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Making peace with Art


GAUGE THE GAUNTLET Knowing when to stop and when to carry on can be the difference between sense and stupidity.

Physio Focus
Andrew O'Brien

Discretion is the better part of valour. I’d never thought much about that phrase until last week. Why would anyone in their right mind contemplate a phrase that goes back at least as far as Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’?
Last weekend I took part in the Art O’Neill Challenge, a 55km run/hike from Dublin Castle to the Glenmalure Valley in the Wicklow Mountains, starting at midnight. Organised by the Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team (DWMRT), the event is a recreation of the only ‘successful’ escape from Dublin Castle.
In January 1592, Art O’Neill, his brother Henry and Red Hugh O’Donnell fled Dublin Castle heading for Glenmalure. The escape was ‘successful’ in that they got away from the castle; unfortunately, Art perished in the cold only a few kilometres from their goal. A plaque and cross have been erected at the site where Art died. It’s a cold and lonely place in the middle of January.
The first 30km of the event are on road as participants head out of Dublin and into the mountains. The remainder is across open hillside and the occasional fire trail. Once leaving the road, there are no route markers, so participants must either navigate for themselves, or join a guided group from the DWMRT. I can read a map, a bit. But would I trust myself to navigate 25km on an open mountain, in the dark with a howling wind and pouring rain? The guided option for me, then. Discretion is the better part of valour.
So a group of eight participants set out from the first checkpoint at some time around 5am, in the still-pouring rain and even more howling wind, with two members of the Mountain Rescue Team as guides. Our first goal was checkpoint two, some 10km away.
I had done the event two years ago on a crystal clear night, with barely a breath of wind and ankle deep snow all over the hills. It was stunningly beautiful. I couldn’t understand why more people didn’t apply do such an event. When else do you get the chance to walk through such a peaceful place under the moonlight?
Turns out I wouldn’t get the chance to walk through a peaceful place under the moonlight.
We trudged into the howling headwind and biting rain, and the only times I could see past the person in front of me was when he fell over.
Along the way our group grew, eventually doubling in size, as we picked up participants who had set out to self-navigate but were struggling to do so. Best to leave it in the hands of the Mountain Rescue Team members who know the hills like the back of their hands. Discretion is the better part of valour, after all.
The rain had made the mountain streams and rivers swell, making regular crossing points unsafe, and we were forced to go the long way round. Not that we were then finding bridges to cross, just spots were the water was ‘only’ calf deep. Most of the group had water proof hiking boots, which meant that when the water came in from the top, it wasn’t getting back out, so we sploshed our way forwards into the wind with frozen toes.
By this stage, having been out in the elements for almost seven hours, a few members of the group were showing early signs of hypothermia.
The Mountain Rescue Team members could see that and radioed ahead to arrange a jeep to meet us at a fire trail a couple of kilometres from the checkpoint to collect the two worst cases.
Remarkably, only one took up the offer. It bugged me. Why risk your own health, and that of the DWMRT volunteers who will have to bring you out of here, for the sake of your own ego? I didn’t shout it, but I wanted to.
Then I thought; I’m cold and wet, the conditions are horrendous and we still have the hardest part of this to go. But my legs feel good. But I’ve been here and done it and I have the T-shirt. But that van looks very warm. Will I carry on for another few hours to satisfy my own ego?
I’ve never pulled out of an event before. But I have finished with an injury and been unable to run for months. I got in the van and made my peace with it.
Discretion is the better part of valour.
> Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.

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