Donegal all set to host ‘The Race’ - Ireland’s first true endurance event

Alan Foley


Alan Foley

Donegal all set to host ‘The Race’ - Ireland’s first true endurance event
Wasn’t it those clever marketeers who brainstormed and came up with the concept that up here in Donegal, things are a little different?

Wasn’t it those clever marketeers who brainstormed and came up with the concept that up here in Donegal, things are a little different?

Coleraine native David Burns, a 29-year-old graduate in Business and Marketing from UCD, used to spend his boyhood summers on Eighter Island, just off Burtonport.

Since then he’s travelled the world for charity but when he and his friend and fellow adventurer Maghnus Collins from Limerick entrusted themselves with establishing Ireland’s first true endurance race, Burns could join the dots in his head.

“I would know Donegal fairly well having spent so much time there growing up,” he says.

“I knew the Dungloe and Gweedore areas would be perfect. It’s a side of Ireland that not a lot of people know about and the westerly wind and hills made it the perfect place.”

In Janaury 2013, Burns and Collins completed the ‘Silk Roads to Shanghai’, a mammoth unsupported 16,000km journey that had started in Istanbul almost 11 months 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 stretched was understood never to have been passed by kayak before.

In 2010, Burns and Collins completed the gruelling 250km Sahara Race over five days in temperatures that reached 44 celsius.

The year beforehand, 2009, they cycled to Ireland from Cape Town, South Africa. It was a journey of 17,500km that took 11 months to complete.

All three were completed for Self Help Africa, a charity that works with rural communities to help them improve their farms and their livelihoods.

“Maghnus and I have completed a few long expeditions made up of running, cycling and kayaking,” Burns says.

“One of those was a run across the Sahara and with something like that, the real achievement in getting to the finish line.

“Ireland didn’t have an event like that so we thought we would establish one.”

And so ‘The Race’ came to being - a 24-hour, 260km event around Donegal for the elitist of athletes.

The adventurous duo aren’t taking part this time due to their commitment as event organisers but Burns did give the course a rekkie last October. It took “about 21 hours” he says.

The event is centred at Gartan Outdoor Adventure Centre and rolls out at 5:30am on Saturday, March 1. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Stage one involves 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.

Then, stage four is a 500m scramble up Muckish before a cycle pedalling west and around Bloody Foreland for a final 75km of cycling.

As shadows grow longer, the peaks of Glenveagh will funnel those still persisting towards their final obstacle - a nocturnal marathon through the national park.

“I had a rough picture in my head, right from the start,” Burns continues. “I wanted a circuit around Glenveagh and one of the mountains - Muckish or Errigal - so it was just a matter of filling in the blanks.

“There aren’t too many towns or villages being passed through and that gives a sense of loneliness, which is hard to get. Freedom is part of it.

“There wasn’t anywhere else like that to challenge people for a real 24-hour endurance race. Finishing is the real goal here. It’s a serious challenge.”

One of the reasons, beside Burns’ local knowledge, of Donegal standing out from other potential candidates was the fact it could easily accommodate an event of such magnitude without any repetition of the circuit.

“There’s such a large area and the one thing we really wanted was to have it start and finish in the one place,” Burns adds.

“Gartan Outdoor Education Centre was perfect and we’d really like to thank their staff. In particular, Ursula McPherson, Sean McCrudden and Ciaran O’Brien. Paul Doherty has also been brilliant with his help with the photographs.

“We really wanted to bring in part of Inishowen but, say, if you crossed from Rathmullan to Buncrana, you’d have to cross twice - over and back so it didn’t make sense. It was hard to incorporate.

“The other main thing we wanted was to finish off road and the Bridal Path at Glenveagh was perfect and that part of the race will be run in the dark.”

Again, Self Help Africa will be the benefitting charity.

“There are a lot of races around the country,” Burns says. “They have big numbers and listen, I’ve taken part in them. But we wanted to make this in Donegal quite exclusive.”

There is a cap of 75 participants taking place in ‘The Race’ on the weekend of March 1 and 2.

Seven of those who will take to the start line on Saturday week are from Donegal.

Brendan McBride, Harold McGuinness, Sean McFadden, Arthur McMahon, John Grant and Gerard Callaghan and Gavin Harris have all opted to take on the challenge for differing reasons.

The fact the event is in their locality means they’re more aware than most of the test that awaits.

“The course is brilliant and there was a great interest in the event, particularly since it’s an event in its first year,” Burns adds.

“What we’d love now is the weather to be good enough so nothing is postponed. We don’t mind a bit of ice or snow on Muckish but just so long as it’s safe and everyone who takes part enjoys the experience.”

It’s a huge task for all who will stand in Gartan with the wind in their faces early next Saturday.

Then they will see just why it’s a little different up here.