Written by Tina Reed
Race Start Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan
I started running when I was 40, thirteen years ago. I remember I used to go to a playgroup in Park Road Killarney where there is a lovely view of Mangerton and Torc at the back. I was there with my two children who were very little then, and I used to look up at the mountains and wonder how you got up to the top. One of my first races was an IMRA race up Mangerton, and I came a solid last, but I loved it! The mud, the rocks, the wild wind and the views, the whole idea of chasing up and down a mountain as fast as you could, and the chat afterwards. From there I started doing adventure races, mostly in at the deep end doing the Beast probably 8 times over the years. The Beast is a great event, multi-sport, teams of 4, usually over 3 days on average, no sleep and a route to follow within a certain time limit. My husband Pat was on the same team, and we had a great time. We also did the Killarney Hardman two years ago, the Ironman distance, which is 3.8km swim in the lake (scary), followed by 180km cycle around the Ring of Kerry (where I was so far at the back the people on the food stops had gone home) and a 42km marathon distance around Ross Castle area to finish up ( I was much more at home doing the running section!). I finished in 16hours and 50 minutes. 17 hours is the Ironman cut off. There was the Burren marathon, and Connemara, and gradually the Ultras came in. Last year I did quite well in a couple of races, 3rd woman in the SlÍ Gaeltacht MuscraÍ, a 70km ultra, and 2nd woman in the Ballyhoura Ultra, first woman in Slievenamuck Trail Marathon.
The ultras were starting to happen, and I had my eye on two bigger distance races, the Wicklow Way Solo- 80 miles, and of course the Kerry Way Ultra at 120 miles. In total, over the last 5 years, I’ve entered each of those races 4 times, and between them DNF’d 7 out of 8 times!!! ….And smashed one of them once! The Kerry Way Ultra, this year 3 days ago now, 120 miles in a time of 37 hours and 26 minutes. The cut off is 40 hours, and never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come in so far ahead of the final cut off. After 7 out of 8 DNF’s in long races, over a 5-year period I had decided this was my last attempt! If I’m honest, in my heart I gave myself less than 50:50 chance of finishing, but not only did I finish in a pretty reasonable time, I also felt fantastic pretty much the whole way through, relaxed composed and even enjoying it. It really was as though my body was possessed by a proper Ultra Runner! It was a bit like the scene in Ghost where Whoopi Goldberg’s body is taken over! So how did it happen! ?
To me, there are 3 key things that translate to success in a long race like KWU- big shoes 2 sizes too big, knowing how to look after yourself in the mountains , and being able to eat so you can keep going.
Firstly, the big shoes are needed because your feet swell up and then they rub on your shoes and you get blisters. Big shoes= no blisters, for me it’s as simple as that. We have a book called Fixing Your Feet, an epic page-turner devoted entirely to not getting blisters or sore feet. Well I don’t find any of it is needed when you wear big shoes! There are socks with two layers, or Compeed, or even the torture method of hardening your feet with Friars Balsam prior to a race, and then injecting any race blisters with surgical spirits. This method was introduced to us by Damon de Boor from South Africa, and perfected by Brian Harman, who both raced with us one year on the Beast. The entertainment value was massive (as long as you weren’t the one being injected …big big ouch). There are a couple of risks with big shoes, one being that that they might come off in sticky mud, but if you do the laces up just right, and try to avoid the stickiest boggy bits, it works just about. Another problem is that they make your feet a bit clumsy, which can be tricky if you’re racing over technical ground, in which case I’d be sticking to the normal size shoes. But for Ultra distance races, where you need the big shoes due to your feet swelling, I find for me that I’m not running at a crazy speed downhill anyway. The pace is a bit slower on a long day out, so the clumsy side of big shoes doesn’t matter so much. Keeping your toenails really short also helps and filing them down with a nail file. I have one funny toenail that I file the surface of as well as the end, and this stops it getting sore.
The second thing that I think is key to surviving long ultra races is being able to look after yourself out on the trails and especially in the mountains. A lot of that is about keeping warm and having the right clothes to keep warm and dry, but without carrying so much that you’re wasting energy with a heavy bag. Full rain gear, a hat and gloves are always mandatory items, and in a summer race like Kerry I usually wouldn’t take any more than that. Rain gear can be used as an extra layer for warmth, not just for rain. I would decide on the day whether to take a heavier or lighter rain jacket. I have the Columbia Outdry rain jacket, and it is fantastic, waterproof ,windproof and breathable. I rarely use the rain leggings, but they act as the ultimate extra layer if it really gets cold or wet. The hat and gloves are excellent for regulating your temperature quickly. If it’s cold and I’m wearing the rain jacket, I keep my hat in the pocket of my jacket so I can access it easily without taking the bag on and off. I often find I might get hot and want to take the jacket off, but not sure if big lurking clouds are going to translate to rain or if they’re going to blow over, so I might tie the jacket round my waist to save the time it takes putting it in the bag, especially if I’m not sure if I’m going to need the jacket again soon. If the jacket is in the bag and you’ve just wasted time putting it away, you might hope it will stop
raining and before you know it, you’re soaked through and then decide to put the jacket on, by which time you’re getting cold, and you’re then wearing a wet layer underneath. It’s all about minimising the time you spend faffing, and if you can regulate your temperature without stopping to put things in and out of the bag, you save a lot of time, and keep moving so keep warm. If things really do go wrong and you have to stop, you’ll get cold very quickly, but you’re carrying a foil blanket, which is also mandatory, so you can wrap up in that, and blow the whistle/phone for help. The phone needs to be kept dry in a plastic bag, and you need to make sure it’s charged. You need to have your maps to hand, and water and food where you can access it, again carrying enough to last the section you’re on, but not an unnecessary amount that just makes the bag overly heavy and slows you down. It seems obvious, but it’s so important to have a good head torch with a spare battery, and to make sure that it’s all charged. I also like to carry a spare head torch in addition. You really are in trouble without light on a mountain at night. Sometimes it’s actually too hot and sunny on a race, and for me, I really need to manage the heat, or I get nauseous, and that leads to not eating, and to low energy, slowing down and big trouble! So, my technique for keeping cool is wearing a big hat. This does two things, it keeps
the heat and sun off my head and face, very important for avoiding sunburn! I find I don’t like putting sunscreen on my forehead above my eyes because it runs into your eyes with the sweat and makes them sting. It also just runs off, so you need the hat for the shade. The second thing the hat does is act as an excellent bucket for dunking into streams and puddles and pouring over your head. I do this constantly, and it is fantastic. Even in KWU this year, it wasn’t really that hot, but I find any bit of sun uncomfortable, so the moment the sun came out I started soaking my hat and pouring it over my head! Tip the head back, and the water runs down your back, an excellent wake-up, and cooled down in no time. I’m so addicted to soaking my hat in water, that in KWU coming over the section into Kenmare after Templenoe, when I couldn’t find any proper puddles or streams, I had to make do with a soggy bog for dunking the hat. So, I looked a bit plastered in mud when I rocked into Kenmare, and the marshals and crew were most entertained and thought I must have taken a dive headfirst into the bog. I’ll also be sure to put on factor 50 before the race regardless of the weather forecast, and add
more if it’s got washed off in the rain by the time the sun comes out!
Another thing important to surviving in the wilder sections is not getting lost. I’m not the best at that! I have to say I was very lucky in KWU not to go wrong…I ran with Adolfo for a lot of it, and he knows the route really well…and often told me which way, which saved me getting a map out, and a couple of times called me back when I’d gone past a marker. And I thought I knew the way pretty well! So, reccee-ing the route is really important, even though it’s way-marked you can so easily go past markers, and I find when you’re tired, everywhere goes into a different dimension, and things seem so much further, so you get confused as to where you are. The third thing that I think is key to survival (and to success!) in long races is being able to eat. I’ve always really struggled to eat in ultramarathons, finding that I get nauseous. All your energy is going into running, not digesting, and if it’s hot, all the blood is going to the surface to cool down, rather than to digestion. But if you don’t eat, you don’t have the energy to keep going. That’s fine for me if I’m doing less than 50 miles, but any more than that I don’t find possible without refilling the tank. Nausea has been the biggest reason for the DNF’s for me in the past. I remember in the KWU in 2015 I could barely eat and was feeling nauseous from about 70miles. I got slower and slower, more and more tired and more and more distressed, disheartened and negative, and eventually pulled out after 110 miles (only 10 miles from the finish), but already going for 40 hours, so I wouldn’t have made the cut off. Even still I was so gutted when I woke up in the morning and realised I’d stopped so near to the end. In fact, I was so mad with myself that I went out a month later with Pat crewing and Alan Murphy for company and did the whole thing again. We did it, but unfortunately it took 48hours!! So, I still had to come back and keep trying to get under the 40-hour cut off. This year I managed to eat and to keep the nausea just about under control. So how did I manage that? Well it’s all about not pushing so hard that you start to feel sick. So, I had to keep just under that pace, and I also was careful to run the last mile into each check point steadily and slowly so as to arrive with a calm tummy, and the same with the first mile out, in order to let the food digest. Of course, you have to run fast enough to keep to a realistic schedule in order to finish within the cut-off time, and to me this is the key: being fit enough that you can run at a decent pace without having to try too hard. So, it comes down to training , and I’d done a lot in the year before this KWU, and it paid off. In terms of mileage I had 12 weeks out of 35 in the lead up to Kerry where I hit 50 miles or more. I found it’s not just about building miles, but having sessions where you’re pushing the heart rate up, and I did regular hill repeats with a group on a Friday night, and long runs every so often with West Cork Trail Runners, who I can’t keep up with, so had to push really hard…that all made a big improvement to the fitness levels. I took up Pilates with the tough Glen Flesk crowd on a Tuesday morning, and that made a massive difference too. Pilates and core strength was something I’d ignored for many years, and when I first joined the group, I thought how hard could it be, but oh no! I’d be in agony every week for a long time, as I struggled to keep my balance and do the exercises whilst the gnarly regulars not only flew through them but with weights around their ankles (something I still haven’t progressed to!!). Coffee and chats afterwards is always the high point, and a nice reward for all the efforts!
We’d also been lucky enough to spend 4 months in southern Spain in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the start of this year (whilst working, as we are both quite mobile, me being an artist, and Pat being an engineer working online, and kids up and gone from the nest). So, we trained all the time in the hills, and towards the end I was running 50 + miles a week. Nowhere was flat, it was all up or down hill and it was hard. I managed to keep the mileage up when we got home, though had to switch to a bit of cycling and running on the flat for a little while, having aggravated my hamstrings a bit! It’s so hard to get the balance between training hard and not injuring yourself.
During the training leading up to KWU I thought a lot about nutrition, and what I could stomach during an ultra. Over the years doing the Beast, I found potato and soup to be the easiest food to digest. The Beast Adventure Race is usually around 3 days, so you need to eat, but the pace is less intense (at the level we are at!) so you don’t get so nauseous, so what you eat is not so critical. Finding what you can stomach is trial and error. I find salted crisps are good, and a recent winner is home-made bread containing nuts and dried fruit, with a lot of butter. Also, a slice of melon goes down well, oat-bars and a certain amount of jelly sweets. To drink, I have a carefully calibrated mix of High Five (1.5 scoops) and 1 Zero tablet with caffeine in one litre of water. On KWU this year I kept rigidly to this drink mix, and it worked really well. I also drank coke at every check point. I know you definitely can’t put coke in the bladder…I tried this before on a race and regretted it!! It expanded in the bag and wanted to fizz out everywhere… ! I’ve often taken gels on races under 50 miles, and I know that sugar/ caffeine hit works for a short time, but is not something I would chance on a longer race. It definitely gives you an upset tummy after 50 miles! So, I feel I really got the food combination right this year on KWU. The soup and potato which Pat had ready for me at each CP, the glass of coke, cup of tea, a few crisps, and a slice of melon. Then the buttered bread to go, to eat en route, and a few power bar jelly sweets. Also, extra strong mints, which I eat quite a lot of. I still did have times where I felt nauseous, but I kept it under control I also took 12 Gaviscon over the whole race, and some stronger anti-nausea tablets called Buccastem Buccal tablets which you put under your lip on the gum, and leave to dissolve. I told myself each time I took them that these were very effective and definitely work, and I’m sure that positive thinking helped. I took 5 of those over the race, after check points. If I was feeling nauseous leaving the check point, I had a Gaviscon jammed in my mouth and one of those fancy tablets under my upper lip and a slow march until I got my stomach under control. It worked and I was able that way to eat enough to keep going. I think that was the key to my success!
There are a few other things that significantly contributed to surviving and succeeding in the race, one of the main ones being the excellent crew support by my husband Pat. He has done KWU himself before, as well as The Spine and UTMB, and other long races and events. He’s also done a good bit of crewing for me , on all my DNF races! So, he knows what to do, how to do it efficiently and how to get me out as fast as possible. I probably saved 5 minutes per CP at least by having Pat and he was as systematic and efficient as a Formula One pit-stop crew. It’s much easier to save 5 minutes in a CP by leaving as soon as you can rather than beat yourself into exhaustion running hard to save 5 minutes. We had a checklist which we’d run through before I left each time, making sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, something we used to do on the Beast. Very helpful when too tired to think straight. Pat was also ready with motivational lines already written down, to help me over bad patches, but amazingly I didn’t ever need them. I was pretty much ecstatically happy the whole way around, which I never expected in a million years, and has certainly never happened to me before with all the many DNFs!
Another thing I find really important to my race is to have music going. I have almost 40 hours of music downloaded on Spotify (so I am not dependant on getting a signal) , carefully chosen to motivate me! A lot of people use headphones, but I find them very uncomfortable, so I just have the phone in the left pocket of my race pack and blast it out for all to hear. I did feel a bit guilty about interrupting the peace for others, but surprisingly you couldn’t really hear it unless you were beside me. Adolfo was very good, putting up with it for about 70 miles. He said it was marching music! As indeed it was, and it was like an injection of energy to me, keeping me going. I partied along listening to a huge variety of tunes from Eminem rap songs, and Mr Scruff ‘Get A Move On’ to Sex Pistols ‘I did it My Way’, to Shirley Bassey singing I Am What I Am! It was fantastic, and like my secret weapon, powering me along.
As I said, training had gone well this year, and I really did feel as ready as I’d ever be. A turning point for me was a recce run I did from Killarney to Glenbeigh along the route 6 weeks beforehand. I made it to Glenbeigh comfortably in about 9 hours, the kind of pace I needed to be doing on race day, feeling strong, hungry, happy and not nauseous. Suddenly it dawned on me that I might actually do it on race day, if I could keep that up. I did a few recces over the whole route, and that gave me confidence that I knew where I was going and could visualise it on race day. Of course, I live very close, so I have no excuse not to know the route, but I do have a terrible ability to get lost in my back yard, so I needed to spend time out on the course. It was that recce of the first 36 miles Killarney to Glenbeigh that really was a turning point for me though. I’d spent hours and hours poring over my race plan, looking at mileage, comparing splits from past runners, and figuring out the maximum time I could spend on each leg and still get to the finish in under 40 hours. I found that really helped me to know what I needed to do .
On past attempts I’ve just gone in with only a vague notion of the times I need to make, and I think you need the focus of target times for each leg.
One more thing that went well before the race was the amount of sleep I managed to get, I was sleeping 8 or 9 hours a night before the race, but I think this was in part due to being on antibiotics for a throat infection I’d picked up 2.5 weeks before the race. I was really very worried about the effect it was going to have on my energy levels, but as it turned out, I did recover, and I can’t say it really had any impact on the day.
My full focus for the week leading up to the race was to rest and eat well and being self-employed I let work take a back seat. This was 5 years I’d been training for Kerry, so it took priority. I scheduled my classes to start back for the new term after the race was finished, and although I had plenty of painting to do for my next exhibition, and a couple of commissions, I put it all on hold. Pat came with me to registration the night before the race, and we got there early and left early, so as to get home and get to bed as early as possible. My bag was packed, everything in its place, my race clothes were laid out, spare clothes, food and gear I might need along the way were all carefully packed so as to be found easily if needed. Everything was loaded into Ivan, our lovely self-build camper van, the ideal vehicle for crewing. So, alarm was set for 4.15am and I was in bed for 10pm, but of course I couldn’t sleep. My heart was racing, and my head was turning over the route, the times, would I be ok, had I got a sore throat coming, go and gargle saltwater, take a vitamin C, Google whether it’s possible to
develop a phantom sore throat before a race. Yes, it is, oh that’s ok then….so eventually I managed to get about 3 hours fitful sleep and was very happy when the alarm went off and I could get up and get on with it.
I had a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea, and Pat and I set off for the start line. It was exciting to see everyone there in the dark with their hats and head torches, pacing around full of anticipation and excitement, last minute bag faff, run to the loo again, adjust the laces…Then all the photos, and all of a sudden it was just a few minutes to go, and Valerie was trying to organise everyone to get in a pack for a photo, not easy with 86 people to crowd in. I found myself at the back, but Valerie had spotted me, and yelled out ‘Get Tina Reed in the front, get in there Tina…’ Very exciting! Maybe Valerie thought I was going to make the finish line and wanted to see me in the photo at the start…maybe this was going to be my day!! Photo was taken, and all of a sudden, we were off.
Killarney to Lord Brandon’s Cottage
Pat had the job of putting up markers in Muckross Woods which was a good idea. It’s a confusing enough route through Muckross, and the last thing you need at the start of a race is to take a wrong turn. The weather forecast had been for rain at the start, but it seemed to be staying dry, so Id opted to set off in tee-shirt only and shorts. I was soon glad I’d made that choice, plenty warm enough within the first mile. I started towards the front of the pack, and I think I was fairly close to the lead runners. My plan was to get to Brandon (the first check point) in 2 hours, 40 minutes, which would mean an average pace of 12.8 minutes per mile. I didn’t want to go too hard and get nauseous, which is often the temptation at the start of races. As it happened, I felt comfortable, and went along with the pack, doing 9-minute miles until about mile 3 when we got to the foot of Torc. I do like to get a bit of the race under my belt at a reasonable pace, and I was determined from the start not to be the dot that was falling off the back end, but at the same time I didn’t push too hard. I slowed down going up Torc and a few people passed me, it was just about daylight at this point and a nice fine drizzle was keeping us all cool. I ran along on my own, keeping Alan Murphy in sight, which was reassuring, and I settled into a comfortable pace. This section of the Old Kenmare Road is where a group of us used to run on a Wednesday night, so I knew it well. After a few miles the road narrows to single track, and the wet bog grass and bracken was close to the path making it harder to run. That soon gives way to sleepers and then to Esknamucky Glen where you start to pick your way over rocks, and things slow down a bit. Down to Galweys Bridge and it was a relief to get a nice short fast section along road and then back onto 3 miles of trail to Brandon Cottage and the first CP. There was no crew due to restricted access at this CP, and not needed only 12.5 miles into the race. Looking at my watch, I was delighted to see I had made it in 2 hours 27 minutes, and more to the point, I was feeling fantastic. Comfortable, relaxed and hungry. I knew what I had to do, I had it all planned. I knelt down at my drop bag, fumbled with the drawstrings, and grabbed the can of coke I had in there. Taking big swigs, I refilled my bladder with the bottle of pre-mixed High Five and Caffeinated Zero. I had my poles here at this CP, and I got them out of the back and extended them, took the buttered fruit-bread into my hand, closed up the drop bag, one more swig of coke, and I was off. All that took 3 minutes, and I was out of the CP at 8.30, already 15 minutes ahead of my schedule.
Lord Brandon’s Cottage to Glencar
I walked off down the road towards the Black Valley feeling really pleased with myself and tucking
into my bread. I was with 3 others for about half a mile, but I let them get ahead of me. I didn’t want to push too hard after eating. I decided to put on the music and picked Mr Scruff ‘Get A Move On’, just to amuse myself with the lyrics. I felt brilliant, I couldn’t believe it, I was actually enjoying it. The sun came out through the heavy cloud and there were really defined rainbows ahead in the Brida Valley, it was stunning. That didn’t last too long and it started to rain quite convincingly, so I stopped and put on the rain jacket. I had my heavy Columbia Outdry jacket, rather than a lighter one, which I’d thought would be better given the forecast, and knowing that it could be quite bleak and cold going up over the Brida Valley. I’d had a brief chat with Valerie at the start of the race, and she had told me she would be up at the top of the Lack Road, so I had that to look forward to, as we started the climb. At this point I was with a few people, from time to time, though mostly on my own. I quite like being on my own at the start of races, just to get into the swing of it, and to listen to my music without feeling like I’m annoying anyone around me. So, there was Valerie at the top of the Lack Road, as ever it was just so good to see her. She took a great photo of me waving one fist in the air with the hood of my rain coat up, striding up the hill against the rain and grey cloud. I suppose the pink jacket stood out nicely, and that got into the Saturday edition of the Irish Examiner, so it was out in circulation before I’d even finished the race!
Irish Examiner Photo by Valerie O’ Sullivan
Top of the Brida Valley – Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan
It didn’t take too long to get down over the other side, the music was going, and my phone was wrapped in a zip-lock bag in my top pocket, on shuffle so I could keep wondering what the next song would be.
Next was up over the Lack Road, the path down the Lack Road is a bit tricky and technical in places, and along with the descent off the Brida Valley I knew this leg of the race could be slow for me. I’d allowed 4 hours to do the 14.8 miles from Brandon to Glencar. In the end I made it in exactly that time, which isn’t overly fast, but the terrain is technical and I’m slow on the downhills. About a mile out, I phoned ahead to Pat and told him I was close and what I’d like to eat. He was of course, watching me on the tracker, but it doesn’t always update if there’s a bad signal. I did this on the approach to all the check points, though after Glenbeigh it was Pat phoning me, because it was too hard to remember to phone after that! It was always good to talk to him though and gave me a nice focus on the last mile in, knowing that he was waiting there with the cup of tea, not too hot, not too milky and with sugar! I told Pat I’d like hot soup poured over cold mashed potato and tea and coke. He was parked 100yards ahead of the check point because there was a funeral going on and very limited parking, especially for our camper van Ivan, which is a long wheelbase Iveco Daily. Pat converted him to a camper, total luxury. So, there was Pat and I hopped in happily, delighted with myself. I knew I was feeling good, and I was on target, and had got a tough stage done. I managed to scoff the soup and potato to Pat’s delight. He’s had to put up with me getting nauseous and not eating in so many races, very tedious for
him to put in all the effort of being a superb crew and never getting his runner to the finish! We’d agreed it was going to be the last time, so I was really pleased to be getting off to a good start for Pat. Whilst eating, I gave Pat my Garmin watch, which he immediately plugged in to have ready for the next but one leg, and gave me his Garmin, which was freshly charged. We did this at each CP, so that I would always have a charged watch with me. I felt it was so important to keep an eye on pace and time. I took off my socks, and stuck my feet in a lovely bowl of warm water that Pat had ready for me. I put on clean dry socks but kept the same shoes. I changed socks at every CP, and it’s well worth taking the time to do that when it’s as wet and boggy as it was that weekend. If you have constantly saturated feet, you’ll get trench foot, which can be very painful. I took a portable battery pack to charge my phone, which I took on alternate legs as my phone needed. All done and off I went.
So, I took 15 minutes break at Glencar, and left at 12.42, 13 minutes ahead of schedule.
Glencar to Glenbeigh
The next leg was to Glenbeigh, 8.5 miles away, and I’d allowed 2 hours 20minutes. Pat walked with me for a couple of minutes, and I set off down a little track, and then alongside a river and out onto a forested road. It’s a nice section, there’s a little loop through Lickeen Woods, with a crag that looks good for climbing and reminds me of Pat when I see it! Then out into the open and up towards the Windy Gap. Adolfo was a few paces behind me at this point, and we went along in silence, it’s nice not to talk sometimes in races, and just get on with it, especially at the start, I think. Halfway up Windy Gap, Eddie Birmingham was there to greet us with a big cheery hello!
Heading up Windy Gap
On up the hill, the sun was out, and I was feeling good, though a bit nauseous, and I knew I didn’t feel like eating the bread and butter that Pat had given me. I knew he’d give me a hard time if I didn’t eat it, so with great regret (because I baked it myself and it was delicious!!) I threw it in the ditch when Adolfo couldn’t see me!! It was the only time I did that! Instead I had one of my nausea tablets, and a Gaviscon, and kept going. It seemed to be working, and I ran strongly down the hill and into Glenbeigh, I love this stretch, arriving at 2:50 pm. I’d made up another 15 minutes!
Glenbeigh to Gortmore
I’d only allowed a 10-minute break at Glenbeigh, which is a bit unrealistic. It’s actually hard to get out in much less than 20 minutes, by the time you eat something hot, wash feet, change socks, and re-load the bag, even with a super crew like Pat working flat out. We had a check list and went through it every time, so nothing was forgotten. Each CP took pretty much 20 minutes, but at the later ones I’d allowed longer, so I made up time there. I left Glenbeigh at 3:10pm, 20minutes ahead of schedule. I’d said to myself before the race that if I could leave Glenbeigh by 3.30pm, I had some chance of getting to the finish, so I was pretty darned pleased with myself. I like the section out of Glenbeigh, through the fairy woods, and up the long road section to Drung Hill. The air is so fresh, you’re beside the sea, and it really is stunningly beautiful. I remember the first time I attempted KWU back in 2014 I felt dreadful leaving Glenbeigh. I was that dot dropping off the back end, feeling nauseous and sorry for myself, crawling up the hill already. In 2015 I wasn’t much better. I remember going to the toilet in the garage at Glenbeigh, staggering down the stairs- what a waste of time! I saw John Healy there, and he was cheerfully buying himself loads of Danish pastries. I remember wondering how he could
stomach all that. Drung hill was the section where Chantelle and Liam had passed me in 2015, and I’d felt so down, I had no energy, and it already felt like I’d gone miles. This time, 2019 was different. The race was only starting still, I’d done my training, I was focussed and relaxed and on my way. Adolfo caught up with me again, which became a pattern right to the end of the race. I’d be quick out of the CPs, but walk slowly out to let my stomach settle, and Adolfo would catch up. It was great to have the company and sense of camaraderie. I knew Adolfo knew how to finish the race, I knew he ran a lot of races, and was on good form, so, it was reassuring that if I was going at a pace that he was going at, then it was very promising for a finish. As we ran up the section of road towards the mountain stage, as Drung Hill is called, I actually went past the turning. There’s a left turn, and even though I know that
part of the route so well, I still went straight past it. My music was blaring out, and I couldn’t hear Adolfo yelling at me to turn back. Well I did hear him eventually and felt so relieved and idiotic all at once. The last thing you can afford in any long race is to go the wrong way, but it’s actually pretty hard not to (especially for me!!) So, on up Drung Hill, through all those gates, looking down over the sea as you climb higher and higher Valerie had said she would be up here, but we got all the way to the top and down the other side before we came to her. Always so good to see Valerie.
Descent of Drung Hill- Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan
Then there’s a long road section into Foilmore, about 3 miles, and Adolfo and I ran the whole way at a good enough pace. Again, I remembered 2015 walking this section, unable to keep up with the people I was with, and falling back. And 2014 was even worse, I was in bits arriving in to Gortmore and spent 5 minutes crying in the toilets in distress!! Admittedly certainly in 2014 I hadn’t done anything like the preparation and training that I should have done. I’d only entered because Pat had entered and he’d gone on and on about it for months, and I was sick of observing!! The third time I attempted KWU was 2018, last year. I’d actually done a fair bit of training, and at that stage knew a lot more about endurance races, having done Itera, the Ironman, and a few more Beast races. Unfortunately, last year in 2018 I’d had the worst bout of flu before the race and felt really negative from the start. In fact, looking back now, this year I was a lot better prepared, had a much better idea of the times I needed to hit, and had a whole lot more training done. I was also ¾ stone lighter this year, which is a nice bit less to carry!
Coming in to Gortmore
We ran into Gortmore feeling brilliant and looking at Pat’s video that he took of me as I came in, I can see how focussed I was. The first thing I said was how I wanted longer shorts for the next stage. I was looking ahead, not just collapsing in a heap of exhaustion, as I had been at this stage on previous attempts. So, I had made really good time on this stage, having done the 12 miles from Glenbeigh in 2 hours 55 minutes, instead of the 3 hours 25 which I had allowed. Pat had everything ready for me again, well nearly everything…I had planned to take the Garmin for the next stage, with the route programmed into it, because it’s tricky enough going over the hills in the dark into Waterville. Unfortunately, the Garmin wasn’t working, so I left it , at least it was one thing less to carry, and there was no point in getting upset about it. I had all my clothes that I needed, head torch and spare head torch, check list checked, and on my way within 20 minutes.
Getting ready to leave Gortmore
Gortmore to Waterville
I left Gortmore at 6.20pm, a whole 55 minutes ahead of schedule! I walked the first couple of minutes with Pat, and he gave me a little pep talk on not expecting to feel on a high the whole way, and that I might well hit a low point at some stage. I listened and nodded, but really didn’t feel as though I needed to give it too much thought! I was feeling good. At this point in 2018 I felt really nauseous leaving Gortmore and felt dreadful for an hour and eventually pulled out at Mastergeehy. I wasn’t making great time anyway that year, and it was raining hard. And I was still recovering from flu, so I had this little voice in my head ready with an excuse to stop.
This time round, in 2019, I felt ok leaving Gortmore for the first time ever doing KWU, but I wanted to be cautious with my stomach, so I went fairly slowly up the hill. I was with a couple of lads for a while and managed to point out when they’d gone past a turning, so I felt slightly less incompetent! They moved on ahead of me, and I kept going steadily enough, slightly nauseous, but resolutely sucking on Gaviscon and the anti-sickness tablets that go under your lip. It was still daylight, and fresh and wild and exciting to be out in the mountains on my own heading into the night with a plan to keep on going! This stage is long, 14 miles, and I’d allowed 5 and a half hours. It’s roughly divided into 3 mountain sections that are open grassy bog with some rocky parts, and the Kerry Way takes you along ridges across them, and eventually down into Waterville. The first one, Coomduff, is fairly short and you come off it and cross a road near a school and straight back up onto the second section that is almost vertical in places. This obviously really slows you down. In the past I’ve been at that point in the dark, so it was good to be able to see where I was going. It was horrendously boggy, there had been a lot of rain in the weeks up to the race, and I cursed my way along, stepping off big rocks and straight into bog and mud holes that you had no choice but to go into. This second section of hill is twice the distance of the first, and it was getting dark at this point. It comes down into a short road section and into Mastergeehy. It’s actually really nice to get on to road after all the bog and hill. The route takes you past a hairdresser of all places to find out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s an easy place to go wrong, but I was ready for that one at least!
On and up the third hill, and at this point I had a 5 minute faff, where I wasn’t sure of the route. I was behind another person who pointed out that the way marker said Caherdaniel, and we didn’t want Caherdaniel. In a panic I phoned Pat, who couldn’t see where we were because the tracker wasn’t updating. He kept saying I needed to get up onto the ridge. I really regretted that I didn’t have a better idea of the route at this point…I really didn’t know where the ridge was. Or what it was. All I knew was that I didn’t want to lose time. All the while, head torches were approaching, and a whole gang that I had passed due to my speedy exit at Gortmore check point had caught up. It was no bad thing! Amongst them was Adolfo and John Boyle, and Eileen. Great big grins from all of them, and
reassuring ‘This Way’s! So, I ended up doing this last part with the three of them, and it was really nice to have their company. I chatted away with Eileen, who I was impressed to see there, it being pretty much her first Ultra, what a race to pick! She’s an amazing adventure racer, who I always see at the Beast. Far stronger than I am on the bike, and generally, really! So, we hauled our way through the mud and bog grass. At one point we passed one lad who was sitting at the side of the path, looking a bit distressed. We were a small bit spread out at that point, and each of us asked if he was ok. He said to me he had very bad cramp and was waiting for someone. Didn’t look like the best plan to me, to be sitting getting cold, but I carried on, feeling a bit guilty for not trying harder to help. There was a bit of a feeling of ‘Everyone for themselves’ and I felt as though I was up on Everest leaving someone behind to save myself. Adolfo thought he was probably ok anyway, so we kept going and eventually after a lot of bog, long grass, rock and more bog, we descended into Waterville.
We ran into the town, saying that we would re-group in 20 minutes. I’d taken 5 hours 40 minutes on this stage, 10 minutes longer than planned, but still 45 minutes ahead of schedule, and it was midnight. Again, Pat had all the usual ready for me. He was still phoning me about a mile out of each check point, which was nice, and asking me what I’d be wanting to eat. At this point I couldn’t think of anything, so I just said the
same again because it had worked so far and stuck with that logic for all the CPs to the end. Soup, potato, crisps, melon, tea, coke. Refill bag, wash feet, change socks, swap watches,
check phone charge. I made up another 5 minutes by getting out of the check point in 20 minutes, 5 minutes faster than I’d budgeted.
Waterville to Caherdaniel
I decided not to wait for the others and started to make my way slowly out of Waterville, along the sea-front, listening to the waves. I felt cold, and I was a bit spaced out, plodding along with my hood up, trying to assure myself I’d soon warm up, listening to the music, and again I went past an obvious turning that I know well, and should not have missed, the right turn off the main road! This time Jackie Toal called me back, she was just behind me. I was feeling a small bit nauseous and wanted to walk steadily, so I let Jackie get ahead of me, and not long after, the others came up behind me. I managed to stick with them, and my stomach soon settled.
There’s a point along this section where the Kerry Way turns to the left unexpectedly (well there are plenty of those kind of places in my opinion!). But anyway, I remember this turning from a recce years ago, in 2015 I think, where it was pointed out to us. So, I happily took the left turn, no danger of missing it as I was in with a big group who all knew it too. A few hundred yards in as we climbed up and away from the road, we looked down to the right and could see two head torches pointing up towards us, and we yelled out to them. They’d missed the turning and knew it now. They were looking up and no doubt cursing themselves, pausing, not wanting to go back, hoping there was a way up. I felt sorry for them, and guiltily glad it wasn’t me who’d gone the wrong way.
This part of the Kerry Way is a gorgeous section, along a historic old Butter Road, with superb views as the path follows along parallel to the coastline. You can see the Skelligs at one point, so, it was a pity to miss that, but it was a clear night, the stars and moon were out, and it was so exciting to be out in the dark on a long journey with other people on the same journey, going the same way through the night. After a couple of miles there’s a point where the Kerry Way crosses the road, and Pat was there to wave, and cheer us on. He was so cheerful and encouraging, and I felt so proud that he was there for me, and I was doing well! It was starting to occur to me that I might actually finish this time, but I didn’t want to count on it just yet. Anything could happen! At this point, the first time I’d attempted the Kerry Way Ultra back in 2014, it was daylight, and I was already way at the back. It was already hopeless, and I was on a very slow death march. I think I took 5 hours to go the 8 miles into Caherdaniel. My poor crew, Anne and Siobhan had to wait endlessly at the check point for me. It didn’t take much to persuade them to let me stop! I remember they fed me scrambled egg on toast, and I’d felt suddenly better….Then in 2015 on my second attempt Id felt very tired on this stage, and had taken ages getting out my bivvy bag, deciding to sleep at the side of the path. Of course, I couldn’t sleep, and all that happened was that I got cold, and couldn’t get my bivvy bag back into its teeny little
pack that it had come in. This year, 2019, it was all very different. I was feeling strong, I was with a group, I was making a sensible time! We continued on up over a couple of steep hills which I hadn’t even noticed on my recce’s, and into a short forest section where there’s a funny loop, just before Derrynane, and I was calling back to Eileen not to miss the turnings, but a gap was growing between us, and I went on. Adolfo said to me at the start of the race, don’t look back, and he’s right, you have to run your own race in an event this long. Anyway, not a bother to Eileen, much better sense of direction than I have!
Waterville to Caherdaniel is a short enough stage. It’s 7.5 miles, and fairly good terrain overall. I’d allowed 2 hours 30 and made it in 2 hours 25 minutes. When I’d done a recce of this stage, I’d made it in less than 2 hours going slowly enough, but of course at this point in the race you’re getting tired, so you have to allow for that when working out the times that you’re aiming for. As we came into Caherdaniel, Jackie was just ahead of us, and I raced past her into the town, just for the fun of it really. I was glad to see Ivan on the near side of the town, so I didn’t have to keep up the race pace! I was aware that I could have tried a bit harder to pass people throughout the race generally, and pushed on more, but I didn’t have the confidence or the desire. I didn’t want to put myself under any more pressure, and I wanted above all to stick to a pace where I could keep the nausea at bay, keep eating, and keep going. At this point it was 2.45am, and I was 55 minutes ahead of schedule! I opened the side door with a cheery hello to Pat. He was starting to look surprised that I was on such good form still, and slightly worried that I might beat his KWU finish time! Pat did KWU in 2015 and finished in a time of 39 hours and 40 minutes!! My aim was to finish, and of course I liked to think about beating Pat, but I never thought I actually would!! Usually in long races, without exception, I’m not only nauseous, but my stomach goes, and I have to dive behind bushes with alarming frequency to ‘powder my nose’. Not this time! It was quite amazing. I did in fact use the facilities in Ivan at this point, and once later in the race jumped behind a bush, but that is a far cry from the usual state I’m in. So, I sat inside Ivan with Pat having my soup and potato, and it was another little world in there. The bed looked tempting, and the cosy familiarity of our little home on wheels suddenly seemed like a much better option than the road ahead! None of that though, I was out of Caherdaniel in 19 minutes, 56 minutes ahead now!
Caherdaniel to Sneem
The next leg was 10.7 miles to Sneem, and I had allowed 3 hours. Pat had said to me he didn’t think this was enough, and it was the one section that I had underestimated, when I spent my hours poring over the map and past splits! ( I’d worked out my times on a long train journey from Dublin, a couple of weeks before and managed to be so engrossed that I missed the stop to change at Mallow and ended up in Cork instead of Killarney). Anyway, the leg took me an extra 30 minutes, 3 hours 30 in all. I’d recce’d this stage twice in the months leading up to the race, once on my own, and once with Geraldine and Mary Falvey. It was nice to think of the two of them with me as I set off up the single-track. An inspiration the pair of them, really strong, great talkers, and a similar age to me. We’d stopped on the ‘wishing seat’ on our recce, and I’d wished at the time that I could finish KWU, and I smiled to myself as I passed it now, feeling a little stab of excitement that I might just do just that! I was on my own again, having got out ahead of Adolfo and chewing on Gaviscon and the magic anti-nausea tablets, Buccastem Buccal. I think that was the last anti-sickness tablet that I took, my stomach actually didn’t bother me so much as the race went on, probably because I was going more slowly. Anyway, it wasn’t long before Adolfo was behind me, and we went along in companionable silence, hardly speaking as we had been most of the way! Silence, apart from my marching music, which I really missed if I turned it off. It was like a drug to me, a secret weapon that gave me wings! Maybe the familiarity of the tunes helped, and it was certainly a good distraction.
There are a couple of long wild boggy sections, that felt longer and wilder and boggier than on the recces, what with having already done 70 miles and been on the go for nearly 24 hours. After a while the route turns into a wider track, and we passed a few people at this stage. I didn’t really feel tired, but I can’t remember much of this part! It did get light somewhere along here, and it’s a great feeling to turn off the head-torch and know you’ve made it through the night, and it’s tomorrow, the day the race ends. Eventually we came to the section where the track meets the road and there’s a gate and a turn to the right and then to the left for the long straight section into Sneem. I remember meeting Adolfo there the previous year, after I had pulled out and Pat and I were following the rest of the racers and giving support. Pat was there this year to meet me, and it felt good to be still in the race, not supporting. We said a brief hello, Pat was so good meeting us there because it meant he got less time to catch a bit of sleep himself before I arrived into the check point. He really did everything he possibly could to be there for me. So, we turned left and over yet another stile and along the straight section to Sneem. This was one part that I thought would never ever end. In the recces it had seemed like a great old fast flat straight bit that took you to Sneem in about 20 minutes. Now it just seemed to stretch and stretch, as though the distance was distorted and, in another dimension, and I thought it would never end. There’s something much harder about straight roads when you’re tired. At least a hill and a bend or two gives you something to get your teeth into. Long and straight just is so
challenging! I dug deep and kept going, and we ran as best we could. I think John Boyle was with us at this point, but he went on ahead at a great pace, and I later discovered he’d hurt his leg, and decided the only way to finish was to go much harder and faster and not stop or his leg would seize up. He is one strong endurance runner. He has entered and finished KWU 6 years back to back ( and this year, only a week before, he’d completed 24 hours of the UTMB!). We ran into Sneem, and there was Ivan and Pat parked up near to the barbecue that the Sneem Dream Team always put on each year. I couldn’t believe I was actually there for it this year. In 2015 when I got to this point in the race, the barbecue was over, everyone had left already, and I was trailing miles behind. I think I spent a lot of the race this year just being amazed that I felt ok. I was even allowing myself to start to think about the end, and that I might well finish! Initially I had asked Brian Harman to do part of the last leg with me, from Galway’s Bridge the point at which pacing is allowed. This was because I’d really thought I would be on my last legs, and likely to just lie down under a bush and stay there if I was on my own. Brian was all set to go, and I’d been delighted. I knew he’d be merciless, but he also has a great sense of humour, so I thought that could tip the balance to get me to the finish line. However, I was starting to realise I wouldn’t actually need a pacer. I was feeling fine, and I wanted to do it on my own, and stay in the parallel dimension that we runners were in. I said it to Pat, and he suggested wisely waiting
until I got to Kenmare, though he said he would say it to Brian. So again, I had my helping of potato and soup (I’d eaten so much soup Pat had to buy more in Sneem!) I was back out on the road in 20 minutes. I put on lighter clothes and took my big hat and kept going past the warm fire and the barbecue. It looked so inviting, but I knew if I sat down it would be sooooo hard to leave!
Sneem to Templenoe
At this point it was 6.35am, I’d lost a bit of my lead against my schedule, but I was still 25 minutes ahead. When Pat completed KWU in 2015, he had really slowed down around Caherdaniel and Sneem, and wasted an hour in Sneem trying to put up a tent and sleep unsuccessfully. We’d learnt since then from doing multi-day adventure races that no matter how tired you feel, you can’t usually sleep until about 40 hours have passed, and certainly not within the first 24. It’s actually better to eat, take caffeine and keep going, and the drowsiness passes. This was one reason that this year I completed the race so much faster than Pat did in 2015 (when he was 9 years younger than I am now !!) I do also think I’d put in more training, and it was paying off. Anyway, Sneem to Templenoe is 12.5 miles, and again I slightly underestimated the time it would take at that stage in the race. In a recce recently I had made it in 2 hours 45, so I thought 3 hours 30 was plenty. As it turned out, I was just under 4 hours. If anything, this moment of the race leaving Sneem was when I felt low. I was cold and tired, and as usual walked out of the CP with Pat, just for a minute to put off the moment of being on my own and on my way, and I had a teeny wobble of the lip, but Pat assured me I’d be fine, and indeed half an hour later I was over any bit of tiredness. And that really was my only low point! I still can’t believe it. In a way what it means is that I could have gone harder. Next time!
I hadn’t gone far out of Sneem when I realised, I’d left my phone in Ivan! I felt a rush of shock…no music! And it was mandatory kit! But then I rationalised that Pat would see it and pass it over to me maybe at Blackwater…Adolfo had caught up with me as usual, and I knew there was no way I was going back for it! As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long for Pat to get the phone to me! Pat had got back to Ivan after walking to the trail start with me and saw my phone on the table. He carried on and ate his breakfast, knowing it wasn’t far to a point where the road crosses the Kerry Way, and he knew he had time to finish eating. He kept an eye on the tracker and got out ahead of us. He left my phone sitting on a fence post on the trail, with Shirley Bassey ‘I am What I am’ playing on repeat! I’d listened to this track endlessly in the run up to KWU, and Pat was completely sick of it! It was very funny suddenly to hear it blaring out, and interestingly we couldn’t hear it until we were right on top of it, so I knew at least that I probably wasn’t annoying the runners around me with my mobile disco because it was quite hard to hear. So, there was my phone back to me, phew, and Pat was waiting around the corner at the road, laughing away!
I quite like this stage from Sneem to Templenoe. It’s punctuated by a few nice points that bring you off the trail, surfacing out onto the road, and you start to feel the end getting nearer. The first one of these is Parknasilla, and I always think of my 50th when Pat and I had come here for a night. Of course, we hadn’t just sat admiring the view…we’d gone sea kayaking, and then run loops around all the trails. So Parknasilla feels familiar. Then comes Brushwood Studios, and soon after that Tahilla, where the trail again crosses the road. I remember we’d waved to Pat here in 2015 when he was still in the race, and Id pulled out. I remember he was pretty wasted, and having a low point, and I started to realise how good I was feeling, and that it really was looking more and more likely that I could finish, and possibly even finish faster than Pat did!
At Blackwater Bridge
About 3 miles after Tahilla comes Blackwater Bridge. It’s an amazing place to look over, such a big drop to the churning waters below. We didn’t stop for a look this time, and in fact kept running, spurred on by the sight of Pat parked on the corner, ready to smile and wave. He was having a cup of tea and looking after a couple of sorry looking runners who had pulled out. We kept going and into the woods to the right of the road. This is another lovely section, where the trail dips up and down to the water’s edge, through pine trees, and you can see and hear the sea lapping over the rocks . Many of these trees fell during a storm in 2015 and the trail was closed for quite some time while they made it safe. This is all quite runnable, and we kept moving along nicely, although it did take 4 hours, so maybe we weren’t going so fast after all! Not only is it hard to judge distance when you’re out on a long race, it’s also hard to judge the speed you’re running at. You can easily find yourself jogging along, thinking you’re going well, and a passer-by could be actually walking beside you, and you’re not going any faster than they are walking. It is like being in a parallel universe! The route widens, and goes slightly down hill, perfect for running, and we kept moving, not far from the next CP at all. The route comes out on to the road, and we had caught up with Jackie Toal again. She and Adolfo ran on into the CP, but I walked because I didn’t want to arrive in with my stomach jigged around or upset. There were a lot of supporters at Templenoe, and they watched me walking up with bated breath. I could see they were wondering if I was struggling because I hadn’t run in with Adolfo and Jackie. I gave them all a cheery wave and hello, and they all blurted out a big hello back, and looked hugely relieved. It is a popular spot for pulling out! Pat wasn’t worried, I’d said I would walk into CPs to control my tummy before eating, but at this point I wasn’t feeling nauseous anymore. I was on great form, and a photographer took my picture; I think it might have been for the Facebook live feed. I told him how old I was, and his jaw fell in genuine surprise. He was a young fella. I’d actually arrived in Templenoe at exactly the time I had planned on my schedule, though it did mean I had lost my one-hour lead! It was 10.50am. Again, I stopped 20 minutes, and this time I left with Adolfo, he was ready.
Templenoe to Kenmare
As I left Templenoe Pat ran up behind me to show me a message that had just come through from my mother, with the fantastic news that my daughter Eleanor had got accepted to do a PhD in physics at Trinity! We’d been waiting to hear, and we were choking back the tears, it was a moment to remember. The first part of the leg from Templenoe to Kenmare goes up a road around the golf course.
Mary Falvey was working locally and had been following us on the tracker, and she suddenly popped up, and walked a few minutes with us. She was chatting away, and you could see she found it difficult not to run. It brought home how hard it all was, and how tired we much be! It was lovely to see her, though it is hard to chat to people at this stage of the race. They seem to be operating in that parallel universe that you’re not in when you’ve been out on the trails for 30 hours! We continued on around the golf course, and Liam came up behind us! He was doing the Kerry Way UltraLite, having come back from a long period of injury. He was on great form and going well. We had a bit of a chat, and I said to Liam he should go on, though I found it hard to get my head around how it was possible to go any faster! So, Liam said goodbye and shifted up a gear and disappeared off!
We knew it was a long way around the golf course, but what a long and tedious loop this section is. The part around the golf course is actually 4 miles long and the whole leg to Kenmare is only 8.8 miles. I had allowed 3 hours 20 minutes and made it in 2 hours 55 minutes. Long and tedious as it was, the road loop around the golf course was actually a piece of cake compared to the boggy mud-bath when you came off the road. I think this is one of the worst sections of the Kerry Way. It just goes on and on for a start, well put by David Caulfield when he described it as the Marshes of Mordor. On my recce, I remembered it as roughly 2 little hills, then a rocky ridge and you’re down. The reality was maybe 15 hills before we got to the little rocky ridge. It was also boiling hot at this point, and I was desperate to find water to pour over my head. I had to make do with very boggy muddy water, which certainly amused them all at the check point in Kenmare . They thought I had gone over headfirst.
Adolfo thought we were going too slowly on this leg, but I had allowed a lot of time, and I didn’t feel like rushing. If anything, looking back, I could indeed have gone faster. Perhaps I could have pulled out all the stops, had a gel or two and more coke and gone harder. It was difficult going quickly over technical ground though, the brain definitely slows down and it is harder to work out where to put your feet. Eventually we did get to the last little rocky ridge, and down a short bit of road and into Kenmare, via a little laneway into the town. This laneway always used to confuse me; it seems like a secret fairy path that only special folk can find on a full moon. No problem this time though, straight through and into the carpark opposite Supervalu. The last check point!! We jogged in feeling like celebrities! It’s an amazing feeling being cheered on and looked at by so many people as though you’re superhuman, a real buzz. Chantelle was looking after this check point, and it was lovely to see her, it had been a while. Pat had a chair set up for me beside our picnic table, and I sat in the sun with my feet up, enjoying all the attention and celebrity status!
Enjoying all the attention at Kenmare!
Brian was there, and I apologised that I wouldn’t need his services, and he understood, though he was very disappointed not to get the opportunity to harass me to the finish! Chantelle and Liam’s nephew washed my hat for me, and Pat rushed around doing the check point pit-stop routine. I washed my feet and put on clean socks for the last time and felt on a real high! We were in good time, we were going to make it, it was still early in the day, fantastic, unbelievable!! We had arrived in at 2:05pm, and by 2:26pm I was up and out, no thought of staying, ready for the road. When I had attempted the KWU in 2015, my second time, I had got to Kenmare very late, around 7pm in fact, and I was full sure I was going to stop there. Pat had talked me in to continuing. There were a lot of people following me on the tracker, and it would have been something to finish, even if it was outside the race cut off time. This time, I was a different person setting off on the last leg of the race, and I was leaving the check point about 5 hours earlier!
Ready to leave Kenmare
Kenmare to Killarney
I set off walking with Pat and we chatted away. He left me when the road started to go up hill.
Leaving Kenmare, facing into the big up-hill!
James Morrisey and David Caulfield also left the Kenmare at roughly the same time, and we made our way on up the extraordinarily steep hill out of Kenmare, which goes on for nearly 3 miles. Our poles clattered noisily on the road, but they really do help with balance and give you an extra push, especially when you’re so tired. I chatted to James for a while. It was such a beautiful afternoon, sun out, and I had my music playing. Adolfo had caught up too, and at last we got to the top of the climb. Downhill at last! Adolfo and I set off running, eager to get to the finish, and it really did feel as though it was within our grasp now!
We made our way down to the junction where the Kerry Way splits at the start of the race at Galway’s bridge, and we could see Brian and Pat coming towards us. We hardly needed any encouragement at this point, we were now unstoppable! Pat joked that I could at least limp a bit, and that it wasn’t on to be going so much faster than he did in 2015! Brian was loving every minute and enjoying seeing Pat’s KWU time being smashed to smithereens!! We went over the two river crossings with the big stepping-stone rocks and the rope to hang on to. It felt really precarious! That was my only fear, that I’d twist an ankle, or my hip would pop out of its socket…
Approaching Derrycunnihy- Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan
We continued on and passed the spot where I’d pulled out in 2015!! Just 10 miles from the end, but also already 2 hours after the cut off. I was just so exhausted that time, but it’s no excuse after 110 miles of a 120-mile race… you just don’t stop 10 miles before the end unless you are unconscious or have a broken leg with the bone sticking out! Anyway, there was certainly no stopping this time! I gave the sign post a big grin, and Brian took a photo of the famous spot, and on I went! It all seemed hillier than 34 hours earlier when we had trodden the same route in the opposite direction, but Adolfo and I made good time. Esknamucky Glen was different though. It was incredibly challenging getting over the rocks and loose slabs laced with treacherous big steps down and boggy holes in between. I’d say it took us ages. But speaking to other people, everyone found it the same. It’s just really hard to think and react at this stage in the race! It was a fantastic feeling to get on the wider part of the trail that leads back past Torc. It’s a very familiar section, we’ve run it countless times and it felt like home already. We could see Pat and Brian up on the trail ahead, a bright orange and a bright green tee-shirt! It was great to see them again, and we were all in great spirits.
Passing the foot of Torc
Adolfo and I kept up the pace, we were heading down Torc Waterfall now, down the steps and across into Muckross! It really was the home stretch. Our friend Nuala appeared, we used to run with Nuala and others on a Wednesday night in Muckross, and again it lifted the spirits to see friends. Then Adrian was there, and suddenly it was only 2 miles to go, and we started to run a bit harder (though it was probably still only that very slow running pace that people in the other dimension can walk at). I knew my mother was going to be at the finish, and I let myself project forward and imagine the moment when my mummy would hug me, and I would feel so proud that I had done my best and she was there to see it. We passed some people who were doing the Lite and were walking, and we kept going, had to keep running, keep running.
Out of the park now and on to Muckross Road. I knew Muckross Road would definitely have warped itself into a drastically extended extra-long dimension with an up-hill bias as well, and I was ready for it. It was going to take time, I just had to keep going and it would eventually end. I wanted to run faster and faster, the adrenalin was firing now, someone in a car honked a horn, I was doing it, this was it, the end of the Kerry Way Ultra, and not just barely making it, but making it 2 and a half hours before the cut off! This was my finest running moment! Adolfo and I had come all this way, most of the race together, and we finished together, arms in the air triumphant! Pat was there of course, and my Mum, and Adolfo’s wife Roccio, and lots of our running friends. It was just fantastic. Everyone was hugging me, Pat opened a bottle of bubbly that I had put sheepishly into the fridge in Ivan before we left, on the off-chance that there might be something to celebrate…and there sure was!! We took lots of photos, and savoured the moment, a magical moment. 120 miles along the Kerry Way, 37hours and 26 minutes.
With Pat and Brian at the finish
A few stats. There were 87 starters and 57 finishers. I was 42nd overall. Out of that, there were 12 women starters and 9 women finishers. I was 8th woman. In previous years, there have only been a total of 8 women who finished in under 40 hours since the race started in 2013, so now including 2019, 17 women have completed it, (and I’m fairly sure, I’m the oldest!)
A huge thanks to Eileen Daly, and all the volunteers and supporters who make this happen, the Ultra, the Lite, and now the Nite as well. It is ‘not for profit’, with any left-over funds going to The Way. It is also a fantastic local event, involving local people, including myself! As an artist that specialises in running paintings, I do some of the winners’ prizes. Being involved in this way makes it even more special for me to compete in and finally to finish! It’s also Ireland’s toughest Ultra, and every year attracts more and more runners from further and further afield. The aim now is to get 100 finishers across the line next year in 2020, in order to make our race a qualifier for the Western States, so sign up! I’ll be back myself, as will Pat!!!
Rocio, Mum, Adolfo, Pat & Tina. Photo by Adrian Corsini