Several of my friends have done this race over the years and it was always one I wanted to do so when I knew one of them was giving it another go I threw my hat into the ring for the short (13km) course. Of course my ego objected at the time saying if I’m paying money to do an event I may as well do the full course (26km) but with several niggles at me most this year, sense prevailed, I stuck with the short course and anyway I wasn’t paying money to do an event, I was contributing to a very worthy cause who not only provide an essential life saving service but also host the event in the first place.
Alas, so it was to be, a few days after I signed up for the event, due to be in late November, Kildare went back into lockdown, something it never really got back out of yet as it went from level 3 to level 5 and back to level 3, all requiring that I stick in Co. Kildare. It wasn’t long before the actual event was changed to a virtual event where you could do either the long course or the short course in your own locality.
So on the weekend that the event was due to be held, myself and an intrepid Leixlip man (yet another one) decided that we would do our virtual run in the grounds of Carton House which has several mucky trails. We might not get the hills but at least we would get the muck! All the better too after I went and bought my first ever decent pair of trail runners before the event went virtual so there was no way I was going to let them stay clean.
Now lets remember that this website is about a canal based runner and canals being what they are, they were built on the flattest possible level between two points. That is to say that while I have delusions of grandeur of me scaling the Leadville 100, I am not a hill runner. The small climbs within the walls of Carton Demesne were enough to make me breathless.
In the end I had completed a 13km run down Carton Avenue, sticking to the inside of the perimeter wall, through the forest, around the lake, up to Tyrconnell (Prospect) Tower, past the back of Carton House and returning along the wall to the finish. Run done, muddy trails traversed, hot chocolate in hand, I submitted my virtual time to the website, waited for my t-shirt to be posted out and thought no more of it.
A few weeks pass, the level 5 restrictions are lifted and I get a text from the intrepid Leixlip man suggesting that we should now go do the actual route, you know, so we could truly say we earned our t-shirts. He already had done the route so had an idea of it (more or less) and if we went off course he had the gpx file on his watch. Sure why not, what else would you be doing on a Sunday morning in December.
We set off from Leixlip at 7:30 for Johnnie Fox’s Pub, the highest pub in Ireland (may be disputed by Kerry natives) not far from the Run the Line start line. As my companion and navigator ignored his cars GPS and drove on towards Bray with his mind on Glendalough I might have felt we were getting our navigation problems out of the way early but sure isn’t that the fun of it. It wasn’t long before we turned around and were on the road to Glencullen. As we ascended above Kilternan the roads were icy and needed caution, we weren’t at sea level any more. Not long after we slid into the car park of the pub, donned our trail runners and were ready to Run the Line.
Run the Line starts on the grounds of Glencullen Adventure Park (The GAP), an amazing bike trail facility that I am tempted (though not sure I would be confident enough) to try at some point in the future. In his excitement to get going my companion pulled up the gpx route on his watch but forgot to start it. Off we went. As well cleared the Adventure Park buildings we entered the forest. Having done the course before, my navigator was sure we went through a section of this forest so not long after we reached it we are running through the trees, jumping over roots and branches, generally enjoying the freedom that we have so long sought in 2020. It was one of those moments when you actually had to stop and marvel at your surroundings.
It was around the time that I stopped to take the above photo that I realised we had more or less turned 180 degrees on ourselves. Moments later we emerged about 50 meters away from where we first entered the forest. Even with a gpx file, it seems neither of us could be trusted on an unmarked course. It soon became apparent that half the forest had been cut down in the year since the last event and the route we were to take was no longer through the forest but rather alongside it. It didn’t take long to get back on course and head steadily upwards towards Fairy Castle.
Back on open ground we could see we were now above the fog below with blue skies above. It was still early enough that not many were out. We only encountered two others on our way up to Fairy Castle. It was at this early point that reality hit that I was glad I had not signed up for the 26km route. As I said previously I train mostly on the flat and while I have done a few hilly road marathons like the nearby Lap of the Gap, I was in uncharted territory. I know for Irish Mountain Runners Association (IMRA) runners this is a bread and butter route but my lungs were working hard. I had to keep FKT podcasterBuzz Burrell‘s favourite phrase of ‘perpetual forward motion’ in my mind, the idea that thru-hikers often out pace ultra-runners on long distance simply by never stopping. Of course then my mind would circle around to the fact that this was a 13km hill run just beyond Dublin city limits and not in the Rockies above Boulder, Colorado.
We crossed over the bog land to Fairy Castle were there were a good number of people gathered enjoying the fresh morning, most likely having come up from the Ticknock side of the climb. Rightfully so my companion didn’t want to stick around a crowded place and proceeded to run on as I briefly stopped to take a picture of such poor quality I won’t even share it here. I then took off in hot pursuit on the trail path down hill. Soon enough both of us were taking advantage of the descent, brimming with over-confidence I leaped and jumped happily wishing every other walker and runner a good morning on my way by. The route was clear enough that I even ventured out in front for a while. Eventually we came to a fire road that split in various directions and I halted to seek guidance. Of course I missed the most obvious path, not because it was wide or well trodden, but rather because it went straight up.
I can’t lie, I was moving at a snails pace for a while here and don’t know if I would have been able to move any faster had I indeed been racing the route. All I do know is that I was having a lot of fun and this is definitely something I want to do more of. Of course with every climb comes a down hill and soon we were on to the most technical descent of the day. How people were cycling up it was beyond me. Even on the down hill as we approached the radio masts we had a clear view across south Dublin and the stacks at Ringsend, part of my running clubs logo in Dublin Bay Running Club.
Looking at my watch we still had some 3km to go and I know that my running buddy had previously completed the course in less time than we were out now so I was more determined to keep moving at as quick a shuffle as I could, albeit stopping to take the occasional photo. My navigator had now gotten used to how the map worked on his watch so less time was spent making sure we were on the right track. The small mercy I had, despite his ability to leave me behind, was I was the one with the key to the car. We descended down another fire road which lead us back to the forest where we started.
Pace quickened as we descended back down alongside the Mountain Bike trails back to the adventure park. Finally I had earned the t-shirt by completing the route (with a little extra forest loop). But lets be honest, that is not what was on my mind. When we started out I was told the cafe in the GAP does an amazing burger. I knew it would be open now so I was hoping a hot chocolate could at least be secured, possibly more. What awaited me was a breakfast bap of mammoth proportions which in and of itself would be enough to guarantee my return.
I was left in no doubt that this was an experience that I will return to and I look forward to doing Run the Line in the future. Knowing the route now is also an incentive to do more hill training so I know I can give it a proper go. Many thanks to my guide, navigator and driver for the day who also put up with my slower pace. He may have taken the occasional wrong turn but sure I did the same to him on the canal… and that’s a straight line!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
After nearly a year of planning and 35 weeks of training the evening of the 20thof 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 which were printed up by Ash and his team in Run Logic.
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 was 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 1stLock 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 songThe Auld Triangle. Richie, one of the runners who would join me later in the day wrote this little ditty to the tune of The Auld Triangle to mark our run. Straight after we crossed over the Phibsborough Road at the traffic lights and we were well on our way out of the city.
Bythe 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 10thand 11th Double Chamber Locks before reaching the aqueduct over the M50. I had gone on ahead a little hereas I wasanticipating meeting my crew at the car park of the pub at the 12thLock.
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 12thLock 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.
At the 12thLock 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 1st10km 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 waythrough 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.
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. I quite happilyhad 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.
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 betweenthe 13thLock atDeey Bridge and Pike Bridge. We passed Carton and headed on for Maynooth Harbour.
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 14thand 15thLocks. 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.
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 16thLock 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 17thLock 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 was 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.
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 headingwest.
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 was 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.
After leaving Enfield the crew took a chance to go to an Applegreen to get some breakfast.
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.
Amanda, Richie and I crossed over the Boyne Aqueduct and headed on for BlackshadeBridge. 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 openand 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 wereinto Westmeathat 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.
Paula, Anna and I left Thomastown at 08:31, 4 minutes ahead of schedule and proceed up the flight of locks from the 18th Lock at the Harbour to the 25thLock. 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 20thLockand by the time we passed Footy’s Bridge after the 25thLock 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.
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.
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.
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 and I reached Coolnahay at the end of the Summit level at 12:24pm 6 minutes ahead of schedule. Coolnahay Harbour is at the 26thLock 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.
I was able to run down the 26th, 27thand 28thLocks and after a short walk we also ran down the 29th, 30thand 31stLocksas 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.
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.
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.
Tracey, Anita and I made good progress down the 36th, 37th and 38thLocks 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 wasn’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.
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.
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 atthe large 3 storey storehouse,only 6 minutes behind schedule, over 130km into the run.
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.
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 abar 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 41stLock. David was tasked with wearing the go-pro here. Deirdre had got delayed by running a mile out of her way on the old 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 41stLock.
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 Innfor 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.
I had an hour and 12 minutes to make it to the finish to reach my dream time,only 7km togoandIhad 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 bogat 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 45thLock 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 46thLock.
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. I had set the Royal Canal’s first Fastest Known Time some 12 minutes and 14 seconds quicker than the best target I had set myself.
When all was said and done it was off into the Richmond Inn at the Richmond Harbour to celebrate.
You couldn’t ask for a better finish line with fine food and a great guesthouse ensuring I didn’t have to punish my legs any further. I can’t lie though, a hot meal and a hot shower and I was fit for my bed.
The following morning I was up early for a full Irish before I headed off to Strokestown parkrun where I was quite happy to cheer on everybody else from the grass verge.
So the question remains, how did I do over 3miles or 5km more than the length of the route? Well forgiving my little diversion to the Five Lamps at the start and the multiple crossing of the canal to stay on the Greenway, I guess I arsed about too much at my rest stops. Lesson is, if I go direct, there’s definitely room for improvement!
If there is one thing I like to highlight on this website more than any other, it is that the Royal Canal is an amazing amenity for all to use. I am hardly the first to highlight this. The Royal Canal Amenity Group has been working hard since 1974 to restore the canal as a working navigation, a goal successfully achieved in 2010. Waterways Ireland and Athletics Ireland are working hand in hand to promote the vast distance of towpaths on Ireland’s inland navigations as the perfect place for getting active, not only to improve physical health but also mental health.
As I type this Frank Greally, former editor of Irish Runner and the Irish Junior 10,000m Junior Record holder since 1970 is currently undertaking his Gratitude Walk from Ballyhaunis to the Coombe Hospital via the Royal Canal. The National Famine Museum has established the National Famine Way along the route of the canal to highlight the plight of the 1490 emigrants that walked the canal banks to Dublin before being shipped off to Canada.
Now Leixlip man Declan Kenny has added his name to the list of those doing something different to highlight the importance of the Royal Canal as a place to enjoy, travel, inspire and even to a point, endure. Do yourself a favour, put on a brew and sit down to enjoy his account of the day here.
With the dark cloud of Covid hanging overhead, Declan, a runner and triathlete among other things had been training for the Gaelforce West adventure race. Sadly with Gaelforce cancelled Declan looked for another way to channel his energy and make use of his training, and so it was, he decided he would make a triathlon event for himself along the Royal Canal.
He couldn’t ask for a more perfect venue, a basin of water some 146km long, a Greenway where cycling has become the perfect escape for many this year and a decent multi-terrain path to challenge even the most seasoned runner. Starting in Richmond Harbour where the Royal meets the Shannon, Declan decided he was going to swim the 2.7km distance to Begnagh Bridge, before transitioning onto his bike for the 117km cycle to Maynooth Harbour and then covering the last 27km to the Liffey by foot.
So with an idea in his head, Declan went about forming a plan and in mid-August I received a message asking if I had any tips for running the canal. Before long conversation struck up and I quickly realised I was dealing with an individual of a similar breed as myself. I doubt many will argue that it takes a certain level of crazy to tackle the Royal Canal in one day, it takes that level of crazy with interest to take on and more importantly finish the Connemara 100, a feat Declan completed in 2019.
Finding out that he was only one town over from me was the added bonus and so I made my brain available for picking, answering every relevant question he asked and pumping him with superfluous stories about the Royal Canal and my own experiences as well.
Not long after Declan had assembled his crew, Saturday the 12th of September 2020 was the date set for the adventure. He would aim to start swimming close to sunrise and to finish at the Liffey before sunset, well before sunset as it happens.
Most of my guide posts for the Royal Canal have been composed over the Spring and Summer of 2020 during the Covid restrictions meaning that while I had the text content for the posts, sometimes restrictions meant I didn’t have the photo content I like to include, especially for the more westerly sections of the canal. This was the perfect opportunity to pack the bike, drive out, take some photos and also join Declan for a few stretches as he cycled east. So as he was jumping into the water at Richmond Harbour at 7:15 am, I was leaving Mosstown Harbour giving me what I reckoned was about 90 minutes to get my photos between Keenagh and the 45th Lock before joining him for the spin back as far as my car when he transitioned onto the bike.
I didn’t hold back as I cycled into a brisk headwind west, stopping at several points where I needed to grab a quick snap and at about 8:10 I reached Begnagh Bridge where I passed Austin who was crewing for the day sitting in his car, the bike ready on the back. This surprised me for a minute as I had expected to see him out walking along the bank as Declan was swimming. I carried on past the car as I still needed to get several more pictures up to the 45th Lock. As I rounded the corner only a short distance from the bridge I got my next surprise, there was Declan in the water, powering along like Michael Phelps, well ahead of where I expected him to be and alongside him was Austin’s son James paddling in a canoe. Well that explained the roof rack on Austin’s car and why he was there instead.
James, who had meant to be taking part in the Liffey Descent that morning, had, like many of us fell victim to events being cancelled by Covid restrictions and as such was now available to crew. Seeing Declan so close to his transition caused me to do some quick thinking. I had a few photos I wanted to get a few hundred meters up at the Bord Na Moná Railway Lifting Bridge and the 45th Lock, but more importantly this was Declan’s day, I couldn’t afford to delay his progress waiting around for me. So it was either pull out my best Sam Bennett impression, sprint up to take the photos and hope I made it back in time or turn on my wheels now. I took my chance, inspired by Declan’s already impressive speed in the water and headed flat out for the 45th Lock.
I got my photos and got back to Begnagh Bridge just in time to see Declan get out of the water. He managed to cover his swim leg around 1 hour and 5 minutes, a fair bit quicker than the estimates he gave me. All looked well as he got out of the water, it certainly didn’t seem to phase him, albeit Austin mentioning he did let out a few interesting sounds on getting into the water at the start.
The lads lifted the canoe out of the water as Declan ditched the wet suit and got his gear ready for the cycle. Water bottles, runners and bag all donned, go-pro ready, we set off across the road and onto the Greenway heading east. I heard mention during transition that Austin and James were thinking of heading to McDonald’s in Longford on their way to their next meeting point in Ballinea just west of Mullingar. I don’t know if they followed up on it but it planted a seed in my mind for later.
We had just set off at a good pace and were probably just over 1km in when we realised the go-pro was left on the roof of the car. I had my phone in an accessible pocket so was able to ring Austin quickly to confirm they had it and hadn’t accidentally drove off without it (something I’ve done myself with a phone) as so we proceeded east.
It didn’t take us long to fly up the levels passing Killashee, the Longford Branch, the Lyneen Bridges and on towards where my car was parked outside Keenagh at Mosstown Harbour, the first 11.5k covered in half an hour, a reasonable warm up. When we got to Mosstown I directed Declan across Island Bridge to the other side of the canal which he would stay on until I met him again 18.5km on at Webb Bridge in Abbeyshrule.
I now had my own little race on, to make sure I got to Abbeyshrule and ready before Declan. The cycle along the canal between Keenagh and Abbeyshrule is a lovely stretch that meanders through the countryside and runs close to the River Inny as it approaches Abbeyshrule. The road however heads south to Lanesborough before heading east through Ballymahon finally turning north again back to the canal, all the while still managing to cross the canal twice in the process.
Of course when I arrived at the car park at Mosstown Harbour as the sun was rising, the total population of area was myself and a heron spying me suspiciously while it fished for its breakfast. Now however a local cycling club was leading its ride out along the Greenway (good on them) from the harbour car park where of course my car was buried in the corner behind all the support vehicles. Now I’m a walker, a runner, a cyclist and a driver so life has thought me that I should be patient and attentive to all. Of course the reality is that as I transitioned from cyclists in the midst of other cyclists, stowed my wheels and sat in the drivers seat, the impatience also set in and I wanted to get moving. Thankfully I kept my smile as the group headed off and the support vehicles made way. I emerged out onto the boggy roads, Scooter turned up loud and made my way to my next starting point.
By the time I reached Abbeyshrule it was starting to turn into a cracking day. I parked across from the Rustic Inn where I myself had stopped for my main meal the day I ran in the opposite direction. The staff were out hanging bunting and I later found out that both the local minor and senior women’s football teams were playing in their respective county finals over the weekend. I had made it with enough time that I was able to head out west as far as the 39th Lock before meeting Declan coming towards me.
We sailed up past Webb Bridge and down onto the recently completed Greenway section on the north bank and proceeded up past Scally’s Bridge. It cannot be denied that I have a story or at least an opinion about every bridge, lock and lock house along the canal and that’s what my website is for so I wasn’t going to be pulling up the man on a mission to point out every curiosity we past but nonetheless the impressive Whitworth Aqueduct was one place I couldn’t resist to point out. Declan humoured me as he took on some fuel and stopped to read an information sign I pointed out to him before the aqueduct before I proceed to point out the same information engraved by the masons who built the aqueduct at the middle of the crossing.
I doubt that Declan was aware that some of my friends refer to me as the Family Guy character Buzz Killington who can take the good humour out of any situation by spinning a yarn about a bridge.
Moments late we were back on the peddles and across the county line into Westmeath and the wild open plains of Ballynacarrow Bog. Even on a good day the wind can whip you around on this exposed area above the bog. It wasn’t long before we were climbing up the 38th, 37th and 36th Locks and came to the village of Ballynacargy.
This picturesque little village would mark my turning point back, a mere 8.6km from Abbeyshrule, but already this morning Declan had covered 42km and was well on his way. He had another direct run as far as Ballinea, 12.5km on where Austin and his son had a sandwich waiting. Again my mind wondering had they managed to make it to McDonald’s in Longford. I wished Declan well, saying I would catch him again in Maynooth when he transitioned to his run and spun on my wheel to get back to Abbeyshrule, taking the last of the photos I needed as I went.
I am first and foremost a runner. Buying a bike was originally a flight of fancy subsidised by the cycle to work scheme. For the majority of its life it has sat in my garage, unloved with a lawn mover and half inflated kayak for company. However this summer, with a persistent niggle (probably a stress fracture) in my lower legs, the bike has become a closer companion. Initially I was using it to “keep up my cardio” but the reality is I am really getting to enjoy my time on the bike and as I headed back west I was lamenting I wasn’t pushing on further east with Declan, enjoying the day as I was.
I made it back to the car with a definite plan in my mind! Supermacs. If the lads had their McDonald’s I was going to have my Supermacs, with curry chips. The is a Supermacs in Ballinalack just west of Mullingar and I’d be there in 20 minutes. Perfect. My mouth was watering at the thought of a Mightymac and cool refreshing diet coke as I drove past Edgeworthstown, having done feic all to earn it while Declan was making do with a sandwich for all his efforts. I pulled into the forecourt to see the garage is building a large extension. No bother, good to see that it is busy. Park up, a scan of the watch. It’s nearly 12, surely they’ll be open by now and if not I have plenty of time to wait til 12 and still make it back to Maynooth. I walk in and there was the sucker punch to my salivating taste buds. Open at 2pm. Sigh. So like any normal Irish person before 12pm on a Saturday morning, I settled with a breakfast roll, 2 sausages, 2 rashers, 2 eggs, a bit of butter and red sauce and went outside to eat it at a socially distanced picnic bench. Normally the food of the gods, all I had was the taste of disappointment. Back in the car, I headed for home.
Coming through Mullingar I realised I hadn’t lost much time with my diversion for food. There was a good chance I might actually catch Declan at Mary Lynch’s pub and see how he was getting on. I pulled off the M4 and parked up by the access to the Blueway (the paddlers version of a Greenway). I thought I’d have plenty of time to read a few tweets, catch up on some news, play some Boom Beach… but no, I was only parked two minutes and here come two bikes flying towards me. Just over 4 and a half hours in, the first of which was in the water and he was already half way done. James had hopped on his bike at Ballinea and joined Declan for the 40km as far as Furey’s in Moyvalley. They both flew up past me in good spirits before dropping back down under the M4 over-pass towards the Killucan flight of Locks. Sure it’s all down hill to Dublin from there. With that I was back in the car and heading for home in Maynooth.
I made it home a little after 1, unpacked the bike, got out of the bib shorts and prepped some running gear. Sure I’d see how far I could manage, I hadn’t run in at least 6 weeks but when you see an inspirational endurance enthusiast going you can’t help but want to join in. My plan was to make it as far as Leixlip where I knew Declan had more crew ready to join him for his run into town. If I could make it to a train station a few stops further in, sure that was a bonus.
At the pace Declan was moving all morning I reckoned he could be in Maynooth as early as 2:15 so with the warm weather that was, my wife and I headed down to the harbour to relax with the swans while we waited for him. Of course what good is a day if something doesn’t go a little askew, you always need a story to tell and so it was 2:45 when Declan arrived to Maynooth. The story? Well you’ll need to read his blog to find out that.
Austin and James had stopped in Furey’s for lunch, a point I am only now realising that I’m slightly jealous of, they certainly had the good food options on the day. They then made the journey to Maynooth to collect the bike as Declan transitioned to the run. At 14:50, with 120km done, I joined in again for the 27k run to the Sea Lock at the Liffey.
We took off at a strong pace, something I was a little cautious of because I didn’t want to be setting a pace that might cause Declan to blow up (ha!) but also because I hadn’t run in several weeks myself. Conversation was easy though and both of us seemed comfortable. It took us just over the half hour to arrive at Louisa Bridge where we were expecting Des to join us. Des has paced the Dublin Marathon several times and is an experienced distance runner, the ideal person you want at your side in the last section of a long day. Like to my surprise earlier, Declan was moving quicker than Des was expecting too and so we got to take a 5 minute break at Louisa Bridge as Des darted down from home to join us.
I did have enough sense to bring two gels with me for fuel but I think I even confused Declan by the fact I was wearing a camelbak and yet brought no water. Sure I wasn’t expecting to go far. We passed the boathouse of the Royal Canal Amenity Group where several Heritage Boats including 4E, 92E and 118B were tied up and I took a gel. Banter was easier between three as we ran some of the more grassy trails into Clonsilla and not long after down into the Deep Sinking itself.
Earlier in the day we saw a pleasure craft passing us in the opposite direction and I lamented that despite my best intentions I still hadn’t booked a trip with local skipper Jenny Wren of Royal Canal Boat Trips to see the canal at a relaxed pace on the water.
Sure as eggs are eggs, as we crossed over Keenan Bridge near Porterstown there was Jenny’s boat below us in the Deep Sinking making her way to Castleknock with guests on board. We took the opportunity to take a short walk break and I took my last gel before we steamed on ahead, the true canal life is never in a hurry.
We emerged at Castleknock and we only had the smooth 10k left to the finish. My quads were getting loud and annoying at this stage but given that it was my shins that I was expecting to fail I wasn’t going to stop for a train now, especially when Declan had come so much further.
We ran on into Ashtown and under Hamilton Bridge, Des now taking on to point out the local landmarks. Sadly I was starting to struggle. Simply put, I didn’t have enough fuel. Maybe if I had a Supermacs and not a breakfast roll I would have been more comfortable, maybe if I had been sensible and had brought some fluids I would have been better off. As much I could moan internally I certainly wasn’t going to voice it in current company. I found it comfortable for a while to take a walk break and then make a run to catch up. I did this several times. Alas as we passed under the mighty Croke Park the body said enough. It was time to let the boys push on.
Des glanced back at me as we reached the new linear park at Newcomen Bridge and I waved on that all was ok. This was Declan’s day and that sub 11 was looming large. I could only smile as the two extended their distance away from me. A pleasure in knowing someone else who now knew the joy of completing the distance in one go.
As I passed the Luke Kelly statue I made one last effort to run but the body said no. I bumped elbows with the boys as they walked back past me in triumph after finishing, but I wasn’t going to stop til I made it to the Liffey.
Bikes and canoe deposited, James dropped off, Austin graciously came into town to collect us and was only 200m from the finish ready to bring us home.
I may not have had water but I did have my hip flask. Declan took a swig in celebration of his finish, before I drank the rest to take the edge off what the legs were feeling. We didn’t waste time and soon we were back in Leixlip.
It was another fantastic day out on the Royal Canal for me in the company of great like minded people. I am very thankful to have been part of the day and hope Declan remembers it with the same level of fondness as I do my own adventure. It certainly shows that it is a viable event for those who want to do it, it doesn’t matter your skill set, be you focused on a single discipline or have a love for several, the Royal Canal is accessible for all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In total there are 5 original Midland Great Western Railway Bridges over the railway between Athlone and Moate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.