Organised by Ballyvaughan Fanore Walking Club this is the 3rd year this event has been in existence and is growing steadily in numbers with over 1600 participants this year. The event encompasses a 10k, a half marathon and the Great Challenge itself the full 26.2 mile marathon.
Standing at the start line was a bit surreal as the temperatures soared and definitely ignorance was bliss when one asked oneself
‘Now tell me again, I am supposed to run a full marathon over bog, mountain, road, grass and beach in this heat??’ ‘Is it too late to go home???’
Leaving the stunning village of Ballyvaughan the 26.2 mile route is enchanting and spectacular. There are miles of running on stony paths, through mountain bog at the 6-7 mile mark and while some of the event is on road and some miles are climbs of the Scenic Caher Valley trail (which makes Croagh Patrick look like a little hill.) The Limestone staircase despite the pain in the legs allows the runner/walker enjoy and absorb some of the most beautiful sights of the Burren. Runners/walkers then descend into the lovely Fanore area where there are panoramic views of Aran’s Inis Oirr and the South Galway Coastline, leaving the Fanore beach the trail now becomes a test of mental strength over Blackhead and descending into Gleninagh and finally back to lovely Ballyvaughan.
One marathon challenge runner said ‘this makes the Connemara marathon look like a walk in the park’. Another marathon runner on his 36 marathon that day said ‘ I’ve never run a marathon yet where I had to open gates’ and open gates he did on this challenge, climbed over fences and stone walls, climbed through stiles, plodded through bog, scaled very high mountains, faced a gruelling descent and all in a mere 26 degrees of searing heat.
But no matter how much pain, isolation, hunger, thirst, exhaustion one felt: the views, thatched and stone cottages, the smells of the shrubs, flowers and sea seemed somehow to compensate. An absolute mix of pain and pleasure and the reason participants will return again next year to go through the very same thing again.
Well done to all the Mayo AC athletes who were brave enough to take part and strong enough to complete this incredible challenge.
First home were Anne Fahey and PJ Hall, Anne was 5th woman home overall and PJ was in the top of the O50 group. Next home was the stalwart marathon runner Christy O’Malley only 4 weeks after completing the London Marathon.
Nadine Dabbagh of Mayo AC completed her first ever marathon in the Burren, an amazing achievement for a woman that only started running last year and has gone from 10k distance to half marathon and now completing her first marathon, and what a marathon she choose to challenge herself with.
Yvonne Byrne, Maria Creighton and Sara Creighton 3 other Mayo AC women were in fantastic form finishing in great times and great spirits having really enjoyed the challenge and already talking about next year.
This is not an ordinary event but rather an extraordinary event.
This is one for next year’s diary, while Ballyvaughan itself is a location for the diary at any time of the year!!!