This time two years ago, Ursula McPherson and Sean McCrudden received a visit from two young men at Gartan Outdoor Education and Training Centre (OETC).
David Burns and Maghnus Collins had a sense of adventure about them and having taken part in conquests around the world, were planning to embed their footprint on Irish soil.
In Janaury 2013, they completed the ‘Silk Roads to Shanghai’, which has since been made into a television documentary in association with Crow Street Pictures, Self Help Africa and RTE.
It chronicles a mammoth unsupported 16,000km journey that the duo had started in Istanbul almost a year beforehand.
They cycled to Kathmandu via Turkey, Iran, India and Nepal before trekking by foot over the Tibetan Plateau to the source of the Yangtze River and by kayak onto Shanghai.
The Yangtze stretch was understood never to have been passed by kayak before.
In 2010, they completed the gruelling 250km Sahara Race over five days in temperatures that reached 44 degrees celsius.
The previous year, 2009, saw a cycle to Ireland from Cape Town, South Africa. It was a journey of 17,500km that took 11 months to complete.
“I thought when they landed they were mad,” says McCrudden, a native of Glenfin who in his 21 years in Gartan, has worked his way from caretaker to assistant director.
“But they’ve done some amazing things. When they started telling us about some of the stuff that they’d done, we knew we were dealing with serious people. They’ve been there and done it.”
Coleraine native Burns, a graduate in Business and Marketing from UCD, used to spend his boyhood summers on Eighter Island, just off Burtonport.
In his mind he had a loose framework of how he wanted to establish Ireland’s first 24-hour endurance race.
The quartet brainstormed around a table with a map of Donegal and began to plot possible coordinates.
“We loved the idea,” says McPherson, the director at Gartan and President of Mountaineering Ireland, who last November was part of a seven-strong exploratory expedition to the Indian Himalaya, the Zumthul Phuk and Siniolchu Peak in Sikkim.
It’s close to the Tibetan and Nepalese borders - a region that hadn’t been visited before - below Kanchengunga, the third highest peak in the world at 8,586 metres.
“What they were talking about was something different,” she adds. “We instantly recognised that it was going to work in Donegal.
“After they told us what they had been up to, we told them what we were up to as it’s our background as well. Once you put the two together then you’ve got something powerful. There was a synergy.”
McCrudden adds: “David wanted to get as many different places into it as he possibly could. If we were starting in Gartan then it had to loop back to here in Gartan.
“That made sense so we worked off the map to see how we could do that. Then we took in Glenveagh for part of the marathon and so on. It came together fairly quick.”
Burns and Limerick native Collins, who has a Bachelors and Masters of Law from NUI Galway, sped off - by car - around Donegal with staff members from Gartan to see with their own eyes.
Gartan, with a boathouse and main centre that possesses sleeping space for 96 people, was the perfect base.
The plan was originally to have what was simply titled ‘The Race’ in November 2013 but the myriad of logistics meant it would instead take place the following March.
“We thought the time of year was the biggest factor,” McCrudden adds. “You can see this week what the weather is like - very cold and wet. The wind is a huge factor.
“That could be a hindrance. The actual distances shouldn’t be the deterrent, it’s more the weather. But that’s the way they wanted it. The weather is part of the challenge. It’s psychological.”
Stage one was to involve a 22km run from Gartan to Lough Swilly, prior to a 15km kayak from Ramelton to Rathmullan before a 100km cycle round Fanad Head and the Atlantic Drive onto Muckish Mountain. Stage four was a 500m scramble up Muckish before a cycle west and around Bloody Foreland for another 75km of cycling. The final obstacle was a nocturnal marathon through Glenveagh National Park. All competitors had to finish within 24 hours.
It was and is a not for profit event will all proceeds going towards the work of Gorta-Self Help Africa, organised by Sand2Snow Adventures with Gartan on board.
At 6am on March 1 last, The Race, from being scattered points on a map, came to fruition. Some 54 competitors from nine counties ran out of Gartan in the darkness.
Some 15 hours, 22 minutes and 11 seconds later, Canadian Bill Wells had completed the course to become the inaugural champion.
Fourteen minutes and 14 seconds behind him, Sean McFadden from Letterkenny was in second place.
Christina McKenzie was the first lady home, which she did in a time of 18:13:18. The last of the 36 who made it inside the time-limit was Heather Bamford, with six minutes and 42 seconds to spare and some 33 minutes behind her daughter Emma.
John Boyce, an employee at Gartan, spent the day on top of Muckish as a marshal. This year he will be scaling the summit as one of the 70 entrants, who will on Saturday morning, roll out from Gartan under the cloud of darkness again. It’s the second coming.
Rathmullan Community Group will have food for spectators and the Teach Gleann Ceo Doochary will provide the same and a roof over heads before the last transition. The Civil Defence and Red Cross are back on board, as are 100 volunteers.
“The Race is a big bonus for us and there’s a lot more coverage this year,” McCrudden adds. “We’re happy to be involved with it and the charity.”
Gartan is a gem on the doorstep of people in Donegal and last year’s event already acclaimed worldwide recognition when it was named on CTV’s (Canadian Television’s) ‘Top 10 extreme endurance races around the world’
“Gartan is perfect as a central point and the start and the finish of The Race,” McPherson adds. “It’s got the residential, the facilities, catering and the location that’s perfect for heading off in any direction in Donegal. It’s close to the sea, close to the hills and close to waterwards so fits perfectly with what the Race is trying to do.”