The Routemaster


INTERVIEW:Gaelforce North offers the chance to go on a spectacular adventure, writes GARY QUINN

ONA PURCELL HAS Donegal in her blood. Her mother is a native, so she’s on a homecoming of sorts, even though home now is deep in Connemara where Purcell is the routemaster behind the Gaelforce adventure race series at Killary.

Gaelforce West markets itself as the largest one-day adventure race in the world. It’s quite a claim, so challenging yourself to bring a version of this young goliath north is no easy feat. Gaelforce North, scheduled for Saturday June 23rd, is only on its second outing, but with the majestic Mount Errigal as a lynchpin Purcell knows she’s on firm ground.

“It’s a challenge,” she says. “Not only finding a route that matches the standard of Gaelforce but one that really shows Donegal off to its best. I think Gaelforce North really does that, but it’s hard work.” And she’s not exaggerating: the route is spectacular, but neither easy to access or complete. It starts with a 19.5km run through Glenveagh national park, up over Gartan Mountain and down again to Gartan lake. You pick up your kayak here and paddle 2kms to the bike station. The cycle takes you further through the national park on a dramatic elevated road alongside the Derryveagh mountains. Throughout this you will have the mighty Errigal in your sights, knowing you have to climb it before you continue on. The view here is magnificent, overlooking the poison glen but it’s another 18kms of forest track and road before the finish line in Bunbeg.

If you don’t already know Donegal it is an incredible introduction. But it’s not all hardship. “We have people of all fitness levels. This year we have a second route, the sprint, which is shorter and less intense. It’s all about having fun and pushing yourself – but only as much as you want. ”

Making local people feel that it’s their race is really important too, says Purcell. “Events like this can be a great boost to the local economy. People come for the weekend, they bring friends and family to cheer them along, all of whom need accommodation, food and entertainment. ”

Purcell brings me to the start of the route in a valley in Glenveagh. The view is startling and it’s not hard to believe Purcell when she says that the first time she ran it she had a spiritual experience. “I was in a foul mood. A friend had recommended I come and check it out but it was November and just getting to the start point was a trial. But once I started and turned into the valley all my frustrations fell away. Waterfalls were tumbling down the high valley walls, the sky was clear and suddenly a Golden eagle soared overhead.”

Right then she decided that the race had to start there, even though bussing all the participants to that secluded start point was going to be a huge challenge in itself. They could have made life easy and stayed on tarmac roads, planned a circular route, starting and finishing in the same place. It could have been tamer. But then that wouldn’t be Gaelforce and it certainly wouldn’t be Donegal.

For more see