Lewis Dillwyn once said of Killarney “The air was filled with the fragrance of wildflowers, and the eye wherever it turned beheld a region of delight, in which nature seemed to have unlocked all her secrets”. I’m a massive fan of this part of the country. Few places beat driving Slea head or seeing the Gap of Dunloe for the first time. A run around Muckross Lake knocks the socks off the also special Phoenix Park. You get the picture!

Killarney is a picturesque town on the shores of Lough Leane in southwest Ireland’s County Kerry. It’s a stop on the Ring of Kerry scenic drive, and the finishing point of the Run Killarney Half Marathon. Run Killarney gives runners the chance to run one of the world’s most breathtaking and scenic routes through Muckross House and Killarney National Park.

Sinead Tangney won the race in 2017 in a blistering 79 minutes and gave it the thumbs up as one of her favorite races. When I heard Martin Doyle had signed up for this year’s race I was straight on to book a hotel.

Driving down on Friday we were able to go for a walk around town, get a few non-alcoholic beverages in us and get to bed early.
It was an early start on Saturday but on a beautiful Kerry morning.

We were being picked up by a bus at 6.30 outside the famous Gleneagles hotel. The race started at Molls Gap outside Avoca Cafe. No time for scones though as the drive took almost 40 minutes and the race was to start at 8. As the gradient went up and up, the view gets a little nicer but it started to seem like a very long way back to the Gleneagles. You don’t need to warm up for a half marathon but when you plan to go flat out in the first kilometer to try and break 70 minutes you need a bit of one. Yes, my goal was 70 minutes, but more on that later.

Martin and I met a smiling Sinead at the top of the gap. She was eyeing up the competition and happy to be showing off her home turf. She pointed out a few of the lads I should stick with. We did a few strides and got a few selfie tips from Sinead.

At 8 we were ready to go. After a quick safety announcement, the race began. The start of this race is fast, so fast in fact that my mile time was in the 4.3Xs. I had my mind set on bringing one of those Run Killarney trophies home, preferably the big one. The eventual race winner was the Cork lad Sinead pointed out. I wanted to test him out in the first few kilometers and ran alongside. Shortly after the 3K, we hit about a mile of climbing. It was clear that I wasn’t going to be taking home the big trophy. The pace was too fast.

I ran the first 8 kilometers on the heels of the guy that would come 2nd. This part of the course was a real adrenaline rush. Going through kilometer after kilometer, never going slower than 3.05. I was starting to think the sub 70 was on, or better. Between 8-10K through the course flattens out. It hits you like a wall to not be running downhill anymore and have to face some rolling hills. At this point, I went through a bad patch and the guy in front got out of sight ahead. I later learned that he stopped to get sick at 13K but got going again. My PB for 10K is 33.00 but I went through in 32.35. That’s a reason to do the race in itself.

It’s around 12K that things get tough. The run into the Killarney via the park is full of rolling hills, none are huge, but they are long and challenging. I had some bad spells where the speed in the legs was just gone, doubts crept in and with nobody to run with it got tough to focus. I passed through 10 miles in 55.03 and was doing the math in my head. The slow agonizing pace over the past 3K had killed the dream of a sub 70. All of those kilometers were 3.4X and for no good reason, just feeling sorry for myself.

When we came off the road into the park I think there around 4K to go. I got a short boost down the hill into the park but then hit more hills. There were a few shouts for Sportsworld at Muckross House which was a welcome relief.

As we came out of the park I could hear footsteps behind me and was about to be passed. I didn’t come all this way and make such a concerted effort to go home empty-handed. I decided to let the guy pass me out and then let him bring me home.

Confident that I can outsprint most, I matched every surge waited until there was 300 to go and raced up the hill. My legs were about to fail as I passed over the line as if I’d just run 800M. Nice to finish 3rd satisfied with my time? NO satisfied with my effort in the day? YES

Not far behind was Martin with a fantastic PB of 76 minutes. We had only just caught our breath to see Sinead cheered home in 82 minutes in 1st place. When she wins next year, they plan to name the trophy in her honor.

After a quick cool down 8K and a shower, Martin and I walked back over to the Gleneagles and had a well-earned pint before collecting our prize haul with Sinead. The prize includes a free entry in 2019. I will be back to not go out at such a fast pace and try to bring it home a little easier and faster. This is one hard race, the course profile and fast start does fool you into a false sense of security.

We got to do do the tourist thing in Glengariff on Saturday afternoon with Whiskey In The Jar playing on full blast as we drove over the Cork and Kerry Mountains.

A good night was had in M Reidy’s in Killarney and a hike to the top of Carrauntoohil on Sunday morning topped it off. A fantastic weekend was brought to an end by an evening run around Muckross lake. This race is a must do. Whos coming in 2019? this will be more in demand than dip in the jackuzzi in Lanzarote.