TAKE a 51km race, add in the unpredictable March weather and put it on the rolling hills of Wicklow and you have one tough challenge.
When Maurice Mullins first proposed the idea of a Wicklow Way run from Johnnie Fox's to Lough Tay and back, a mere 20 or so took up the challenge. As recently as 2010, only 38 finished the new-look course that extended the distance from 44km to 51km.
Last Saturday, 130 signed up for the race, with 121 finishing. Those expecting to take six hours or so set off in the bitter cold at 8.30am, well wrapped up and carrying food and drink to see them through their long journey.
The rest of the field followed an hour later. Making steady progress from the start was Justin Maxwell from East Coast Runners in Larne, who finished fourth last year. Maxwell has built up an impressive CV over the past few years, with the Mont Blanc, Jungfrau and Snowdon marathons to his credit. Last year, he won the Causeway Coast Ultra in Co Antrim and, last month, was fifth in the Donadea 50km.
He led into the halfway point in the shelter of Ballinastoe Woods, with 2011 winner Paul Tierney not far behind. Donna McLoughlin, an experienced marathon runner from Achill, was leading the women. On a day of all four seasons, the worst of the weather was to come, with stinging hail showers pelting the runners on the return trip to Glencullen and, then, a brief thunder storm.
Through it all, Maxwell kept the head down and finished in 4 hrs 12 mins. Tierney was six minutes behind for second place and Eoin Lennon from Newry a distant third. McLoughlin was first woman, finishing in 5 hrs 26 mins 35 secs, with Taryn McCoy six minutes behind in second place.
Also taking place was a 26th trail run, with 177 finishers. First home was adventure runner Aidan McMorland in 1 hrs 53 mins 25 secs, with Slí Cualann's Niamh Ó Ceallaigh first woman. Mary Hickey from Arklow, the only woman to have run all Dublin Marathons, finished first woman over 60 in just over three hours. Heroes all of them!