The inaugural Beara Way Ultra - Don't bring a knife to a gunfight

Posted by Conor O'Neill on Sunday, June 4, 2023

Guaranteed finish

I’m pretty sure the great Hal Higdon’s training plan for an ultra would be:

  • Do minimal daily sessions
  • Do one long slow amble a week
  • Skip core and glute exercises for a month
  • Don’t get that long-term hamstring issue sorted out
  • DNF after 88K of a different ultra three weeks prior
  • Don’t sleep for the week beforehand

Setup for success like this, I headed to Castletownbere at 3am from Bandon to try the first ever Beara Way Ultra.


To do the Beara you must first understand the Beara. Or something.

For the Kerry Way Ultra I had reccied every inch of the course. For Beara, I had done Glengarriff to Adrigole and Adrigole to Castletownbere a few years previously. I also did the Castletownbere/Allihies loop this year.

Oh and how could I forget the world’s shortest recce in January. I parked outside Kenmare and tried to run back towards Lauragh. Within minutes I was wading through ice-cold water in completely useless small-lugged Salomons. After 2 miles I called it a day and slid all the way back. The water was so cold, the midsoles of the running shoes went rock hard. I may have damaged the road back to the car.

So in summary, I was heading to Beara terrified. The huge section from Eyeries to Glengarriff was a complete unknown to me and the elevation profile looked horrendous.

The first Western States 100 had 14 entries

I was surprised that fewer than 40 people had signed up despite lots of excitement about it. Even tho I was completely unprepared and still smarting from my WTF DNF/Time-Out, I couldn’t miss the chance to run the first ever instance of a race that I’m convinced is going to be famous.

As I walked from the car up to the school start line, everything started hurting. Because of course it does. The two rules of start lines - you absolutely have to go to the toilet right now and every niggle you’ve ever had in you life says “hello, remember me?”

I got setup with a tracker and laid out my ridiculously overstocked drop bags. This was followed by 15 minutes of staring out to sea trying to calm myself down and finding myself incapable of stringing a sentence together.

Start Line

Like a bullet train

The race started incredibly well as I immediately went into last place.

A couple of road miles were followed by some lumpy bits and then mixed terrain all the way to Allihies. Whilst this all went fine, the heat was building and the niggles didn’t settle.

The stretch after Allihies along the coast is jaw-dropping. Just go. It was also where the wheels started coming off for me. My stomach started churning, the heat got worse and suddenly I was incredibly tired after what was barely a training run.

Start Line

You’re going the wrong way. No I’m just slow.

The grind out towards Dursey was brutal for me but two things made it easier. The first was meeting the front-runners on the way back and their words of encouragement. The second was Crow Head. I had a Grand Canyon moment there. Anyone who was been there knows the Grand Canyon feeling - your brain can’t absorb it. It’s so epic, it actually looks like a painting. The way the water flowed around the rocks on Crow Head did that to me. I purposely didn’t take a picture or video because I knew I couldn’t do it justice.

There’s one “trip and it’s the bottom of the Atlantic for you matey” section around there but otherwise it’s a continuation of never-ending ups and downs.

Start Line

What’s this core training y’all keep talking about?

About 10 miles in, I had two horrible realisations - [1] I hadn’t recovered at all from WTF and was already exhausted and [2] My core and quads were both also trashed from WTF and even running downhill hurt like hell.

By the time I got to the Dursey cable car (and yay it’ll be back in action next week!) I was out of water, overheated and struggling badly. But the water-station crew did a brilliant job of boosting me. And like so many lovely aid station people, they lied through their teeth - “Oh ya, there’s several people behind you”. Sure sure. I know I’m last.

Weirdly I started catching someone. And I realised he was wearing a rain-jacket. Zipped up. What the actual fuck? I’ll tell you more about Adolfo Garcia in a bit.


He and I toed and froed for a few miles and ended up back in Allihies almost together. I had to get some fizzy drinks in the shop and then just topped up my water and grabbed some food from my drop bag. I stopped at the incredible copper mines to eat some of it. At which point I realised I couldn’t eat. Every mouthful made me want to vomit. But compared to the men, women and children who dug into these hills to mine copper 200 years ago, I was having a grand old time.

Adolofo stopped to explain that he had busted his ankle after 10km and was in a lot of pain. Most people would have quit but he kept on going.

The guys back in Allihies concurred with me that I had no hope of making the 11 hour cut-off in Eyeries but I pushed a bit anyway. The ups killed me and the downs weren’t much better. At least I was well hydrated now but all food/gels made me nauseous. At this stage Adolfo seemed to have fallen quite far back and I couldn’t see him.

Ayeries? Eeeeeries? Aries?

Eventually I ambled into Eyeries assuming I was over time. But nooooooo, I had 50 seconds left to grab my next drop bag and leave.

Start Line

I’m sure tougher people than me would have taken the bag and headed off, but I had nothing left at that stage. Legs and core were bollixed and my stomach was in bits.

Third Ultra DNF in a row then.

The team at the aid station took care of me extremely well as I sat and waited for Adolfo, who was now well over time. I tried nibbling on various bits in my drop bag but all had the same effect, instant nausea. Weirdly the cup of coffee I was given went down fine.

Some like it hot

Adolfo arrived and we had a fantastic chat. I finally got to the bottom of his zipped up rain jacket on a scorching hot day - he was heat training for Lavaredo Ultra Trail in a month’s time. That’s a very very smart move by him.

The brilliant aid team drove us back to the start and that was the end of my day on the Beara.

Everyone else

Of the 38 starters, 24 finished. Stephen Mangan ran an amazing race to win and Lianne van Dijk demolished the course to come second overall. A ton of really great runners also DNFed but mostly in places like Lauragh and Glengarriff. Messed up stomachs and trench foot seemed to be the two most common complaints.

The eternal DNFer question

Should I have DNFed? I wondered for a week and then curiosity got the better of me - so I did an Eyeries-Ardgroom out-and-back a week later and an Ardgroom-Lauragh out-and-back a week after that. Whilst those two sections were a lot easier than I expected, I realised I had no hope of going beyond Ardgroom on race day.

So it was the right call to quit but I don’t regret giving it a go for 60km. The race is going to grow and grow as people learn about it and I’m just so happy to have been part of the first outing, even for such a short period of time.

The main thing I’ve learned in the past two scorching hot weeks is that I chronically under-hydrate. And I think that’s what gets me into trouble (ditto Connemarathon and Cork City last year). I drank double the amount on those post-recces as I did in the race and I had no issues at all, despite both days being hotter. So I’m going to have to learn to like carrying a water bladder.

UPDATE: After feeling rubbish for quite a while, I went to the Doctor 3 weeks after Beara and got a set of blood tests. The results are in - I have a low ferritin level of 22. I think that explains why I’ve been struggling in these recent races with wooziness etc. Despite eating a very iron-rich vegan diet, I suspect my 15+ year use of omeprazole has finally bitten me in the ass. Let’s see if things improve over the summer with iron supplements and cold-tofurkey on the acid reflux!

Thank Yous

The logistics of such a long race are extremely difficult, particularly with the terrain and the remoteness of much of the Beara. I take my bucket hat off to the RDs Michael McSweeney, Robbie Williams and Carol Hurley. This is the beginning of something very special.

To all the volunteers, IMRA members and Beara AC folks - thank you thank you. I wouldn’t have made it past the cable car without you all. And I know you all went above and beyond for those who were out for 34hrs+.

And like all these ultras in Ireland, it just can’t happen without the fantastic landowners.

2024 yeah?

Of bloody course I am. I’ve already started training for it. Ok ok, it’s for the Kerry Way Ultra but I’m already doing a lot more elevation and miles only two weeks later. My main things to focus on are getting comfortable with the non-stop ups and downs and dealing with the boggier stuff between Lauragh and Glengarriff.

Women are tougher than men

Three women started the Beara Way Ultra 2023. Three women finished. As any man who has stood in a delivery ward can confirm, women kick our asses when it comes to toughness.

But we have to do something about the cultural thing where overly-confident incompetent men (like yours truly) will enter a 100 miler completely unprepared whilst hundreds of women around the country, who are more than capable of finishing, don’t take part.

Oh, by the way, you want to see grit? Then watch the film about Sally McRae’s Cocodona 250. I grimaced the entire way.

Should you try it?

I think anyone who has done other hilly ultras in Cork, Kerry and Wicklow would be able to at least give it a good go. Strangely, I don’t think a KWU finish would automatically mean you can deal with Beara. It’s 20 miles shorter but the relentless elevation change and huge amount of bog is very different to Iveragh. I have to assume anyone who does alpine ultras or did the UTS 100 recently could handle it ok.

So it’s not like I said about Waterville where anyone who has done a marathon could give it a lash. It’s a different beast and that’s what’s so wonderful about it.

Some day, I’d love to see an ultra series - Sheep’s Head Way, Beara Way, Kerry Way and Dingle Way. Maybe when they finally create a Mizen Way, we could have one there too. How epic would that be!

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