"The Wrong Turn" - Day Five - Peter Ryan's Malin to Mizen Ultra Run

October 26, 2023

Four days down, one to go. 120 odd kilometres left to run. Through all the ups and downs and unimaginable physical and mental battles, Peter had made it to the fifth and final day of the journey. I think I can speak for the whole crew when I say that we knew Peter was not going to be stopped at this point. Well, that was until an error on the final leg into Mizen Head would add massive uncertainty to proceedings.

Meeting in the hotel lobby that morning, I sensed that there was real positivity about what was to come. Peter told me how he felt that morning as he embarked on his last day of the run, “Going out there, I just didn’t have the trepidation anymore. I still had that same thought of ‘I don’t know what way the body is going to be’ but, whether it was the morale or the good vibes in the team, the body had realised ‘this is it, you’re going to get through it.’”

I asked Peter and his physio Eddy about how his body was holding up that morning, “I felt good. I had the same quad niggle, but it was manageable. The team was so dialled in, we knew the process, and there was just a huge buzz.” Eddy added, “He woke up in reasonably good condition, considering what he had done over the previous four days. There were no major concerns other than the expected aches and pains in his shin and quad. I did a good bit of work on him in the morning before he started running and he didn’t need it for the first two or three breaks then. He said that he would probably need work towards the end of the day, so let’s minimise how much I use it during the first while so it would be more effective as the day went on. Any work we did was on a ‘needs be’ basis, quite similar to Day Four.”

This amazed me when I heard it. Peter had run for four days straight, covering almost 500km in that time, and he actually seemed in better condition than a couple of days previous. This is a testament to the man’s mentality for me. As Eddy said, “He seemed to have a mental block towards pain on that last day which was astounding. It was amazing really that his foot was no longer an issue, despite the earlier fears of a stress fracture.” Nothing was going to get between Peter and his goal of reaching Mizen Head on World Sight Day (October 12th).

That morning, Peter ran spectacularly once again. He was keeping an exceptional pace, and at each of the stops, he was in great form as he cracked jokes with everybody. It was potentially the best form I saw him in throughout the whole week. Peter summed it up brilliantly when he jokingly commented, “Humbly, I actually ran super well that day!” Despite his laughter as he told me this, it was self-praise that he was absolutely deserving of. Mick, who had driven the NCBI’s Vision Van behind Peter virtually the whole way down from Malin Head, described his running all week as “metronomic”, which should give people an idea of just how impressively Peter performed from start to finish each day. “Even occasionally with a limp, he never faltered.”

Peter Ryan on the final day of his Malin to Mizen Ultra Run
Peter taking a break in Bantry on Day Five.

One of the many touching aspects of the final day was the comradery between Peter and his brothers who ran alongside him. “I must give a special mention to my brothers of course. They did colossal running for guys who aren’t runners. Conor, who I’d say had never done more than 5k before, ran a marathon that day. Paul did 70k, and Denis did 60k. That was really cool.” Looking back from the lead car and seeing the chat and laughter coming from the four of them was truly heart-warming to see.

The mood was high, and everything was building towards a perfect final day where we reach Mizen Head without a hitch. As Peter put it himself, “The day only turned bad from the last stop onwards.” Goleen was our final pitstop, with 11km separating Peter from the finish line he so craved. A staggering number of people joined Peter for this leg, and the atmosphere was ultra-positive for the first two or three kilometres. That was until I received a phone call from Paddy, who had driven the camper van all week long and provided so much positivity to the team. He asked me what direction we turned as we left the village of Goleen, and my heart dropped. It was only then that I realised that we had taken a wrong turn which added at least 3-3.5km to the leg. We had gone too far to turn around at that point and panic set in.

I remember Brendan Maher, who joined us for that final leg, came up to the window of the car to me to ask how long was left. He was expecting to hear 3k, so when I told him 7k there was a visible realisation of what was ahead. I cannot describe the dread I had inside as the news filtered back through the group that we had made a wrong turn. In that moment, I was sure that I had caused the whole operation to fall flat on its face, right at the final hurdle.

But Peter had other ideas. “In a way, finding out that bit of bad news was the best thing to happen to me. Before that I was really dragging myself through it. When the bad news came in, I had a good hard chat with myself for about 30 seconds, composed myself, and decided to just drive it home. I wasn’t worried about an injury at that point.”

Peter’s pace improved massively once he heard the news of the extra distance he had to run. He went from averaging close to seven minutes per kilometre, to improving to sub six minutes per kilometre.

Eddy explained to me how impressed he was with Peter’s resilience as he tackled the last leg, “Once he was told he had 7k left when he thought there would be 3k, he just shot on and suddenly all the pains that were compounding at this stage, he was able to compartmentalise them to a place where he either didn’t feel it, or they didn’t affect him anymore. That was the biggest stand-out moment for me over the few days, his response to the extra kilometres he had to run.”

As I witnessed Peter get better and better as he edged closer and closer to the finish line, I was overwhelmed with both pride and relief. I joined the team for the last 3 kilometres as we ran towards Mizen Head. Peter told me in the aftermath, “I had visualised finishing it loads of times in the build-up, but these things in reality are never what they seem. When push came to shove, I just remember that all I wanted in that last kilometre was my team around me. These were the people who were immersed with me for the whole week, and I just wanted us to get over the finish line together.”

As Peter lead the way towards the finish line, he brought the whole team up to join him and we all crossed the finish line in Mizen together. “It was an absolute release of emotion when I finished. I just wanted to hug everyone that was within hugging range!” The reception that Peter received upon his arrival was special. A stormy Mizen Head was lit up by the cars which lined the way up to the finish line, and the cheers as Peter crossed the finish line was unforgettable. The man went to hell and back over the five days and was never going to be stopped in his pursuit of completing the run on World Sight Day.

All Peter wanted to do was thank the crew who joined him for the week, saying “None of this would have happened without the team around me” which typifies the kind of man that he is. Peter gave us a week that none of us will ever forget. He is a true inspiration, and he deserves all the plaudits he receives and more. Personally, I am forever indebted to Peter Ryan for allowing me to be a small part of his monumental journey. It was an athletic feat that I will never see the likes of again.

Peter Ryan and his team after completing his Malin to Mizen Run
Back Row L-R: Sean, Paddy, Rory, Conor, Oisin, Mick, Joe. Back Row L-R: Eddy, Meg, Peter, Gemma.