

I contacted Rick McKee who co-ordinates the challenge and told him of my plans to attempt it. Because I hoped to use my attempt for UTMB points, I had to complete the summits in a particular order. This wasn't my original planned route, but I was happy enough that my recces would stand to me nonetheless. My plan was to attempt the challenge whenever the weather was right once I had completed the V3k race in June. I kept an eye on the weather forecast for Slieve Donard on www.mountain-forecast.com and it appeared that July 5th was the right day for an attempt. So, on July 4th I drove up to Newcastle through torrential rain, wondering how the forecast could possibly be correctly predicting dry weather the next day.

The Challenge

The alarm was set for 3am on Tuesday morning and after a quick coee, breakfast and last minute gear check, I was dropped at Ott car park by the girls and I started on my challenge at 3:41am. I started up Butter Mountain through swirling mist by the light of my head torch and found that the path up was clearer than I remembered. Quickly, I was on the summit and heading back for the road near Spelga Dam. I hit the road and headed for a footbridge below the dam. On my recce I had gone a good distance below the dam to nd a bridge but on the y I decided to go for a higher bridge crossing which was marked on the map. I followed the river bank under the light of my head torch and eventually found the bridge that I was looking for. The next step was a trudge up Slievenamiskan which is under 500m but was a good reference to navigate my way to Cock Mountain. The cloud level was very low, so I was eyeing my map and compass the whole way to Cock Mountain; I was able to turn o my head torch at this stage. I had a short segment over to Cock Mountain south and then I had to find my way over to Pigeon Mountain North.


The next section involved a boggy descent and climb and I knew that the summit was easy to find because of the Mourne wall. The path seemed very well trodden in places which helped with finding my way in the mist. From Pigeon Mountain North, I had to follow a careful compass bearing to Pigeon Mountain South and then another boggy descent to the col below Slievemoughanmore. I was going to be following the Mourne wall for a while now, apart from a detour to the summit before a very steep descent to the Windy Gap. After a brief encounter with a bog hole, I was heading up Eagle Mountain and continuing along the wall to Shanlieve. The section from Shanlieve onwards is a wide open boggy ridge and in the dense mist was a navigation challenge. I seemed to find a pretty well worn path that was heading in the right direction and it brought me most of the way to the next unnamed summit. I carefully checked my location a number of times until I was confident I had found what the challenge website calls "Highest point on plain" and then I navigated my way to Finlieve. Ten summits done and now I had a long distance to cover before to number eleven.

I took a bearing for the Red Moss river and followed this down out of the cloud and mist towards a road called the Sandy Brae. I spotted a minor short cut across the mountainside which took a few hundred metres o my planned route. I knew that my lack of local knowledge might cost me a bit here, but I opted for following road through the village of Attical for the next few kilometres when making my way to the Silent Valley. My choice of grippy trail runners meant that running on the road wasn’t very comfortable, so I opted for a mix of power walking and jogging for this section. I had a number of people offer me a lift and they were surprised that I wasn't taking up the offer. On entering the Silent Valley, I was looking for a trail that lead towards Wee Binnian and Slieve Binnian. I found a trail, took a minor detour and eventually found my way following a wall towards Wee Binnian. The cloud level was rising and I could almost see the summit of Slieve Binnian and I could see that my originally planned route wasn't going to work, so I picked my way towards Slieve Binnian East. Half way up the climb my right calf muscle developed a pain as if it was strained. I cursed my luck and for a moment thought my day was over already. For some reason, I decided that I'd continue up Slieve Binnian East and although my calf was very sore it was still working and I was able to adjust my climbing to minimize any pain. My plan was to get to the summit and take stock of it there. This was the longest climb of the day but I eventually reached the rocky summit and turned to make the next climb up Slieve Binnian itself. This climb went well and I knew I had easy ground to cover to get to Slieve Binnan North. I found that my calf was working okay on the at and downhill sections but was sore on climbs. The descent was challenging but interesting and I was on familiar ground for the next few hours. I knew that the ascent of Slievelamangan would be a make or break section for my calf muscle.


It was cloudy for this climb, so the climb felt easier that it did on my recce. I was delighted to make it to the summit and knew that the next two summits would come relatively easily. Pretty soon I had climbed Cove Mountain and took a solid break for food and refilling my water bottles before going up Slieve Beg and descending to the Brandy Pad trail. It was easy going along the Brandy Pad trail and I took straight line to Rocky mountain once it was within sight. It was a bumpy way to go but I progress was quite good. A quick stop on the top of Rocky mountain and I descended to the wall and for a path that lead half way up Spences Mountain. This was the hottest part of the day and I filled my water bottles in a mountain stream. I ploughed my way up through heavy vegetation towards Spences Mountain and hit the ridge a bit further North than planned. So, I headed back to Spences Mountain and backtracked towards the summit of Chimney Rock Mountain. The trail along Chimney Rock was very enjoyable and I took a shortcut over to the Brandy Pad before making my way up Crossone. I was happy with my progress and my calf was not getting any worse, so my spirits were lifting but I had a steep climb up Slieve Donard ahead of me.

The climb from Crossone to Slieve Donard felt relentlessly steep. I was grateful that it wasn't very sunny at the time. I enjoyed the varied nature of it, switching from grassy to rocky and back and forth. I particularly enjoyed the grippy rock sections. Reaching the summit was a change because after being on my own all day, I was suddenly on a crowded mountainside. I stopped for a good feed and some time off my feet before descending to the col below the climb to Slieve Commedagh. My descent was at a snail’s pace compared to a bunch of teenage boys who raced down. I picked my way along the Mourne wall to near the summit of Slieve Commedagh and then headed for the summit cairn. From there I followed the ridge to Shan Slieve and it took a while to be sure that I had hit the exact summit.


My original plan was to go back up Slieve Commedagh to rejoin the wall but I changed my mind and decided to contour around to the wall and avoid the climb. The contour was on ridiculously steep ground and I eventually made my way around, after an encounter with a very angry sheep at one point.  The summits of Slieve Corragh and the three summits of Slievenaglogh came easily before a descent to the Hare's Gap and the steep climb up Slieve Bearnagh. I knew that this was the toughest climb that I had left and I slowly picked my way up towards the summit. I got as close to the summit tor as I could and made my way up to the second and higher summit tor before the steepest descent of the day on my way towards Slieve Meelmore. Before the descent, I took a brief pause to enjoy some of the best views of the day off Bearnagh.


I was starting to feel like I was on the home straight and slowly picked off Slieve Meelmore, Slieve Meelbeg, and Slieve Loughshannagh. My route choice had me backtrack off Slieve Loughshannagh to head for Ben Crom in the distance. This route took me along an easy trail for a while and then I had a relentless bog trot to the base of the final climb. The sun was getting low in the sky and I pushed my pace as hard as my calf would endure to make sure that I got back to the Mourne Wall before it got dark. The summit cliffs of Ben Crom were impressive and the mountain literally falls into the Silent Valley. I'm not sure if I found an optimal route to Doan, but I crossed the bog and found a new water supply and soon I was on the trail to Doan's summit. Just near the top of Doan I suddenly had a small slab of rock to cross, it had me thinking \easy to get up, not so easy to get down" but I got up it. I went over on my ankle on the summit, no damage done, and I slowly slithered my way back down the slab and headed along a good path to the col between Slieve Loughshannagh and Carn Mountain. I was chasing day light at this stage and managed to lose the path. I also realized that my assessment of which mountain was which was wrong too. I was actually heading for the col to the East of Slieve Loughshannagh whereas I should be going for the west col, this error would have meant extra climbing so I was glad I spotted my error.

When I reached the col I knew that I had five summits to go. Carn Mountain North and Carn Mountain came quickly and this section was taking me away from the finish. The climb up Slieve Muck was long but not very steep and then I had to descend to Slieve Muck South. I started moving as quickly as my legs would allow because the light was fading seriously quickly. I reached the summit, turned around and pushed hard to get back to the summit of Slieve Muck again. I knew from there I had just over three kilometres to go to the finish. The next kilometre followed the Mourne wall and it was dark enough to need a head torch again. I moved as quickly as I could and had a few near trips and falls, but stayed on my feet. After a kilometre the wall swung right and I took a bearing from my map towards the summit of Ott Mountain. It was completely dark now so I just followed my compass bearing in a blind manner and climbed over any obstacles in my path; I did notice I was veering too far right of the bearing a few times but then stuck to the correct bearing religiously. Eventually I started climbing again and kept on the bearing until all the ground around me was downhill. I had reached the last summit and just needed to get to Ott car park. I could see the lights from the car in the car park so I headed straight in that direction and descended over a few tricky obstacles en route. Eventually, I hit the Ott track and was able to jog to the car park. The girls were there to welcome me to the finish and it was great to see the first people since the Donard col almost eight hours earlier.

Post Challenge

The Mourne 500 is a great challenge and I really enjoyed it. I think doing it alone was tougher than I had anticipated. The longest stretch that I went without seeing anyone was eight hours, but I pretty much only met a handful of people on the whole route, apart from on Donard summit and its descent.  I think I got the fuelling correct and might even have carried a little too much food in the end. I could say that my dodgy calf slowed me down a lot, but I think that going slower early on might have left me with more in reserve at the end. I reckon some local knowledge from extra recceing would have helped fine tune my route, but it worked out okay in the end. I'll definitely be back in the Mournes for some more runs soon.

UTMB Points - The Mourne 500 is a 2016 UTMB Qualifier


The Mourne 500 is once again accepted as a UTMB Qualifying Race (4 points on new scale, 2 points on old scale).  Note the Rules page for a UTMB qualifying Mourne 500. 

Content of the email from ITRA (International Trail Running Association) below.

Mourne 500 Challenge 2016 (N° ITRA : 10934-13891)

After evaluation, ITRA keeps the following values communicated on our website:

D 65,2 km / D+ 4430 m / D- 4430 m (Link TraceDeTrail)
  • Certification: Yes, ITRA commits on the values below
Method of calculation : We keep the original altitude and apply a Threshold of 3 m for the elevation corresponding to the use of a GPS devise with altimetric barometer.
  • Evaluation Criteria:
Endurance points: 4 points (new scale) - 2 points (old scale)
Mountain level:     8
Finisher level:       310

Dawson Stelfox - Dark Mourne 500, Winter Solstice 2014

Congratulations to Dawson Stelfox, who endured raging winds and complete darkness on his own, to complete the Mourne 500 in 25hrs 50 min (time TBC) on the shortest daylight day of the year, 21 December 2014.

Whilst the challenge of the Mourne 500 is not about the clock time as such, anyone out on the hills for that amount of time without support or taking shelter, particularly at this time of year, has shown quite incredible resolve.  Well done, Dawson.
A rare daylight image from Dawson's Mourne 500

Dawson's Report - The Dark 500s

I first walked round all the Mourne peaks over 500m almost 40 years ago (1500ft back then!), on a three day midsummer camping trip. Since then the mountains have been ordered, told to stand up straight and be counted and the Rules have been set down.  My interest was kindled during the development of the Rankin Round and I was keen to have a go at the 500’s this summer.

A few sporadic recce’s and then an aborted attempt in June due to poor weather were followed by torn ligaments from an old man’s stumble in the Alps in July and that seemed to rule out any prospect this year.

That didn’t, of course , prevent me from dispensing advice, most of which was wrong, to anyone who would listen, including…

(a)   Best start in late evening so as to get the bit in the dark done while still fresh.
This fails to take into account that you are starting out having already been up and about for 12 hours, and that, especially in winter, you would end  up travelling through two nights rather than just one.
(b)   Going clockwise from Ott works best with (a) as the Mourne wall handrail helps the navigation in the dark.
This doesn’t make so much difference if you are walking, but those capable are better able to take advantage of runnable sections going anti-clockwise.
(c)    A winter round shouldn’t be that much harder than summer!
This is obviously complete nonsense. Worse weather, heavier ground and, especially, the dramatic slowing of pace in the dark, all combine to make winter a much more masochistic proposition.

An uncharacteristic attention to injury recovery meant I was able to get out on the hills again by early October and interest grew in finishing the year with something challenging. Despite my bad advice Taryn and Joanne completed the first winter round in November in a remarkably fast time of 23 hours, but I wasn’t up to their pace, and so settled on a slow solo attempt on the longest night of the year.  The solstice is when the sun stands still – the turning of the year -  and the winter solstice has a particular significance in symbolising the rebirth of the year, the return of the sun and the basis of life. The hills of Ireland still hold the physical markings of that passage – marker stones and alignments abound, and there is nothing like a long journey in wild mountains through the night to remind you of your elemental needs.

I also ate a large amount of humble pie in preparation and took Taryn and Joanne’s rueful advice to start in the morning and go anti-clockwise.

So it was that at about 6.50am on the morning of Saturday 20th December I left Ott car park. Dawn broke going over Cock mountain and low winter sun accompanied me all the way down to reach  Finlieve by 10.40, where there is the first serious navigation choice. Previously I had tried the direct line approach over to the foot of Muck, but there is some pretty unpleasant ground dropping down to the Windy Gap river and then the additional climb up over the tail of the Pigeon ridge. This time I braved the Red bog – merely soggy in summer but full on calf deep water in winter, (best head to the Red Moss river as soon as possible) and down the fence line almost to Sandy Brae, before setting off cross country to the track curling through the delightful Scots pine forest at the bottom of Slievemageogh and on along the wall to the road below the south ridge of Sl Muck, stopping for lunch about 12.30.  This, to me, was the worst climb of them all – over 400m straight up the ridge, but you pick off two peaks for the price of one. The weather remained fine but there were the first hints of lowering mist and rising westerly winds, all able to be ignored once I hit the shelter of the Mourne Wall, followed it to the route crossroads at the Loughshannagh col. From there, an easy stroll to Doan, the disheartening up and down to Ben Crom by 3.00pm and then the tricky direct descent through the cliffs down to the Ben Crom dam for some welcome afternoon tea of jam sandwiches and flat Coke, around 4.00pm.

Darkness caught me at 4.30pm on the top of Binnian north but it was the rising winds that gave greater concern – there had been very strong westerly gales on Friday, but had been predicted to fall during Saturday (which they did ) and not get strong until a new front came across Sunday afternoon. However, the wind rose to gale force over the tops by early Saturday evening and became the biggest energy sapping problem of the entire journey. The mist lowered to around 500m so every summit was accompanied by the visual confusion of torchlight reflected back in your face, to the extent I had to hold my head torch low to the ground to get clear sight of the ground. I had decided to use poles, and was glad I did to keep some semblance of stability as the wind got stronger, but trying to hold two poles, a compass and a torch is almost too much for a tired brain to co-ordinate.

Binnian and back (sneaking round on the leeward side on the return) took well over two hours and it was 7.30pm before I hit the top of Lamagan. On, in thick mist and strong winds to Cove and Beg, feeling a bit wind battered by the time (8.45pm) I hit the Brandy Pad so rather than contour round to Chimney Rock I decided to head up over Donard (then down to Crossone, and round to Chimney Rock) so I could take some temporary respite behind the Wall again. This is clearly longer and involves the extra height of going up to the Donard/Commedagh col twice, but it seemed a good idea at the time. The top of Donard was a whirling maelstrom of cloud and I was glad to drop over the lee side towards Crossone, at least until I hit the awkward boulderfield on the descent.

Although it never rained the whole trip, the mist was sufficiently thick and the wind sufficiently strong to soak through most of the six layers of clothes I was by now wearing,  and stopping for anything more than a few seconds left you chilled. I got blown over twice on Chimney Rock as Saturday turned into Sunday and my pace slowed to a crawl,  but it eased as I dropped down to Spence’s and Rocky mountains and the welcome shelter of the Wall again. Commedagh was almost pleasant until the exposed summit plateau at 2.45am and the always awkward navigation down to Shanslieve – blown over again, hat whipped off in the gales and lost forever. I took a glove off to get my spare hat out of my rucksac and  the glove was also blown away, so the spare gloves had to come out as well, both reminders as to how quickly things can go badly wrong.

Getting back to the Wall down to Corragh by 3.30am was a great relief and it almost felt like the home straight until I thought about what was still left. By now I was beginning to realise that I wouldn’t make my self imposed target of 24hrs, but just getting round was always the real goal.  The wind exposed arrowhead out to Slievenaglogh north was passed by 4.30am and the Hares Gap reached by 4.45am. I hadn’t been looking forward to the slog up Bearnagh but was welcomingly sheltered and the snow patches along the wall were like morse code tickertape in the darkness extending my vision.  I crossed Bearnagh with the tors emerging ghostlike from the mist before 6am, frightened brave campers at the Bearnagh/Meelmore col, crossed Meelmore at 6.45am and emerged into a grey dawn on Slieve Loughshannagh.


I nearly forgot about little Ott mountain at the end, finally reaching the car park at 8.39 on Sunday morning, 25hrs and 49 minutes after starting out, the longest night over, the year turned.