The Kerry Way Ultra – Preview

It’s been a long long time without a race. Since March one by one pretty much every race on my Calendar, big and small, has been cancelled. The initial few months of this coincided with a major lock down in Ireland. Luckily for me even though my movements were restricted by distance I still always had at least one useful hill within bounds. I also kept up my “commuting” routine of cycling in and out to work by shifting to cycling on my turbo trainer for an hour in the morning and evening.

The net result of that was I reckon I got myself into the best fitness I have had in years by early summer. I was waiting patiently for the opportunity to use this “in anger” in a race. UTMB for a long time was looking like the mostly likely next big race, which was perfect. Unfortunately they then added themselves to the “postponed until next year” pile.

However, I had a plan B for that cancellation. I had always wanted to give the Kerry Way Ultra a bash. However its timing clashed with both the UTMB and TDG, so as a result of my trips to those big alpine races I was never able to schedule it into my calendar. So within an hour or two of getting the news the the UTMB wouldn’t be happening this year I had entered into the Kerry Way Ultra (KWU).

There are many things I like about this race. It is a lovely volunteer run race, organised on a non-profit basis. It looks like a fantastic route. Better again, it is the longest trail race in Ireland. And I (nearly) always like the longest option for racing. I’ve always felt it is a big absence in my record of races that I haven’t competed in Ireland’s longest trail race. So the absence of the UTMB was now seamlessly converted into an opportunity.

Then (in my own little bubble) disaster struck. I injured myself. I’m not 100% sure how I did it (believe it or not, I reckon jumping out of bed when I cramped settling down to sleep one night was the most likely cause), but I picked up an injury in my right ankle on the medial (inner) side. This brought my running to a crashing halt.

Luckily I was still able to cycle, so my cycle training was ramped up to a much higher degree for quite a while. The injury was taking longer to heal than I anticipated, so I consulted Dr Google, and self diagnosed my initial suspicion that I had sprained my ankle (damaged ligaments). Unfortunately the medial side is both a rarer injury, and takes longer to heal.

In fact it was only two weeks ago that I was able to re-start running, after nearly two months of absence. My aerobic fitness was still good with all the cycling I was doing, and my strength on the bike was probably better than it had ever been. But my god, it was much harder restarting running than I had anticipated. It took a few days to knock out the initial stiffness to the point where even slow running was less of an effort. I had lost running speed almost entirely. But at least I was actually running. On the upside the cycling meant that my strength was good. And it felt like I was running quite fluidly, if somewhat slowly.

So as a result I find myself heading into a race I have wanted to do for a long long time with big questions around whether I can even complete it, never mind how competitive I can be. Being such a long race I’m hoping that my lack of speed will only be relatively minor factor. But it will most likely ensure that I’ll be a tortoise rather than a hare for this one! All I can do is give it my best shot, and see what happens.

A view across the Lakes of Killarney, from part of the Kerry Way route

The race itself starts and finishes in Killarney, one of Ireland’s most popular tourist hot spots (for good reasons). It follows an big anti-clockwise loop around the Kerry Way walking trail, basically doing a lap of the Iveragh Peninsula, the biggest in Kerry. Most of it seems to be off-road trail, and a lot of the ground I’m familiar with is pretty gnarly, considering its a way-marked trail.

The Kerry Way Ultra route

The route is about 200km or so, with plenty of ups and downs along the way (although nothing too massive compared with the UTMB). A bit of a roller coaster. I have been on about 30 or percent of it previously at various times (mostly in running or adventure races), but the are huge sections that I’m completely unfamiliar with.

The Kerry Way Ultra race profile

This year has by far the biggest field entered for the race (along with its shorter sibling races). As a result there are a lot of competitive looking runners in the field. Gavin Byrne (my fellow Columbia athlete) looks like the form runner to me, fresh from his excellent run for his Denis Rankin Round in the Mourne mountains. At the best of times we would have had a good race, but I reckon I won’t be able to match him for this one. There is a long list of other competitive runners who are likely to make for some lively racing action.

Due to the on-going Covid restrictions this years event will have a staggered start. I’ll be heading out with the “speedsters” in the last wave at 7:10am on Friday morning. The first wave will have started at 5:00am, with nearly 200 runners heading off over 11 waves over 2 hours or so. So tracking how the competition is going is likely to be tricky. Most people in the last wave are likely to be competive, and no doubt there will be one or two more.

All the female competitors set off in the 6:30 wave. I won’t be at all surprised if Aoife Mundow wins again. She got this year off to a flying start by breaking the Irish 24 hour running record. She also set a new Denis Rankin Round record recently, so it looks like she is in excellent form.

We will all have trackers and the race can be tracked at http://live.primaltracking.com/kerrywayultra2020/. It looks like I’m number 84. Richard Nunan will be along again as my star support man, so hopefully he will get the chance to keep things updated on my Facebook athlete page. Having Richard as support is a huge plus to getting around and racing to my best ability, so massive thanks are owed in advance there.

This is one race where I will need luck more than ever. Expectations are set suitably low. But it’s good to at least get the opportunity to get out and race again, and I’m very much looking forward to finally getting to race Ireland’s longest trail race.

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