Reports by Aidan Curran
I didn’t fancy doing a spring marathon this year. I had settled for doing my hometown half marathon in Tralee. Then some of my other half’s family asked if I wanted to do the Larne Half Marathon with them – and that’s how I ended up doing two half marathons in a week, at opposite ends of Ireland.
12 March – Tralee Half Marathon
Kerry is synonymous with Gaelic football, but Tralee is a town in the midst of a running boom. In just a few years, the local Run The Kingdom group have established a busy calendar of well-supported and well-organised races, with the featured event being the Tralee Marathon and Half Marathon every March.
I did the full marathon last year and really enjoyed it. Kicking down the main street of your home town, as your family cheer you on, is a thrill I’d recommend to every runner. Wanting more of the same, I decided this year to do the half.
Both the half and the full take in the scenic Tralee Bay area to the north of the town – quite a hilly area that’s subject to strong sea breezes. While the wind held off for this year’s race, the hills hadn’t magically flattened themselves. The half, like the full, starts with a steady four-mile drag out of town before rolling into the village of Ardfert, home of Irish Olympian Tom O’Riordan (father of Irish Times athletics correspondent Ian).
I had hoped to sit in on the 1:30 pace bus, but in mile 1 I found that pace a bit too much hard work, so I decided to ease off to a steady 7:15 per mile for the first section to Ardfert.
The half marathon route then turned west to take in a steep one-mile climb through the townland of Churchill around mile seven. I was still travelling steadily, and the stunning view of Tralee Bay from the summit gave me a great boost for the short downhill to follow.
Turning for home in the village of Spa (pronounced like the mineral spring) I heard a shout of ‘Up Sportsworld! which gave me another boost. Alas, the final hill just outside Tralee took its toll. My push for home in the final mile, in which I absolutely had to hold off a runner from a Cork club, was a struggle.
But I did enough to have plenty of space to enjoy the finishing straight on a park path called Neil Armstrong Way (yes, that Neil Armstrong; he visited Tralee once). Sub-90 proved to be a giant leap too far on the day, but my finishing time of 1:35:30 was a small step towards getting in proper shape for summer.
19 March – Larne Half Marathon
Despite looking forward to the flatness of the south Antrim coastline, I could still feel the rolling hills of Tralee in my legs a week later as I headed north for Larne A.C.’s annual race. My aim was to match my Tralee finishing time of 1:35 or even beat it.
Race HQ at the Larne Leisure Centre was buzzing with plenty of those northern vests we see occasionally in races down here in the Free State. Larne A.C. members and volunteers managed a half marathon of almost 2,000 runners with great skill and community co-operation – householders along the route came out with support and good spirits, which is still a novelty for me from the sour pusses of Parisians during races when I lived in Paris.
I was a bit concerned that the first 100 metres of the Larne route seemed like it would take us straight out to sea. Luckily we swung a hard right and did an uphill tour of the town centre before heading north along the coast.
Needless to say, the coastal scenery was stunning and there’s always a special feeling when you run near the sea. I had settled into the same 7:15 pace as in Tralee and was motoring along comfortably.
The halfway turn took us around the townland of Ballygally and many runners started to fade here – we left the sweeping coastal vista for a drab rural backroad that climbed steadily with no promise of a summit. Eventually we crested the hill and I eased my legs on the descent.
Back in along the same road, tired minds and legs were revitalized by the sight of oncoming runners – they still had that dreary Ballygally loop ahead of them, whereas we were sailing in for the finish.
The half-mile run-in to the finish is only nit I could pick with the Larne Half Marathon route – first you drop down a steep hillside path, taking care not to turn your quads into pulled pork, and then it’s concrete all the way to the line. Ouch.
All my aches disappeared when I realized I had just snuck in under 1:35 for a time of 1:34:57. This and my previous weekend’s home town run in Tralee were causes for celebration, in the form of Five Guys burgers in nearby Belfast. (One to note for a post race meal if you do the Belfast Marathon.)
I didn’t see any other southern vests in Larne but I’m sure that will change in future; it’s an excellent race and definitely worth the trip north.