Drive on seemed to be the attitude of racers and organisers on the lead up to this years Covid themed Kerry Way Ultra races. This drive created other unwanted pressures for their part in boldly having the balls and ability to deliver a safe race when everything else seemed to be crumbling around.
Personally, on the drive down. I was so happy to be released from COVID captivity listening to the Irish history podcast with Finn Dwyer on the Prebban graveyard in Wicklow. The perfect 7 odd part series on everything from Celtic mythology, 1798 rebellion and a tragedy around the big snow. Aptly enough I pulled over for a pee once getting into Killarney behind a graveyard wall.
Killarney has that special draw, the roll down the hill into town will never lose its appeal. A mandatory mark on our calendar should be made to race in kerry every year. Gan Doubt.
I am early for the lads weekly Zoom calls, so it was no surprise for anyone to be two days early essentially for the ultra lite. It felt like a bit of a holiday and I enjoyed the logistics of getting organised and out to Sneem for Saturday mornings race start. Sneem is class, I remember passing through on a family holiday as a 12 year old in a Carina E and more recently as part of the Hardman bike split. I am sure there are many places to stay in Sneem, but I told my amazing wife that the only availability was the 5 star Sneem Hotel! Everything about it was class and as I tracked the 200km runners whilst watching Conor O Keefe on the Kerry way insta commentary. I was part jealous that I was not doing the 200km option, but also part happy lying in a massive bed in a family room minus 3 screaming , pooping, sleep walking, calling MAMMY at 3am for no reason kids.
I had initially put myself in with the elite wave for 10:30 am start. I do not see myself as an elite runner. Far from it, in fact my build is junior B footballer meant for bursting and being bursted by other similar types around North Mayo. I did so because I wanted to know where I was at exactly. A lot of the folks doing the race seemed to be part of or close to the IMRA (Irish mountain running assoc) or were serious ultra athletes doing amazing ultra and ultra endurance races in Ireland and around the world.
The whole wave organisation seemed to go out the window in the morning somewhat and rather than waiting around I just lined up with a group and went at 9:30 ish. I think possibly the second or third last wave.
I was told to keep it steady for the first half of the race. My watch was set to heart rate. It flashes kms briefly (forerunner 30) I was trying to keep my HR under 160. Albeit in a previous Setanta College workshop lecturer Will Hughes chatted about the accuracy of such watches without straps when the heart rate starts going high so there is an element of feel to running also.
The course starts out really cool from Sneem, real lords of the rings Hobbity style. Big ditches and stony patchy paths. I think it allowed for a nice rhythm to start. The fella I was behind initially did one of those one handed farmer gate jumps. And executed 10/10 shtyle. I thought about it, but then went nah. Let’s not visit Kerry general today.
My breath was taken away around black water bridge, not by a rising HR but the proximity of running so close to the waters edge whilst being surrounded by trees. It was like being surrounded by red woods in California but at the same time being able to hear and see the ebb and flow of the Atlantic as I ran trying to tip toe around tree roots. It was here that one of the first fast runners passed me. Flying. That’s where I am at i thought, feck that. He is going waaaay to fast for me this early on. Salivations of a top 5 became realistic headings towards a top 20 if his pace was the norm. Soon another fast mover came through , I indicated and pulled over on the pine bottom hard shoulder as seemed customary to which he replied ‘’I’m in no rush’’ and such was the vibe of the day even though he was chasing in Mach 2.
I underestimated the heat on Saturday and burned through my water. I was also using Meurtan as a fuel and was told to drink as much water as possible with it as one can cramp. I had no support, and bag drops were not allowed with COVID. Thankfully another persons support crew filled me up. This happened several times with other peoples support crews. To put this in perspective at the top of a mountain with no aid station or hydration at Ironman Mallorca there was zero help I was fit to collapse back then. The vibe was caring, covid caring. Caring whilst adhering to protocol and respecting the organisers wishes.
Perhaps a descent I experienced was before templenoe or soon after. It does not really matter because those that descended and experienced it will know it is of the stuff that dreams are made of. Race memories are like any, snapshots of previous times. This was different gliding down this hill with flow was the stuff of running bliss. Forcing myself to lift my head and take in the view of Ireland’s final peninsula. I will never forget it.
The bogs up and into Kenmare will be remembered for different reasons, my goodness they sapped the life out of my legs. It was a first hike and slow procession up that boggy undulating hill trying to pick up speed as came down only to be passed by what sounded like a mountain goat but was the eventual female winner. Flying and smiling downwards as she pelted down. I think I was too focused on what I was going to buy in the shop in kenmare, than move that fast.
Supervalue in kenmare was mad, being fairly dehydrated and racing whilst going shopping and using a self service till was weird. There was a few of us doing it which helped normalise the situation. Two cans of coke, litre of water and a package of natural jelly company sweets were purchased. I bought well, believe me.
The hill out of kenmare was cat. It just keeps going up, how the 200km folks were not broken and then asked to be buried in kenmare is beyond me. It’s ariston, on and on. Get to the top , and as a fellow competitor remarked. ‘That’s pretty foreboding’ as we observed a false ridge and then this sandy coloured trail in the distance that ran between two mountains. It was all so vast, I have never experienced such a vastness of geography in Ireland. I felt tiny in between these two mountains with what looked like hawks swirling. But somehow I still had gears, and I just continued the hike when i have to, push when i can mantra. And this was a hike to the top.
It’s not like, Killarney magically appears at the top but at least one is heading for the teens in kms. And I could start counting down, rocky paths become rockier running to hopping to running. Like g forces travelling through my ankles and legs with the force of landing and bounding from step to step. (This is not a race for dodgy joints FYI)
Twilight zone again a group of 20 plus girls whoop and holler competitors at some waterfall , tourists are becoming more plentiful we must be getting close to their natural habitat in Killarney. Runners begin to accumulate and running becomes a humid ‘death march’’ (that’s the same guy that said foreboding) (he also had cool socks)
At 48kms even though underfoot is technical i can feel that end of race finish begin to build , a train of socially distanced ultra lite runners begin to build all at various psychological stages. We come upon the famous broken bridge and 3/4 of us take time out for a robin redbreast type wash and rinse from the stream. How fecking amazing of an experience was that!
The trail becomes a path and as it widens the pace increases we are neither happy climbing or descending fast at this stage. We can see muckross. We were told take any way through muckross park which sounded ok in the brief but now at 54 odd kms in it was starting to warp my mind a bit. I had be friended a cork man and a dub. They were moving really fast and i was tempted to say slow down a few times , as I did not know where I was going. It was becoming pin ball, dodging couples walking hand in hand all romantic whilst sweaty tick sprayed bog warriors were flooding down torc.
Some of us went right some went left, I followed the Dub. Next thing he was on his phone to his MOT. Her directing him left where we were then re united with the cork man who took in the muckross gardens. Apparently they are nice.
Reunited, minds warped, do we go back, left or right, with a BIG SIGN behind us, phones and maps. Like any group of males. We decided to use none of these and followed two other males running like red deers in the distance.
I roared at them.
Do YEEEEEEEEEE KNOOOOOOOOW WHEEEEER YEEEEEEER GOOOOOOING
One pointed at the other who did not turn around.
HEEEEEEEEEEES FROOOOOOM KILLAAAAAAARNY.
Nice one. A Fecking native. We clung onto that Kerry man like the ticks we were trying to avoid for several hours previously. Being stuck in the park like that previously was nothing but the twilight zone from hell. I was ready to give up and wander the park like a ghost haunting the park rangers and sign makers who do not have enough signage pointing towards Killarney for fecking eternity. I’d even haunt the jarveys for the craic.
It was only 5 minutes and maybe 800 metres of confusion, but it’s enough to break any man, woman, child or beast. I was in the biggest ‘just give up’ mode ever from there on in getting back onto the muckross road. 2kms dragged the be Jaysis out of me.
It was never going to be a grandstand finish with all the covid restrictions but it did not matter and nor did anyone care. The race was and is what it is, not needing any accessories to plump up its beauty. It’s beauty lies in all that was experienced. The Nissan shed finish was given out of kindness and I was very grateful for the wooden medal and a platinum experience.
My coached wattsapped my position and i thought bull shit, no way was I 12th. Thought maybe just in the top 20. Final placing had me in 13th and i was absolutely stoked with it. A good 50 minutes away from a podium but that meant little to me as even to be competing towards the business end makes all the training worth while. 6 hours 50 minutes 58km and 800 metres. With bonus 5 minutes out of body mind warping Twilight zone.
With this experience, there are more questions than answers.
Where to next, the lite again, the nite, or the 200? I have been jibing my wonderful amazing beautiful supportive wife about the 200km next year. However I honestly think its a step to far for me right now.
It’s shtone daft feckin mental.
But, dreams from here on in will feature those scapes, steps , stone flags and stories. Living legends matching Celtic ancestors. On famine trail and happy trail. Some see it as madness.
I see it as a right of passage.