With the Dublin Marathon being held virtually for another year, Leixlip man Declan Kenny has organised a self supported marathon along the banks of the Royal Canal from the Hill of Down to Leixlip Confey which people can use to record a virtual Dublin City Marathon time on the DCM app or for people who just want to do a distance event in great surroundings. Details about signing up for the Down to Town Marathon can be found here. For those of you signed up, I hope you will find this post a useful guide to the route on the day along with the photos I have taken to help give you visual reference points along the way.
As Down to Town is a point-to-point marathon, the meet up point is at the finish area at the Confey GAA Club at the top of Captains Hill in Leixlip. Please note this is not the same as Leixlip GAA club which is on Green Lane. From there participants will take a bus departing at 9am to Hill of Down for a start time of 10am. In order to make up the correct distance, the start line is roughly 450 meters west of drop off point at Killyon Bridge which the participants will have to walk to. This will give you a good opportunity to warm up.
The marathon starts on the north bank of the Royal Canal Greenway (canal is on your right hand side) and it is a short distance of 450m to the first landmark we will come to, Killyon Bridge in the village of Hill of Down. Approaching the bridge, the path splits in two, one leading under the bridge and the other leading over it. The path under the bridge is narrow and caution is required but is still the better option as going over the bridge to the other side requires crossing a main road.
Leaving Hill of Down, it is 2.5km to the next major landmark, Blackshade Bridge. It is not possible to pass under the bridge so it is necessary for runners to run up a slope to the bridge and cross a main road before carrying on down on the other side, all the while remaining on the north bank of the canal.
After dropping down the other side of Blackshade Bridge it is a little over 2km before we come to the River Boyne Aqueduct which lies just to the west of Longwood Harbour.
After passing over the River Boyne and the Longwood Road Aqueduct you will come into Longwood Harbour. As this is a self-sufficient marathon it is useful to know that there is a tap on the edge of the old cottage building in the harbour. There is also usually a horse-box coffee shop at the harbour should anyone want to get supplies early on. I will point out several places where supplies can be purchased close to the route as I go along. Unfortunately I cannot be certain that all of these will be open/working on the day.
Next up, leaving Longwood Harbour behind us, we come to the Ribbontail Footbridge and stop gates. These are just short of 2km beyond Longwood Harbour.
A further 2km east we come to Furey’s pub in Moyvalley and the first place we must cross over the canal to the south bank where the canal will now be on the runners left. Ascending up towards Furey’s Pub and Moyvalley Bridge, you will be on the old Galway road as you cross the canal bridge before descending down the ramp under the new Galway Road and continuing on the south bank.
Not long after coming down the ramp you will pass the 10k marker for the marathon as you run along a green fence that separates the Greenway from the Railway.
Just under 2km from Furey’s you will come to Kilmore Bridge. Like Killyon Bridge in Hill of Down, runners have the option to take the narrow path under the bridge or to rise up over it having to cross the road while doing so. There is a guard rail under this bridge so it is best to carry on under.
Less than 1km after Kilmore Bridge, runners will pass over the Blackwater Aqueduct.
Runners have a good straight run of 3.7km after the Blackwater Aqueduct to the next landmark of Enfield Bridge and the next crossing point of the canal. This is one of two major road crossing on the route that have pedestrian traffic lights. When you come up to the bridge it is worth knowing there is an Applegreen Service station about 100 meters to the right before crossing the road if you need any water or supplies. The pedestrian lights are very responsive to those using the canal so I recommend using the lights to cross the road which will also bring you back down on the north bank of the canal (canal is on your right hand side) which is the side you will stay on for the rest of the marathon.
Leaving Enfield behind we run for just over 2km before we reached a shared road space where cars may be driving along the same section of canal as we are running.
The road lasts for just less than 1km before we reach Cloncurry Bridge. Unfortunately we cannot pass under Cloncurry Bridge so please exercise caution as you rise up over it, across the road and down the other side. Any of you who are familiar with Lock Up the Year marathon may remember having to cross over the bridge here. This is no longer necessary, the Greenway continues on the north bank so please stick to the good surface and avoid the muddy trails of the south bank (unless that’s really your thing).
There are a few houses down the road on the other side of Cloncurry Bridge so be mindful you may have a car or two pass you along this section but it is unlikely. 2km on from Cloncurry Bridge you will reach a farm house with a pair of gates to the right. These gates are closer together than any of the gates we have gone through so far, reduce your speed as you pass through them.
Not long after passing through the gates you will reach the half way mark for the marathon before reaching the forest section.
It is roughly 3.5km to the next landmark of the 17th Lock, known locally as Ferrans Lock. You have spent nearly 24km on the Long Level before reaching the 17th Lock which marks the start of the descent down into Leixlip. As we approach the 17th Lock you will see a gate off the road and the Greenway rises to the lock on the right before dropping down again, crossing the road at the railway crossing to carry on towards Kilcock.
After crossing the road at the 17th Lock it is just short of 3km to the next landmark of Allen Bridge, also known locally as Spins Bridge. This part of the route may be familiar to those of you who have done Royal Canal parkrun Kilcock. The path under Allen Bridge is fairly tight and this can be a busy section of Greenway so it may be useful to shout ahead as you approach encase you bump into somebody coming in the other direction.
It is 1km from Allen Bridge to the 16th Lock and Shaw’s Bridge and the upper end of Kilcock Harbour. Dropping down by the 16th Lock you come to the second major road crossing of the route which have pedestrian lights. Unfortunately these lights are less responsive than those in Enfield so be prepared for a wait to get a green man to cross. There is a Supervalu in Kilcock to the left off the bridge if you really need any supplies at this point however it does require a diversion of 250 meters to get to the shop and another 250 meters to get back to the canal. Alternatively there is a Lidl just across the road on the edge of the town as you pass. The harbour in Kilcock also has several bins so is the first real opportunity to dispose of any rubbish you may have.
Less than 2km east of Kilcock you will come to Chambers Bridge at the 15th Lock. There is a double set of gates here and while it is unlikely that any cars will be moving around the bridge, the local residents can be coming or going so just keep an eye out.
Once past Chambers Bridge you are running alongside the grounds of North Kildare Club. As you are passing you are likely to see an open gate to a small shipping container that is usually open selling snacks, coffees and soft drinks and may be a useful place to have a quick pit stop if you need an energy boost. As mentioned before I cannot be 100% certain it will be open on the day but at time of writing it usually is on a Sunday morning.
You will notice that from the 17th Lock on, there tends to be more traffic along the Greenway from walkers to runners and cyclists so please be mindful and respectful of other users of the Greenway. A short distance after North Kildare Club you will pass under Bailey Bridge which now has a large concrete extension to cater for Greenway users but can have a bit of a blind spot for those coming in the other direction.
It is slightly less than 1.5km from Bailey Bridge to Jackson Bridge and the 14th Lock which marks the 32km of the marathon or more importantly, only 10km left to go. There is a low narrow pedestrian arch in Jacksons Bridge which can also be blind to people coming from below the lock so be cautious on approach.
After passing under Jackson Bridge you are running alongside the edge of Maynooth College and after nearly 2km you will come to Bond Bridge as you come into Maynooth. Like Allen Bridge, Bond Bridge is narrow and can be blind passing under it.
Out the other side of Bond Bridge you are on the last of the official Greenway section of the Royal Canal as you approach Maynooth Harbour 500 meters further on from the Bridge.
Maynooth Harbour is triangular in shape and requires you to run slightly towards the town and the harbour slipway before carrying on past the the playground towards Mullen Bridge. As you reach the slipway you will see the Harbour Field. If you look across the field you will see a set of traffic lights on the far corner, beyond which lies a newsagents and Supervalu in the Glenroyal complex should you want any supplies. If you do leave the course here it is possible to rejoin the canal by running up the ramp beside the hotel which will then drop you down the other side of Mullen Bridge. Like almost all the bridges we have encountered, when coming from the harbour, exercise caution as you pass under the bridge as the path us narrow. You will also pass under the ‘new’ road bridge.
As I mentioned earlier, the Royal Canal Greenway ends at Maynooth Harbour so the towpath isn’t as good from here on to the finish. That said it still have a stone surface from Maynooth Harbour to Pike Bridge and a little beyond which is over 2.5km before you reach a grass section. Some of the section can have large puddles though if it is wet.
A little after Carton Wharf at Pike Bridge we come onto the softest section of the course which lasts for about 1km to Deey Bridge.
As we get to the 13th Lock, we cross over a quiet road, however we must make our way through a set of kissing gates before crossing the road. The good news however is that we are back on solid ground for a bit on the other side.
You are now running past Intel and Le Chéile Running Club as you approach Louisa Bridge, 1.5km beyond Deey Bridge. Again Louisa Bridge has a narrow approach and is blind to the other side.
You are now on the final stretch of the Down to Town Marathon as you make your way across the Ryewater Aqueduct and past the Old Toll House.
You round one last corner before having less than 1km straight to the finish line.
When you finally reach the finish line, it is just a short hop across the road to Confey GAA where we all gathered at the start to grab the bus.
One final thing I have to add, you will see several portaloos along the route behind fencing. Unfortunately these are not for public use and are locked so they may as well be a mirage or an hallucination for all they are worth. Sadly, a few that had been put in recently for public use have already been burnt out.
I hope you have found this guide useful and I look forward to running with you on the day. – Gary aka the Royal Canal Runner.
The 13km section of the Royal Canal between Hazelhatch and Sallins is a very accessible and enjoyable stretch for walkers, runners and cyclists alike. It can easily reached by taking the short train journey to Hazelhatch Railway Station from Heuston Station in Dublin and then it is possible to get the train back to either Hazelhatch or Heuston from Sallins, both stations only a few minutes walk off the canal. Both Hazelhatch and Sallins also have car parks at the stations if you are travelling by car.
Hazelhatch is located just a little bit outside Celbridge on the Dublin and Kildare border and the canal can be accessed at the narrow Hazelhatch Bridge.
McEvoys pub is also located beside the bridge and is a good place to have a pint to close out an evening or as a place to stop as you pass by on a longer trek.
Hazelhatch is home to a good number of boats, many of them live-aboard’s and includes some Heritage Boats like the former Grand Canal Company boats 36M, 42M, 56M and 58M as well as the older Horse Boat No. 1 now known as Misneach.
The canal path from Hazelhatch to Sallins is entirely traveled on the south bank of the canal and is of good surface quality for the majority of the route but it is necessary to be mindful of cars for a good part of it also.
About 1.5km west of Hazelhatch you come to Aylmer Bridge named for the Aylmer family of Donadea Demense. The bridge also marks the start of the boundary wall of the Lyons Estate in the area of Lyons Hill which runs alongside the canal for several kilometres.
1km on from Aylmer Bridge is the double chambered 13th Lock. The 13th Lock lies close to a cemetery just below it on the south leading to the suggestion that the 13th Lock is haunted. There are also stories that the 13th Lock on the Royal is haunted. I have never found out for certain to which one Arthur Griffith’s poem refers.
Above the 13th Lock lies the Lock Yard including the Pantry. Part of the Cliff at Lyons, it is an ideal place to stop for a snack or take away cake and coffee. The Lock Yard was originally the site of a mill which was built by Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry who was noted as a canal enthusiast and also served as the Chairman of the Grand Canal Company. The mill was later run by the Shackleton family, related to Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton until it burned down in 1903. Botanical artist Lydia Shackleton, the Royal Botanical Garden Dublin’s first artist in residence lived here for several years. After the Cloncurry title became extinct in 1929 the Lyons Estate fell into disrepair and was bought and restored by Ryanair founder Tony Ryan from the mid 1990’s on.
Just a little over a kilometre on from the 14th Lock we come to Henry Bridge named for a family from nearby Straffan. Henry Bridge is located in the village of Ardclough, resting place of Arthur Guinness. A small shop is located just north of the bridge past Ardclough GAA club for anyone looking for supplies and the burial place of Arthur Guinness can be visited by travelling south of the bridge for a few minutes. A little further west of the bridge we pass the original Ardclough National School that was build in 1839.
We continue along the narrow road on the south bank for another 2.5km when we reach Ponsonby Bridge. When passing under the bridge you can see that it has been widened on both sides for the road traffic it carries and as a result the original faces of the bridge have been lost.
When we emerge on the other side of the bridge we have lost the smooth path and road we have enjoyed from Hazelhatch to this point and enter a more grassy section. Most of the remainder of the distance to Sallins is soft ground. The majority of it is fine for walking and cycling with a hybrid or a mountain bike but a few small sections tend to remain muddy throughout the year.
It is a further 2.5km to Devonshire Bridge. This stretch tends to be a lot quieter than the section around Hazelhatch and the Lyons Estate and offers a real rural feel even though we are still well within the commuter belt of Dublin. The railway is not far to the north of the canal and trains can often be heard but unlike the Royal Canal, they are rarely seen.
The 14th Lock follows shortly after passing under Devonshire Bridge. The original Lock Keeper’s Cottage has been restored and extended as a private residence.
It is just over half a kilometre then to the 15th Lock and the remains of it’s Lock Keeper’s Cottage.
Leaving Dublin, it is noticeable that the Grand Canal follows very long straight lines south west. Not long after passing the 15th Lock the canal takes an obvious turn to the west as it leads towards Sallins. 2km from the lock we are greeted by the Railway Bridge that passes over the canal bringing trains into Sallins from Dublin.
It is just over 1km from the railway bridge into Sallins. The canal path narrows here and as it is sheltered it can get quiet mucky for a few hundred metres along this stretch.
Like Hazelhatch, Sallins is the home to a good many boats and you can even see plenty of post boxes for each of the live aboard’s along the jetty on the east side of Sallins Bridge.
Sallins is where we finish today. The small town just outside Naas has a good selection of take-away’s just off the canal, a Supervalu and even though we are on the 15th level the 13th Lock Gastro and Brew Pub is a great spot to stop for a bite and a few drinks. For those who would like to see the canal as it should be seen it is possible to book a cruise on a barge in Sallins on the blue and white barge in the picture above.
For those who don’t fancy the walk back to Hazelhatch, Sallins Railway Station is only a 3 minute walk off the canal.
Leaving Sallins on the north bank of the Grand Canal we pass a Waterways Ireland service block and like the eastern side of Sallins Bridge there is always a good number of boats found tied up across from the old Odlums mill. It is a 12km journey to Robertstown.
Not long after we leave Sallins we pass by the remains of an old dry dock on the opposite bank. If you look closely you can see the wall at the entrance of the now filled in dock which is also beside the access point to the tow path for the Naas Branch of the canal.
Beyond the dry dock we come to the triangular Soldier’s Island and the junction with the Naas Branch. Past the island we pass under the new bridge that carries the Sallin’s Ring Road over the canal before we reach the Leinster Aqueduct which carries the canal over the River Liffey.
Not far beyond the Leinster Aqueduct we find a rather unique circular stone overflow. The Guide to the Grand Canal refers to it as “the big pot, the little pot, the boolawn and the skillet”. The workings of the overflow are explained by The Helpful Engineer. It is an interesting albeit overgrown feature of the Grand Canal. It would be great to see the overgrowth cut back to see the actual workings of this unusual piece of engineering. The overflow itself would have spilled into a stream behind it that then flows down into the Liffey
As we round the next corner we come to Digby Bridge and the 16th Lock. This bridge is one of two to bear the name Digby along the Grand Canal. Another can be found just east of Tullamore at the 25th Lock.
The canal path turns to grass again when we cross over the road but staying on the north bank of the canal. It is little over 1km to Landenstown Bridge and the 17th Lock. On the opposite side of the canal is the gate into Landenstown Estate which is boasts a Palladian country house and large farm in much need of renovation. Landenstown House was built for the Digby family around 1740. The Digby family who apart from being land owners in Kildare, at one stage also owned the Aran Islands. The house and grounds were owned and farmed by a German man from the 1940’s until the early 2000’s. Yeomanstown Stud purchased the vast property in 2017.
After Landenstown Bridge we have just over 1km of road to travel along before we join up again with a grass path as the canal takes a turn away from the road towards the 18th Lock.
It is 1.5km from the 18th Lock to the Burgh Bridge. It is usually around this stretch that you will hear hear the engines of the cars racing around nearby Mondello Park which lies just 1km south of the Bridge. Burgh Bridge boasts several rope grooves that would have been carved into the stone over the years by horses pulling barges past the bridge, a great reminder of the working past of the canal. It is worth looking out for rope grooves on many canal bridges.
It is nearly two 2km on the grass bank to Bonynge or Healy’s Bridge. At Healy’s Bridge it is best to come up and cross over to the other side to finish out the last stretch to Robertstown. Standing on top of the bridge you can see where the Blackwater Feeder once entered the canal to the right of the main line towards Robertstown. It once connected an artificial reservoir, Ballinafagh Lake to the canal but was closed in 1952 and is now partly filled in. The lake is now protected as a Special Area of Conservation.
We are now on the final 2km approach to our destination at Robertstown. On reaching Robertstown you are greeted by what was the Grand Canal Hotel. A splendid hotel in the early life of the canal the hotel later became an RIC Barracks and also served as a community centre. Currently unused one can only hope it will find new life and not fall into dereliction much like the similar looking Grand Canal Hotel in Shannon Harbour.
You will generally find several boats in Robertstown Harbour and there are several pubs, shops and a cafe in the village to stock up or get a feed. Robertstown Community Amenities Association are currently in the process of trying to restore Heritage Boat 52M. An outboard engine was fitted during the summer of 2019 and the barge made its own way down the canal to Shannon Harbour for an inspection to take place. I finish this section at Binn’s Bridge.
Although long closed to navigation by boats the stretch of the Grand Canal from Naas Harbour to Corbally Harbour offers the walker and runner a fine route of just over 8km on which to travel, almost all of which is expansive countryside, ideal for those looking to escape the urban landscape of Naas.
The Corbally extension has been closed to navigation since the building of the Newbridge Road at canal level in 1954, the line remains in water as a the water source for the Naas Branch comes into the system at Corbally Harbour and flows the whole way down the the main line at Soldier’s Island.
Built between 1808 and 1810, the Grand Canal Company contracted the Civil Engineering firm of Henry, Mullins & McMahon to construct the extension as well as restoring and adapting some of the Naas Branch after the collapse of the County of Kildare Canal Company. This would be the first job for the firm that also went on to finish the Royal Canal from Coolnahay to Richmond Harbour as well as building the Ballinasloe and Mountmellick Branches of the Grand Canal. While John Killaly did survey a route through Kilcullen and Baltinglas, plans to extend the line beyond Corbally were abandoned.
Passing the Naas Community Library as you leave the Naas Harbour on the south bank you follow the path through Sarto Park to a tree lined trail on the bank and on to Ploopluck Bridge.
Continuing west and skirting behind several housing estates you then pass under the more modern Caragh Road Bridge which carries traffic high over the canal.
It is only a short distance from the Caragh Road Bridge to Jigginstown Bridge (may also be known as Terry Bridge) which now acts as pedestrian access to Naas Sports Centre on the opposite side of the canal.
It is necessary to leave the canal at the bridge and move up to the main Newbridge Road and the ruins of Jigginstown House. When this road was built over the canal in the 1950’s it was decided to use a culvert instead of a bridge, therefore sealing the fate of the line as closed to navigation.
We leave the canal as we cross the road and travel on down Jigginstown Green. The canal passes behind several house before we rejoin it about 500m later at Limerick Bridge.
Staying on the south bank of the canal we proceed on west as the canal takes a turn south, now walking on a grassy trail and leaving behind the urban neighbourhoods of Naas. I did this section in mid-summer after a prolonged dry spell so the surface was ideal for me but many have warned me that this area can be overgrown and wet in winter so a good pair of trail runners or boots is advised. It is nearly a 2km stretch before we reach the next landmark of Connaught Bridge.
When you get to Connaught Bridge you must first pass under it before coming up to cross over it and descend down on the other side to what has now become the west bank of the canal. From here on in, we will meet several gates along the path. It is important to be mindful to close the gates behind us as we pass through them as there are free roaming cattle in the fields along the canal. That being the case it is also important to be mindful of where you step!
It is 2km from Connaught Bridge along the trail before your come to a canal spillway just before the The Cowhouse at Williow Cottage. From here you are briefly back on a hard surface to Hoare Bridge.
It is easier to come up to the road level and back down on the other side at Hoare’s Bridge rather than squeeze through the overgrowth under the bridge. We have a good surface for a short while as we pass along some houses and driveways but before long we are back on the grassy and on a wet day, muddy trail towards Corbally Harbour.
1km further on from Hoare’s bridge you come to the remains of Mooney’s Bridge. A low level flat accommodation bridge has been built alongside the humpback Mooney’s bridge to allow farmers access to both sides of the canal. Sadly a good part of the wall of Mooney’s Bridge has fallen away on one side.
From Mooney’s Bridge it is less than 1km to the end of the line at Corbally Harbour and the water source for the Naas Branch. The harbour itself is slightly overgrown but the harbour walls are still visible as are the remains of the harbour stores on the opposite bank.
The Corbally Extension is a hidden gem of a route well worth exploring when out by Naas on the Grand Canal. Unfortunately it must be said that it does finish in an area with little around it so it advisable to bring a picnic with you on your walk as you will need to make the return trip to Naas back the way you came.
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!