Gaelforce - Pioneering Adventure Racing in Ireland

February 29, 2024

In an exclusive interview with Run Republic, Mona Purcell, the founder of Gaelforce, shares the captivating story of how adventure racing found its way to Ireland. Reflecting on the origins, challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the evolving nature of their events, Purcell highlights the Gaelforce's commitment to accessibility and creating a positive experience for participants, both seasoned athletes and newcomers alike.

Sixteen years ago, Mona Purcell, alongside Jamie Young, embarked on an adventure of their own. Intrigued by the concept of adventure racing flourishing in the UK, the duo ventured across the Irish Sea to participate in a two-day race in Devon. The experience was transformative, inspiring them to bring this thrilling endeavour to Ireland. Thus, Gaelforce West was born – the first two-day adventure race of its kind in Ireland, accompanied by a one-day variant, marking the inception of their journey.

Taking a leap of faith, Purcell and Young introduced adventure racing to Ireland, with the guidance of UK consultants in the initial stages. After four years, they ventured to organise events independently. The success was undeniable, with Gaelforce hosting an impressive 12 races per year at its peak. Today, with a reduced number of annual events (eight races), Gaelforce maintains its pioneering spirit, offering a diverse mix of multi-disciplined adventure races, trail running events, and open water swims.

Purcell candidly discusses the uncertainties faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many event organisers, Gaelforce grappled with the challenge of lost events. The team, unsure of the business's fate, cautiously anticipated a surge in interest upon their return. However, the expected resurgence did not materialise immediately. Purcell recounts the difficulties in navigating ever-changing regulations, allowing for events in some areas while facing restrictions in others.

Acknowledging the tricky circumstances, Purcell expresses surprise at Gaelforce's enduring presence. Despite the challenges, the organisation adapted and continued to conduct races, benefiting from the outdoors nature of their events. The uncertainty of regulations and county-specific restrictions added complexity, yet the team persevered. Now, as the dust has settled, Purcell notes a positive trend with increasing participation numbers.

While Gaelforce caters to elite runners, Purcell emphasises the brand's commitment to inclusivity. The essence of Gaelforce lies in introducing newcomers to the world of adventure racing, ensuring that the experience is neither intimidating nor overwhelming. By making their events accessible, Gaelforce encourages individuals to embrace the thrill of the outdoors, promoting a welcoming atmosphere for all fitness levels.

Mona Purcell's journey with Gaelforce is a testament to resilience, innovation, and the enduring spirit of adventure. As the organisation looks forward to the future, their commitment to inclusivity and creating a positive experience for participants remains unwavering, ensuring that Gaelforce continues to be a pioneer in adventure racing in Ireland.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Mona Purcell.

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