Seamus Murtagh reports on the trials and tribulations of the 144km Royal Canal Route which saw kayakers and runners make their way from Dublin to Clondra.
On Friday August 16th a group of Kayakers and Runners set off from Dublin to Clondra along the Royal Canal for a journey of 144 km in 3 days to raise funds for the Irish Guide Dogs Association. Despite the many challenges they faced along the way, such as showers, strong winds, early starts, long hours paddling or running, all successfully made it back to Clondra on the Sunday evening.
Day 1 Friday, was 52 km from Dublin to Moyvalley, Co Kildare.
Day 2 Saturday was from Moyvalley to Ballynacarrigy, Co Westmeath and
Day 3, Sunday was from Ballynacarrigy to Clondra, Co Longford.
The route took in the 46 locks and all the bridges of the historic canal that has been restored in recent years.
The challenge for the kayakers was the frequency of exiting the water to go round the locks, and the kayaks are heavy and don't get any lighter the longer one has been paddling.
For the runners, the sheer length of the route, two ultra marathons back to back and a full marathon on the Sunday was as much a mental as a physical challenge for those doing the full distance. The journey took us from the heart of Dublin, the first lock on the River Liffey past Croke Park, on out through Drumcondra, Ashtown, Rye Valley, and on to Maynooth by lunchtime Friday. There, we met Mark McCormack and the lads in the support car with food and water.
Water was a real challenge, as it is heavy to carry, and we did not see hardly any taps until Day 2 near the end. On leaving Maynooth, where it was briefly scorching hot, we were hammered with a downpour. In Kilcock, we came on a building with a sign, Pain Management Centre and round the corner, was The Wellness Centre.
We felt in need of both, but opted instead for an Espresso in a tiny café. The late afternoon weather improved and steadily we made our way to Moyvalley, and there to meet us was the welcome site of the support car. Moyvalley, Co Kildare is a beautiful location, with Fuery's Pub and Restaurant well worth a stop. Work is ongoing on the bridges and we had to get round large mesh barriers, not ideal after a full days running.
Dash to the train and home for shower, food, ice bath, and treatment for the various malaise that naturally besets anyone out for such a length of time. The kayakers made it to Moyvalley before nightfall, in good shape. So much so, they suggested going an hour earlier the next morning.
Saturday started off nice and pleasant, perfect late summer morning. Some of the original kayakers just did the Friday, and the trio that were doing the event in full, organizers along with this scribe, David McCormack and Alex Dawson Stanley, and only lady to do the full distance Mary Young, were eager to get going.
They were joined on the water by a very fresh looking Brendan McCormack from Newtownforbes, and later by Ann O'Malley, from Brideswell and Carmel Joyce, Tyrrrellspass who looked a bit tired after a wedding the day before!
This trio also turned up on Sunday to support the core group. But quickly a pattern emerged, myself and fellow full distance runner, John O'Hanlon of Kenagh, a sub 3-hour man, pulled a good bit away from the kayakers. This was because there are so many locks on this stretch. It became even more the case as we headed on to Co Westmeath.
This day we started in Kildare, went through Meath, even crossing the River Boyne, and on in the direction of the old N4 and Mullingar. But before getting there we had some showers to shelter from. Short and sharp, but nothing like Maynooth on Friday. We replenished our water in Thomastown, at Nannie Quinn's Pub, open before 11am, fortunately.
No more stops for us until nearing Mullingar, but John had warned me not to be too excited about it, as it was still a long straight unforgiving stretch. We ate our pasta, and eggs, for John, a feeder, and Sour dough bread sandwiches for me and had a nice coffee stop in Millie's in Mullingar. A place that knows customer service, even coming out to dry the outside chairs for us, even though were soaked anyhow, it was a very kind gesture.
We bore down on Ballynacarrigy, and were like men discovering a cactus in the desert when we found a water fountain in Coolnahay Harbour, a few miles out from our final stop for the day. After the long straight stretch into Ballynacarrigy we were very relieved to meet my wife Anne, and our friends Anne and Oliver Corkery, on a darkening evening.
A quick dash to Ballymahon, in time for John to see his 3 children perform in Shrek and home to Longford for me. Same again, shower, shave, sort kit for Day 3, feeding station, 12 Inch Cheese and Chilli Pizza, and ice bath, foam roll and welcome bed. Despite over 104k done, I went to bed feeling good.
Our fellow travellers on the water got great back up from support kayakers who joined at various stages. The Canoe Polo Ireland members were training in Mullingar Harbour and invited the Royal Canal 144 group to join them for their barbecue.
But I was relaxing in the ice bath at 10.30pm and I had a post of some photos of David, Alex, Mary and Brendan in what looked like Ballynacarrigy. I was glad we had gone through 4 hours earlier. But the kayakers are a spirited bunch and my phone pinged to say they were off in the morning at 8am!
I woke Sunday morning to what I describe as Herd of Elephants. It is my metaphor for the feeling everyone must have on occasions of waking up absolutely trashed, i.e. like being trampled on by a herd of elephants. I barley made it to the on suite. Anne reminded me that Oliver Corkery would be in Clondra to collect me so I had to get a move on.
I enjoyed the trip back to Ballynacarrigy and momentarily forgetting what lay ahead. Yes, a full marathon after two ultras in the previous two days. The place was desolate and pelted with rain. But that did not thwart John, who was bouncing around the place. The standard went up even further when we were joined by some serious runners, Sinead Phelan, dropped off by her husband Paul, who rejoined to support us later, and Madeline and Ben Doyle, of Brendan Doyle Running.
My lower calf/Achilles was on fire and I genuinely doubted if it would last out. Good advice from my fellow runners, and Madeline first and then Sinead carrying my back pack, certainly helped. We started slow and built up to 7 mins per Km. The Doyles helped us refuel in Abbeyshrule, and before we knew it, we had 10k done. We met the kayakers there and it gave us all a boost.
Weather held out, good enough and every step forward meant a step closer to the promised land, Clondra.
Shortly after Abbeyshrule we were met by the Abbeyshrule Canoe Club, who really set the culinary standard with a large supply of freshly home made waffles and Maple Syrup. We nearly took his arm off at the neck!
The next stop was Brannigan Harbour where family members of the kayakers and runners were there to offer their support. John's wife Steph was the barrista for the day with coffees for us all. Sinead's husband Paul restocked our water provisions and soon we were on our way. Shortly afterwards we were joined by Longford running legend, Mick Maguire and he certainly kept us on our toes. Before long we passed John's place, on the other side of the Canal. At Ballinamore, Alex's wife Edel and family were there with scones and support.
Shortly afterwards, in Killashee we were pleased to be joined by Ray and Anne Brogan and Clondra's greatest marathoner, Michael Hickey, (who did the Dublin Marathon from Year 1, 1980 for 27 in a row).
We gained momentum and stormed for Clondra, arriving way ahead of schedule, before 4.00 PM. I was delighted to be greeted by my father, John, and Anne, and my daughter Muireann with our dog Brandon, the English Springer Spaniel, hyper excited to see us. We went right down to Lock 46, beside Hickeys house and did a lap of the harbour.
It was great to meet fellow Clondra runner, Claire Clancy and husband Frank, as well as Noeleen Walshe, who's husband TJ worked for years with the Royal Canal Amenity Group to get the Royal Canal reopened. John's family were all there too and the Corkery's came out to see us finish. John and I had initially planned to wait on the arrival of the kayakers but they were still well over an hour off so it gave us a chance to clean up and get some clean clothing on and start to assimilate back in to society. But we were all back out to see the arrival of the kayakers.
For their arrival, we were joined by Jim Heavy and Yakob. Yakob is Jim's second guide dog, his first, Zonta, died just recently and Jim misses her very much. The weather was determined to have the final say and we had to take shelter in the cars before huddling together for a group photo. Job done! Over then to the Richmond Inn, with the appropriately named The 46th Lock!
Many thanks to several people who helped David, Alex and I put this together and get through it; Lynda Foley at Irish Guide Dogs Association, Cork, Lt. Col. Shane Anderson (Retired) Waterways Ireland, Tullamore, Abbeyshrule Canoe Club, Abbeyshrule Kayak Club, Canoe Polo Ireland, Longford Triathlon Club, Longford AC,Mark McCormack and friends in the support car, Brendan Doyle Running, McPartlands, Clondra, Niall Gannon for our initial launch poster, Alex for the IT, the Longford Leader for excellent coverage, David Mimnagh Physio, friends and family who came out at various points, hopefully I got them all above.
Most importantly thanks to everyone who has kindly sponsored us along the way. We will be presenting a check to Jim and Yakob, on Friday September 20th 2019, at the Guide Dogs Table Quiz in McPartlands, all welcome.