Let me preface this by saying that I am generally not an impulsive person. I’m a planner through and through. I planned this trip to Ireland over the course of about 6 months. I usually only buy something unexpected if I couldn’t stop thinking about it over the course of a few days. I have always had my race schedule mapped out months in advance. Signing up for a race the night before was a new experience for me, and I’m so glad I went for it!
I drove into Killarney on Friday night, my 5th day in Ireland. It had been a long (but wonderful!) day of wandering all over the southern coast of the country:
I started in Baltimore, drove to Mizen Head, then all around the Beara Peninsula, and finally up to Killarney. Lots more on the trip later!
So far, I’d run in Dublin and in Kilkenny, but not more than 5 miles. For this weekend, I was supposed to do my last long-ish run of marathon training (12 miles), and I was more than a little apprehensive about finding a safe route for that distance in a place that was so unfamiliar. Outside of the main part of town, it seemed like the sidewalks quickly disappeared, and the very narrow Irish roads didn’t feel very pedestrian-friendly.
As I was driving into the center of town on the way to my B&B, I saw a little sign on the side of the road advertising the Kilkenny Road Race the next day! What were the chances that I could participate in that?? After I got checked into my B&B and onto the wifi, I quickly Googled the race and learned that not only was it a 10-miler (close enough to 12 for me!), but that registration was still open for another hour that night, AND registration and the start/finish were less than half a mile away from the B&B! Talk about luck of the Irish!
So I hurried over to the school where registration was still happening (the purpose of the race was to raise money to build a track at the school), found the room with the volunteers and asked if I could still sign up. A guy who turned out to be big in the Killarney running club pointed to the table and told me that “Team USA signups are right over here!” I filled out the registration form, paid my 20 euro (total bargain!), and got my tshirt and bib. Less than an hour after seeing the sign by the road, I was in the race!
I dropped by stuff off at my room, and headed back out to find some dinner. I was in such a state of euphoric excitement! Not only would I get a solid long run in on the trip, but I’d get to be part of the running community here! And have an awesome unexpected souvenir running shirt!
The next morning dawned gray and wet, but that didn’t dampen my excitement in the least! And I felt so well-rested with the luxurious 9am start time and short walk to the race area. It was pretty warm (high 50s/low 60s), so the rain and medium wind made for a nice crisp racing temperature. I spent about half a second telling myself that this was a LONG RUN and not a race, and I should just keep to a nice comfortable pace. And then I said whatever, just run the way you feel.
I got to the start line about 20 minutes before 9:00, and it was quite a different experience than I’m used to! I knew that this was going to be a much smaller race (only a few hundred people, compared to the smallest one I’ve done in DC which is about 2,000), but I was still surprised by the bare-bones start. No port-a-potties, no start line arch, no music playing, no corrals, nothing. Just a bunch of runners huddling under trees trying to stay dry!
(I’m in the blue tshirt and white hat on the right side)
There were a couple photographers there taking pictures for the race’s Facebook page, so this is just a random group of us who were near each other, trying to look happy to be there (I didn’t have to try very hard, but some of the other runners were grumpy about the weather).
It was fun to chat with some of the other runners while we waited for the gun, and several of them were pretty amused by my spontaneous race entry. It was also fun to check out the shirts from other races that people were wearing, since most of them weren’t races I’d heard of (though I did see one Boston tshirt and one NYC Marathon jacket). I learned that there’s a Dingle Marathon on the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula, which totally went to the top of my bucket list since I didn’t have time to drive around Dingle like I’d hoped on this trip.
Once it was time to start, everyone moved out of the trees and into the road, the pacers took their places (I was a little surprised that there were pacers at all in this small a race!), and without much pomp or circumstance, we were off! The beginning of the race wound back through town, and right past my B&B. Then we turned out towards the more rural areas, and things just kept getting prettier (not to say that Killarney isn’t a pretty town, because it definitely is). Mile 3 was mostly uphill, but the view from the top was just amazing! Lush green pastures with sheep and cows in the foreground, and the hills and lakes of Killarney National Park in the background. I didn’t even give a thought to muscle fatigue while taking in that landscape.
(I don’t carry my phone in races, so this is not that exact view, but it was pretty close. Taken while hiking in the park later in the day.)
We ran along that high rural road for a while, and then turned downhill for a long stretch. Wheeeeeee!! And then we ran right into the national park! Sometimes not looking at the course ahead of time can have its advantages, because this was an awesome surprise! Nearly the entire rest of the course was run on bike/walking paths through the park. At one point I saw a sign saying that it was the red deer’s rutting season, so visitors should stay on the path and not disturb them. Then just around the next turn I saw a huge group of those red deer! Probably about 20 of them hanging out along the pathway.
There was another big uphill later in the race, but again, the view from the top was completely spectacular. The path carried us through wide meadows with deer and cattle, and then through thickly wooded areas smelling wonderfully of pine and cedar.
In the last mile of the race, the path ran parallel to a stream, which had flooded badly due to all the rain. So we ended up with two surprise water crossings! The water was about 6-8” deep, and thoroughly soaked me from the knees down when I splashed through, but I thought it was great fun! Especially since we only had about ¾ of a mile left to endure with sodden shoes.
Finally, I came around the final turn and back onto the ground of the school where we’d started. Around the field and under the arch (there was at least an arch for the finish line!). Final time: 1:24:49. A 38-second PR from my George Washington Parkway Classic 10-miler in April! I was very pleasantly surprised by my time, as I hadn’t really been aiming for a particular pace throughout the race in my enjoyment of the experience, and the hills had been no joke. But it was just an added bonus on what was already a fantastic race morning.
I enjoyed a sausage breakfast roll in the cafeteria where there was a post-race gathering (way better than a stale bagel and banana!), and then headed home.
Here’s the elevation chart from Garmin:
And my splits:
I was shocked to see that sub-8:00 mile split flash by, but it was definitely a fun downhill!
I’m so, so happy that I stumbled upon this race. It was a fantastic addition to an already-wonderful trip, and so much fun to experience a race in a very new place!
2018 Dingle Marathon anyone??