Running through the night on the Art O’Neill Challenge

What do bored triathletes do in the middle of the winter? What about a crazy, all-night ramble through Dublin city, continuing across the pathless wilderness of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains in the pitch darkness? Does that sound like fun?

Well, that’s what myself and a team of three others decided to do.

Looking for a winter fitness challenge

It was late October, and we were racking our brains looking for a fitness goal we could set, as well as working out how we could help to raise funds for a friend who is aiming to compete as a paratriathlete in the world Paralympics this summer in Tokyo in the completely blind category (B1). We heard about the Art O’Neill Challenge, and it seemed to tick our boxes. It’s a massively oversubscribed event, so the chances of successfully applying for entry seemed remote in any case. We applied as a team, then settled back into our post-triathlon-season autumn relaxation routine, not expecting that this back-of-an-envelope thought would come to anything. There were only 200 places available, and over 1000 people applying.

The bad news: our applications to run the race were successful

We were astonished and shocked when we learned, three weeks later, that we had been selected to run in the Art O’Neill Challenge. Now we had no choice: we had to get serious about training. Coach Eamonn Tilley set us up with a schedule, and we started on a punishing ten week stint of 30km runs along trails and roads, 15km recces across mountains, and countless 6am starts so that we could fit this training into our busy lives. It’s been a remarkable experience: there’s no doubt that we have suffered, but suffering together is what builds team spirit, and also what creates strong memories in life. We are now a solid team, as fit as we’ve been for a long time, and we’re ready for the big night.

The background to the Art O’Neill Challenge

The Art O’Neill Challenge which is a 52km overnight race, taking place on the night of Friday 17th January 2020, when the competitors leave Dublin Castle, heading southwards towards Glenmalure in County Wicklow.

The event, which is run and managed by the Dublin & Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team, began formally in 2006 and commemorates an historic escape from Dublin Castle that happened on January 6th, 1592. That night, Art O’Neill, his brother Henry, and Red Hugh O’Donnell broke out of the Castle and made for Glenmalure, to safety. Henry and Hugh both made it to safety but sadly Art, for whom the Challenge is named, succumbed to hypothermia along the way.

The background to the 2020VisionChallenge team

The 2020VisionChallenge team, who will be participating in this year’s Ultra Event comprises myself, our coach Eamonn Tilley, Mark Butler and Conor Duggan: we will be running through the night, self-guided on open mountains irrespective of the weather conditions in total darkness, to raise much-needed financial support for Donnacha McCarthy’s efforts to represent his country on the international stage. As well as supporting Donnacha’s journey, we will be donating 50% of all money raised to Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue, without whom, the event would not take place.

Follow our progress over the next week via our Facebook Page

We are at the final stages of preparation now, and this last week will be a busy one. We are tapering on the exercise front, so taking it relatively easy (no more 30k runs), but we have plenty else to do: from planning nutrition to organising our kit to setting up our communications plans.

We will be posting regular updates to our dedicated Facebook page , so check in at any time to see photos, videos and more. And yes, we do plan to post more to the page live, before and during the event on Friday night.

You can help us: donations are welcome

We are hoping that our suffering will not be in vain: we are using the opportunity to raise money, so if you would like to encourage us and at the same time, contribute to two worthy causes, please go to our GoFundMe page.

All set for running in the dark

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