Monday, October 14, 2013

Valentia Island Half Marathon Weekend

I returned to south west Kerry this weekend to take part again in the Valentia Half Marathon. It had been two years since I last did it and after my (for me at least) good showing in the Killarney Adventure Race I felt that I might have sufficient left in my legs to have a good race here. I was mistaken.

Quaint clock tower.
I left home after work Friday afternoon and enjoyed the almost two hour drive to the excellent campsite at Mannix Point in Caherciveen. This is is a beautifully situated very well equipped site where it is possible to pitch your tent right by the waters edge. The weather was great and set fair for the whole weekend so I was more than a little surprised (and delighted) to have practically the entire site to myself. Not another tent was on view. I know its late in the season but with such super weather I thought that more people would be taking advantage of conditions. Still I wasn't complaining and I enjoyed a lovely sunset and a bite to eat and relaxed in the excellent sitting room for the remainder of the evening.
The view from my tent

I slept really well and the only noise to break the silence was the occasional haunting cry of passing seabirds. The morning was overcast and there was a slight chill breeze but it was dry and there was no hint of rain, always a bonus in the middle of October. The race wasn't until mid-day so after a good breakfast of porridge and coffee and cake I went for a stroll into the sleepy town of Caherciveen. For a town situated on the famous Ring of Kerry, it is perhaps the least celebrated in the area. Its fair to say that it perhaps lacks charm in places but there are some wonderful bits, not least the very impressive RC church and the "Old Barracks" museum with more than a hint of a fortification from the Rhineland about it. Of course it is easy to miss both the good and the not so good as you will probably be enchanted by the stunning landscape that surrounds you.
The Old Barracks

The disused Railway Viaduct

The imposing RC Church

After killing enough time I set off on the drive to Knightstown and arrived in good time for the off. I like this little village and the quaint clock tower on the quay only adds to the feel of the place. There was a fair number of people milling about but it was also clear that there hadn't been a big explosion in the number since I last took part. This was something of a surprise to me as it is surely one of the most beautiful routes anywhere in the country, but I suppose the serious runners would be put off by the substantial hills in the course that preclude having a very fast time. Anyway I checked in and collected my timing chip and number and soon enough we were gathered for the off. I set off at a steady good pace and was feeling quite good as we left the village and commenced the gradual but long climb up to the slate quarry.  As you go along the views to the north get better and better. Down to the rugged shore below and beyond to the Dingle peninsula and the Blasket Islands. I was surprised to see that there were no mile markers and the first marker was at two kilometers. I was still feeling OK and I pushed on. Alas after about four kilometers I was starting to feel a bit whacked but I reasoned that once I reached the quarry in another kilometer I would be turning back downhill and I would recover then. It was more than a bit disappointing to discover that the downhill was difficult as well. By the time I turned for the next short hill I was starting to wonder if I would be able to finish the run. I'm afraid I had to slow down and try and find a rhythm that I could maintain and try to concentrate on getting to the end. I guess you could say I found a level of distress that I could live with and eventually the miles passed and I could envisage the end. For the last few miles I felt as if I had completed a full marathon and I was mightily relieved to finally reach the finish line in the village. I finished in 104 minutes and I was pretty disappointed with that but once I had recovered a bit I began to feel pleased that I had stuck it out and finished the run. A great spread of soup and sandwiches went a long way to restore my spirits and at after a while once I was sufficiently rested I left for a hike on Bray Head at the westernmost extreme of the island. This is a short six kilometer hike out to the impressive rugged end of the island that affords stunning views in all directions, not least out to the gorgeous Skellig Rocks. Oh dear I was weary but I reasoned that the gentle climb and easy hike would be a good warm-down for my tight leg muscles. I took a fair few pictures and returned to the campsite where I enjoyed a long hot shower and a good feed. It had been a tough day but ultimately a rewarding one.
Bray Head

Panoramic view towards Caherciveen

Panoramic view from my tent

Valentia late Quarry

North from the quarry

Puffin Island

The Skellig Rocks

Signal Tower on Bray Head
I awoke Sunday morning after a decent sleep and was pleased that I had largely recovered from the day before. I obviously felt some after-effects but I was actually looking forward to going for a cycle on what was another great weather day. So after a light breakfast I suited up and set off for a circuit that I had planned on doing a couple of years before but hadn't done it due to bad weather. Now I had no excuses so off I set, a bit gingerly at first, in the direction of Waterville and the plan was to head into Ballinskelligs, onwards to St Finnans Bay, up over the big hill behind and down into PortMagee and then back to Caherciveen. A total of 52 kilometers but it was the 250 meter climb out of St Finnans Bay that I was dreading the most. Still that was some way off and I was enjoying  myself, relaxing and taking in the views as I pedaled along. The roads were lovely and quiet on this sleepy Sunday morning and I was able to enjoy an almost solitary experience. Soon I reached the turnoff for Ballinskelligs and after the village there was the 100 meter pull to the col where, once you pass the crest you are presented with the most delicious vista from the delightful bay to Puffin Island and out to the iconic Skellig Rocks. I had to stop and try and capture the scene with my excellent camera phone.
St Finnans Bay

Puffin Island

A crowded beach
A lovely downhill stretch follows where I focused my attention out to sea and tried to ignore the the ever larger bulk of the hill behind the bay that I had to somehow climb over to reach Portmagee. There was nothing foe it but to give it a go. Perhaps I am overstating the size of the challenge a bit but it does involve a steep 250 meter climb where at times the gradient is well over 10 degrees. I wasn't in the mood, or indeed able, to try any heroics so I popped the bike into its lowest gear at set on up. It went pretty well but higher up where fatigue and steeper sections arrived I struggled and at times I was going at barely a walking pace, but I was still going. At last the top arrived and a well earned rest to enjoy the view. There followed the fastest mile I have ever done on the bike on the equally steep descent towards Portmagee. It was an ample reward for the test of before and I was in the village in no time. Now came the final eight miles back to the campsite where I enjoyed another healing shower before packing up and heading home. The day wasn't finished giving yet though as I came back via the lovely Ballygisheen Pass. This afforded me the opportunity to enjoy the best that the stunning Everagh Peninsula has to offer. I stoped at the pass and climbed up a couple of hundred meters and jut enjoyed the majesty of it all. The Reeks loomed large to the east and many of the other beautiful mountains that I have been lucky to explore added to the vista. I returned home very content with another visit to the very special southwest of Kerry.
Above Portmagee

A new windfarm

Panoramas from the pass

Looking east

Looking West