28.5 miles from Carrick a Reedie Bridge to Coleraine in Northern Ireland
Random fact - 36 Jelly Beans were consumed on this challenge
So the first challenge that I completed in my 50th year was the Causeway Challenge, an absolutely stunning route from Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge to Coleraine in Northern Ireland, taking in the Giants Causeway, part of the Royal Portrush Golf Course, Dunluce Castle as well as just simply amazing coastal views.
Although I am fundraising for Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, this event is put on by Parkinsons UK, and I cannot fault the event team, they were awesome.
I did this event last year and luckily in 2019, the weather was much kinder, blue skies and sun rather than rain and howling winds. This year I wasn’t on my own, my boyfriend Jamie, (or Forest Gump to his friends) was hitching a ride and supporting me on challenge number one!
Flying out of London City Airport on Friday 7th September we were Belfast bound - excellent views of the Olympic stadium too!
After a bit of sight seeing due to Jamie being a massive Game of thrones fan (Dark Hedges, Carrick-a-rede Bridge and Ballantoy Harbour) we headed into Portstewart, finding the most amazing Italian restaurant called Amici, who settled us down with a sea view, as we ploughed our way through enough pasta to feed Rome for a day – carb loading in style!
The next morning around 125 of us set off from the start line, the grey clouds later giving way to blue skies!
And the first challenge had started. The Causeway Challenge is open to runners or walkers, and the vast majority were walkers. I planned to walk/jog the 28.5 miles, for several reasons:
1. It is very hilly, and although I love hills, I didn’t want to run 28.5 miles of hills!
2. My mantra was completing over competing
3. My boyfriend is an ultra marathon runner so he was going to make me run some of it anyway
4. With the challenges ahead, I need to mix up my training and also use the challenges for training too
This coastline is simply stunning. If you have never been to Northern Ireland and you love the great outdoors then go – the views will take your breath away.
In fact I was so taken with the views at one point that I wasn’t looking where I was going. My foot hit a rock as I was zooming downhill suddenly I was then flying through the air, landing on knees then hands and sliding along the path, coming to a stop face down. My favourite Sweaty Betty leggings were ripped to shreds as were my knees!
But never mind, as the half-way check point was just a couple of miles away and a very nice medic called Ronald cleaned my knees, patched me up and I was on my way.
(A very concerned lady from the Parkinsons events team asked my boyfriend if he should go and see how I was getting on– his response “ nah, she’ll be fine, anyway I’m hungry and need to get some food!” – forever the ultra-runner that he is! )
The course is definitely all terrain, from shoreline rocks, to grass paths, a mile along a fab sandy beach (although I was glad to get off the sand as my calf muscles were beginning to not like me towards the end). The sea is always in sight, with the Mull of Kintyre visible just 18 miles away. There are ancient castles, sheep and cattle, disused railways lines and the grandeur of the Portrush Golf course.
Towards then end this gives way to civilisation as you hit the town of Portstewart and make a turn inland for Ulster University in Coleraine and the finish line. It was at this point that I think tiredness began to set in, as Jamie was firing data points at me left right and centre about miles left to go, the pace we should be going at and that we should be running more than we were. I told him to politely to keep his data points to himself (maybe not so politely, and perhaps the odd expletive was used) and reminded him that my mantra was completing over competing, and if he wanted to run an ahead he was more than welcome!
Soon the left turn I had been looking out for was in sight, Ulster University could be seen and the 28.5 miles were over, crossing the line we were not only given our bling but a lovely dram of Bushmills Whiskey, as the distillery is less than 5 miles from the finish line.
Aside from scabby knees, embedded grit in my hand and Jamie’s incessant data points ringing in my ears the first challenge was complete.
This is without doubt my favourite event. The whole reason for doing these 50 challenges is to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund and honour my dad and uncle Bill in the process. Although they were both born in Waterford in Eire, and not Northern Ireland, there was something quite poetic about kicking off the challenges surrounded by emerald green fields, wide open space and being away from manic London life.
And then for challenge 2 …
To donate click here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/heather-lawson-50at50forpcrf