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The Wicklow Round route in Ireland is about 75 miles with 26 peaks and 20,000 feet of gain. For the FKT route, the runner chooses his or her own path from peak to peak.
In this scenic film, Joe McConaughy, a.k.a., “Stringbean,” who previously held the FKT for the Supported Pacific Crest Trail and holds the current FKT for the Self-Supported North Bound Appalachian Trail, travels to Ireland to try his legs on the Wicklow Round.
The “Stringbean” gave us some insight into what it’s like to run 75 miles alone in the boggy Emerald Isle.
Upon searching for some long trails in Ireland, I came across the Wicklow Round, which is the European version of an FKT. Instead of running a trail from point to point, a ‘Round’ requires you to summit a series of peaks in the fastest manner possible. The coolest thing about the Wicklow Round FKT is that it’s a combination of orienteering, mountain running, road running and ultra endurance.
One of the major navigational challenges is running through bog and peat hags. It is very tedious. Peat hags can be anywhere from three to 10 feet tall and are composed of steep banks of uneven grass that makes for slow going. It is like navigating a maze. If you step incorrectly, you will find your shoe, ankle, knee or even hip submerged in a quicksand-like bog.
With about eight miles to go, I was coming off the third to last peak, Tonduff North. I was almost 16 hours into the run, and fatigue was really setting in. The footing was very technical, I was tired of heather up to my shins and knees, bog holes threatening to twist an ankle and endless navigation from peak to peak.
It was a challenging ascent up Tonduff, and the descent was just as technical. I was moving very slowly, but descending I could smell the tarmac road that would take me down to the last two peaks. I was set to beat the record by an hour or less.
Then I realized something was off.
I was supposed to ascend Tonduff North, but there was a false summit that I had been warned about, duly named Tonduff South. After 15 minutes of blasting the technical downhill, I realized I had summited the wrong peak. A sinking feeling hit my stomach, but I diligently ascended back up the mountain to Tonduff North, to bag the right peak. It added a significant time onto my Round attempt, and my stupidity fueled my fire to cruise through the last eight miles!
FKT’s are becoming a more popular pursuit, and there is an amazing culture and set of standards in place. Do research prior to your attempt, diligently document what you did and connect with those who have come before you and who are following in your footsteps. Be respectful of the community, be humble, and be bold. At the end of the day, cherish the adventure!