Extreme manpowered adventure

Michael Mackey

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For most people running a marathon or doing a triathlon is the achievement of a lifetime. Then there are those who regularly compete in adventure races. Beyond this are a very special group of people who take manpowered sports to the extreme.

Maghnus Collins and David Burns by winnerkayak.com
Maghnus Collins and David Burns by winnerkayak.com

These athletes push themselves to the limit and not only do circuits of countries but race across continents. Maghnus Collins is an extreme endurance adventurer from Limerick. I caught up with him to find out more about the man and his extreme adventures and to talk about The Race endurance event in Donegal. What is immediately evident when meeting Maghnus’s is his down to earth straight talking manner.

“Myself and David Burns set about on an expedition which we decided was going to be a once off adventure to see if we could cycle from Cape Town to Limerick in my case and Colrane in his case.

“Cycle the length of Africa, across Europe and home to our front doors,” explains Maghnus.

Maghnus jokes that he was never the most skilful of athletes when it came to team sports.

“Once you remove the ability and skill from a sport and it was just down to keeping going, persistence, we were ok at that!”

What started out as a once of adventure for Maghnus and David over six years ago, became a quest for greater challenges. Neither Maghnus nor David had much previous experience of adventure racing.

“Without really knowing much about it, we said we’d like to be adventurers, whatever that means, not sure how were going to pay bills or anything but from that Sand2Snow adventures was born.”

Since 2008, the boys have completed three major adventures outside of Ireland: Silk Roads to Shanghai, the Sahara Race and Bike Africa. Their first adventure was a cycle from Cape Town to Addis Ababa which they then decided to continue by cycling from Ethiopia, all the way through Northern Africa, The Middle East and Europe and back to Ireland. They cycled over 17,500 KM through 16 countries in a journey that took them ten months to complete.

Having completed the cycle, ultra running was the next thing on their minds despite the fact that neither of them had any running  experience. After only eight weeks of training the boys completed an unsupported 250 km run across the Sahara desert coming 21st and 25th out of a field of 260 competitors. But it was the Silk Roads to Shanghai that would really push the boys to their limits.

Maghnus gives a rundown of what the race entailed: “It was a man powered crossing of Asia. We cycled from Istanbul to Kathmandu, across Turkey, Iran, India and into Nepal. Then we ran across the Tibetan plateau to the source of the Yangtze River.

“That’s a thousand kilometres, so it’s effectively 25 marathons in 26 days at altitude that averages about  5,000 metres above sea level. Then when we got to the source of the Yangtze River, we rafted the length of it to its mouth in Shanghai.”

“In terms of difficulty the 25 marathons were physically as tough as anything I’ve ever encountered,” admits Maghnus.

Having raced in some of the most remote and spectacular destinations on earth; Maghnus and David wanted to come home and set up an adventure race in Ireland that was as challenging as anything they had encountered elsewhere but would also showcase Ireland’s beauty.

When they started to look they found that Ireland was more than capable of providing the challenges they envisioned and what they came up with is The Race in northern Donegal.

“Ireland has everything it needs, right here to be one of the world’s best ultra destinations. I think from a 24 hour one day event, in Ireland and in northwest Donegal we’ve found a course that can stand toe to toe with anything.”

The Race is a 250km event which must be completed in 24hours. It involves, running, cycling and kayaking including a climb of Mount Muckish and a marathon to finish. Maghnus has no doubt that it is one of the toughest races out there.

Mount Muckish by rgmcfadden / flickr
Mount Muckish by rgmcfadden / flickr

“That 100km cycle in stage three, I would defy any other event around the world to find a tougher 100km. It’s brutal, constant climbing, very exposed, you seem to be constantly into headwind and it’s relentless.”

“It’s designed somewhat sadistically. We want it to be an attritional event, the idea being that not everyone is going to finish the race.”

The event takes place in March and 2015 is only the second year that the event has been run. It endeavours to be “a no trace race,” and for that reason the event is limited to a small field. To complete any endurance race, proper training and strategy is obviously important but it’s proper nutrition and hydration  that is vital according to Maghnus.

” You can’t put too much importance on the nutritional, hydration side of things.  It’s invariably that, that people get wrong. It’s not an injury, its not a puncture, it’s not complete exhaustion, it’s that they haven’t  planned their nutrition and hydration properly.

” A golden rule, and this goes for whether you’re attempting a 10k or trying to attempt The Race; if you’re hungry it’s too late, if you’re thirsty it’s too late.  Your planning of nutrition, hydration, has to be ahead of you feeling bad.

“For me personally, every 40 minutes I’ll eat something, every 30 minutes I’ll drink something and it has to be an alarm on your phone or some way of reminding yourself because often you don’t want to but that’s what your body needs.”

Forty two people finished The Race in 2015 which was won by Sean McFadden of Letterkenny in a time of 15 hours, 5 minutes and 30 seconds.  Waterford’s Diane Behan won the female category and finished eighth overall. Interestingly, women seem to perform relatively better over longer endurance events.

“When you go beyond the double marathon and the ultra marathon and start going further, a kind of a strange thing happens, the gap between the genders starts to close. So theoretically if we can go far enough, female competitors will beat men,” explains Maghnus.

“I’d like to hope in the next five to six years we could have a female competitor winning The Race overall.”

It is a testament to the determination and vision of Maghnus and David that the Race in northwest Donegal is now considered one of the toughest endurance races on the planet.

If you want to find out more about Magnus Collins, David Burns, Sand2Snow adventures or The Race; go to sand2snowadventures.com.

Below is the full audio of my Interview with Maghnus Collins.

 

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Michael Mackey