Monday, September 10, 2012

A bike ride around Lough Caragh

Wild Glorious Kerry
On Saturday afternoon I went with Margaret to Killarney. She was going to see an open garden and I opted to go for a cycle around Lough Caragh. I set off from outside the town and headed towards Killorglin. The views to the left as you pedal along are truely magnificent. You are looking right into the Hags Glen that is enveloped by the majestic Reeks. The weather was wonderful with warm sun and little breeze and I wasn't in any great hurry so I savoured every mile. The road between Beaufort and Killorglin is pretty level and quiet so the going was easy. Soon I was in the bustling town of Killorglin and the turnoff for Lough Caragh. The road up to now had been level with a good surface but this road is more undulating and has patches that are quite rough. The landscape gets ever wilder as you progress and eventually I found myself looking across wild bogland to the western side of the Reeks.

Looking across Lough Acoose
When you turn again onto the narrow road that runs alongside Lough Caragh things get even better. Now you feel that you are truely on an adventure. Rocky bluffs on one side and the very large blue lake on the other side all adda to the drama. The lake is one of the largest in Kerry and is fully six kilometers long. It is one of the most popular for angling and today there were several boats to bee seen. Surprisingly for a lakeside road there are a couple of stiff hills to negotiate. The last one comes as a particular shock but afterwards there is an exhilerating decent into the woods where the Glencar river enters the lake. Another long gentle pull and you arrive at Lough Acoose sitting under the stunning Coomloughra Coum, topped as it is by the three highest mountains in Ireland. This was a good spot to rest awhile and enjoy a bite to eat. From here I was on the homeward stretch, well a longish stretch at 15 miles,but the first few flew by with a long gentle downhill section. Basically from here I went around the Reeks back to the other side and met Margaret at Kate Kearneys Cottage. It had been my first cycle in quite a while and I was feeling it in the legs after the near forty miles but on a day such as this it was a wonderful experience. I must get out on the bike more.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Dingle Marathon Weekend

September 1st;

What I wonder is the definition of madness ?. Is it when you keep doing the same thing and never learn ?. Well perhaps I suffer from it or something similar.  I went and entered the Dingle Marathon even though the suffering of the final four miles of my previous (and only) marathon in The Burren was still vivid in my mind. I hadn't done any special training except for the next to last week where I feared I had done too much. Anyway I went down in the Friday evening where Petra Tolarova ( the girl I am going to the Alps with soon) cooked me a meal. Indeed such is her energy that she had travelled by train to Tralee and cycled the tough 50 Kilometers to Dingle that afternoon. We had a nice chat over a bottle of wine and afterwards I retired to my campsite for the night. I slept really poorly but still felt quite refreshed and ready in the morning. The day was ideal for the event. It was partly sunny and cloudy  and the temperature was a pleasant 18 degrees or so. I had to walk about a kilometer to the start and was joined by an effervescent man from Brittany (not France) who chatted animatedly about his love for Ireland and the Breton language. All was going well until he asked me if I was retired....Grrrr. I left him in no doubt that I was not and that I was only 50. Thankfully he spotted another victim soon after and I was left to enjoy the rest of walk in peace. Merde Tete.

The starting line was at the large car park on the seafront. I was there at 08-20 and I met Petra and we enjoyed the mounting atmosphere and excitement generated by the large crowd milling about before the start. Soon enough the 09-00 arrived and we were off. I had it in my head that I would try to run eight minute miles and I was delighted to realise when I passed the two mile mark that I was comfortably inside that pace and I felt I was running well and within my comfort limits. There was a nice atmosphere along the route with people gathered in lots of spots offering great encouragement.

Things were going pretty well and as we left Ventry behind and headed out to the rugged wild beauty of Slea Head I was enjoying myself immensely. Don't get me wrong, it was still tough going but I was feeling fairly strong and confident at this point. The scenery here is epic and thankfully the road surface is good because I spent most of my time enjoying the views. After we passed the 10 mile mark I felt the first worrying twinges of fatigue in my legs. I realised it was too early and by the time we reached Dunquin at the half way mark I was seriously considering ending my run there and settling for the Half Marathon instead. However that is not what I went there for so I stayed in the lane for the full marathon and ran on. On the hill out of the village I knew that the eight minute mile time was beyond me and I slowed right down. I hoped that this would allow me to recover and enable me to finish the run. It didn't work and things continued to be a struggle and were getting worse. Passing the 15 mile mark I was feeling lousy. My legs were tight and I felt like I would have to stop soon. I resolved to keep going and tried not to allow myself think about the eleven miles that remained and focused instead on completing the next mile.

Passing Clogher Head I felt as bleak as the landscape and by the time I approached Ballyferriter I had to resort to walking for the first time. Other runners were great and offered me words of encouragement as they went by but it was tough. I was even feeling a little cold so I ate the remaining gels I had and after a while they seemed to give me a boost and I jogged on. The miles passed painfully slowly but they passed. Eventually the crest of the final hill at Ballynana arrived and I was facing the final three miles and I felt that I would finish it. It is surely a true ism that long distance running is a psychological battle as well as a physical one and today I was really tested on both sides. While I was still exhausted physically I actually ran the last few miles well and indeed passed several others on the way. I was given a great welcome near the finishing line and I found that I had to struggle with my emotions as I neared the finish. I crossed the line in 3 hours 43 minutes 03 seconds. Not the three hours thirty I had been hoping for but this time I had overcome both my physical difficulties and perhaps more importantly the real mental challenge of enduring the final 10 miles.
I've no idea who he is but its a great picture.

 I walked about a bit until I had sufficiently recovered my composure and then joined the queue for the massage that was badly needed. The girl that spent 10 minutes trying to unknot my leg muscles did a great job and I walked out much easier than I went in. I went and enjoyed the free food and festive atmosphere near the finish line. Petra had come in while I was getting my rub down so I had missed her and wasn't able to give her the rousing reception she gave me when I did the Burren Marathon in May. I guessed that she was after returning to her accommodation to freshen up so I milled about for a little while and walked to back to the campsite to try and freshen up myself. We went for a couple of drinks that afternoon and basked in the afterglow of our achievement. It was her first marathon and she finished in 4 hours 33 minutes and had found it easier than she had expected. She was already planning more in the future. The afternoon had turned wet and neither of us had the energy for a long night out so she made me a delightful supper and I went back to my tent and a well earned nights sleep followed.

Sunday September 2nd;
Petra before the hike

In the mist
The rain of the previous night had stopped when I got up but the clouds remained stubbornly low and there was a little mist wafting in from the ocean. I wasn't overly optimistic that we would get views if we decided to go for a hike yet the prospects of a nice cliff walk or some such didn't have much appeal either. I went and collected Petra at 9am and after a brief discussion we decided to do the normal route up Mount Brandon from Cloghane. This was the best option because Petra was travelling light and hadn't brought any hiking gear. The drive over the Conner Pass lacked its normal splendour as once we went above 300 meters we were in the mist. We parked at Faha near the grotto and commenced our hike. We took it nice and easy and let our muscles get used to exercise after yesterday. Actually we were both feeling quite good.  The path is quite easy and unspectacular and we walked and talked easily about our upcoming trip to Switzerland.
Drom na Muice
Mystic Ridge looking magical
As we got higher the warming sun started to do its work and the mist started to thin. By the time we rounded the shoulder of the Faha Ridge and entered the spectacular Coum under Mount Brandon there were patches of blue sky appearing and glimpses of the wonderful north face of the mountain started to emerge from the billowing mist. It was now quite warm and we were sweating heavily by the time we reached the summit ridge. Here we emerged finally from the mist and we were treated to the most wonderful views above the clouds. We walked the final few hundred meters to the summit and there relaxed for a glorious half hour in this special place. As we sat and watched the views south towards Ballyferriter and beyond to Slea head actually cleared and to the west Brandon Peak and Gearhane stood gloriously in the sunshine.

Up in the sunshine

Happy chappies

Towards Brandon Peak

Cloghane and Benoskee beyond
Eventually we took our reluctant leave of the summit and returned to the coum. On our return we passed quite a few people who were delighted to hear that they would also be able to enjoy wonderful views when they emerged onto the ridge. The decent seemed to take a long time and the effects from yesterday were being felt. However the day was ever improving and we were in bright sunshine for the latter half of the way down. We reached our car glad to be down but very happy with our day. Indeed how could we not, having seen this most majestic mountain at its most spectacular best. We relaxed on the drive back to Tralee where Petra went to enjoy a swim/sauna before her train to Dublin. It was a great weekend of struggles and triumph with the serenity of a sunny mountain summit thrown in. Next stop Switzerland.