‘Gawley man conquers Mont-Blanc challenge

Ballygawley man Declan Faulkner conquered Mont Blanc

DECLAN Faulkner showed a remarkable level of mental fortitude and received plenty of support, both physical and spiritual, throughout his successful bid to complete the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) over the weekend.
The Ballygawley man sadly lost his beloved wife, Patrina, to breast cancer in April, but with a memorial card in his backpack, he had her with him throughout. With her photograph by his side and the years of happy memories in his thoughts he summoned the extra resolve required to complete a gruelling event that sees competitors cover 166 kilometres (103 miles) and a total elevation gain of 9,600 metres on foot and without sleep.
“I’m delighted to get it done, especially this year because it was more personal,” he explained. “My wife, Patrina lost her four year battle with breast cancer in April and I had her with me throughout the event. I had some memorial cards printed off and I had one in my backpack, so she was with me the whole way round.
“I had mixed emotions about doing it after everything we’d been through this year and my children – Niamh, Tiarnan and Padraig – were worried that something might happen to me, but it was something I needed to do, it was a focus.”
As well as the UTMB, Declan finished in the top 10 at the Race – a 251K multi-discipline event that has to be completed inside 24 hours – in 2015. And although these events aren’t team races, Declan knows it really requires a group effort to get to the end. He believes it was the support of his fellow competitors, those in the aid stations and his friend, Kerrykeel man Damian Rogers, who helped him get through it.
“You have to break an event like this down into chunks and use the aid stations along the way, take food on board if your stomach allows it and keep going,” he explained.
“That’s what’s great about my fellow competitors, it’s a small group and you see the same faces at these events. Everyone is going through the same thing and there’s a great camaraderie.
“But I have to thank Damian Rogers who was out in his car, going to all the aid stations, getting me food, helping me with my drop bags and keeping all the Irish runners going. It was great to have him there. He was a massive part of getting me through it.”
What makes the Ringsend native’s achievement of completing the UTMB all the more remarkable is that, not only did he finish the event in 42 hours, eight minutes and 55 seconds, but he did it with only seven weeks of ‘proper’ training under his belt.
“With everything that happened this year, training wasn’t a priority and because the Mournes are the only place you can really prepare for something like this I only had about seven weeks good mountain training,” he added. 
“It required a big effort because I only had seven weeks of training but it was also very emotional.
“The mental side is more important than the physical because there are more lows than highs during a race like that. And I knew if I could keep getting food on board, if my stomach didn’t reject the food, like what happened last year, that I would get through it.”
And get through it he most certainly did, traversing three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland – tackling snow, sleet and hail, as well as altitude (reaching 8,500ft at one point) and cold, but Declan believes all the effort was worth it, even if it was just for being able to experience the spectacular sights in the Alps.
“The conditions were crazy,” he admitted. “But it’s a very rewarding event to do – seeing the glaciers up in the mountains and the sunrise over the Alps was amazing.
“Events like these have their rewards and the last mile was one of them. I finished the event alongside Robert Costello, from Dublin, and the crowds were amazing, shouting ‘Irish, Irish, Irish’. 
“I was on a high then, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing, it was amazing.”
Having managed the UTMB at the third time of asking, following aborted attempts in 2014 and 2016, Declan will now take a well-earned break and spend plenty of time with his children, but he did admit ‘there will always be another challenge!’.

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