Greg McCann Conquers Mourne 500

Greg McCann has completed the Mourne 500 on 28 June 2014 in an impressive time of 16 hours and 24 minutes, and has written this excellent report of his day.

Greg McCann enjoying the Mourne 500 when the weather finally cleared
Mourne 500 Challenge – My Way
I first became aware of the Mourne 500 Challenge last year and I thought that is on my ‘to do list’.  So when I sat down to plan out this years running calendar I thought the Mourne 500 would be perfect training for the 80km, 5000m at the Grand Raid des Pyrenees.  I then decided on my target date the last weekend in June.

My training over the last two months has been to cover all the various sections of the course. It was my intention to run the route in an anticlockwise direction from Ott CP taking in Slievenamuck, Cock, etc, then finishing with Slieve loughshannagh and Ott Mtn.  Boy, how the best laid plans fall apart on the day of reckoning!!

I arrived at Ott CP at 5.00am and the cloud level was down to 400m, my heart sank. Going anticlockwise would involve open navigation with lots of room for error. These were zero visibility conditions!! I hadn’t planned to run the route clockwise, as I thought it would be madness to leave Finlieve/Shanlieve etc to tired legs, but navigationally it would be an easier start.

At this point Tish said, ‘why don’t you come back tomorrow’ but I just couldn’t, I was ready to go and I wanted to go now!! So I headed up Ott Mtn and then across to Slieve Loughshannagh.

In the mist and rain it was cold. The rain was dripping off me and my light orienteering top wasn’t keeping me warm. I kept saying ‘this will clear’ it shouldn’t be here, but it is so ‘sod it, so what’.

In the mist I just had to keep my head down, keep moving and take straight lines, I couldn’t cut corners which at the start frustrated me, I was thinking, ‘no, this is good, if it was warm and dry I would be going faster and maybe suffering later on’. (Ever the optimist!)

The first part of the course was ok, I had to follow the compass out and back from Slievenalogh to the summit NW of it. After Slieve Corragh I contoured out to Shanlieve. Initially, I had started out too low and had to traverse some steep rock and ground, after a few adjustments I was fine if a bit slow and hit the ridge spot on.

I met my first person on the hills coming down Donard at about 9.00am. From the top of Donard I had to go down to Crossone. I had only been up Crossone once before in good weather in the opposite direction and I didn’t like it much then. 

This time I was going down in zero vis as fast as I was brave enough to! I lost my foot down a hole twice and I sliced my hand on a rock protecting myself and to add insult to injury I got dragged off course to the south( I almost gave up at this stage!) I was only a third of the way through and I thought this is madness, go home- (30 mins and I’m home.) I said, ‘no’ this is training for something bigger, ’you big girls blouse’ and kept going. I decided that as I was heading for Chimney Rock,Spences and Rocky and I would reassess the situation at the Brandy Pad.

By the time I got to Spences Mtn, hey presto, it was a different day! All the peaks were in view with the exception of Donard. By the time I got around to the Brandy Pad I had being running(if you can call it that) for 6 hours, and there was no stopping me now.

Beg/Cove/Lamagan where fine, then I headed up Binnian for its three summits, when I got to the most easterly point I headed down to Binnian Lough and picked up a path leading down to Binnian/Lamagan col. The climb up to Ben Crom was tough but short. I was going for 9 hours now and I knew I had the back broke. Doan/Carn/Muck followed without incident but were full of magical views as l Iooked back to where I had been. The descent off Muck was steep and I arrived in time for the Mourne Rambler (bus) alas I had to wave him on! I stopped for water/food at the river beside Pigeon CP in preparation for the climb up Finlieve. I ran up the track from the CP with ease and decended into the next valley and then started the climb up to Finlieve that was a murder picture!! In my head I knew this was going to be tough and it was, it took me almost two hours to cover 6.5km from Pigeon CP to Finlieve!!

By this stage now I was heading home, but could I get home in sub 16 hours? Up until this point I had taken a photo at every summit, from Finlieve to Ott CP it was ‘sod that, lets go for it’. I pushed as best as I could, coming down Eagle, I wasn’t necessarily dancing down the steep slope, it was more like a saga convention getting out of a bus!!
I reached Spelga CP at 15.57 gutted but happy.

On my way up my 39th and final summit (Slievenamuck) I had two unexpected vistors to accompany me to the top, Áine, my daughter just home from university and Charlie(dog), my training partner, joined me for the last summit for some photos with fantastic sunset and the drop down to Ott CP, where it all began 16 hours and 24 minutes earlier in the mist and rain.

I covered 65km with 5199m in 16h 24mins.  This was a fantastic day out in the hills and I would encourage anyone to give it a go!!