from Donore Harriers The great Kerry explorer Tom Crean – right hand man to Kildare‘s finest, Ernest Shackelton, came to mind over the weekend as we set out on our own Discovery voyage to deepest Donegal. As with Crean, snow and ice were our deadliest rivals. Three cars laden with athletes, parents and coach set out in high spirits from the club for the National Inter-Counties cross-country championships in Derry on Saturday at one pm. Stephen Murphy, our laconic Londoner, had already endured a marathon journey by bus and ferry to meet up with us for our Northern adventure.
John Travers had travelled by bus on Friday. Aoife Thorogood with parents Sean and Bernie took the ferry from England to Belfast and then endured a torturous journey over glassy mountains to reach Derry with little to spare before race time. Molly Murphy- O’Kane was travelling on Sunday as was Keith Daly. Careful negotiation of threatening roads was the order of the day. Darkness was descending when we all met up as arranged in the Everglades Hotel in Derry. We then set off on a twenty mile drive to our beautiful house in Culdaff on the Northern tip of Donegal. Soon we were to encounter narrow roads, edged by stone walls and began to wonder about lurking ghosts of black ice lying in hiding for us.
We passed through Muff, entered Quigley’s Point onto Carndonagh. Next it was the Malin Road –Malin Head- oh my God! Finally we arrived in Culdaff – a beautiful warm house greeted us. Rooms and beds allocated, we walked to McGrory’s Pub/Restaurant for a hot meal and and some refreshments. Had a good night there in the company of strangers-some very strange. Eventually back to our glowing house and planned our strategy for travelling to the races next morning. We debated the best route to take. Agreement. Downes and Ahern would scout the lie of the land early and get the race numbers etc.
Bright clear sunshine and beautiful scenery lit our morning drive along scary glassy roads as we edged along winding roller coasters, not daring to touch the brakes. Gradually we wormed our way to the outskirts of Derry and to relief. Another siege lifted. Course in sight, we had arrived safely.
What a day of cross-snow running! Our brave athletes young and old, did us proud. First up in the u14 girls, Molly ran brilliantly on the thick white carpet finishing in a very good position in the early thirties. Exhausted and frozen, this was her finest hour. Her dad John, the perfect blanket for such a day. Next, Aoife, a deceptively strong 17 year old, went with the leaders from the start, running through a blinding snow storm as if it were petals of flowers. She was all grit and determination finishing up winning a great silver medal. Our u.18 boys team was decimated by illness and injury to leave just Max and Philip- no better men. They stuck bravely to their task, Max adapting better to the awful conditions as Philip’s problem shoulder suffered in the bitter biting air. Both had good solid runs and will benefit from the experience. Next up was John Travers who had been in bed with the flu during the week and had a series of misadventures in the previous weeks. International places were at stake. Up with the leader from the start, on the third lap John experienced breathing difficulties and had to call on all his reserves of courage and bravery to battle for a heroic third position and a place on the Irish Junior team for the European cross-country championships.
Our senior men Stephen Murphy, Mark Dooley and Keith Daly were not satisfied with their performances over the gruelling 10,000 metre race. However they all gave it a good go and no doubt will recover to fight another day.Then it was time to head for home before the roads froze over. Soon our full car was treading warily in the direction of Dublin, hoping to get Stephen to his ferry on the North Wall before 9.15 pm. It soon became apparent that this was to be a forlorn hope as heavy traffic crawled along the dangerous surface for miles. An exceptional snow storm convinced us to stop for a bite to eat close to Omagh . Forty minutes later with no snow falling, our snow mobile took to the hills again. What followed were the worst and most dangerous conditions I had ever driven in. We contemplated staying overnight. A decision to go via Ardee backfired as not far beyond the town the car was engulfed in a blinding mass of driving fog going up a steep hill . Visibility was down to 5 yards, my nails down to the core. A truck tail-gaited dangerously behind us until I pulled in to let him and another one in his slip stream pass. They took off at speed giving us little hope of using them as markers in the thick mist. Eventually we emerged from the fog, yet a long way from home and more nasty roads to overcome. We finally saw the glow of Dublin’s lights, matched by our inner glow of relief.
“Never again” was the predominant reaction uttered in various colourations by our group. A weekend to remember. Athletes and drivers shared the sadistic pleasures of punishment borne from the rawest expression of athletics and polar driving conditions. Hey, we survived it. Heroes all. To the women in our group Anna ,Ciara and Lindsey thank you so much, your contribution went way beyond the call of duty.