The Kerry Way Ultra Lite 2021 - Beyond Words

No you're not doing it some day, you're doing it today

This post will not do The Kerry Way Ultra Lite justice but I’ll do my best to decribe a wonderful race.

 

Some Day

I had been vaguely aware of the Kerry Way Ultra for quite a few years and I even heard an elite US ultra runner list it as their top bucket list race on a podcast. But it was so far out of reach for me as to be almost mythical. Then I heard about the Lite edition and thought “some day some day”.

But 18 months of Covid, getting that bit older, losing a ton of weight and loving the Killorglin 12-12 snapped me out of that wishful thinking nonsense and made me sign up. In fact that whole carpe diem thing has become a major driving force for me in 2021.

Between some earlier 2019 hikes/walks and a bunch of recces this year, I had covered most of the route, apart from a few miles around Templenoe and a few out beyond Torc. So I was going into it with a good understanding of the terrain and elevation.

I’d been suffering non-stop issues with my hips, right leg, sciatic nerve and general “below the waist” nonsense for 2 years which only got worse after my fall on the Sheep’s Head Way FKT in May. But some simple exercises from a physio focused on my glutes along with a hairdressers “jockey chair” for my tech job solved 90% of it over July and August.

Between the recces and the exercises, I was feeling very positive heading towards September, despite not having a proper training plan and not doing a lot of mileage at all. But it was still a huge prospect for me to try and do it well and hope it was neither scorching hot nor a quagmire.

Today

I packed for every eventuality including earthquake, typhoon, moon crashing into the earth and rain, but woke up to a perfect slightly cool morning in Killarney.

Top tip for vegans/veggies, the Brehon Hotel has entire menus just for you. Unfortunately we were too early for the brekkie so the brilliant Flahavans Overnight Oats with a banana did the trick. My pack wasn’t toooo crazy once I’d calmed down.

Gear

My Crew-Wife, as I christened Catherine, drove myself and her former teammate John from Laz Lake’s Circumpolar Race Around the World to Sneem. I had the same immediate feeling I’d had in Chamonix on our family summer holiday in 2019 - I have found my people. To see a tiny village buzzing with energy, excitement and people at such an early hour was just magical. I immediately had to go for a wee with the nervous giddiness.

Sneem

As we passed mandatory gearcheck, John said “you know who that was checking your bag? Aoife Mundow!”. “Holy crap, no way”. “Will we go get a photo with her?” “Hell yes”.

Cue photo of the very embarassed bad-ass Aoife with two grinning auld fellas.

Aoife Mundow

Now go listen to the mind-boggling Inspirational Runner Podcast interview with her and hear the story of someone going from average road runner to one of the best ultra runners in Europe in the space of two years.

Goooooooooooooo

I found myself getting a bit emotional every time someone from the Full passed through the village as we waited for the start of the Lite. Then, suddenly, it was time. Oh sheeeeeeeeeeeeet, here we go.

As long time readers of this blog will know, I do not write those mile by mile race reports that are very common. I’m more about the highlights and lowlights and hopefully some useful tips if you are thinking of doing the race yourself.

The first 7 miles were a doddle. Paths, lanes, roads, old tracks. Nothing remotely rough and it was absolutely ideal underfoot due to the recent good weather. There are some wooden walkways in those places that tend to get very boggy along the entire course. It was slow tho as it’s quite narrow for a few miles and you can end up stuck behind slower runners. I can’t believe I’m writing those words as I’m usually that soldier.

I was having a wonderful start but then, oh jesus christ, we started encountering the walking dead. The poor bastards who were doing the Full and were completely broken. They weren’t just walking, they were inching forward. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for them to have 200 people rush past them, each one telling them they were doing great. My respect for each of you in that pain-cave is endless. If you finished it, with 50-odd km to go, in that state, then you are a proper legend.

As for the Lite, once that first easy bit is done, you get into some hilly, rockier stuff for a few miles but it’s nothing too bad. You might use poles there if you have them. I’d strongly recommend them in general if only for the hill out of Kenmare and for some help in the latter miles.

Dem views

There’s an absolutely gorgeous section after Blackwater Bridge along the water in the woods. It’s one of my favourite parts of the whole course. I was now on that one big chunk I’d never reccied including a short jog on the main road to Templenoe. I hadn’t arranged any support stop with Catherine here but I wish I had. I didn’t actually need anything but seeing all the support crews and everyone getting stocked-up and boosted-up hit me really hard mentally. Particularly since the next couple of miles were all uphill on roads and I found them extremely hard. But then, just as my misery was at a peak, so was the road, and bam, downhill blast for a couple of joyful miles. I was back baby.

The next off-road section is all the way into Kenmare and is the worst from a terrain point of view. It’s also manky boggy in places when it has been raining (Feb-Jan in Ireland), which luckily it wasn’t on the day. But there’s lots of pretty steep rough ground and I had two near face-plants as I stumbled due to the legs getting a bit tired.

Vista

Kenmare

You then have another lovely downhill into Kenmare with lots of people out and about and tons of support crews. Practical note - there’s free public loos right in the centre just at the carpark if you need them.

I met Catherine at the far side of the town opposite Supervalu. Most of the other crews were in a carpark in the centre of town, which might have been better for me for an emotional boost. But in reality I was fine and Catherine’s energy got me buzzing again.

I stripped down the excessive clothes, lost a bunch of crap from my pack, refilled my water/Zero/Tailwind, stuffed my face with crisps and full-fat coke, and headed off after a pretty short stop. I braced myself for the next three miles.

Bastard Hill

I don’t know about anyone else, but those 3 miles out of Kenmare and into the old Kenmare Road are the toughest of the lot. That damned hill out of the town is hard to drive up, let alone walk/jog. And when you finally do all the ups and downs, then you have the Old Kenmare Road trail itself which is also incredibly steep at the start.

Whilst I hated that hill, it made me finally realise something - I was killing it on the uphills. There were lots of people who flew past me on the downs and the flats, but I caught them every single time on the ups. I’m convinced that was due to the physio exercises and really focusing on not being bent-over going uphill. I drove everything through my glutes and the poles. For once I managed to protect my hip flexors. Hell, I even had zero quad or hamstring pain during or after the race.

Now when I say “killing it”, I mean walking quickly, not running. Or power-hiking as Ryan Ploeckelman calls it. But it was way faster than many people who were easily half my age. One poor guy in his twenties kept racing past me at high speed and then would stop suddenly and start stretching. I finally asked him what was going on. His hamstrings were trashed. I’m guessing he was far too agressive earlier in the race. The slowness of old age has its advantages sometimes.

The New Hotness

Whilst I was having a phenomenal day leg-wise, the same was not true of my stomach or head. I was really feeling the heat and every time I ate, I got pukey. At times I felt light-headed too. I originally thought it was down to overdressing for cooler weather earlier but it was still happening after the gear change. Worse, every time I tried to run at any sort of decent pace, my heart rate went through the roof.

I came up with a theory that it was related to my massive weight loss in 2020/2021. I imagined that the temperature PID Controller (for Engineering nerds) in my body had been tuned over twenty years of obesity for a much bigger mass. So when it now had to deal with a very light mass, it overshot in both directions making me either too hot or too cold. I had terrible problems last winter where any hint of coldness would spiral out of control and leave me shivering completely out of proportion (P in PID) to the actual room temperature.

After doing Ecotrail Wicklow 46km three weeks later in similar heat, I’m now thinking it was more to do with lack of fluids. I had the same problem in Wicklow but I got it under control by drinking lots of fluids in the latter half of the race. I really didn’t drink enough at all in Kerry.

The Old Kenmare Road

If you haven’t run or hiked the Old Kenmare road, you should. It’s just lovely and dead easy. There’s only a few tiny short rocky bits. I’m convinced I have met more Germans on it in the past two years than Irish people. Maybe everyone thinks it’s a road? It isn’t. I assume it was one at some stage? Famine times? I tried to imagine edging forward on the lumpy ground in a pony and trap from Kenmare to Killarney 150 years ago. Not fun.

Conor Downhill

So that whole segment along Old Kenmare heading towards Torc is up and down and up and down but it’s not hard. You’ll be tired but the scenery will make up for it. On the downside, you’ll keep thinking you’re about to get to the waterfall “any minute now” but it never seems to arrive.

Romance Guru

There are some small stream crossings on the Old Kenmare Road which other runners were taking full advantage of to cool down. I finally did so when I reached quite a large stream with a bridge. I’d brought a Katadyn BeFree 1L Filter softflask as a backup to my two Salomon 500ml flasks and filled it twice. Once to spray all over myself and once to drink. Some heat exhaustion may have gone to my head because I filled it for a third time and put it in my pack as I thought Catherine would really like some lovely Kerry Mountain Water. After a mile of sloshing and regaining some sanity, I emptied it. She confirmed later that she did not in fact have any interest in Kerry Mountain Water. Even filtered.

Yes. No. Uh-huh. Nope. Oh. Wow. Yep. Really?

The big change with encountering the Full runners now was how much better condition they were in. Some of them were really moving strongly. All seemed chipper and chatty. Not that I chat much in races. Sorry to anyone who thinks I’m a grumpy unfriendly fucker in races. If you talk to me, I’ll happily chat back. But basically all the blood leaves my brain and I find it impossible to form even vaguely intelligent sentences. So I rarely initiate.

Cue The Stone Roses

Fiiiiiiiinally I reached the first waterfall upper carpark and nearly missed the turn. It’s weird how the worst signage for the Kerry Way is from Torc to Killarney itself. And it’s even worse in the main park. Ye know, where all the tourists are. It’s way too easy to go astray around there but there’ll be tons of people around so just ask one.

I trotted down the track and the rocky steps to the waterfall. Nearly face-planted again as I missed a step. Under the road I went and into the main park beside the lakes.

Afternoon Tea in Muckross with Mark Labbett

I now only had 4ish miles to go but fuck me they are the longest four miles in the universe. There were tourists and Jarveys everywhere. I was exhausted. I tried running but it was just start/stop, start/stop. And then something lovely happened.

Another runner came trotting past and said “Howya. I just wanted to say thanks. I’ve been chasing you for hours but I could never quite catch you. And I finally have. Thanks for being my motivation today, it was a huge help”. Maybe some people would be bothered by that but I was thrilled. I replied “I know exactly what you mean. I was doing the same to two young guys for ages. I finally left them two miles back”.

After three centuries, I made it out of the park. And sure then it’s just a few hundred yards to the finish. Hah, just kidding, it’s another century and a half. I picked up the pace a bit. Come on you old fart, run. Run you old fucker. And I did. I saw Randall’s Garage and the crowd and I almost lost it completely.

I’m Not Crying You’re Crying

Finish

I turned the corner into the world’s most wonderfully low-key finish line and my wife. I was handed a lovely wooden fridge-magnet medal and free wheel alignment by the force of nature that is Eileen Daly.

Medal

And then the tears came.

But they didn’t last long as we had to deal with John puking and looking very bad. The ambulance sorted him out.

I sat on the ground, took off my Hokas and just revelled in what I had done. Maybe I looked rough too as Eileen asked me if I was OK. I said “I’m amazing. In the scheme of things, I’m amazing”.

What I should have said is “You’re amazing Eileen, thank you”

Toes

Losing 38kg Somehow Makes You Faster?

In the mixed field I came somewhere around the middle. 7th person over 50 (I’m 53). For reference, I came last in the 2010 Bandon Half Marathon and they’d run out of medals by the time I finished the 2012 Dublin Marathon. It’s interesting what switching to only eating plants and giving up most booze in January 2020 can do to an old body. I still haven’t written that post. The improvement in all my body stats is a bit shocking TBH.

Zombieland 2 - Double Tap

So yeah, I’ll be signing up for the Full next year.

AMA in the comments.

Conor O'Neill

Tech guy who likes running slowly

Bandon, Cork, Ireland https://conoroneill.com