Written by Deidre O'Riordan

Since the start of my trail running adventure, my imagination was captured by the enormity of the Kerry Way Ultra. And I looked upon the ultra runners who undertook this challenge with awe and envy, knowing that I had little chance of ever attempting such an epic 200k trail race. So when the 55k Ultra Lite was announced I pounced on the chance to experience just a taste of what it’s like to run the Kerry Way. I have to say that I signed up one night, my laptop on my knees in bed and my credit card in hand, a very dangerous combination as I tend to be easily enticed by beautiful landscapes and the odd notion that I too could run such heroic trails. But, so far, my odd notions have carried me across the line at some pretty tough races, Ballyhoura Mountain Marathon, The Wicklow Way Ultra and the Mont Blanc Marathon so the Kerry Way...sure why not!

Fast forward to a wet and foggy Saturday morning in Sneem and the unlikely sight of a bunch of already damp runners, tightly huddled under Mrs Doyle’s small Hospitality tent, having a ‘how many ultra runners can you fit under an awning’ competition, passing the time before the race start....as you do! The rain is clearly not having a dampening effect on our mood as the banter flies back and forth at a faster pace than I’ll be running in a short while.

Time for a group photo of the mad people who are about to run all day in the rain for the craic!.... count down....cheer.... and we’re off! Up a soggy lane onto an even soggier lane and on into the first mud bath, followed by a veritable mud fest!! It was as if all the rain and water in Ireland converged upon Kerry that day churning the trails up into the deepest, thickest, stickiest mud ever!!! From the get go shoes and feet were sodden with water, and weighed down by mud and cow shite...yep, looking down at my legs I couldn’t discern the mud from the shite! And you just have to laugh as you wade through yet another field of sludge, slipping and sliding, trying not to fall on your arse and failing..and on and on....is there no end to this feckin shite we collectively think...cursing and laughing at each other’s efforts to run, stumble and shuffle our way through.

Eventually, the runners spread out and I found myself on my own, some runners still visible ahead and behind having reached the open mountain above Kenmare. And in the distance a familiar figure waves...a struggling 200k ultra runner, exhausted and suffering with mangled feet from a gruelling run all day and through the night. Unable to run by a team mate in need, I decided to walk with Duncan off the mountain and into Kenmare where we almost hijacked a lift from a very helpful lady on her way to work. Leaving Duncan to his lift, at this point I started to think my race was over having lost a lot of time and overtaken by a bunch of runners. But there was no way Niall and Pat were going to let me quit at the Kenmare check point, thanks guys. I was swiftly packed off with a few wine gums and sent up the ‘hill from hell’ out of Kenmare! Who in God’s name put that never ending (expletive, expletive, expletive!!!) hill right there?!? Shower of sadists!! And so, powered by expletives and the happy company of the two Pauls, I made it up and was once more on my way, leaving the lads behind me.

The next section was stunning, savage and brutally beautiful with churning black clouds lingering over the mountains, brief splashes of sunlight painting the landscape golden, heather purple and rain drop sprinkled slivery webs, swaying in the gorse. Here I was totally alone, no one in sight and it was glorious!! I ran and stopped to look and soak in this visceral beauty and ran on to stop again and again to look and become part of it. This is why I am a trail runner, for these moments of feeling fully alive and in the right place doing what I’m supposed to do as a human being. Ah feck am I turning into a hippy!!

And then there was pain...dull aching pain in my left hip and stinging pain in the soles of my water sodden feet. There was much less mud from now on but still some rivers to wade through keeping my feet constantly wet. The rivers however were delicious to aching muscles and it was very tempting to linger too long ..but the mantra...’just keep moving, keep moving, keep moving’ kicked in and playing mind games with myself I could keep running...’run until the next tree then you can walk...sure you’re here now why not run to that gate then walk’ and so on and on. Eventually casual walkers began to pass me by in the opposite direction giving me nods, some pitying stares (well I was covered in mud and shite!!) as well as much welcome words of encouragement so I knew I must be getting closer to civilisation again. This spurred me on across the final stages of the Old Kenmare road until I reached Torc waterfall where I just had to stop and like take a selfie like...which will forever stay unseen...the mad head on me!!.

I’d like to say I thundered down the steps and wowed the ascending tourists with my nimble feet and nonchalant speed and in my deliriously weary head that’s what was happening...but in reality, I shuffled slowly and achingly down step by tortuous step, a bedraggled and muddied figure with my own cloud of flies!!. At the bottom of Torc I found myself in a moment close to the edge, on the brink... tipping over...tears welling...holding back a sob....not knowing which way to turn?...up the road?...across into Muckross?...brain just gave up! A handy signpost just here would have been like heaven on a stick to my weary, befuddled brain. Luckily, some homing instinct (either that or the call of beer!!) drove me across the road into Muckross where I accosted an unsuspecting cyclist, shouting at them for directions to Killarney town. I must have looked like some crazed, feral thing as she shouted back directions with a look of ‘oh jaysus!’ on her face as she swiftly pedalled away.

There followed the home stretch that just kept stretching....on a long path through Muckross where I caught up with the worn and weary but heroic Jason. We feckin cursed our little feckin heads off all the way up the very long, long feckin long feckin road, keeping each other going, to the feckin brewery and the finish line for an amazing finish of the 200k for Jason and what turned out to be 58k for me!!!

The story doesn’t end there as the craic at the breakfast on Sunday morning is as much part of the Kerry Way Ultra as the race itself...bragging rights have been won by all, war stories are swopped, tales of mud and shite, and mangled feet are displayed like trophies. And all the pain is forgotten, like childbirth!! Sure we’ll do it again, why not...see you next year lads!!