Royal Canal Run June 21st 2019

My Royal Canal Run – June 21st 2019. 

Run Logo by Catfink Creative

After nearly a year of planning and 35 weeks of training the evening of the 20th of June had arrived, my crew had been briefed, my kit bags and supplies packed and repacked and all the relay runners who would accompany me along the 90 mile journey knew where and roughly when to meet. It was time to head in to the start. 

My wife Niamh who would be primarily looking after me throughout the run got into our car at our home and we made the half hour journey into Connolly Station car park. Colin, who was my well briefed crewman looking after the logistics of the relay runners was joined at the house by Paul, one of the first relay runners and they would pick up John on their way before joining us in town.

The meeting point was 22:30 in the main concourse of Connolly Train Station. It was the last opportunity for some of us to use a toilet before heading out. Several of us met there before proceeding down to the Lifting Bridges at the Sea Lock where the Royal Canal meets the River Liffey at North Wall Quay. 

It was very encouraging for me to see so many supporters here to see me off. Family and friends had gathered to wish me luck before we set off. We posed for photos, many of us wearing the event t-shirts I had made up a few weeks previously.

L-R Standing: Colin, Niamh, Dave, Paddy, Paul, Ros
L-R Front: JC, Gary (me), Ross, John

The plan was to start bang on midnight when my Garmin FR235 hit 00:00. Given it was dark and we were in the city centre I had planned a long time ago that it would be wise to have a large contingent of runners with me to escort me out of Dublin City Centre and its environs and continue with me into Co. Kildare. 

With me at the start was my brother Ross, some friends from my college days, JC, Ros and Dave, my parkrun buddies Paul, Paddy and John. Equipped with head torches we headed off at the top of the hour and proceeded along the canal on Guild Street to Sherriff Street. While work is underway to continue the path along the canal from Sherriff Street to Newcomen Bridge we had to divert off the canal at this point, travelling up Seville Place to the Five Lamps before crossing the North Strand Road making our way up to the 1st Lock and the end of the only true diversion we would have to take away from the banks of the canal on the run. 

We had a nice relaxed pace and conversation was striking up between everybody as we re-joined the canal and started heading west. Being honest I have little real memory of the early part of the run other than passing certain landmarks. I knew the pace was comfortable as we passed under Croke Park and while I was aware I didn’t want to go out too fast in case I would blow up later on everything was going well. We came up and had to wait for the traffic lights before crossing Drumcondra Road and then proceeded past the Brendan Behan statue and the walls of Mountjoy Prison which many would associate the song The Auld Triangle. Straight after we crossed over the Phibsborough Road at the traffic lights and we were well on our way out of the city. 

By the time we passed the LUAS depot in Broombridge we had already climbed up 7 Locks, 5 of which are double chambered. By this stage we all head our headlamps on even with the ambient lighting of the city around us. The group had spread out a little bit and between Broombridge and Ashtown I remember enjoying some conversation with my brother who I was very thankful had managed to join us after been unwell for the previous two weeks. 

There is a good surface all the way from the start up as far as Castleknock and we proceeded on comfortably past Ashtown, Navan Road Parkway Train Station and the 10th and 11th Double Chamber Locks before reaching the aqueduct over the M50. I had gone on ahead a little here as I was anticipating meeting my crew at the car park of the pub at the 12th Lock. As I came up the steps I could see Niamh and my father waiting for me. The first 10km and the first 12 Locks were now behind me and I knew the further west I went the easier things would get. I arrived at the 12th Lock at 01:08am. A minute or two later I was joined by the rest. A few of the relay runners had stopped to take a selfie on the aqueduct over the M50.

Ross, John, Paul and Ros crossing the M50 on the Aqueduct

At the 12th Lock JC and Ross would finish running for now. I had personalised dog tags made up for everyone would support me during the day so with their first leg over I presented JC and Ross with their dog tags and remaining 5 others and myself proceeded on west. I had originally planned on not wearing my Camelbak for the 1st 10km and would grab it then but this idea went out of my head at the start where I was already wearing it so I had my provisions with me. 

Shortly after passing Castleknock Train Station the quality of the path drops to that of a narrow trail as we pass through an area known as the Deep Sinking where the tow path rises to some 9meters above the canal and is single file. This area was definitely the most technical part of the run and given it was being tackled at the darkest point of the night I decided early on that I would walk through this section of trail which lasted about 2km. David and I kept up a brisk walk as we made our way through the deep sinking the 4 others fell slightly behind. I happily munched on a berry and nut pack as I made my way through here. 

Eventually we came out the far side at Keenan Bridge at Porterstown. We got some short relief from the trail path here as there is a solid path up and past Clonsilla Train Station but soon we were back on a wet trail with high grass. By this point we had split up into 3 groups of two with Dave and I up the front. This resulted in two oversights on my part, firstly I was probably going a little faster than I should have been but I was enjoying the conversation with Dave who is a person I have little opportunity to share the road with and secondly I didn’t see the impact the technical terrain was having on Paul who’s heart rate was steadily increasing.

It didn’t feel like too long before we reached the Royal Canal Amenity Group boat house which to me was the sign that we had finally left Dublin and were now in Co. Kildare. The lights from Leixlip Confey Train Station could be seen up ahead and this would be our next rest stop. Given I had a large group of relay runners with me coming out of the city I had organised with Colin that he would get 3 large pizzas, a pepperoni, a margarita and a multiple topping one to have ready at Leixlip Confey. Dave and I came off the canal and down to the railway car park. As I went over Cope Bridge I could see the head torches of John and Paddy close behind, Ros a little way back and Paul in the distance. It was 02:19am when I got to Confey.

Pizza at Leixlip Confey

Dave and I turned the corner into the car park to see a table loaded with 3 pizzas and several bottles of water. It was a nice spread. Dave’s wife Fona who I also went to college with was there to pick him up. I quite happily had 3 slices of pizza as I waited for the others to join us. Not long after John and Paddy showed up and I gave Paddy and Dave their dog tags as they were finishing here. John took the opportunity to rob a pair of my brother’s socks. Colin took me aside for a minute to tell me that Paul had decided he too would call it a day in Leixlip. After the technical section we had been through and the fact he had work the next morning I know he made the right decision here though I know he would have liked to have continued on further. 

It was at this point that I realised that Ros had yet to show up. I said this to JC who called him and it turned out he had missed the bridge and had carried on past us. With that I gave Paul his dog tag, thanked everyone and John and myself made tracks to catch up with Ros. I asked the crew to do their best to get to Leixlip Louisa Bridge where Ros was so he could grab a slice of pizza before we went on for Maynooth. 

Special Delivery for Ros at Louisa Bridge

It didn’t take long for us to catch up with Ros and by the time we reached him he managed to grab some food from the crew. With that we carried on towards Maynooth. This was Ros’s first time running beyond half marathon distance and he was doing well. The darkness in the sky was lifting slightly and we were back on a more solid path baring a small section between the 13th Lock at Deey Bridge and Pike Bridge. We passed Carton and headed on for Maynooth Harbour.

Maynooth Harbour at 3am

John, who had been carrying several niggles over the previous few weeks was starting to feel them as we made our way up past the 14th and 15th Locks. The sky was continuing to lighten and John and I were making good time all the same as we ran the section I am most familiar with. Having made up some time John and I reached Kilcock Harbour, 33km into the run just after 04:00.

John and Colin in Kilcock

I met my crew of Niamh, Colin, JC and Ross here as John stopped and I gave him his dog tag. Ross and Colin had organised a rotation of go-pro cameras so I could record some of the day. Ross offered to put on the chest strap for me here but given it still wasn’t fully bright I decided I’d leave it for this section. I knew I would be covering the next 13km on my own so Niamh had my headphones ready. I called up an episode of the game Zombies, Run! on my phone and I proceeded up past the 16th Lock onto the Kilcock parkrun route and ran on.

This was the first and only section when I would be on my own. I think the crew were a bit concerned that I would be ok and some had even offered to join me for it but being honest I really enjoyed the first part of the section up as far as the 17th Lock at McLoughlin Bridge. Dawn was approaching and I was even able to take off my head torch and put it in my bag and took a gel and a chicken sandwich on board. 

When you get to the 17th Lock you reach an area known as the Long Level as it some 32km before you encounter the next Lock at Thomastown. Unfortunately while the Greenway is mostly complete from Maynooth Harbour, the section between Ferns Lock (17th) and Cloncurry Bridge is yet to open on the north bank which necessitated me running on the trail of the south bank. In a way I was glad that I was on my own for this bit. I had done it several times in training recently so I was accustomed to it but the grass was high and wet from the rain of the previous few days so my feet were getting soaked. It was somewhat disheartening looking across at the almost complete surface on the far bank as I worried I may get blisters early on because of the trail I was on. I kept the head down and kept running, happy to have music and zombies in my ears. I was also making good time. I reached marathon distance just short of Cloncurry Bridge a few seconds over the 5 hour mark.

Crossing over Cloncurry I had 3km left to go to get to my next aid station at Enfield where my crew would be waiting with dry runners and socks and two new runners would be waiting to join me. The sun was slowly starting to rise as I approached the straight into Enfield. I could see Colin running out towards me and he recorded a small video as I approached Enfield Bridge. JC got some stunning photos of the sunrise over the canal which he was tweeting onto my twitter account. I crossed the bridge and came into the carpark of the Bridge House Pub where Amanda and Richie were waiting for me. I reached Enfield at 05:28.

Sunrise in Enfield

I took the opportunity to sit down in a camping chair that Colin had put out for me. Niamh had my first gear change bag ready for me so I swapped my runners and socks and dried my feet and I took off my hi-viz long sleeve top I had been wearing since the start. I still felt a little cold so decided against putting on a singlet just yet but did grab a light baseball cap. A half chicken sandwich I had while running the previous section was sitting heavy so I took the chance to have a can of Red Bull which I have found can help my stomach in the right circumstances. Up to this point I was mainly drinking water with electrolytes from my Camelbak. I finally took the chance to put on a go-pro on a chest harness to try capture some footage while I was running. Ross told me that the battery and memory should last about an hour and 15 minutes with each camera. In total I had three which meant that for the rest of the day someone was able to wear one while the other two charged. Then with a new supply pack picked up Amanda, Richie and I came out of the carpark and carried on heading west. 

First kit change and sit down at Enfield

We left Enfield at 05:43am. I was delighted and thankful to be joined by Amanda and Richie who are parkrun buddies from Griffeen parkrun in Lucan and they got up at 4:15 in the morning after only getting back from Florida a few days previous and after a trip to the UK only 48 hours earlier. 

We hit the 50k mark fairly soon after leaving Enfield and I can remember remarking to them that if we made it as far as Kilmore Bridge I would be happy enough to take a walk break for a while. Kilmore Bridge is about 4km west of Enfield and is the start of the last trail section I would encounter. The section between Kilmore Bridge and the Moyvalley Bridges is a very narrow trail on the north bank with a lot of protruding rocks and roots in the ground not to mention quite a few thorny branches reaching across the path. Like the Fern’s Lock to Cloncurry section you can see an almost complete path on the far side of the canal bank but sure you have to take the adventure when it’s going. I took the lead through this section which is less than 2km long. We soon came to the Moyvalley Bridges and could see the new cycle ramp for the Greenway on the other side. We climbed up the embankment and over the old N4 road to Galway. In front of us was the fantastic pub Furey’s where I really enjoy calling into, but being sometime after 06:00 we wouldn’t be stopping today. Down on the other side we started running again heading for the Ribbontail Boat Club in Longwood Harbour.

Amanda Richie and I as I pass 50km

After leaving Enfield the crew took a chance to go to an Applegreen to get some breakfast.

Crew Breakfast In Applegreen

When I arrived at Longwood Harbour at 06:48am, now only 3 minutes behind where I hoped to be, Niamh and JC were waiting for us. I was happy with the amount of supplies I had on me and Amanda, Richie and I were moving along at a nice pace so I decided that we would just keep going. As I passed Niamh told me that Ross and Colin were having Sat Nav issues and couldn’t make it to us in time. This gave me a good laugh as earlier in the week Niamh took out an old road atlas and marked all the crew stops with a red marker whereas Colin had pre-programmed his phone with all the GPS co-ordinates of the locations. In the end it was the old school methods that proved best. Colin and Ross got caught on the wrong side of the canal and unable to cross. 

Niamh and Colin discussing the merits of a map over a Sat Nav

Amanda, Richie and I crossed over the Boyne Aqueduct and headed on for Blackshade Bridge. I had mentioned to them that I often found the next section to Thomastown Harbour, some 14km, the toughest mentally of the entire route. The surface is perfect but the landscape is very open and flat with no locks and few bridges to break it up, it can feel like you are getting nowhere. It came as a surprise to me then how quickly we got to the next village of the Hill of Down. I think I took a chocolate bar around here as Richie had his own supply of jelly babies. I know we varied between walking and running a good few times on this section. A pain came into my left knee for a while so I took two paracetamol around 07:30, all the same I was really happy with our progress. Before I knew it we were into Westmeath at D’Arcy’s Bridge which is a very short distance before Thomastown and I was preparing to say goodbye to the current runners and welcome the next crew. 

Arriving into Thomastown at 08:28 I was now ever so slightly ahead of target time. The weather was cracking with blue skies over the harbour and the crew had a chance to sit out in it for a while by the time we got there. Waiting for me were two more parkrun buddies, Paula and Anna who would see me safe as far as Mullingar. I swapped out a supply box and the go-pro here and we took a few pictures as I thanked Amanda and Richie and gave them their dog tags. 

Amanda Richie and I arriving in Thomastown

Paula, Anna and I left Thomastown at 08:31, 4 minutes ahead of schedule and proceed up the flight of locks from the 18thLock at the Harbour to the 25th Lock. These 8 locks follow in rapid succession over a distance of about 3km bringing me to the summit level. I know we left Thomastown walking but we did get moving at a comfortable pace after the 20th Lock and by the time we passed Footy’s Bridge after the 25th Lock we were moving well. The section from Thomastown to Mary Lynch’s was the shortest section on the whole run and we made it there by 9:09. I was now half way through the run.

My stomach wasn’t feeling the best at this point and took the opportunity to go to the toilet in a field close by, little did I remember that the whole thing was being caught on the go-pro. I took a few minutes to get going again and applied some deep heat to my knees but we left Mary Lynch’s by 09:14am, 6 minutes ahead of schedule. 

Anna, Paula and I at the farmers lifting bridge.

I had good banter with Paula and Anna as we skirted around the N4 and passed through the Downs. We got a selfie at the farmers lifting bridge not long after Mary Lynch’s. I knew I was slowing and the pain was now in both knees. That said we had some decent run segments along the way and we got to the Sinking east of Mullingar in what seemed like no time. The benefit of having the relay runners with me was certainly paying dividends now as I wasn’t noticing the time flying by. I was surprised though that my watch had reached a low level already and meant I had to charge it on the go. One advantage of the Garmin 235 is that it continues recording even when charging and the only data you lose at the time is heart rate. 

We passed by the new National Famine Way Shoes monument at Pipers Boreen before getting to Morans Bridge and starting the big horse shoe loop around Mullingar town. While I had planned on Mullingar Train Station to be the next rest stop it made sense for the crew to use the opportunity of going to Costa for a coffee and some brunch as it was just a minute off the canal. When we reached Green Bridge in Mullingar we came off the Greenway and met up with the rest in Costa. We reached there at 10:53am. 

One of the 30 National Famine Way Sculptures along the Royal Canal

I took the opportunity to use the toilets in Costa and presented Paula and Anna with their dog tags. It was at this point that I realised that I hadn’t been eating anyway near as much as I had planned so for today and I had no intentions on eating anything in Costa now (it was in my plan to have a ham and cheese toastie). I had learned at the Donadea 100km a few weeks earlier that while I had a nutrition plan that worked, it was more important to listen to the body on the day for what it wanted.

Giving out the dog tags at Costa in Mullingar

Several more people had shown up in Mullingar and it seemed that everybody was having a good day, something that put me in a better mood given how self-serving the day itself could feel to me at times. I was enjoying myself in the perverse way long distance runners do but it was good to know everyone else seemed to be having a good time independently of the run too. 

My new running partner, again a parkrun running buddy, Gary agreed to wear the go-pro for the next while and we left Costa for the Greenway at 11:08am, 2 minutes ahead of schedule. Gary and I have logged a lot of training miles and quite a few competitive miles together over the last few years so he was great company as I left the last large urban centre along the route. This part of the route was new to Gary apart from the section along the Mullingar parkrun route. The brief stop in Mullingar did rejuvenate me a bit and Gary and I were able to move at a steady pace for the next few kilometres. I know the pace was a bit slower than either of us would normally be used to but it gave us a chance to catch up on some of Gary’s mountain running exploits in recent weeks since he finished the Dingle Adventure Race.

Gary D and Gary O’D leaving Mullingar

Gary and I reached Coolnahay at the end of the Summit level at 12:24pm 6 minutes ahead of schedule. Coolnahay Harbour is at the 26th Lock and from there to the end is a net decent down the last 21 locks. I had planned another kit change here so again the camping chair was laid out for me as I changed my runners, socks and baseball cap. I decided to stick with the short sleeve t-shirt as the sun was now fairly strong. Niamh put sunscreen on my neck and the back of my legs as I put deep heat on my knees and at 12:31pm we were off again. 

Kit change 2 ready at Coolnahay

I was able to run down the 26th, 27th and 28th Locks and after a short walk we also ran down the 29th, 30th and 31st Locks as we reached the 100km mark. At this stage I was really struggling with my knees to keep up a running pace so I settled into a brisk walk, adapting to what my body was telling me. Thankfully this didn’t seem to bother Gary and he kept my spirits high the whole way to Ballynacargy. I will admit it was the first time that day that I felt a little impatient with myself about getting to the next rest stop but looking at my watch I knew I was still on time for my best desired time so there was no point in blowing up or running hard on my knees with less than 50km to go. 

Ballynacargy is a lovely open harbour in a very rural setting and it was great to see the crew and next set of runners sunning themselves around a park bench and table by the old canal Storehouse and Hotel. Gary and I reached here at 13:35, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Niamh had a supply box ready for me here but I was actually craving some Red Bull to lift my spirits which was in the car the other side of the harbour. Colin thankfully went to get some as I sat down for a few, presented Gary with his dog tag and rubbed some deep heat into my knees. Colin was back in an instant and I enjoyed the cool Red Bull before Gary’s wife Tracey and running buddy Anita joined me to tackle the next section to Abbeyshrule. Tracey took on to wear the go-pro for this section. We left Ballynacargy at 13:41, 4 minutes ahead of schedule.

Ballynacargy Bridge and Harbour

I had to admit to Tracey and Anita at the start that running at this point was something that was beyond me at that moment in time. This section again is in a big open area and moves through a large flat bog with only a few bridges. I really enjoyed chatting with Tracey and Anita and while we were only walking it was at a brisk pace so I was happy enough with that, every step forward was a step closer to the finish. 

Niamh, Ross and Colin relaxing in the sun while Anita and Tracey wait to start.

I wanted to give myself a good incentive to keep moving throughout the day and one way of doing that was asking the Rustic Inn in Abbeyshrule to do up food for us for a set time. Ed at the Rustic Inn was very accommodating in opening the kitchen early and putting on a wide menu for me. It was only right then that I try and provide as much business as I could. I encouraged as many people as possible to join us in Abbeyshrule for 15:00. When I originally contacted the Rustic Inn I thought about 10 people might sit down. 2 days out from the run it was looking like 18. 

Gary, Anita and Tracey on Bog Bridge

Tracey, Anita and I made good progress down the 36th, 37th and 38th Locks before coming to Bog Bridge, a canal bridge in the middle of the Bog with no roads leading to or from it. We stopped there to take a selfie on top of the bridge before we crossed into Co. Longford and passed along Abbeyshrule Aerodrome. Crossing over the Whitworth Aqueduct we were now on the straight towards the Rustic Inn. The north bank where the Greenway will be still hasn’t been completed between Scally’s Bridge and Webb Bridge but the road on the other side is perfectly fine to walk, cycle or run on. We got to the Rustic Inn at 15:07 only 7 minutes behind schedule and I had allowed myself to 15:30 to take a break here.

Enjoying a chicken dipper for lunch.

I enjoyed some chicken dippers and a pint of Rockshore here at a long table that Ed had arranged for us. A good number of my family including my other brother Ivan, my niece and my sister-in-law all joined with more runners who had been with me earlier in the day. Amanda, Richie and Paula all managed to make it home after Costa to have a shower and even clean their event t-shirts before coming back out to join us, Amanda happily enjoying a bottle of wine. Gillian, Ross’s partner was also there. The only people missing were my parents who I had been expecting but later found out they had car trouble but I knew they would be joining us later.

I could have sat there happily for a few hours and had another drink but with less than a marathon to go it was time to get moving. I presented Tracey and Anita with their dog tags and got a great group shot of everybody wearing the t-shirt in the pub before I headed out the door at 15:35 only 5 minutes behind schedule. 

L-R Standing: Colin, JC, Niamg, Gary (me), Richie, Paula, Taylor
L-R Front: Denise, Tracey, Anita, Amanda

I was thrilled to have family for join me for the next section as my brother Ross joined me for a second stint after running from the start to Castleknock some 15 hours previously along with my niece Taylor and my sister-in-law Denise whom it seems the running bug has really bit. After the food I wanted to give it a while to settle before I could get into a running rhythm again but unfortunately it took longer than I hoped to find it. Most of the following section to Ballybrannigan was walked. We did have one go at a run which probably lasted for 5 minutes but otherwise it was steady progress. Denise was the last person to sign on to run with me on the day and I gather that she was a little apprehensive that she would slow me down, in this case it certainly seemed the opposite, I was moving slower than she could have possibly expected, so much so she jumped in later again to do another section. 

The section between Abbeyshrule and Ballybrannigan has more twists and turns on it than any other section of the canal, there are no long straights like much of the earlier sections so again I grew a little impatient going around every corner waiting to find Ballybrannigan Harbour. Eventually at 17:06 we came into the harbour at the large 3 storey storehouse, only 6 minutes behind schedule, over 130km into the run.

Ballybrannigan Canal Storehouse

At Ballybrannigan I sank a bottle of diet coke very quickly, just wanting something sweet and gave Taylor and Denise their dog tags. JC, Colin and Ros who had run from the city centre to Maynooth with me earlier were all ready to jump in now. We left Ballybrannigan at 17:09. The sun had now fully passed overhead but the canal soon takes a turn north so at least we wouldn’t be chasing the sunset. After walking for several hours I finally had it in my legs to get running again and we covered several kilometres before I broke again and needed a walk break. There was good banter with many retro references thrown in for good measure along this section as well as recounting how I had lead Colin and Gary wrong on this section during a recce run earlier in the year.

The reality of the day finally dawning on Colin and JC

Even with the walk break we reached Mosstown ahead of schedule at 18:22. Unfortunately that meant that I was a victim of my own success as the new relay runners had yet to arrive. I was determined to push on and was adamant that I would leave without them but as I was applying yet another layer of deep heat to my knees and eating a bar of chocolate the car arrived with my father and some of his marathon training buddies from Lough Key parkrun.

David, Gerard, Cathy and myself set off from Mosstown at 18:25 after being told that the other person we were to meet would meet us out there. Several minutes later we came to Deirdre who had run from Aghnaskea at the 41st Lock. David was tasked with wearing the go-pro here. Deirdre had got delayed by running a mile out of her way on the closed Longford Branch of the canal. When she called my father to see where he was she discovered her error by the fact she was no longer by any water. She made good time then to meet us at the 41st Lock. 

Gerard, David, Deirdre, Cathy and Gary

There was some confusion between crew, runners and family going on around this time that I still don’t fully understand but from what I gathered Denise got dropped to Mosstown after we started running and ended up putting in an extremely fast 5k to catch us, Gillian ended up jumping out a car in the middle of nowhere to help find my mother who had gotten lost and JC and Colin arrived at the Richmond Inn for a shower but the key was with Ivan elsewhere but at the end of the day I was still moving and that’s all that’s important right? Denise caught up with us not far after the Ballinamore Bridges and then helped increase the run walk pace all the way to Aghnaskea. We found out later that a tractor pulling silage slipped into the canal not long after we passed the area. 

We reached the church at Aghnaskea at 19:44, a minute ahead of schedule. My mind was keenly focused on getting to the finish at this stage, so much so that I forgot to give out the dog tags to David, Gerard, Deirdre and Cathy. I was delighted though at last to be on the final section, less than 7km to go and I was getting to do it with Niamh. Even better we prepped some bottles of diet coke with rum to celebrate our run to the finish. We left Aghnaskea at 19:48.

Niamh and I at the finish.

I had an hour and 12 minutes to make it to the finish to reach my dream time, only 7km to go and I had my biggest enabler and supporter at my side. Easy, right? We sipped on the rum in the evening sun and all was well. Everybody else had instructions to gather at Richmond Harbour in Cloondara at this stage. 

Niamh and I enjoyed a brisk walk as she caught me up with all the goings on with the crew over the course of the day and I started to have much greater appreciation for everything that they had done. There have been many times over the last couple of months where I have wondered to myself if I had over thought and over planned what I was doing but with all the feedback I was getting it was obvious that not only was it necessary but it was paying off for everybody. For what was a supported run for me had turned out to be a great day out for everybody else. I’ve had highs and lows in almost every long run I’ve done including 3 100km events and a 50miler not to mention the long training runs but on this occasion I was definitely on a positive note for almost the entire day.

As we passed the lifting bridges by the bog at Begnagh I suddenly had a whole new understanding for the term “hot spot”. I had an inkling that a blister may have been forming on the ball of my right foot but all of a sudden it felt like someone had turned on a blow torch on my foot. The feeling was rather intense. Passing the 45th Lock I told Niamh that I would do my best to run from Richmond Harbour to the end point at Shannon Navigation sign just past the 46th Lock.

Richmond Bridge looking east

As we approached the corner before Richmond Bridge I could see that several people had gathered at the bridge to see me finish and with that I decided to try run. The adrenaline managed to carry me from that corner right to the end with Niamh and Ros recording me on his phone barely able to keep up. Colin was on a loud speaker in the harbour where I got a great cheer as I passed under the bridge and alongside the boats before I passed the remaining family, friends and runners who had gathered at the 46th Lock to see me descend down to the sign above the Camlin River where I finished in a time of 20hours, 47 minutes and 46 seconds, some 12 minutes and 14 seconds quicker than the best target I had set myself. 

Crew, Runners and Family at the Finish
The feast at the finish in The Richmond Inn
The Richmond Inn at Richmond Harbour whose kitchen staff stayed on late to serve us dinner and was a great place to put our heads down for the night after the adventure.

Royal Canal Runner

My name is Gary O’Daly and I’m a middle of the pack distance runner from Maynooth in Co. Kildare.

End of my Royal Canal Run

I’m a proud member of Dublin Bay Running Club and having be running since 2011.

I ran my first marathon in Dublin in 2012 and since then I’ve clocked up 100 marathons including completing the 50k Irish National Championships 5 times, completing 5 marathons in 5 days at the EOI running festival in 2015, 100k Thames Path Challenge in 2017, London 2 Brighton 100k in 2018 and Donadea 100k in 2019.

I frequently train on the banks of the Royal Canal and in June 2019 I completed a full distance run of the Royal Canal (146km) in 20hours, 47minutes and 46 seconds.

Edenderry Branch to Tullamore (and other musings)

If it’s one thing I’ve come to accept is that my mind is never satisfied with something to focus or even fixate on, if I truly want to be at peace I need something to obsess about.

When I was prepping for my run along the Royal Canal and even for several weeks after I completed it I kept telling myself I had no desire or need to do the same on the Grand Canal. I’ll say it now though so it’s out in the open, I will always have a bias for the Royal Canal and all the troubled history that goes with it. That said, sitting in work for several weeks my subconscious chipped away at me, ‘you’ve done one, it only makes sense to do the other’ and ‘sure why wouldn’t you do it, it’s shorter’ so a few weeks ago I set myself a target of running the main line from the Liffey to the Shannon over several runs just to map it out and have a .gpx.

My approach on the Royal Canal was planned out meticulously, like eating an elephant, I took my time, one bite at a time, one section at a time but since completing it to quote Top Gun my “ego is writing cheques my body can’t cash”.

I was a little over zealous on my first day out on the Grand Canal. I had planned on running from Grand Canal Dock to Allenwood. A nice round 48km, bearing in mind the furthest I had run in one go since June was 16k. The first 20k went fantastic, a warm autumn morning making my way up the locks out of Dublin and into Kildare. Ah but then the reality kicked in, as I transitioned into the softer grasslands of Kildare the body highlighted that I was undertrained, under fueled and under hydrated. My highly inflated ego got a much needed reality check.

After leaving Sallins I bargained with myself that I would make it as far as Robertstown, still a respectable distance, still further than a marathon and I would stop there. I was rather happy when I saw my lift waiting for me there, a cold bottle of Diet Coke easily acquired in the local shop. 1/3 of the Grand Canal covered in 1 day. Happy out. Time to rest.

And yet the mind and body want to wander. I happened to be off work the following Tuesday (3 days later) so with the relative arse kicking I got 3 days earlier I decided on a slightly easier run. Pick up where I left off in Robertstown and run the 20km to Edenderry where I had access to public transport which could get me back to near where I left the car. A splendid run on an overcast day, a manageable distance. Half the Grand Canal covered in 2 days.

The following Saturday I decided it was time I jump back into running marathons, it had been 3 months and with proper fueling and hydration I managed a sub 4 despite not having the adequate training. Certainly a good result, the body deserves a rest. But of course I’ve got half the Grand done now, my mind is obsessing on the rest… how can I continue.

So events conspired that my wife wanted to do a new parkrun this weekend while another friend was planning on visiting a parkrun near Edenderry… near Edenderry, interesting, so with a lift arranged to where I stopped 11 days previously the plan was in action, run from Edenderry to Tullamore and get the train home. Sorted! 32k more I can tick off as done, mapped and documented and only leaving 35km more to do.

So at half 8 this morning I was dropped at Edenderry Harbour and made the mile walk down the Edenderry Branch to where it meets the Main Line at Downshire Bridge. I set off over the bridge where I previously stopped at 8:50.

A swan with 2 of her cygnets at Downshire Bridge, her mate and 4 more cygnets were waiting on the other side.

Leaving Downshire Bridge the towpath is still firm as it heads west past Colgan, George and Rathmore Bridges. Rathmore Bridge has a set of stop gates just west of it, similar to the stop gates near the Ribbontail Bridge on the Royal Canal. I can only assume these are there to assist stopping the water flowing should there ever be a breech on the longest level of the Grand Canal.

Open stop gates as seen from Rathmore Bridge

Unfortunately as you can see from the above image, once you are past Rathmore Bridge you are onto a grass trail. This short section to Cartland Bridge isn’t too bad, the grass was short and when I passed to the other side of Cartland Bridge I was back onto a solid surface.

Approaching Cartland Bridge

There was a road down to a house after Cartland Bridge but once you pass the house it was back onto the grassy trail once again.

Next up is Trimblestown Bridge, there are quite a few bridges as you head west out of Edenderry. What was to be found the other side of Trimblestown Bridge was certainly the most difficult surface of the day. High and wet grass followed and while the ground wasn’t muddy the soft grass was energy sapping and the my feet got wet which raises the possibility of blisters, something you certainly don’t want to encounter on a long run.

The long and wet grass west of Trimblestown Bridge

In the midst of all the high grass I found another old mile marker, this time either 32 or 37, weathering has made it difficult to decipher, either number still makes no sense for James’s Street Basin or Grand Canal Docks so I’d love to know where these Mile markers are laid out from.

Mile Marker between Edenderry and Daingean

After 4.5km of the high grass where the focus is so much on avoiding trip hazards below you that you hardly notice the canal beside you, you come the Rhode Bridge and thankfully some better maintained short grass the far side of it.

Rhode Bridge with Grand Canal Way signpost. Thankfully the entire section today is run on the north bank of the Canal so now worries about having to think where you need to cross.

Leaving Rhode Bridge behind it is just another kilometer to Toberdaly Bridge with its wide grassy on approach and a short section of roadway as you leave. Sadly the dry road surface only lasts for a few hundred meters before you are back on the grassy trail but still loyal to the canal bank.

Where road and trail part after Toberdaly Bridge.

By now you can see the new Mount Lucas Wind Farm off to the south as you approach a Bord Na Móna Lifting Bridge that runs through the bog and carries on south through the wind farm. The bridge seems to be left in the upright position which may mean the canal has more traffic now than the railway but that might just be wishful thinking.

Bord Na Móna Light Railway Lifting Bridge north of Mount Lucas

After another 2km from the Lifting Bridge you get a short reprieve of 1km on the road before you take on the last section of grass trail that brings you from Killeen Bridge into Daingean.

Farmers gate after Killeen Bridge. The trail takes you past Daingean golf club and into the village itself.

Daingean is a neat little village on the Grand Canal with a few pubs and mooring spots. As you get to the centre of the village the remains of a 3 bay, 3 storey old Grand Canal Storehouse towers over the bank beside Molesworth Bridge, staring across at the high walls of Daingean’s joinery.

Remains of the abandoned storehouse in Daingean.

Once the far side of Molesworth Bridge we can rejoice as we have now ran our last grass section this side of Tullamore and have solid ground for the the next 15km.

Back on solid ground.

3kms west of Daingean we come to a triple arch fixed span Bord Na Móna Bridge built in 2000. I think it looks in character with the canal unlike many of the modern bridges I deliberately neglect to mention but I think the greatest thing you notice as you approach this bridge is the width of the canal at this point.

Bord Na Móna Bridge

It’s important to be mindful around here that you actually are on a road a several vehicles including farmers, fishermen and Waterways Ireland staff passed me along this section with only room for one vehicle always keep an ear out and don’t have the headphones up too loud. Just before we come to the abandoned Kilbeggan Branch we pass under Chenevix Bridge.

Chenevix Bridge from the east before the Kilbeggan Branch

After passing under Chenevix my eyes immediately fall upon Bye Trader Heritage Boat 107B looking more than a little forlorn. I know this boat was regularly moving up and down the canal as a floating exhibition space after being restored by Offaly Branch Members of the IWAI in the early 2000s. Sadly it looks like it hasn’t seen much love lately and goes to show the mammoth task it is to take on to be a custodian of one of these amazing heritage boats and the never ending work it takes to keep them alive.

Heritage Boat 107B

While 107B might need a little love, it would take a lot more to bring the abandoned Kilbeggan Branch back to life. Kilbeggan used to be a vibrant branch of the Grand Canal with much of the towns whiskey shipped out on the boats of the Grand Canal, unfortunately like the Longford Branch of the Royal Canal it has long since been dammed and gone dry. Campbell’s Bridge still spans the Branch behind the dam and like Downshire Bridge at Edenderry is a narrow bridge designed for horses and pedestrians to cross over the branch to continue on the main line.

Campbell’s Bridge behind the dam for the abandoned Kilbeggan Branch.

After 30km on the 20th Level we finally reach the 21st Lock at Ballycommon just after passing the Kilbeggan Branch. While not exactly a flight of locks, we fairly quickly descend down from the 21st Lock to the 26th Lock before we enter Tullamore.

Looking down the 21st Lock

The 21st Lock also has the remains of an original Grand Canal Lock Keepers Cottage adjacent to a much newer one which I’m guessing serves the same purpose given it had a Waterways Ireland keep outside it.

Remains of the 21st Lock Keepers Cottage.

The road between the 21st and 22nd Lock is made up of a harsh stone, ok to run on but I would be cautious of it on a road bike, that said if you made it past some of the previous grass sections on a road bike you are hardier and braver than I. The 22nd Lock has the adjacent Cappyroe Bridge to the west of it.

22nd Lock and Cappyroe Bridge

The 23rd Lock follows on shortly after the 22nd Lock. The 23rd Level is the home of the Offaly Rowing club who have a good 3km stretch to the 24th Lock to train on.

Members of the Offaly Rowing Club training on the 23rd Level

There is only 600m between the 24th and the 25th Locks. The 25th Lock has a Bridge with the plague ‘Digby Bridge 1797’ on it. According to Waterways Ireland Guidebook for the Grand Canal the bridge at the 16th Lock is also Digby Bridge and the bridge at the 25th Lock is called Cappincur Bridge (after the local townland) but who am I to argue with either WI or a plaque that most likely existed long before me and most likely will still be weathering storms long after I have turned to dust.

Digby Bridge plaque at the 25th Lock.

After the 25th Lock there is a lovely smooth tarmac surface that leads most the way into Tullamore town and is obviously a popular exercising route.

Tarmac surface from the 25th Locker

The 26th Lock has an interesting Lock Keepers “Cottage”, two Storey and oval in shape, built around 1800. It is open as a visitor centre in the summer months.

Boland Lock Keepers Cottage

Just beyond the house and lock Heritage Boat 112B – Terrapin is on display. Click on the link below the image for more info on her.

112B Terrapin

We are now on our final approach to Tullamore, coming off the tarmac path to join a ordinary footpath between the canal and the road. Across the canal we see Bury Bridge and the entrance to Tullamore Harbour off the Main Line.

Bury Bridge with Tullamore Harbour behind it.

At last I reach Kilbeggan Road Bridge where I stop my watch for today. This will be where I start for the last run to Shannon Harbour which I’ll hopefully do in the near future, I just need to find someone willing to pick me up from the Shannon.

Looking back east on Kilbeggan Road Bridge, my finish line today.

After I finished I had two options before me, run for a soon departing train back to Dublin… or get a curry chips and wait for a later train. I went for the chips!

A Guide to Staying on the Right Side of the Grand Canal

Like the Royal Canal, following the Grand Canal is a pleasurable experience be it walking, running or cycling but knowing which side of the canal you should be on at any given time can be a tricky one. The last thing you need when you have some distance in your legs is to find out you’ve hit a dead end or worse still on the Grand Canal taken the wrong branch and ending up in Naas when you thought you were on your way to Robertstown.

This post is a quick reference guide for those who want to follow the Main Line Branch from the Sea Locks at the Liffey to Shannon Harbour.

Note: To date this guide only goes as far as Downshire Bridge where the Edenderry Branch splits from the Main Line. I will update this post as I complete the rest of the route and hopefully I will add in the Naas Branch and the Barrow Way as separate posts in the future.

This post will also give an indication of the surface types you can expect as you travel. I ran the first 65km of this route over two dry August days so the trail parts were for the most part dry and the grass well maintained however I can imagine that a lot of the route could be a quagmire in winter months and would recommend you keep this in mind. A runner or walker who doesn’t mind getting muddy should have no concerns covering the route and a cyclist on a mountain bike would have no issues, personally I wouldn’t recommend taking a road bike on the route.

The Grand Canal has a few twists and turns but for the most part it runs East to West so regardless of its turns I will indicate if you should be on the North or South Banks based on the overall direction of the canal.

So let us begin at Grand Canal Dock:

Grand Canal Docks sign facing the Liffey between the Dodder and the Sea Locks

Leaving the Sea Lock we follow the Canal around Grand Canal Dock on the North Bank. A few buildings will separate you from the canal briefly as you cross Pearse Street, go under the railway line and come back out at Grand Canal Street at the C1 Lock. From there you follow the Circular Line up past Locks C1 to C7 as far as Robert Emmet Bridge at Clanbrassil Street. This is a distance of approximately 4.2km.

Crossing Robert Emmet Bridge to the South bank we now have a long stretch of paths from here up to the Main Line Junction at Suir Road (where the LUAS now goes along the original path of the Main Line). The path then continues all the way out to the 12th Lock at Lucan. This is a total distance of 13.8km including the Grand Canal Way Green route from the 3rd Lock to the 12th Lock. A bit of caution is needed at the start of this section as you will have to cross over several busy roads.

The 12th Lock at Lucan Road Bridge

At the 12th Lock we must cross Lucan Road Bridge back onto the North Bank and we encounter our first bit of trail. This section of trail can be mucky in winter but was totally fine for me on a dry August day. This section of grassy trail extends for 4.6km out to Hazelhatch where you might get to see some of the original Grand Canal Company M boats tied up.

The path heading west from Hazelhatch Bridge

At Hazelhatch you cross over the bridge (mind the traffic lights) and are back on the South Bank where you are welcomed by a a solid path for 6.4km taking you by Lyons Estate as far as Ponsonby Bridge.

The trail heading west from Ponsonby Bridge

It is possible to go under Ponsonby Bridge but as you emerge on the other side you are back onto a trail path, still on the South Bank of the canal. This continues for 6.2km the whole way to Sallins however you should note the roughest section of the trail is between the Railway Bridge and Sallins town and I would imagine this sheltered section becomes a tough, muddier trail after a few days of rain regardless of the time of year.

View from Sallins Bridge looking west.

When you reach Sallins Bridge you must cross again over to the North Bank. It’s a busy bridge so it’s worth using the pedestrian lights on your left as you approach the bridge. (Staying on the South Bank will lead you via a warren of housing estates to the Naas Branch which I will cover another day).

The North Bank has a road to take you out west of Sallins to the Leinster Aqueduct and the road lasts for some 800m past the Aqueduct giving a distance of 2.6km of solid ground.

Path over the Leinster Aqueduct before it turns into trail.

You stay on the North Bank when you meet the trail and it takes you along for 2.4km as far as the 17th Lock at Landenstown Bridge.

17th Lock from Landenstown Bridge

Staying on the North Bank at the 17th Lock you join a busy road for 1.2km. After this distance the road and the canal part ways and you are back on a grassy trail.

This grassy trail continues on the North Bank for 3.2km as far as Bonygne or Healy’s Bridge.

Bonynge or Healy’s Bridge looking west.

You must come up onto the road and cross the bridge back over to the South Bank and the grassy trail continues for 2.2km as far as Binn’s Bridge in Robertstown.

Old Grand Canal Hotel as you enter Robertstown

Finally, crossing over Binn’s Bridge back onto the North Bank you follow the road for 1.4 km and the 19th Lock at Lowtown.

Binn’s Bridge, Robertstown

When you reach the 19th Lock at Lowtown you are at the end of the Summit Level. Just after the Lock is Fenton Bridge which if you cross will bring you onto the Barrow Way but for our purposes we stay on the solid path on the North Side of the Canal and continue on towards Allenwood.

19th Lock with Fenton Bridge in the background.

As we continue west we pass the Barrow Way navigation as it splits with the Main Line and heads south towards Athy. The path on the North Bank remains good all the way up to Bond Bridge in Allenwood, a distance of 1.8km.

Bond Bridge Looking East

After passing under Bond Bridge and remaining on the North Bank we come to a grassy trail for the short distance up the Shee Bridge. It is only 1.4km between the bridges. At Shee Bridge we must cross over to the South Bank. The main road to Rathagan goes over this narrow bridge and we must go along the road for 200m before we enter a grassy stretch of 650m along the canal bank.

Shee Bridge west of Allenwood which we must cross to the South Bank.

Emerging from the grassy section which some know as Allenwoods Millennium Park we rejoin a country road which takes us all the way up to Hamilton Bridge on the South Bank, a distance of 2.4km. At Hamilton Bridge we cross back over to the North Bank again where we will remain for the considerable future distance.

Hamilton Bridge Looking West.

After Hamilton Bridge we are on a mix of road and rough path all the way to the the 20th Lock. There is no risk of mud here but with many potholes it would be easy to see puddles building up and trip hazards for walkers and runners as well as a chance of getting a puncture for cyclists. It is a total distance of 4.2km from Hamilton Bridge to the 20th Lock.

Picture of the surface between Hamilton Bridge and the 20th Lock.

After passing the 20th Lock we are back on a grassy trail for the remainder of the distance to the Edenderry Branch but at least we don’t have to worry about crossing sides again. It is a distance of 6.4km to Downshire Bridge which is a narrow bridge that crosses over the Edenderry Branch adjacent to the main line.

The grassy trail from the 20th Lock to Downshire Bridge

Downshire Bridge is 63.8km from where we started at the Sea Lock. From here it is possible to take a path for 1.6km into Edenderry if you wanted to stop for a snack. This is where I stopped for now and hope to return to carry on the journey on the Main Line soon.

Downshire Bridge looking out towards the Main Line from the Edenderry Branch.

To be continued…

Looking South and the view is Grand

So ever since I completed my Royal Canal Run I’ve felt like a barge without a rudder, stuck up out of the water and unable to go anywhere.

It would be wrong to say that I didn’t need the rest, a holiday and some time to recover. Aching joints demanded it and I think it took a while for me to realize I needed to increase my food intake to promote recovery.

That said in the last few days I’ve accepted that my recent stress levels haven’t been helped by my lack of having a normal adherence to a plan, to having a goal to strive for.

After achieving two major goals (100 Marathons and The Royal Canal Run) within 3 weeks of each other I really have had nothing to focus on since the end of June.

Financial realities and some other travel commitments next year really mean I have to take my eyes off the big ticket items I want to shoot for so I need to look for something closer to home.

So given I’ve ran the Royal Canal I guess it makes perfect sense to go for the double, look south and go for the Grand Canal.

Some would say the Grand Canal should be that bit easier as it is several miles shorter than the Royal. However the quality of the towpath on the Grand Canal is considerably less than that of the Royal so I expect it may actually be tougher.

I don’t think I will put in the same level of research into running the Grand as I did the Royal. Living by the Royal I was fascinated by its history (and misfortune) and the dogged persistence of those involved in bringing it back from desolation to the thriving Greenway and navigable inland waterway it is now.

There’s no denying that the Grand Canal was the more successful of the pair and with the great fleet of barges that once worked it has a deep and detailed history but for now my focus is going to be on just running it from Camden Lock at the Liffey to where it meets the Shannon just west of Shannon Harbour.

My first task will be to get my distance legs back. Up until today my next planned distance event was to be the Dublin Marathon but I am eager to get started and to also move on from being able to say “I’ve ran 100 marathons” to being able to say “I’ve ran more than 100 marathons”.

So I have signed up for the East of Ireland Marathon in Tirmoghan on the 31st of August to get me motivated. From there I will need to start recceing the route, breaking it down into sections so I can build up a map and find out what I’m letting myself in for. This was one of the more enjoyable parts of the logistics of running the Royal Canal, albeit it was easier as the adjacent train line made it easier to get to and from my start and finish points.

This time I won’t be limiting myself by starting at midnight and trying to run it inside a single day, nor will I tie myself to doing it on the summer solstice and a weekday. It will be my intention to declare a Fastest Known Time route and it will be my intention to record an FKT on the route but this time I will keep things a little simpler.

So let the research begin, let the training plan come together and should anyone fancy a long slow run along the banks of the Grand Canal give me a shout. I hope to bring this altogether over the winter for a run in late spring.

Winter miles bring summer smiles!

St. Coca’s 10 From 10

Last Sunday saw the second Kilcock 10 from 10 hosted by St. Coca’s AC. The idea behind the 10 from 10 is a 10 mile race 10 weeks out from the Dublin Marathon.

The event attracted over 600 runners this year, all setting out at 10:10 on the dot.

With my D.B.R.C. Clubmates Colin, Eva and Niamh before the start.

I proudly run with Dublin Bay Running Club and that’s something that will never change but it cannot be denied that I come from an amazing area for running. North Kildare has a good number of running clubs including St. Coca’s in Kilcock, Le Cheile in Leixlip, Donadea and Celbridge not to mention Dunboyne AC which while technically in Meath hosts a great trail event in Carton in North Kildare every year.

The finish of the Carton Trail 6K last month.

Each of these clubs take great pride in the events they host and it’s a pleasure for the rest of the clubs to run and support each other’s events throughout the year.

St. Coca’s held its evening 5k back in June but the 10Miler is where they really excel. Starting just outside the club grounds (which provides ample parking and toilets for participants) the route takes the runners out the main road and over the M4 before quickly taking to pleasant country roads.

With pacers denoting 10 minute slots from 70 minutes on, I slipped in behind the 80 minute pacers at the start. I managed 75 minutes last year so given my knee problems recently I thought 80 minutes was a reasonable target to aim for.

About 2 miles in the pace was feeling comfortable as we made the turn for Clonfert farm and I noticed Crusader and parkrun event director Olwyn Dunne just ahead of the 80 minute pacers so I passed the pacers and caught up to have a quick chat. We chatted parkrun tourism, marathons and some other general banter. The weather was forecast for rain but it was cool with only a light drizzle and a refreshing breeze so given the lungs were happy chatting I decided I should try push on.

At the 4 mile mark I got a big cheer from Marie from Donadea who managed to even get a photo of me in full flight.

Passing Marie at 4 Miles

So not only did the runners have all the support of the volunteers, the marshals, the Civil Defense and An Garda Síochána, even the local clubs were out cheering.

At this point we were heading towards Ladychapel, past it’s Cemetery and on to the main Maynooth to Rathcoffey Road. It feels like a long stretch on the main road from Ladychapel to Crinstown Cross but I pushed on as best I could, eyeing up my next target, Paddy from Le Cheile.

Paddy standing directly behind me at the start of my Canal Run back in June.

Unfortunately despite my best efforts the legs couldn’t make up the distance between us. Paddy went on to set a 6 minute PB for himself on the morning.

When we turned the corner at Crinstown it was straight into a headwind. This signaled the last two miles on the Greenway would take some effort. We took the turn and headed up to Jackson Bridge. As I passed a Garda at the bottom of the bridge and smiled saying this was the hardest climb of the day. As I hit the top of the bridge an ignorant twat of a driver dangerously blew past a volunteer warning cars of the runners but little did he know of the Garda the other side of the crest. I didn’t stop to see what happened but I hope the driver got what he deserved.

Over the bridge and past the 14th Lock the last two miles are on the Royal Canal Greenway (See this post is relevant!) Up to this point no one had passed me in several miles but as we hit the headwind one guy obviously used to resistance opened up and was gone.

We passed the last water station as we headed for Bailey Bridge and onto North Kildare Club. Soon after we were onto the last mile which Waterways Ireland sponsored a novel prize of the quickest final mile.

With former Irish marathon champion Sean Hehir in the race I was never going to make much of a mark but I put the head down as I passed the 15th Lock and Chambers Bridge and put in my fastest mile of the day pulling out a 7:04 mile.

The last stretch coming in towards Kilcock Harbour really took it out of me, a headwind, a guy breathing down my neck (and just beat me to the line) and 2 cyclists right alongside me cheering me on but I came in for a time of 1:14:29, my second fastest 10 mile ever.

My mind and body needed that boost and even better and amazing a Canal Lock medal awaited the finishers.

Number and Medal

I didn’t stick around for the refreshments after as I had a show to work on in Castletown House but it was another amazing event and I look forward to next years event.

Keeping with the North Kildare theme, next is Celbridge AC’s 5k next Thursday evening. A notable run for me as it was my first ever 5k!

The Royal Canal Run Fallout

So it’s just been over a month since I completed my run along the Royal Canal.

My training for the Royal Canal Run was a very consistent effort spread out over 35 weeks and started with a baseline of me being at my Marathon PB fitness level. I ran my current marathon PB in Dublin in the first week of my training plan. By the time I reached my taper phase at the start of June I had hit a training peak of over 100km a week for a month not to mention I finished my distance training by running a 100km PB of 11:27:31, beating my previous PB by over 2hours 20minutes.

While I’ve seen far more extensive training plans aimed at the distance of the Royal Canal I was very happy with my level of training, the time and distance I put in was right for me. The bonus was that I didn’t lose too much of my pace at the shorter distances as I expected I would. I stayed close to my predicted best time along the way and managed to finish just over 10 minutes ahead of my dream target which was down in no small part to all the training I put in (not to take anything away from my amazing pacers and support crew).

I guess what I’m trying to tell myself is that my body put in 9 months of hard work on top of already being at its best form when I started so its completely right and normal that the body needed a break, that aches and pains were likely to be part of the recovery period.

However when the mind is used to going out running 5 days a week, week in and week out for several months, when spending 6 to 8 hours of your weekend running has been normalized, telling it that you need a break is a whole other matter.

I know I was lucky after the Royal Canal Run that I didn’t enter a spiral of apathy or depression that often accompanies achieving a long sought after goal. For the first time in years I wasn’t immediately looking for the next goal, I wasn’t trying to escalate on what I achieved which is great because it means I actually took the time to cherish what I achieved. I told myself that I could take a few weeks off and for the most part I did.

In the first few days after the run people were asking me how the body was doing. I honestly told them that it was feeling fine, my knees were a little sore on the day itself, especially after I passed Mullingar but that pain had gone more or less as soon as I stopped that evening.

What I didn’t notice I think that while my mind was bracing itself for a post event anti-climax so much it failed to notice that the body had taken more knocks than I was aware of.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve built up a enviable mental resilience and toughness that is required of ultra athletes, a lot of which I attribute to listening to the motivational videos of Eddie Pinero and his YouTube channel Your World Within. What I failed to consider is that my mental resiliency may be like ibuprofen, it can mask as injury, not address it.

For several weeks now I’ve done little more than a few parkruns and my right knee is very sore. Not necessarily when I am running, because I think the mind can mask over that, but just walking to the bus stop, going up and down the stairs, kneeling down to pet my dog.

It is concerning because the mind is already in conflict with the body, it wants to get back out 5 days a week, it wants to be tackling a marathon every other weekend and the demon voice of common sense who I have never failed to shout down before has suddenly found a loudspeaker and is shouting with its loudest voice.

I’ve tried to be sensible, I’ve pumped up my bike wheels and given my legs some time away from the heavy impact of running, I’m even enjoying the cycling (kinda) and getting more confident on the bike but the pain still isn’t going away. There is damage there and self diagnosis is telling me I need several months rest which everybody who knows me is not a prescription I’m likely to take.

Tonight I have my first actual race since before the Canal Run. A 6K race around Carton House, a great and fast club event I’ve done several times and while I would never be near up the front it’s still one of those events I want to give everything I have for, to fully commit to giving my best… as the voice of reason is there telling me to calm down.

I know the right thing to do is to see a doctor, get the knee accessed, get a professional opinion (even if I chose to ignore it after) but that would bring me down the route of another whole topic I have issue with about the in affordability of health care and the Irish male flaw of preferring to stay in ignorance to their own detriment.

The bottom line is there was a great physical fallout from my Canal Run than I expected and I found out not every endurance battle is in the mind.

Here’s just hoping I can enjoy my run tonight and I can focus on slowly building back up my endurance before I lose it. I was lucky to make it to the sea lock injury free, it’d be foolish to do anything stupid now.

Old Rail Trail – Athlone to Mullingar – 30th March 2019

On Saturday I needed to get a long training run in preparation for my run along the Royal Canal. Niamh and I have been touring around a lot of parkrun venues in recent months trying not to repeat ourselves so with that in mind we decided to do parkrun in Athlone last week, with my plan to tire myself out as best I could at parkrun and then to run the full length of the Old Rail Trail from Athlone to Mullingar.

Niamh and I at Athlone parkrun

Given the Old Rail Trail now occupies the space that was the old Midlands Great Western Railway line from Mullingar (where it leaves the Royal Canal) to Athlone. I thought it was a good way of covering new ground that is still linked to the history of the Royal Canal, almost like another branch off the canal itself and another route to the Shannon. The Old Rail Trail itself will be part of the main Greenway that they hope to extend from Dublin via Mullingar on the Royal Canal Greenway to Athlone via the Old Rail Trail and onward to Galway. From its starting point at Whitegates about 1km east of the old Athlone Midlands Great Western Railway Station and the River Shannon the Old Rail Trail is exactly 42.2km or marathon distance to where it ends as it joins the Royal Canal Greenway Grange Bridge 1.5km west of Mullingar Train Station.

White Gates – The Current Start of the Old Rail Trail in Athlone

Niamh and I had previously hired bikes in Mullingar and cycled from there to Moate and back a few years ago so I had some idea of what I was in for. Unlike the compacted dust stone surface that makes up the majority of the Royal Canal Greenway, the entire length of the Old Rail Trail is a smooth tarmac surface with very long straight sections that stretch on towards the horizon. At one point along my run I mused to myself how this resembled descriptions of Death Valley by those who have ran the Bad Water Ultra, only thankfully I had none of the heat to deal with, nor the yellow lines of the hard shoulder to run on.

Good Tarmac Surface as far as the eye can see.

Leaving Maynooth just before 8am Niamh and I got to Athlone Institute of Technology just before 9am. The sports campus was a hive of activity as the Irish National Juvenile Indoor Championships were taking place. parkrun takes place around the back of the sports campus. It was quiet when we arrived but by half nine there were 70 runners and walker present to take on the event. The Athlone course is a little convoluted to follow for first time runners being two laps of football pitched before bringing you on two hilly loops around the back of the college campus and the outdoor running track. Following those in front of me I stuck to the route ok finishing in a time of 22:04 which given the hills I was happy with and was the 10th finisher home. The course was a little short but that’s fair given how easy it is to cut the corners going around the football fields it is understandable.

After a brief conversation with the volunteers Niamh and I left the parkrun and went up to the Spar at Garrycastle which is just off the Old Rail Trail. I picked up a breakfast roll a large bottle of Lucozade sport, grabbed my large running back pack, said goodbye to Niamh and walked to my starting point at Whitegates 2km closer into Athlone town while munching down on the breakfast roll. I know I will be needing to eat solid foods for the Royal Canal Run so I may as well get used to it. The walk seemed to take forever and I originally had planned on starting at 10:30 at Garrycastle, but by going back to the start of the route it meant it was 10:50 when I started running.

Munching on a breakfast roll before I started

The breakfast roll was sitting well but almost immediately I regretted getting the large bottle of Lucozade sport. My large running bag is certainly useful for carrying gear but it can be a bit cumbersome. I had chosen not to use the hydration bladder for the day instead thinking I would get a 750ml bottle of Lucozade Sport for one side pouch and a 750ml bottle of water for the other side. With the weather being cooler than it had been for a few days I then decided I didn’t need the water. So starting out, the bag was off balance on my right shoulder and the bottle was so big that every time I swung my right harm I was rubbing off the bottle. Not much I could do about it now but lesson learned, in future with the red bag, max bottle size is 500ml and I need to balance both sides out. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

The 2km stretch back to Garrycastle went much quicker on the way back now that I was running. This whole section has street lighting along it and is a well-used amenity by walkers, runners and cyclists with plenty of entrances onto the Old Rail Trail from the surrounding housing estates. I also passed by Athlone Southern Gaels GAA club, the Athlone Regional Sports Centre and Athlone Town Stadium on my way back out towards Garrycastle. At Garrycastle there is the Spar which is a decent size for anyone who want a place to stop or start on the Old Rail Trail. It has a good deli, a place to sit down and toilets. The Athlone I.T Campus and parkrun is just to the south of the Old Rail Trail and the N6 and exit 9 are just to the north. There is an old bridge over the Old Rail Trail here. This bridge like most I encountered along the way was most likely built at the time the railway line was put down in the late 1840s and early 1850s. The Midlands Great Western Railway Station in Athlone opened in 1851, some eight years before the Great Western and Southern Railway station opened in 1859. The old bridge is only for pedestrian traffic now but is adjacent to a modern road bridge that now carries traffic from the N6 over to the Athlone I.T. campus. The modern bridge has several murals painted on it depicting scenes from the town and the old rail trail. Beyond the bridge the street lighting stops and there is no further lighting available for the rest of the Old Rail Trail.

Mural on the new road bridge at Garrycastle

The next bridge we come to carries the four lanes of the N6 over the Old Rail Trail. The bridge is of concrete construction with a red brick parapet and a water pipe attached to the western side. I normally find the attachment of such pipes on bridges unsightly but given the coarse functionality of this road bridge one would hardly notice it. Once you are the east side of the N6 you are out into a rural landscape with the RTÉ broadcast tower the only real thing of note on the north side of the trail.

Red brick parapet of the N6 road bridge

It occurs to me that we have a bit of a false description problem in Ireland for our different routes. The Royal Canal Greenway is for the most part a dust trail, the Old Rail Trail is an entirely smooth tarmac path. I’ll leave that to you to go figure.

The Old Rail Trail has numerous accommodation underpasses to allow farmers access to both sides of the trail by going underneath it. Most of these are little more than culverts so I don’t see the point in detailing each one. The Old Rail Trail also has many cattle crossing points where the land is level. These are indicated on approach from either side by an old railway sleeper erected upright right beside the rail itself with a yellow and black image of a cow.

Cattle Crossing

4km from Athlone we reach Tully which has a car park below the trail with a path which brings you up to it. Tully also has a bridge dating from 1851 that would have been built by the Midlands Great Western Railway the railway over a small rural road but now serves to carry the trail. The single arch bridge made of limestone is one of a number of similar bridges encountered on the trail the whole way from Athlone to Mullingar. Some of these bridges have been altered in the laying of the Old Rail Trail. Given the railway is out of use some of the bridges original limestone spans have been removed and replaced with narrower steel and concrete spans. When crossing over these bridges, you can see how the piers of these bridges stand out exposed further than where the bridge spans now and often the railway which is still present in most areas breaks at these points.

Car park for Old Trail Users at Tully

Occasionally there are wooden gates which can be navigated around at points where a road crosses the trail at the same level. At some of these points there are also level crossing guard houses where the Railway Company would have originally lodged staff to open and close gates for the trains as they passed.

Old Gate Keepers Cottage between Athlone and Moate with unseasonable decorations

In total there are 5 original Midland Great Western Railway Bridges over the railway between Athlone and Moate.

One of the many original bridges over the Old Rail Trail – Perfect for runners and cyclists

Coming into the Moate the first thing we come across is Jone’s Level Crossing Gates which were erected around 1851. The timber gates with their cast irons fittings are still present as a feature at the crossing but set back from the trail on either side of the crossing. There is a heavily altered, updated and extended level crossing guard’s house to the north east of the crossing. Heading south from this crossing you will find both a Centra and a Circle K garage if you are looking for a quick pit stop to collect some supplies.

Jones Level Crossing Gates now set back from the road and trail

Continuing east you soon pass through what was Moate Train Station. The first building we reach lies just to the west of the north platform. It is a large railway goods shed dating from the 1850s and is now disused. There is a carriage arch on either side of the building and it is possible a siding once ran through the building itself.

Moate Railway Goods Shed

The southern platform of Moate Train Station has a freestanding shelter with a pitched roof supported on cast iron supports. Dating back to the 1850s it is an interesting addition to the railway station structures around it. Moate Train Station opened on the 1st of August 1851 and closed to goods traffic on 2nd of December 1974 before finally closing to passenger services on the 9th of May 1987.

Approaching Moate Train Station with Shelter on the right

The detached 3 bay train station building with extended gable ends stands on the north platform of the station. The roofs on the extended gable ends have fallen in and all the windows and doors have been bricked up since the opening of the Old Rail Trail. An Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny T.D. unveiled a plaque at the station to mark the official opening of the Old Rail Trail on the 18th of October 2015. While the station building is disused and blocked up considerable effort has been made to clean up and secure the building, hopefully with an aim of restoration at some future point. The platforms at the station have several picnic benches making it the ideal stopping point for those using the trail.

Moate Train Station

Past the station there is an original freestanding footbridge connecting the platforms. The cast iron bridge was built in Dundalk. There is no access to the footbridge now but like the station building and other features around the station is secure and well maintained. At the end of the northern platform there is a detached square plan water tower. The tower has a red brick and granite base supporting a wrought iron water tank. There is also a single story block attached to the east of the tower. Many of the railway buildings along this line are attributed to architect John Skipton Mulvany (1813 – 1870) who designed the Athlone, Broadstone and Galway Railway Stations for the Midlands Great Western Railway Company as well as the Dun Laoghaire Railway Station.

Moate Station Water Tower

At the end of the platform is the Moate Crossing Gates which separate the golf club to the north of the station from the town to the south. From here people can leave the trail to go into the town of Moate which includes several cafés, pubs, restaurants and shops. Moate provides the best and being honest the only really option to take a break along the Old Rail Trail unless you have brought your own provisions with you. The last time I passed through on a bike I stopped at Tuar Ard Arts and Enterprise Centre which has a nice café that does soup and sandwiches and has bike stands outside. The town also has the Grand Hotel, several pubs, Supervalu and a Supermacs. The only issue that being 12km from Athlone and 30km from Mullingar, it means you are stopping either really early on route or after completing the best part of it depending on which direction you are heading. Having had a breakfast roll in Athlone and still having a full bottle of Lucozade on me I decided not to stop.

Beyond the Moate Crossing there is the Moate signal box which was built around 1885 but may have been rebuilt in the 1920s as many signal boxes were damaged or destroyed during the Civil War. Like the water tower, the signal box has a brick base and then a wood panelled upper storey. Behind the Signal Box lies a private residence which was altered and redesigned by celebrity architect Dermot Bannon which featured on RTÉ’s series Room to Improve.

Moate Signal Box with Level Crossing gate to the right and the house designed by Dermot Bannon in the background.

Across from this house lies two former railway worker cottages from the 1850s now combined into one single private residence.

We leave Moate passing over two roads to the east of the station complex. Not long after leaving Moate the Old Rail Trail takes a slight turn heading north east where we have been travelling due east up this point. The trail lifts up onto an embankment as it travels east and comes very close to the Westmeath and Offaly border but stays in Westmeath throughout. We pass over and under several bridges and accommodation access ways over the next 11km as we head towards Streamstown Junction Train Station. Halfway between Moate and Streamstown there is an access way onto the Old Rail Trail from the road below near Rosemont. This looks like it is mainly for local access as no car park is there and there are no facilities in the area. It may have been an access way for rail workers in the past that was cut back again for the Old Rail Trail.

Example of where a bridge carrying the railway has been narrowed

Streamstown Junction Train Station opened on the same date as Moate on the 1st of August 1851 but it closed to both freight and passenger trains on the Athlone line on the 17th of June 1963. Streamstown Junction Station served as the split in the line between the Athlone line and the Clara line where the Midlands Great Western Railway operated a service to until the 2nd of March 1925 when the Midlands Great Western Railway and Great Southern and Western Railway companies were amalgamated to form Great Southern Railways and from then on only the GSW line from Heuston operates through Clara. Little evidence of the MGW line remains. Streamstown has two surviving platforms and a few structures but is in a poor condition compared to Moate Station. The two main structures are a red brick shelter building on the north platform and the station building itself, again on the north platform. The station building currently has scaffolding erected around it and looks like it currently being sealed if not restored. I have heard rumour that the station may be developed as a café but as much of a great amenity as the trail is I don’t see a business being viable out this far though it certainly would be a great place to stop.

Ongoing work at Streamstown Train Station

The north platform of Streamstown Junction Train Station is also the venue for an open air farm machinery museum with story boards and infographics about the farm machinery on display.

Some of the farm machinery on display at Streamstown platform

5km after Streamstown we come to Castletown Station which stands some 3km north of the village of Castletown Geoghegan. Albeit in a rural setting and some distance from the village Castletown Station has many of the same qualities and features as Moate Train Station including a goods shed, two platforms, a station building which has now been converted into a private residence, a signal box and an Edward VII Ciphered post box set into the wall.

Castletown Train Station, now a private residence

The signal box has been restored and carries the name of the station across the front elevation while the north platform respectfully asks passers-by the stay off the platform as it is part of the private residence. While you cannot get close up to the station, the renovation and retention of the house serves to give a good idea of what the station in Moate would have originally looked like as the two buildings seem to be built to the same design. The remains of what I can only assume to be a level crossing guard house stands on the southeast side of the station. Castletown Station closed with the closure of the Athlone line in May 1987.

Castletown Signal Box

For some bizarre reason that I cannot understand I thought Castletown Railway Station was the location of the Waterford and Suir Valley Light Railway and for several miles I was looking forward to stopping at the old railway carriage for an ice cream and a drink. It was a sad moment when I realised my mistake and given it would have been a 6km detour out and back to the village in the hope of a shop I decided to push on for Mullingar. Very soon after leaving Castletown I was stopped by two women on bikes enquiring was there anywhere for them to stop and get a bit to eat before Moate. It was much to their disappointment when I told them there wasn’t. They proceeded on but given it was nearing mid-afternoon at that point going as far as Moate and back to Mullingar with hire bikes might have been a challenge for the recreational cyclist.

It is a fairly straight run from Castletown Station to Ballinea on the western side of Mullingar. Ballinea Harbour is where the Midlands Great Western Railway and the Royal Canal part ways after running alongside each other all the way from Dublin, a distance of over 80km. Belmont Bridge is the first bridge we come to that needs to cross both the canal and the Old Rail Trail. The original canal bridge would have been built around 1806 and abutted by the railway bridge in the early 1850s. The Royal Canal Greenway and the Old Rail Trail run alongside each other for much of the way from here into Mullingar separated only by hedgerows and occasionally parting a small distance around fields.

Old Railway Bridge adjoining Belmont Bridge over the Royal Canal

Just over 2km from Mullingar we encounter the Mullingar parkrun route which starts on the Royal Canal Greenway at Grange Bridge and goes out for almost 3km before turning back on the Old Rail Trail and ending beside the old freight platforms west of Mullingar. From here is only a short distance to Grange Bridge where the Old Rail Trail ends and joins the Royal Canal Greenway to make its way east towards Dublin. I would hope that by June of this year the Royal Canal Greenway will be complete from this point to Maynooth harbour.

Looking back at Belmont Bridge on the Royal Canal Greenway

After travelling the 42.2km from the Whitegates in Athlone I stopped my Garmin and walked the remaining 1.5km towards Mullingar Train Station along the canal. Like in Athlone the Old Rail Trail stops short of reaching the station and it is sad to see the sheds of the Athlone line falling into ruin as we pass by them. The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland used these sheds to restore Locomotive No. 184 in the late 1970s and Mullingar Train Station was also used for the filming of The Great Train Robbery starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. These sheds were also the scene of the notorious murder of station master Thomas Anketell in 1869, supposedly by Ribbonmen, a group of agrarian agitators who also caused a lot of trouble on the Royal Canal earlier in the 1800’s, breaching the canal banks in order that they could create employment to fix them and attacking boats carrying agricultural produce from the west to Dublin when people were going hungry.

Grange Bridge where the Royal Canal Greenway and the Old Rail Trail Meet just west of Mullingar

Although it is beyond the end (or the start) of the Old Rail Trail I will briefly mention Mullingar Train Station The current train station was built around 1856 and was altered around 1896 when it was extended and roofs added to the platforms. It replaced an earlier temporary station on the site that was built in 1848. Mullingar Train Station is unique in Ireland as it is the only station set between bifurcating railway tracks where it could split off southwest to Athlone and onwards towards Galway or northwest to Sligo. The station would have originally had footbridges linking the platforms but these were replaced by subways in the early 1900’s. The train station has a notable platform with roof and wooden waiting rooms on for the Sligo line with attractive cast iron columns accessed by the subway. A single arch railway bridge from the 1850’s carries the railway bridge and the most eastern part of the platform over a small road.

Platform Shelter at Mullingar Train Station

Mullingar Train Station also has a signal box dating from the 1920’s similar in design to the older ones we saw in Moate and Castletown but much grander in size, constructed with concrete blocks to the base and wooden first storey. Located to the east of the main station this signal box would have views over trains coming in from Dublin, Athlone and Sligo.

With an hour to spare until my train to Maynooth I headed into Mullingar itself for a quick bite to eat before heading home. In total it took me just under 5 hours to run/walk the 42.2km length of the Old Rail Trail with a few extra minutes either side to walk to my starting point and get to Mullingar Station itself.

Running the Length of the Royal Canal

My Royal Canal Run – 21st June 2019

After 35 weeks of planning and training the time had come to take on my personal challenge of running the entire distance of the Royal Canal from the Sea Lock at the River Liffey in Dublin to the 46th Lock at Richmond Harbour in Cloondara in Co. Longford. A distance of just over 90 miles.

Over the previous several months I had carried out many recce runs along the banks, covering all the parts of the canal in sections so I knew the lay of the land and good places where it would be possible for my support crew to meet me.