Last weekend six valiant explorers headed west to try their hand at the second Clare Burren Half Marathon based out of Ballyvaughan in Clare. With Phil in the driving seat, and Paul Duffy strapped up in the back we set out of Dublin early on Friday afternoon which turned out to be a cracking day by the time with reached the West. And so with time on our side we stopped off in Kinvara to get a closer look at the impressively kept Dunguaire Castle and chill out by the harbor in the sun. After rendezvousing with our three other companions Ed McEntee, Trevor Sweeney and Dublin ex-pat William Greensmyth we headed out for a few sociable drinks around the village before we retired to our rooms looking forward to a run in the sun. If awaking to sound of the rain and wind beating the window wasn’t unsettling enough, answering a knock on the door in my shorts and singlet 30 minutes before the race to see Ed wearing a hat, gloves, long sleeve shirt, leggings and trail runners really gave me a feeling of being slightly under prepared.
The race consists of a marathon, half marathon and mini marathon and is organised by the Ballyvaughan Hill Walkers Club and so as can be expected a large part of the field where walkers. So out by the pier in the lashing rain the brave Sportsworld souls defiantly made our way to the front in our vests and shorts through the field of backpacks, walking sticks and stairs through the rain gear. Our MC for the day (and he was MC’ing the whole day!) informed us to remember it wasn’t a race but a challenge and to add a little razzmataz Brenden Glesson thanked us for bringing the weather and set us on our way.
Phil, Ed, Paul and Will were out for sight by the first corner and so I waved them Au Revoir and settled into a comfortable pace. Someone mentioned in the bar the night before that it wasn’t a hilly course and the opening few miles, with the exception of the wind and rain, where pleasant enough taking us along stone walled country lanes and by Newton castle. The fun started after about 3 miles when we took a sharp left through a gate and straight up a stony trail that had become a mud bath with the heavy rains. The trail opened out into a path that took us up Faunarooska hill and over the rocky fields of the Burren. Not far off the peak thankfully our trail pealed off to start descending again whilst the brave full marathon runners, heads bowed in the rain, continued off up to the crest and deeper into the Burren mountains.
Back at sea level we tore along a trail parallel to the Rathbornry River, with the size of the puddles we had to splish splash through it would probably have been less damp running in the river itself! We got back on to the roads of the Burren Way before coming upon the point where we realised why this was called a challenge. The epic sight before us was the cold stony face of Gleninagh Peak and tiny runners zigzagging up the path out of sight. So up we climbed and followed the trail around the peak and the past the warning sign of “uneven surfaces ahead”. That sign was ever so slightly understated as we then tried to negotiate our way across a minefield of limestone crevasse’s. But then the view opened up into a spectacular coastal scene of Galway Bay and the Burren where I believe the front runners even eased off the pace to take it all in. We continued on across the north face of Gleninagh, past a race steward with a pot-holing hat on to a death defying decent upon a trail that had been rendered a mud slide due to the rain. Throwing caution to the wind flinging yourself down the hill at the mercy of gravity was the only option as a controlled decent in the slippery mud was nigh impossible. Hitting the bottom we had a welcome but never ending flat 2.5 mile finish along the coast road as the weather finally broke and the sun shined through.
In the end Phil Kilgannon came in 2nd place behind West Limericks Dermot Kearns. Ed McEntee followed in 3rd and Paul Duffy 4th and all finished the race in sub-90mins which is impressive given the conditions and terrain. Will and I came followed the lads Trevor had an impressive return from injury finishing the mini marathon.
In spite of the weather it was a great race and the course was really something different and the weekend is definitely penciled in for next year. Much to the delight of one of our entourage the post race entertainment in the local pub was provided by “The All Ireland talent show 2009 winners – The Mulkerrin Brothers” followed by a late night of dancing. We even managed to squeeze in a trip to the Poulnabrone Dolmen the flowing morning to freshen up before we headed east again (Phil promises a trip to the Aillwee Caves next year!)