Beara Way Ultra
Never again. Maybe
22 May, 2023 - Rory CampbellTwo hill runners, let’s call them Doncan and Shona, high on a hillside overlooking the beautiful Kenmare bay. They each coyly take a divided bullet-sized painkiller suppository. This is a sport that provides such ‘moments’. Later D must abandon race. The foot sized blister he has is gruesome to behold. He gets a lift back from the race half way point and (thanks to social media) for the rest of the weekend becomes the infamous castletownbere youre-the-guy-with-the-foot.
The race started at 6am in warm humid conditions. Nice run around Dursey headland chatting to Stephan and Brian until they trotted off into the distance. Soon passed by super runner Liane. I was very green around the gills at Alihies (40k). No one commented (until later) but I know my pallor well clashed with the pastel colour scheme of the town.
Felt great around the beaches of Eyeries. An otter for company on the trail for a good minute or two! Fermoy Shane had passed me at this stage.
Leaving aid station asked an old guy if this was right direction. Where are you going? Castletownbere. I wouldn’t go that way, (and def don’t start from here). I have to go the long way I said to his puzzled expression.
Ardgroom, Lauragh, Bunane … loneliest, loveliest lakes and roads in Ireland. Some clatter of highs and lows. Keeping it together just about. Pot noodles, coke, soup … a chemistry experiment with mixed results. Incredibly considerate, generous, sympathetic support from everyone enroute. But tough slog.
Darkness falls. Michael has done incredible job with additional signage. I think a nav challenge would break me at this stage.
Glengarriff hall most welcome. Ended noisily with head in a pot-noodled black plastic bag thinking it would make an interesting race photo. Thanks to quick thinking volunteers! Retried. Managed to keep some down.
Nice hike up to good Coomerkanian friends Audrey, Les and Sophie, (with whom I stayed on Thursday). In the wee hours now. Sadly didn’t see Audreys’ well done banner that she’d made. Les had said it might be better on the ground. He’s right (on occasion). Got a message next day to say well-done-on-running-past-the-bed. Spicey hike up the back of this most serene valley of coomerkane. Spicier descent to Adrigole. Trying not to dwell on the trauma of the situation. Mark/Fergal just ahead of me but off they go. Pass a hill runner victim on road to mares tail waterfall. Hefty ascent then but following superb marking. Thanks again Michael! Then finally day break.
Bere island floating in 5am calm Atlantic mirror. Castetownbere playing now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t as the dreaded yellow marker poles lead us up and down and up and down. Kirsten with the holy water bottle. With 8km to go. Is this the last hill? You’re over the worst of it. So that's a no.
So after almost 26hrs I’m down and into the town. Most superb hospitality from the southern members of imra family at the finish. 7th home. Couple of even older people ahead of me! Great atmosphere. Even though I’m more of a Lyons tea/Guinness persuasion the Dublin hurling team, the little Leinster imra van (and our cute finish cones) was only mentioned to me a few times.
Hung around in the sun, to wait for friends and watch the start of beara way challenge. Magic.
Back to accommodation for 2hrs kip. Then McCarthy’s-Bar-o’clock. Heard about the place for years. Amazing crowd. Stories exploding out of that place. Throw in an aul Japanese sword and you could write a book about the place. So, you’ve a guy from Cornwall, a woman from Hawaii, two germans, an Australian, three locals, a Dub and the guy-with-the-foot...all best friends by now. You couldn’t make it up. Great evening.
Quiet Sunday morning in the town square. Check the back of my legs for ticks says Duncan. Apologies to the French non-english speaking couple who suddenly appear. Don’t know the French for not what-it-looks-like.
Suffer the ultra next year? Never again. Maybe.
The Beara Way Ultra 2023 - notes to self
22 May, 2023 - Kastytis BereznocenkoThe Beara Way Ultra 2023 - was a race to remember, and Castletownbere welcomed us with a pleasant weather on Thursday evening. After the kit check and GPS gaffer taping at the school, we engaged in some good banter before retiring to bed. As usual, I couldn't sleep the night before the race, blaming the Castletownberrian traffic jams and city noise. I wasn't used to it.
My morning routine was the same as always - porridge with milk, banana & cranberries, coffee, toilet - in that exact order. We gathered at the school for the start, where we received "Micheal's race brief" - "it's mostly downhill" and "mind the steps coming out of school." In fairness, the start from the school was downhill - for about 60 meters.
We set off towards Alihies from the town, and as we passed the first farms, the cows joined us for a wee stroll, overtaking us with ease. Then the hills started, and we ran in groups, introducing ourselves to each other.
Anyway, we arrived at Allihies and filled up water on top of two sachets of coke (Tailwind). I grabbed my caramel bars and headed "plus rapide" towards Dursey and Derreenavurrig (thank goodness for Google). I have no memory for the hills and village names, sorry. There were some nice and very civilized trails & roads & trails again, and we were back at Allihies for another fill-up of Tailwind/Dioralite/Magnesium. What's that English footballer surname - "Drinksomething"? I was "Drinkmagnesium" on the day and night, every single checkpoint. Thanks to the lads at the aid stations for assisting me in that - "maximum respecta."
From Allihies, we headed towards Eyeries up the hill, then downhill, then on the side of the hill with some wet grass and muck into which I successfully planted my ar.. bum. Thank God for the horse drinking stream that was not too far away - quick wash down and with a smiley face into Eyeries with the expectation of dry socks in my drop back. Well, that did not happen - for some fecking reason, I placed the dry socks in the Lauragh drop bag and not in the Eyeries bag. Eegit. Smiley face sustained at the checkpoint, and I went out passing villagers (sure - we are runners - we enjoy this running thing). As soon as I left Eyeries, my left foot started complaining quietly, and I knew that Lauragh was too far away for it.
Another water stop at Ardgroom, and into the long hilly bit. It was warm, and I kicked a big stone - not sure why. Painful. At kilometer 84, something burst inside the left Hoka - flat tire or burst blister. The latter is more probable. I shuffled 5km into the Lauragh checkpoint with appropriate grimace. Thanks to Matthew for checking on my left foot and to the lads assisting with refills, soup, and "DrinkMagnesium."
From Lauragh, we/I/myself headed uphill on asphalt - some white jeep overtook me spewing black smoke - if the jeep struggles up that hill - I can walk too. Feck it.
Reached the 2 lakes water station, and I got some "Coca-Cola" from Eddie this time. 30 steps away, I threw up the coke back to nature - three times. But my head went all bright again, and I was able to run for a good while.
After the two lakes on the open mountain, Anthony scared the shit out of me. I was running solo since before Allihies, only meeting humans at checkpoints. And here he rocks up from behind, going gingerly. "Double checking the route for markings," he says, and off he went. That's the race service - a personal route marker just in front of you on a tricky section.
Oh yeah - sure - I was going to Glengarrif. I got there by midnight, got served by the volunteers, and taped my left pinky. I was out the gap as soon as I could and on the road to Sugarloaf.
The Sugarloaf. The Sugarloaf. The Sugarloaf. I've seen a few Sugarloafs in Ireland, but this one is by far the ...."loafiest." At least you can't fall asleep climbing that thing. Downhill is not much easier when the skin on your feet blisters is shifted 20 degrees north.
Somehow, I arrived at Adrigole, where I was assisted again with some refills and some Chinese dragon potions and sent away with a kind word. There were 25km to go, and I walked most of the time, able to shuffle uphill only, using sticks to go down. Castletownbere came into sight four times, but the yellow m.."person" said "no - go back to the mountains." There was one farmer gate to climb over, and I barely made it with my timber legs. It had to be done as the stile was too far away - maybe 20 meters deviation.
The asphalt road to Castletown-Bearhaven is another story. Bloody long it felt. There was a biker going uphill just before the last stile who shouted, "good going - you're 2 clicks away from the finish." His speedometer is definitely goosed...or was he taking a piss...
The finish line steps to school were three steps up, ten steps forward, three steps up, ten steps forward, three steps up. Them local kids should be fit as hell. The finish atmosphere - simply "WOW".
Thanks to all the volunteers for pulling off this inaugural BWU race. Imagine a few years from now - this could become the local Chamonix. In my humble opinion, it's the hardest ultra on this island, but I'm partial here.