Redemption on the Lug

The pharmacist told me that I have a subconjunctival hemorrhage and insists on taking my blood pressure. Two days earlier, I had completed Ireland’s toughest hiking challenge, the lug challenge.

The Lug challenge is a self-navigated biennial event that spans 18 mountain tops, covers 53 km and climbs over 2300 metres. The event takes place across open mountain terrain which includes marsh and bog. A tough event made much tougher from a night of relentless rain that made the underfoot conditions the worst in at least fourteen years.

But the story begins three days before this event, on Wednesday, when I prepare my strategy to aim for a podium finish. I have chased after a top-place finish in the Lug for four years. In the last one, I finished seventh. But this year, for very personal reasons, I wanted a podium finish, to finish in the top three, a symbolic outcome, an overcoming, and it was either now or never. This time I had the appetite and the mental fortitude to push my mind and body to its limits.

I started my preparation scientifically, by switching to a very high carbohydrate diet.

This is called carbo-loading where you load your muscles and liver with a fuel called glycogen. So for three days, I ate pasta and Spaghetti for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By Friday night I had gained two kilograms in body weight. This weight isn’t all fuel, as each gram of glycogen binds to about 3 grams of water. Although this extra weight gain could be viewed as an unnecessary burden, it provided an efficient source of energy and the weight penalty could be mitigated by carrying less food and water.

On Saturday morning, a Three O’Clock alarm has me awake and on a bus by Four AM, along with another hundred participants.

Waiting for the bus that will drop us at the start

The bus drops us off on the side of a desolate road in the Dublin Mountains, in rain and heavy mist. At 5:15 AM, I commence my third lug challenge.

I have already completed two lug challenges and after each one, have said I would never do it again. But here I am, again.

It is two hours to the next control station and already my feet are soaked through. This time I am wearing non-waterproof trail shoes. The problem with waterproof shoes is that when water gets in, and it will get in, it stays in. Half an hour into the challenge, both of my feet are soaking wet.

My strategy for a good time is to reduce the weight that I carry including the clothes that I wear. But for such a strategy to work requires a sufficient exothermic reaction to produce enough heat to avoid hypothermia. In other words, I must maintain a fast pace to avoid getting too cold. Especially with wet feet accelerating the heat loss.

Some people have already made their own way to the start line and have a fifteen minute head start on me.

I start out easy, passing participants along the way, making my way through two hours of bog, white-out and rain, until I make it to the first control station at the Sally Gap. I catch up with the group of five that had started earlier. After inquiring at the control station, I learn that there are two fast runners in front of this group which puts me in eight position. Motivated now, I feel confident that I can improve on this position, so I push on though taking myself into third position. I’m concerned that I may be pushing my pace too early and burn out like I did in the 2017 challenge or make a hasty navigational decision that will cause me to lose ground.

As I traverse from the Sally Gap towards Gravala, I lose the faint track taking me onto uneven ground which severely hampers my pace. I am now moving very slowly but burning a lot of energy and fatiguing for no benefit.

Unlike a road event, such as a Marathon, where the surface is constant irrespective of weather conditions, an off-road event is determined mainly by the terrain and underfoot conditions. The difference in effort between wet boggy conditions and a dry bog can be as much as double the energy requirement and hence double the potential time to completion. Achievement in such events is normally considered in terms of finishing positions rather than comparing absolute times to previous events.

I stop to check my map and realised that I have veered too far right into very uneven and steep ground, which slows me down considerably.

I try to maintain my pace but now my heart is going into its anaerobic zone, the place where you run into oxygen debt. This would be unsustainable and quickly result in burn out. But my dilemma is that if I slow down too much and lose my position after having fought so hard for it then I will mentally throw in the towel.

Events like this are at least 80% mental and 20% physical. Any mental doubt now will feed on itself and only increase over the next eight hours. But I know that over the next hill, the gradient flattens and there is some downhill.

I gamble by pushing my body into oxygen debt to get out of this slough of despondency, with the hope that I can recover on the next downward section.

The gamble pays off. I’ve only lost about fifteen minutes, and I can now bring my heart rate back out of the red zone to a sustainable level. I think I’m still ahead. I can hear voices in the distance but can’t tell whether there are in front of me or behind. I haven’t drank any water for three hours now but I don’t want to stop and so I push on again. I reckon there must have been about a litre and a half of water in my body from carbo-loading. When I arrive at the third control station, I learn that I’m still in third position.

Encouraged, I push on quickly, but, as it turns out, a little too hastily. I quickly pick up the correct track from Mullaghcleevaun, but in my haste, I veer too far right and then over-correct by veering too far left. After stopping multiple times to check my map, I realise this navigational error has cost me another fifteen minutes.

I now hear voices parallel to me and see the group I had overtaken two hours earlier ahead of me. I’m about to enter the pain cave.

The pain Cave is the mental fatigue you feel when your already tired and realise the distance still in front of you.

I have needlessly lost half an hour in navigational errors due to too much haste. My heart sinks, I have gone from third position to eight position. I start following the group but it takes me some time to catch them. My heart rate has now gone into the anaerobic zone again, which is not sustainable.

This is my low point. I abandon the idea of finishing in third place. Another dream gone as my hopes have flown before. I am now deep in the pain Cave.

As I catch the group, I tag along at their pace and my heart rate begins to settle back down into the upper limits of my aerobic range – a range that I could sustain for the distance. Buoyed by the comfort that I can at least keep their pace and still finish in the top ten, I start assessing the group. I can see that the three people towards the end of the group are outside their comfort limits and won’t maintain this pace for the full course. I overtake them which puts me in fifth position of a very close group. I’m still not sure if my assessment is correct so I decided to test it by pushing the pace for a while. I proceed to the front of the group, where I regain third position, and then start pushing the pace.

To get someone to chase you, you need to increase the pace very subtly, almost imperceptibly. Then continue gradually increasing it very, very slowly.

My tactic works, the two leaders give chase, the last three people in the group now realise they can’t keep up and slow down considerably splitting the group. I can’t maintain this pace so I gradually drop back from third position to fifth position where I just draft behind the two leaders and get my heart rate back down to a sustainable level. From the top of Toneaglee, I realise this is my last opportunity to consolidate my position.

I need to act now and make it clear that I’m taking a decisive lead. So I push ahead again, into third place and start opening a gap, leaving no misunderstanding that I’m determined to take third position.

Events like the Lug Challenge are not just about speed, but also navigation, tactics and an overall strategy.

With equally matched participants, it can be like a chess game

I keep the pace and hit the next control station, the Wicklow Gap, in third position. This is the second control station for me to hit in third position.

I made another navigational error after Lough Ferrib, but I’m confident that I have a good chance of holding onto third position.

Even though my feet are soaked, I’m traipsing through water and bog, I feel very little pain and I’m feeling great. Actually feeling on a real high.

Runners would call this the Runner’s High.

The Runner’s High used to be credited to a brain chemical called Endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, similar to morphine. But more recent research from the University of Heidelberg suggests that another chemical, endocannabinoids, having a similar effect to cannabis, is the main contributor to this high. The research is showing that continuous rhythmically exercise for at least two hours at moderate intensity, such as the lug challenge, produces this state.

I’m feeling good now and totally in the flow.

The last major climb is to Lugnaquilla and I now push on at a steady pace. At Lugnaquilla, I’m still in third position, but there is still another 6 km to the finish line, so I keep the pressure on. My leg muscles are pulling all the oxygen out of my blood system, leaving me lightheaded. I imagine that there are others behind me, hot on my trail. I can feel my heart pumping like it’s expanding to fill my ribcage, the blood pounding through the back of my head. As I descend from Lugnaquilla, the vision in my left eye starts to blur.

Eventually I reach the finish line.

I have now reached the finish line in 10 hours and 30 minutes, an excellent time considering the underfoot conditions, placing me clearly in third position.

This is a podium finish, finishing in the top three. The event has left me elated.

My mind has triumphed over the body and I feel a great sense of elation, like I’ve conquered something, something deep within my being.

Two days later, being concerned about by bloodshot left eye, a subconjunctival hemorrhage, I visit the local pharmacist. He takes my blood pressure which is normal and concludes that the most likely cause for this type of condition was the elevated heart rate for an extended period of time.

The event has taught me several lessons and has reaffirmed my Stoic philosophy. Not the least of which is finding strength and support from deep within one’s innate self. Working hard at what’s within your control, refusing to worry about what’s outside your control and the wisdom to know the difference.


The Irish Munros

A Munro is defined as a mountain peak over 914 metres (3,000 feet). Ireland has 13 such mountain peeks.

These peaks get their name from Hugh Munro, who in 1891 published a list of all the Scottish peaks above this height.

Strictly speaking a Munro outside Scotland is called a Furth. Other names include three-thousanders.  Whatever name is used, they all refer to the same thing, a mountain peak with an elevation of at least 3,000 feet (914 metres). An Irish Munro also requires a topographcal prominence of at least 15 metres.

In Ireland there are 13 such Munros, ranging from the highest, Carrauntoohil, at 1039 metres to our lowest Munro, Galtymore, at 919 metres.


The full list of Irish Munros are shown below.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Carrauntoohil MacGillycuddy's ReeksV8038441039 1039
2Beenkeragh MacGillycuddy's ReeksV801853
101091
3Caher (East Top)MacGillycuddy's ReeksV792839
1001100
4Cnoc na Péiste MacGillycuddy's ReeksV836842
988254
5Caher (West Top) MacGillycuddy's ReeksV78984097524
6Maolán Bui MacGillycuddy's ReeksV83283897341
7The Bones / Carrauntoohil Tooth MacGillycuddy's ReeksV80084795937
8Cnoc an Chuillin MacGillycuddy's ReeksV82383395854
9Brandon Mtn Brandon GroupQ460115952927
10The Big Gun MacGillycuddy's ReeksV84084593970
11Cruach MhórMacGillycuddy's ReeksV841848
93232
12Lugnaquillia Dublin.WicklowT032917925849
13Galtymore Galty MountainsR878237919899
Note: Some sources include Cnoc an Chuillin East Top, at 926 metres, IG V828834, as a Munro, giving a total of 14 Irish Munros.
However, it's prominence is not sufficient to be listed by The Scottish Mountaineering Club.

Logistics of climbing all the Irish Munros in a Weekend


An efficient way to complete the Irish Munros is to follow a logistic plan, courtesy of Dublin Free Hiking, that starts in the east of the country at Lugnaquilla and finishes in the west at Mount Brandon.

Day 1

Starting from Fenton’s Pub, the most easterly Irish Munro can be bag, followed by a drive to the village of Skeheenaranky to climb the Galtymore Munro.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Lugnaquillia Dublin.WicklowT032917925849
2Galtymore Galty MountainsR878237919899

Day 2

Starting from Cronin’s Yard Car Park, all ten of the Irish Munros can be bagged by following the Hags Glen Circuit with one diversion to include Caher East and West Top,

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Cruach MhórMacGillycuddy's ReeksV841848
93232
2The Big Gun MacGillycuddy's ReeksV84084593970
3Cnoc na Péiste MacGillycuddy's ReeksV836842
988254
4Maolán Bui MacGillycuddy's ReeksV83283897341
5Cnoc an Chuillin MacGillycuddy's ReeksV82383395854
6Caher (East Top)MacGillycuddy's ReeksV792839
1001100
7Caher (West Top) MacGillycuddy's ReeksV78984097524
8Carrauntoohil MacGillycuddy's ReeksV8038441039 1039
9The Bones / Carrauntoohil Tooth MacGillycuddy's ReeksV80084795937
10Beenkeragh MacGillycuddy's ReeksV801853
101091

Day 3

Finally the last Munro to be climbed is Mount Brandon on the Dingle Peninsula.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Brandon Mtn Brandon GroupQ460115952927

In Conclusion

Whether you want to call it the Irish Munros, the Irish Furths or the Three-Thousand Series, if you climb the peaks listed above you will have completed the highest Irish peaks above 914 metres with a prominence of at least 15 metres.

The Lug Walk 2019

The Lug Walk is a long distance linear traverse of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, taking in more than 18 summits, while covering 51 km with 2400 meters of ascent. It is the toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar.

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The walk, over open mountain terrain, starts at Stone Cross, near Bohernabreena in the Dublin mountains, and finishes, between 10 and 16 hours later, at Seskin in the Glen of Imaal.

The toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar

Walk Johnny Walk

This is undoubtedly the toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar. It’s not just the early 5:00 AM start, or the 51 km distance that you walk on the day. It’s not the fact that you climb 2400 metres taking in the highest highest eighteen peaks in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. It’s all of these, but then add in bog, and then more bog. Instead of getting the normal foot bounce from solid ground which each footfall, you’ll be engaging extra muscles to pull that foot back out. If it’s a typical lug start, then you can expect to be blessed with the famous kippure micro-climate of horizontal rain. Don’t expect to have any dry garb by the time you arrive at the Wicklow Gap. So why do it? That’s a good question.

The walk is organised every two years by the Irish Ramblers Club. Two years seems to be the amount of time necessary to forget how hard it is. I have done this challenge twice and each time I’ve said never again, but here I am preparing for it a third time.

The walk itself dates back to 1964 when it was first organised by the Irish Mountaineering Club and was known as the Arnott-Russell Mountain Endurance Test.

Now, if by any chance 51 km is not enough of a challenge for you, then you could always consider the tougher 85 km Lug Endurance Challenge.

Camino Primitivo – Completo

Midway upon the journey of my life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost

DANTE, THE DIVINE COMEDY.

After a hard push through the last few days, I’ve just finished the Primitivo.
The Camino has a special significance over long-distance walks in that it has a long tradition of Pilgrimage. People often walk pilgrimages expecting a road to Damascus conversion but that seldom happens and when it does it’s usually short-lived or superficial. Finding real meaning is a process that can take a lifetime. Walking is a good way to reconnect with nature and by extension with oneself.

Walking is the perfect pursuit because it’s so accessible to so many; it has low impact (both to the body and the planet); it’s cheap; and it’s great for your mental health. It doesn’t even require trips to exotic locations. Some of the best walking can be done from your own front door.

People often travel to far flung places to escape from themselves, but the fact is that wherever you go, there you are.

They change the sky, not their soul, who run across the sea.

Horace, Roman Poet

Yourself always turns up no matter how far you travel. Walking in nature surrounded by mountains and forest is the best type of walking, as it allows you to connect outside yourself with nature and reconnect with your unique innate self.
If the mountains and forest are not accessible to you, then becoming an “urban hiker” around your own city is beneficial too.

Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home.

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

So where to next is the question. As a minimalist and non-materialist, I have come to value experiences over possessions. But now I have to ask myself, am I trading one of societies old addictions for one of societies new addictions and at what cost. Are experiences becoming the new possessions at the cost of making real connections.

Instead of an addiction to status and possessions, we are addicted to experience and novelty. And the end result is the same. Our relationships, our connections to what’s real, sometimes suffer.

Mark Manson

For the moment, I want to explore my own country more.

My next overseas trip will probably be to the Kom-Emine, a 720 km high altitude route, in Bulgaria. This is much wilder and more isolated trek than doing a Camino route.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Happy Travels!

Primitivo – Day 06 – Grandes de Salime

After yesterday’s breath-taking walk, today’s walk was a bit more mediocre with mainly road-walking around the Salime hyrdo Station.



Since I have started this walk, I have stayed in the municipal Albergues for €5 / night. Tonight the Albergue is €6 / night.

These Albergues are great value containing all the facilities that you might need, such as warm showers, full kitchen facilities. There is also a choice if private Albergues which cost between €10 and €12 which offer more such as free WiFi and so forth.

As an extreme outdoor person, I have hiked in the wildernesses for weeks without a shower, so having a shower every day is beginning to feel decant, but still nice.

My pilgrims credencia is filling up with a history of where I’ve been with many blank spaces for where I will be going. Life is a blank book with each new chapter waiting to be written.

Primitivo – Day 05, via Hospitales

The route from Borres to Berducedo, via Pico Hospital, is a stunning route. Starting sr 7:30 there was no let up in the awesome beauty of the landscape.

The route quickly climbs to an elevation of 1200 metres giving exceptional vistas of the local mountains and the Pico de Europa in the distant.

Farm animals relaxing the sun along tge way.

A few cows blocking the path.

Mainly open mountains but also beautiful forests.

This is spectacular landscape. Definitely the best Camino for landscape.

Primitivo – Day 04 – Borres

Today has become a rest day with only 15 km walked. There is very little in Borres except one very basic Albergue and a small bar.

A folk singer and songwriter from Forth Worth, Texas kept us entertained with very good music.

One beer, became two, which became cider which became wine.

Well it is Sunday so it’s probably proper to treat it as a day of relaxation and feasting.

Despite being around lots of people, I’m beginning to feel somewhat lonely now. I just have this feeling of melancholy and sadness about goals that have fallen by the wayside and people who are no longer part of my life.

Long-distance walking can be brutal in forcing you to think about things you would rather forget. It’s a time you come face to face with your own vulnerability and mortality. It’s a time to consider what it’s like to be truly alone in the world.

Long-distance walking can be like this, where without the daily diet of distraction, you have the time to experience these waves of emotions from euphoria to sadness.

Well tomorrow is another day. By all accounts, the harder variant though hospitales tomorrow is the best section of the whole Camino Primitivo. We shall see…

Camino Primitivo – Day 03 – Tineo

This is undoubtedly the best Camino that I have walked.

Picos de Europa

I make this comparison with the two Caminos which I have already done — the Camino Frances in 2013 and the Camino Norte in 2017. It is certainly more strenuous, but well worth the effort.

The whole lush green alpine vista is breathing-taking. If it’s possible to fall in love with a place, then this has to be the place.

Most of today has been spent walking in the shadow of the majestic Picos de Europa – the main mountain range in the north western part of Spain. I am very tempted to return here alone with a tent and spend a few weeks traversing and camping in these fine mountains with only the sound of nature.

On walks like this, there is a real letting go of what is wrong with the world today and just doing something so simple that dates back to our distant ancestors.

Tonight, I’m staying in another Municipal Albergue for €5 / night.

On this caminio, I have met ten Spanish, four French, three Americans, two Canadian, one Swede, one German and one Israeli. The Camino has a very cosmopolitan feel to it.

My pilgrim’s credencia is expanding with good memories.

Live is too short for one not to appreciate the wonder in it all. We spend too many hours running around taking ourselves much too seriously, when we should just be letting go and living the one life that we’ve got.

“Buen Camino” means “Good Journey” which can also be taken metaphorically.

Buen Camino!

Camino Primitivo – Day 2 Salas

The walk today is truly stunning with more Alpine-like features.

My pilgrims credencia is beginning to fill out nicely with a good memento of where I’ve been, but not necessarily where I’m going.

The Camino is not just about the walk, it’s about the people that you meet along the way and the time you take to think about what is important.

Today, I met David from Canada and Ravit from just outside Tel Avive, Israel.

David from Canada on the left. Ravit from Israel on the right.

Apparently, Ravit is Hebrew for “I quenched you’re thirst” or something like that.

Speaking of thirst, the water infrastructure on this route is superb with water fountains every few kilometers.
Today, I am staying in Salas, which is an exceptionally beautiful village with Alpine-like vistas.

After a long day of walking, I have availed of the Menu del Peligrino, which consisted of six courses. Yes, you’ve read right. Six courses including a complementary bottle of wine for the princely sum of €9.50. The Albergue tonight will cost €5.

Camino Primitivo – Day 01 Grado

Starting the Primitivo from the Cathedral in Oviedo.

This is a beautiful Camino which I would describe as quite country roads and beautiful alpine-like scenery.

It reminds me a bit of Austria but with much cheaper prices and a very friendly people.

Along the way, I meet another countryman, Cathal from Donegal and Corey from Minneapolis in Minnesota, USA. After 13 km my fellow Countryman bailed for the day and so I continued on to Grado with Corey.


At the end of the walk, I stay in a Municipal Albergue, which works on a donation basis of €5 per night including breakfast.

Checking into the Albergue, I’m greeted by two very friendly hosteleros, Herman and Sita, both from Holland, in Nijmegen and Friesland respectively.
Herman tells me I should do the greatest walk in the world, which happens to start from his hometown, Nijmegen, and is called the Walk of the World – Four Day March.

Later, I had a “Platos Combinados” consisting of a salad, potatoes and chicken, followed by a desert for €8.

I’m sleeping in a mixed dormitory with 15 other walkers. When staying in an Albergue, the general protocol is a curfew from 10:00 PM and the Albergue must be vacated by 8:00 AM.

A necessary prerequisite for this type of accommodation is a good set of earplugs, as the cost of such a low price is having to endure someone snoring.
A Camino such as this is like a mental reset, just like a fast is a dietary reset. The stamps on the credencia represent not only a physical journey but also a journey of freedom. Walking the Camino, while carrying everything on your back, helps you separate the necessary from the unnecessary, both physically and metaphorically, to truly realise how little you really need. Just basic food, basic shelter and good friends.