THE KERRY WAY ULTRA 2017
200km distance, 9 check points, 20,000 feet of climb across mountains, fells, woodland, trail, bog and the occasional bit of road or runnable trail, a Master Class of Trail Running oh and don't forget the crazy weather which hit us 30 hours in.Having done the last 2 years of this course once with Tina for the Kerry way 2015 secret project make sure you check out my blog post for it below and then last year I did the full race going under 38 hours for the Kerry Way in 2016 again blog is below for last year. But I wasn't planning doing this race this year so signed up for the ridge ultra which I was lucky enough to win now that was another crazy race, you can also read about that adventure on this blog and I also did few other small races but in June of this year I turned 45 and as a surprise my wife paid for my entrance to this race as a present(after telling me all year I can't do it again lol) I was so happy and she was going to crew me like she always done so out of nowhere this was going to be one of my highlights for the year and it didn't disappoint, it was through and through the most enjoyable race as always.
This race is self-sufficient or u can have a crew, meaning preparation is key. You have 9 checkpoints along the way each with a drop bag if u want and a few options to snatch some food in the shops during daylight which I took advantage off I kept 10 euro in my backpack pocket I got the nicest of 99 ice cream cone with a big chocolate flake so so good and I ate as I left the town at the 3rd checkpoint sheahans supermarket Glenbeigh .I wouldn't have my super crew till foilmore which was the 4th checkpoint as she was working till late on Friday so the first 3 checkpoints I had drop bags which actually worked out really well for me and by the time I saw her for the first time I was about 10 hours in and was a perfect time to get a good fuel up and change of clothes as I head into the longest section of the race to Waterville but more on that later.
Killarney to Climbers inn Glencar
With a 6am start on the Friday in killarney, we set off still in darkness. My plan, for this year was stick to my pace and run to what I felt comfortable at and leave people go off like crazy as I knew they would, knowing a lot of them would DNF as the race went on, this race has about a 50 to 60% drop out rate which goes to show just how challenging this course is, so my plan was run smart not crazy.so we ran past Muckross House through Parklands and Forests to Torc Waterfall. From Torc with some ascent through Woodlands following an old road to Kenmare through Owengarriff River Valley. Descend through Esknamucky Glen to Galway River, follow signs to Black Valley! Walk winds through woodlands and grasslands to Lord Brandon's Cottage on Upper Lake we is the first checkpoint and the only one u have to have a drop bag at as the crew can't get into this section of the race. I was feeling good at this stage and had tailwind gels change of socks and a quick few calories at this first section but didn't stay long and left pretty fast it was here that john boyle gave me some wise words and said slow down a bit which i took on board and walk out of the checkpoint eating. So, From Black Valley walk past Commend Lake at the southern flanks of MacGillycuddy's Reeks. Follow the green road over a low pass and down along a paved road for about 1 km before turning right and climbing steeply up to another pass. Descent to Lough Acoose and follow the small paved road along the shore to the junction with the main road into Glencar the 2nd checkpoint at this stage the day was getting very hot but again I felt really good and ran into this checkpoint strong we had helped a few runners over the black valley as they kept getting lost and running off in the wrong direction. I spoke to one of them over the top of a good climb and asked him did he know the route to which said a little so I gave him advice for the night section to make sure he can see the yellow man ahead while he stood next to one so he wouldn't get lost but later found out the 2 lads didn't make it to the night section the signs are very easy to miss and if ur tired and not alert easy to go miles in the wrong direction. Anyway, back to my race checkpoint 2 here I had a good size drop bag change of socks loads of Food water and tailwind and Gels and again with a quick change around and some great help from a friend who was crewing pat Rodgers but he was 20 mins behind I was out fast it was also here I met Sean Manson for the first time and most certainly not the last as the 2 off us would go back and forth for the next 35 hours and end up finishing the race together. Lot of the runners had poles also but I decide to hold off with them till I met my wife in foilmore I was happy with this as I carried my water bottle and made sure I drank at least 600ml of water over the hour. so, I head into the next section happy so far felt good not tired yet anyway but a long way to go yet.
Glencar to Glenbeigh
So, u run the main road until reaching the area of Glencar. From the Climbers Inn follow signs in a south-westerly direction before crossing the River Caragh and following the course of the river on a small track through grassland and a mixed forest. Join the road near Blackstone Bridge. Stay on the road out of the forestry and up onto the lower slopes of See fin. The trail gradually gets stepper as it goes uphill until reaching a fork on the path. A short-cut takes the walker up through Windy Gap before winding back down to Glenbeigh via a quiet road. The scenic longer route skirts around Seefin, giving spectacular views over Lough Caragh and then out onto the Atlantic and Rosbeigh Strand. also in September you can enjoy the Blackberries all along the Way. The day was getting very hot and the sun was high so made sure I drank plenty of water but I was moving nice and felt great through this stage of the race I was with a friend who I had met called Terrence he was surfing already and felt very tired so I was helping keeping him motivated which also helped me but he would later DNF heading up a big climb into sneem but he fought so hard just wasn't his day and he will be back again next year I’m sure and on I side note himself and his wife and kids stayed at the finish line to cheer me in which was so so nice of them and just shows how great all ultra-runners are to each other in this community. Anyway back to the race so landed in the 3rd checkpoint found my drop back and did the change of socks liquids food etc. again felt great didn't stay long about 5 mins but I knew across the way was a supermarket so ran in got the biggest ice cream they had and walked out of that checkpoint eating it and how good it was this also was my last checkpoint on my own and I was now running towards my wife and would have her for the rest of the race and all the night sections which for me is very important
Foilmore the waterville
On arrival to Foilmore my stunning wife was there waiting for me with plenty of food and motivation, i was in great spirits still and this also was where I picked my trekking poles for the first time and my plan to not use them on the first section worked out great and I kept a water hand held bottle instead to keep drinking at least 600ml of tailwind every hour I had got my calories and fluid spot on all day and pretty much the whole race. So, had a big feed here a big bowl of noodles and drank lots of coke got as much calories as I could and also the GAA hall was open so was able to get the most amazing toilet break out of the way lol and fresh rub down of Vaseline to help with the rubbing but again this race I didn't get any blisters or chaffing or cramping in the belly so like I said the nutrition side of it was spot on. So, after 30 mins or so myself Sean and Terrence headed out in great spirits so what can I tell u about the next section It’s A two-part journey into purgatory. Banding together with a few lads, the first section was a long trek across a fell where false ridges where ever present. After a dozen climbs and 2.5hours on the fell we realized we had only covered 8 km and had another monster of a fell to cross. With the second climb came nightfall so without a second set of eyes you could easily lose track on the fell and go miles off course which we nearly did once taking a left as we were on the wrong side of the fence and we miss the stile to climb over. This for me is the longest section of the race as between checkpoints and u have to make u have left foil more with plenty of water and food and all your gear as u will be anything from 5 to 6 hours on this long straight section over some good climbs. But we powered through this section and made great time into Waterville I will forewarn u of the Charlie Chaplin Statue it's an odd sight to see.
Waterville to Caherdaniel
This route rejoins the Kerry Way at Coomduff and leads on small country roads and through wild mountaineous terrain toward Caherdaniel. The first part of the route leading to the eastern edge of Lough Currane can be rough at times, until you meet a small country lane near Cloghvoola. From then on, the route follows country roads for some kilometers past Lough Isknagahiny before it turns off again toward Eagles Hill. On Windy Gap you reach the highest point on the Kerry Way at just over 450 meters above sea-level. The final leg for the stage brings you downwards towards the village of Caherdaniel.This section is all in the dark so u have to have your wits about u make sure u keep an eye on the little yellow man and u can see the next one before u move on I pretty much powered through this section so good climbs and downhills. So again my wife was waiting for me at this checkpoint plenty of food, clothes etc. also this year we had use of the hall which is great again last year I nearly quit here and a lot of people who DNF this race it's usually here or heading into sneem.Last year I slept here for 15 mins and was the best think I could have done this year I was feeling so good and high spirits I just ate food and chatted to my wife and Eddie who is a top top lad, he was looking after that checkpoint he saw me last year and thought I was done in 2016 but somehow I got out of that checkpoint last year but this year I changed my training and race plan and it's crazy how a year later I was a different runner even Eddie comment on my spirits and freshness .It was here Terrence was in trouble but after talking to him I got him up and out but later on I wish I hadn't as he was suffering big time and he quit when he mate john half ways to sneem up a climb this is where a lot of people will def. so be aware of that. So full of food, fluids and high spirits we head towards sneem.
Caherdaniel to Sneem
They have done a lot of work on this section since last year and the climb up is great even john boyle who I talking to next day about it thought he had gone wrong because last year it was dug up but this year was lovely straight road up and amazing run down into sneem,I ran most of this section and felt great past a few people, but just a heads-up u will meet the legend John Linehan if u don’t know who he is google him. He is about half ways up the last climb into sneem this year with a tent and has his truck on the other side to help runners if they need it.This is where Terrence Dnf and my good friend Pat Rodgers as well which even now is still a shock to me but in his defense he did finish the spine and had done and iron man and another adventure race pretty much few weeks before Kerry way so he was tired going into it but will always be legend and inspiration to me .So I ran strong onto sneem where i had planned on my first and only sleep the sun came up as i ran in and felt great also Sean mason wasn't far behind and going strong. So, I slept about 15 mins and got good calories and fluid into me again a great toilet breaks lol and as I was leaving their ultra-lite runners, were getting ready to head out as they were doing the sneem to killarney section of the race. The good think about this is you get a great cheer as you leave the bad think is the trail gets crazy busy with them passing u and u have to stand to the side to leave them pass as they are moving way faster than u. But on a positive note every one of them cheers u on as they pass u.
Sneem to Templenoe to Kenmare
This stage firstly there is a checkpoint at templenoe but again just be aware it’s a little confusing getting there as it’s a section were a lot of work is being down so the trail winds all over the place and it’s easy to get turned around so u start by crossing the Sneem River and follows quiet backroads and paths across bogland area to the slopes of Knockanamadane mountain. After this the Kerry Way goes downhill to a small road section and lovely wooded tracks and onto the abandoned 19th century village of Tahilla which in the past was a busy fishing village. From Tahilla the route follows an old road track, wooded paths through Derrenamacken Wood and onto Blackwater Bridge views back across Coongar Harbour and Drongawn Lough.From here the route again follows wooded paths and the Blackwater River and goes inland passing Dromore Castle built in the 1830's and Cappanacush Castle from the 13th century. The route now follows the main Ring of Kerry road to Templenoe.Myself and Sean were pretty much working together now as we were pacing the same. So at this checkpoint I met Karen who had come especially to help crew as she want to get a taste for this event and my wife who made a bacon roll for me which I ate as I left the checkpoint it was about this time the weather started to change and it was getting very stormy which would be crazy bad from Kenmare to the finish in killarney but more about that later.So From Templenoe the route ascends to the spur of Lack Hill crossing the Reen River and again the Kerry Way route climbs Gortamullin Hill with great views of the Caha Mountains on the Beara Peninsula. From here the route goes back downhill to picturesque town of Kenmare.This section is so demoralizing as u can see Kenmare in the distance pretty much all the time, but the trail winds all over the place it now was pouring down with rain and the trail was just pure mud and u would sink into time go through a lot of fields in this section of the trail and there were few parts where we were above our knees and had no choice but to power your way through it was so much fun. I led us into Kenmare and when myself and Sean finally get down off the mountain and into to Kenmare road he said I was a legend for leading us through that section I felt great sense pride when he said it to me as he is another runner I have admiration for, also there is a cut off of 4 o'clock in Kenmare so we pushed hard to make it there and we did with an hour to spare. It’s also become a tradition for me to have a big bag of chips there which I did while sitting in the car Karen got a great kick out of this. I Spent about 30 mins here as I was soaked through so change of clothes nutrition was top of my list Sean left a few mins ahead of me but I caught him on the other side of the big climb out of Kenmare.
Kenmare to killarney
The route, a monster of a climb up a road hill, from there just a long technical run back off the hills towards Killarney. It is probably one of the most popular stages of the Kerry Way. Starting from Kenmare is follows a well-worn path between Peakeen and Knockanaguish Mountains into the Windy Gap with superb views of the MacGillicuddy Reeks Mountains. From there it passes Mangerton Mountain, Torc Mountain and Waterfall and finally Muckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farm to the finish line. So, with Sean and myself working together the weather was biblical the wind the rain it definitely slowed us down and cost us time. The crossings over river sections were now flooded and very strong current. You had to wade through it as u could not use the rocks that were there to cross over as they were covered that's how high the water was and there was a good few sections to do this at, but again added to the adventure. The biggest problem was we were both getting very cold and wet right through so we had no choice but to run to stay warm. I won’t lie Sean was much stronger then me in this section but he stayed with me like the legend he is and we knock those miles off one by one again there is a horrible long stretch of road slash trail to torc waterfall never seems to end and getting out of muckross house is crazy confusing so make sure u have this sorted before u get there as u leave the park then it’s a dead straight path all the ways to the finish, it was here Sean’s crew who were in a Jeep on the road next to us were going crazy screaming out the window what had we done u are legends you are going to finish this epic ultra under the 40 hours made me smile and was amazing of them , so before we knew it we were back in killarney and passing the finish line with an hour to spare. What an adventure. Also, great bonus the following day was a lunch buffet in Killarney, where you could catch up with all the other runners, share war stories and get some food back in you. It made for a much friendlier feel as you all felt as one team. In short, I highly recommend the Kerry Way Ultra, and so so so well run by Eileen and all her volunteers and checkpoint crews.