Hardman Heroes 2016

 

Hardman16-prizegivingCedric
Hardman 2016 winner Cedric Largojolli & Race Director Alan Ryan

The Hardman has a way of making you feel unworthy but in the nicest possible way. The people who put themselves through the lake swim, Ring of Kerry cycle, and Killarney National Park marathon all in one day are made of some alloy of titanium and sheer balls that puts them in a separate, premium class of human being. You would despise them intensely if they weren’t so pleasant and good-natured about it all.

 

If previous Hardman finishers belong to an elite category of human, the athletes who got through last Saturday’s event are in a league reserved for the kind of people who eat ordinary full-distance triathletes for breakfast.

The pre-race briefing referred to the possibility of high humidity making the going tough If only. Before the event even started, Met Eireann had spread out their Colour Me Beautiful charts and picked yellow for the day’s weather warning. As it happened, their colourful predictions were not enough to prevent the Triathlon Ireland official from giving the all-clear, and the day started with a 3.8km swim across a lake that was compared with various kitchen appliances, ranging from a blender to a washing machine.

The previous five Hardman triathlons had seen just one swimmer pulled from the water. This year, seven competitors made their way back to the shore by boat. Those who did finish the swim described being swept off course by the waves and swallowing gut loads of water, with one man gleefully divulging that he had “puked the whole way around!” And we wondered why the ducks were out in such numbers…

It could have been worse: At one point D.J. Jules announced that we had “lost” six swimmers before Alan intervened swiftly to point out that all competitors were safe and, if not very well, at least very much alive. Those that made it to the bike (and there was a 28% DNF rate) had a blast (literally) on the Ring of Kerry, where the wind made the downhills even tougher than the climbs. Cycle complete, there was just the simple matter of completing three laps of Killarney National Park while dodging slanting showers and droves of jaunting cars (that in an ideal world will some day be shipped over to Disneyworld en masse for a new Oirish theme park).

The run route is where my fellow water dispenser, Darragh, and I got to meet many of the heroes, some of whom were kind and insane enough to remark on how tired we must have been from standing for so long. This was quite embarrassing, coming from people who had been battling the elements for ten or 12 hours.

What is even more embarrassing is that we were dead on our feet after six hours.

Here are just some of the heroes from Hardman 2016:

  • Team Go-Go, the husband-and-wife team who completed the Hardman as a relay team, one thrusting the couple’s five children at the other before getting on with the next leg. And lest you think their offspring are of an age to mind themselves, their oldest child is seven and two get around by buggy.  So, sorry, you can’t use your kids as an excuse for not doing things ever again.
  • Hugh, Siobhan, Douglas, and Dan – former competitors who decided that entering the Hardman wasn’t hard enough, so this year, they put themselves forward as volunteers instead. Dan Fitzgibbon started directing traffic shortly after 5am and was still going, collecting barriers, into the early hours of the following morning.
  • Frenchman Cedric Largajolli, the overall winner, who completed the course in 10:02 (six minutes off the course record), despite falling on the run. Cedric gets extra points for getting away with kissing Alan at the prizegiving.
  • Alison Cardwell, the only female individual to finish the event. Not because she’s a woman but because of her attitude: On being told that competitors were dropping out because of the conditions, her response was “Oh for goodness sake, you don’t give up! You just keeping going!” And with that, she disappeared down the path in her Dr. Seuss tri-suit.

 

Triathlon Trials

content writer blogWhen several people in succession gleefully announce their relief at not having to see you again, you could be forgiven for being a little upset. I, however, greeted the news with congratulatory smiles and waved them on to greater, Aoife-free things. That’s because they had just met me for the sixth time in a 42km run, which had been preceded by a 180km cycle and a 3.8km swim—all using the same set of limbs that had got them to the lake shore at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club at 6.30 that morning for the 2015 Hardman full-distance triathlon.

content writer blogsI was manning one of the water stops, which also turned out to be a motivational, counselling, and tourist information stop. From flashes of lycra pausing only to raise a hand to indicate that they had no need of such mortal crutches as water, to nauseated wrecks hobbling on their newborn foal’s legs, the human spirit in all its guises passed me at that midge-ridden corner of Killarney National Park. There was Douglas, who had broken his coccyx the previous Tuesday and “shouldn’t really” have been doing a full-distance triathlon, Darragh who promised to name his first child after me (I do hope it’s a girl), and a whole succession of men who revealed that their lovely wives would probably leave them if they ever did another such event.

content writer blogsYes, the winner finished the hilly and difficult course (the cycle takes in the grinding, ear-popping roads of the Ring of Kerry ) in a searing time of 10:06, and there were some thrilling moments when the first riders blasted up to T2 within minutes of each other, but the day belonged to people like Graham Janssen, the first swimmer out of the lake, who basked in his moment of glory, knowing he would be overtaken within minutes of getting on the bike, but also knowing that the previous year he had been one of the last to clamber onto the pier; and Dan Fitzgibbon, who made it further in the triathlon than he had any previous year, wheeling into the Castlerosse Hotel car park in the pitch dark, hours after the winner had gone home; and Siobhan Griffin, the second woman home, who gave up smoking and learned to swim the winter before her first full-distance triathlon last year.

content writer blogIn the end, it’s not really down to €4k Olympia bikes, Garmins, or ideal stroke rates: What is truly inspiring about the 80-odd individuals who took part in last Saturday’s epic event is the way that even the most unlikely athletes can complete superhuman challenges if they have an insanely dogged attitude. And a water-station steward they really don’t want to see again.

(All images courtesy of the amazing Valerie O’Sullivan.)

Drama in Hag’s Glen

copywriter killarneyLast week marked outing #5 in our summer of hikes, one guilty mother’s attempt to extend her teenage son’s exercise routine beyond screen-based thumb workouts. Outing #5 started in Cronins’ Yard the preferred starting point for climbing Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain. I was setting our sights a little lower, however: The Cronins’ Yard loop walk around Hags’ Glen was our objective. It is an 8km hike described as being of “moderate” difficulty suiting all levels of fitness, and, given that our walking party has swelled to three with the start of primary school holidays, I figured that my 11-year-old daughter would bound along it with the agility of one of the mountain goats that teeter around the edge of it.

copywriter killarneyEven at the age of 43, it seems that I have not lost my capacity for misguided youthful optimism: Said daughter’s initial delight at the waving flaglets  of bog cotton and the capricious wind that turned her open hoodie into a sail quickly turned to frustration at the soggy uphill sections and the seemingly endless distances between way markers. So much so, that she decided to cut across the loop and take a short cut via a rocky riverbed. Having exhausted my meagre stores of patience and encouragement, I had gone ahead and was pounding out my annoyance on the spongy tracts of sodden moss when my son appeared at my elbow, announcing that his sister had fallen on the stones.

copywriter killarneyNow, such a declaration would send most mothers skimming across the mountain on wings of dread and fear, but I merely harumphed (I have always wanted to use that word!) and trudged back to the scene of the fall. Why my alarming lack of panic? Because, in our house, my daughter is known as the DQ, which stands for Drama Queen. And she certainly revelled in the role of wounded heroine. From where I stood at the edge of the river bank, she lay on the ground like the chalk outline in a police procedural, wailing in unison with the mountain sheep.

copywriter killarneyI did my best disapproving, folded-arm matriarch and yelled at her to get up, and, after a few more bleats, she did, scrambling up the riverbank and flinging herself into my arms in a flurry of wounded indignation. After that, it was a pleasure to trundle back to the car, the wind at our backs, the massive cloud shadows flying above us, and the teenager’s lessons soothing my ears. Among the things I learned:

  • Tyrannosaurus rex’s little arms were actually powerful enough to rip its prey apart.
  • Crocodiles and lobsters keep growing until they die
  • If you are confronted by a hungry crocodile (is there another kind?), wrap your arms around its jaws to keep them shut because, although its closing grip is virtually invincible, its opening reflex is quite pathetic.

I also learned that 11-year-old girls are slow to forget.

 

Chasing Waterfalls

web content writingAs anybody living with teenagers knows, summer can be a fraught and testing time. Throw in a mother who works from home and a teenager with Asperger’s, and you have all the ingredients for a really violent soap. Not wanting to put the already stretched local Gardai under any additional pressure, I have decided to defuse the situation by taking said teenager on a weekly hike.

The middle child is not known for his athletic zeal, but to give him his due, he has accepted his mother’s diktat with very little protest. He has also used the opportunity to address the serious gaps in my knowledge of Christopher Nolan’s filmography.  Torc mountain and Killarney National Park’s Red Trail (a.k.a. Cardiac Hill) were the venues for updates on The Dark Knight, Memento, and Interstellar. Last week we covered Inception and The Prestige while hiking through Tomies wood.

Just off the Ring of Kerry road between Killarney and Killorglin, the Tomies wood walk is a manageable 9km loop that rises gradually from an elevation of about 33 metres to 93 metres, but it is relatively flat once you’ve completed the initial climb. The views over Lough Lein are stunning, and it is the place you are most likely to see white-tailed eagles in Killarney (or so I kept telling said teenager). It was pretty cloudy when we walked it, so much of the view is a bit like a photo from the old days (you know, when we used actual film) with half the image missing.

web content writingWhat I love most about this walk, however, is the waterfall. You could cheat and just do a tiny bit of the walk to see the waterfall, but I am the kind of mother who insists on bread and butter before cake, so we did the loop in such a way that we had most of the trail behind us before we took the detour to the cascade. Now, anybody who has ever visited Killarney knows that water is something we are very good at. From the great mats of clouds that flop down from the skies without warning to the gentle mists that give hair that fetching, just-electrocuted look, we are immersed in H2O—but one of the things it’s really good for is carpeting the landscape in green velvet, with lakes, rivers, and waterfalls bursting through the seams.

Torc Waterfall  serves as a backdrop to many a holiday snap, but O’Sullivan’s Cascade in Tomies wood is not so well known. It should be, but I’m glad it’s not. The teenager appears to agree: When I asked him which he preferred, Torc Waterfall or O’Sullivan’s Cascade, he did not hesitate.

“O’Sullivan’s Cascade because there’s nobody there.” That’s my boy.

Bewildered, Bothered, and Bewitched

Content writer KerryBewildered

Running is not half as simple as I once thought. There was a time when I believed that the practice was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, preferably at a speed faster than walking and ideally wearing well-cushioned running shoes. How naive I was…

It turns out that achieving optimum results involves running at speeds you might usually expect to attain only if pursued by a large, hungry beast with teeth, then slowing to a more sedate pace, before accelerating to hungry-beast-in-pursuit speed again. Or else, it involves plodding really, really slowly, in case the heart monitor strapped to your chest goes off. (It is primed to beep alarmingly should your heart rate exceed 180 minus your age. It doesn’t take much for your heart rate to exceed 180 minus your age). The run-until-your-heart-bursts threshold method is embraced by fitness experts and proper athletes. The run-without-upsetting-your-heart Maffetone method is also embraced by fitness experts and proper athletes. I am neither a fitness expert nor a proper athlete, and I am bewildered. And that’s before we even start on the well-cushioned running shoes issue.

Bothered

This is the first time I’ve ever trained for a marathon and then gone on to train for another one immediately afterwards. I usually train, do the marathon, and swear never to even attempt such stupidity again. I thought that one of the advantages of going directly from one period of training to another would be an acquired fitness that would make long runs effortless. I imagined plotting novels (or shopping lists, at least) as I loped easily along, the miles slipping by almost unnoticed. It’s not like that. At all. My 12-mile run today was as much of a slog as it was a couple of months ago.  That is why I am bothered.

content writer kerryBewitched

This is just one of the scenes that accompanied my run today. It’s probably not even one of the best scenes, but had I stopped every time I glimpsed a gorse-crested crag, a swan-dappled lake or a stand of new growth rippling in sunlight, I would still be running. And it’s dark now. So for all my bewilderment and botheration, the bewitching aspects of running in Killarney make it all worth while.

Pushing the Boat Out

content writer KillarneyGiven how elderly I’ve been feeling since the Lakes of Killarney Marathon, there was something rather appropriate (if desperate) about heading to an island associated with everlasting youth. Inisfallen is the island you can see if you stand in front of Ross Castle; it is also believed to be the site of the mythical Tir na nOg (land of eternal youth) featured in Irish mythology.

To my shame, despite my claim to be a Killarney native and my double stint working in the local tourist office, I had never been to the island before last Saturday, so when the chance arose this weekend, I jumped (well, bobbed enthusiastically) at it. The fact that getting there would involve rowing proved particularly attractive, mainly because rowing is not running…

We headed out on a dull, grey, lifeless day, which as a newly anointed boating expert, I now know is perfect rowing weather.  Whatever notions I had of gliding effortlessly across the water were soon forgotten, as I shunted the boat around by the copper mines ad Governor’s Rock on Ross Island and out into the open lake. Swans and ducks paid no attention to us, despite the crash of oars and frequent lurches in the wrong direction, and the lack of engine made the whole experience quite mesmerising. If it is possible to be mesmerised while you are sweating profusely…

Content writer KillarneyDespite my floundering, it didn’t take long to get to the island, which is really a rather beautiful nugget of cropped green spaces and leafy woodland clustered around the ruins of a monastery. The green areas are more chewed than manicured, the reason becoming obvious almost immediately:  As soon as we landed and started out on the broad path that circles the island, the shadows began to move and, one by one, young Sitka deer emerged to feed. Like the swans and ducks out on the lake, they were not particularly interested in us either. Sometimes it’s great to be ignored.

Among the ruins is a little oratory with an arched Romanesque doorway. Inside, you’ll find the remains of a pillar bristling with coins, some of them are well darkened with age, but some are quite recent additions, with euros scattered among the 5-cent and 10-cent pieces. What is it with Irish heritage sites and coins? I really don’t get it.

We spent about half an hour on the island and then rowed back to shore, dodging the wake of the Lily of Killarney waterbus to make it back to Ross Castle intact. It’s definitely a more leisurely way to see Loch Lein than puffing around it three times, but the Dingle Marathon looms in September, so it’s back to grinding out the miles by foot…

 

What to Do When It Rains in Killarney: 5 Best Places for Lunch

content writer killarneyWhen I worked in Killarney Tourist Office in the early ’90s, I was a human Google—at least on the subject of Killarney. You could have asked me or any of the other fetchingly be-scarfed staff anything about our town and its environs, and we would have recited the required information in virtual ballad form.  There was one question that dominated all others, however. Any day that offered even a hint of damp or a smattering of grey clouds (i.e. almost every day) sent tourists scurrying to the desk to enquire, “What can you do in Killarney when it rains?”

In those days, we would send them to Muckross House, the vintage car museum, or their hotel swimming pool (hey, sometimes we got desperate). Today I would tell them to go and get stuffed. The quality of food on offer in my town has definitely improved in the past decade, but what draws me to my favourite spots is not always the edible stuff. There follows, in no particular order, a list of my favourite places to go for lunch:

Dyne, New Market Lane, High Street

Tucked away in a lane way between Quills and O’Connor’s Pub on High Street, DYNE started life as a wonderful social experiment called Pay As You Please. Along with quirky mismatched furniture, old movies projected onto one entire wall, and soup served in bread bowls, Pay As You Please asked you to leave as much as you felt your food was worth. No doubt they got burned and overpaid in equal measure, and I know that some people felt uncomfortable with the entire concept.

Suffice to say, they have repackaged the same delicious brunch and dinner fare as DYNE—with prices on the menu this time.  It’s mainly pizza, salads and hearty vegetarian dishes. I have my eye on the latest addition to the menu: buffalo milk burrata with grilled asparagus, mint and toasted almonds.

Avoca, Moll’s Gap

The address is officially Kenmare, but I’m prepared to claim Avoca for Killarney because the food is just gorgeous. It is fresh and delicious and tasty and all those things you want in the middle of the day, but it is also simply beautiful to look at. The colours of the salads are straight from the rainbow, and they add lovely little touches to everything—think pots of herbs on the tables and water jugs packed with fresh mint. For dessert, try to resist roulades oozing with fresh strawberries and whipped cream or succulent slabs of fruit cake. And the views out over the Gap of Dunloe and Carrauntoohill are an aptly stunning accompaniment, even in the midst of drizzle.

content writer killarneyNoelle’s, Old Market Lane

Noelle’s is like a cosy blanket that you can wrap yourself in and forget about the grey skies outside. Duck in out of the rain and into the comforting interior, twinkling with cabinets of old crockery and knick-knacks and a giant aquarium of jewel-toned fish. The staff are friendly and the food is fresh and interesting, with delicious salads and quiches and chunks of home-baked cakes and pies to insulate you against the cold. What I love about Noelle’s is the way it is laid out in a sequence of little anterooms so that you can always find a quiet table to have a chat or people-watch on the sly. And, should the rain disappear, there is a delightful little sun trap of a courtyard outside.

The Lane Café Bar, Ross Hotel, East Avenue

With its pistachio and magenta stripes and a window that takes up almost the entire front of the premises, the Lane Café Bar at the Ross Hotel is a world away from Noelle’s. This is a place to go on a good hair day. Sit at the bar and order one of their Mojito Royales, if it is going to be a long kind of lunch. Or lounge in one of the comfy couches by the window and watch the world go by. As a Libran, I can never make up my mind, but I don’t have to with the tapas platter. It’s full of good things like tiny naan breads, mushroom bruschetta topped with prosciutto, and a gorgeous little smoked duck and blue cheese samosa. You get little home-baked biscuits with your coffee too, which really pleases my inner six-year-old.

content writer killarneyDeenagh Lodge Tea Rooms, Knockreer Estate, Killarney National Park

Food has very little to do with my choice of the Deenagh Lodge as a top place for lunch in Killarney. The fare is grand: Soup, sandwiches, and pre-prepared wraps of chicken or tuna are usually on the menu; there are lovely big mugs of coffee; and there is always some kind of sticky cake or apple tart to tempt you. The proceeds go to the local branch of Down Syndrome Ireland, and many of the staff are adults with Down Syndrome. What makes Deenagh Lodge special, however, is that it is the closest thing to Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house that I have ever seen. And it’s plonked right in the middle of the national park. Grab an outside table on a sunny day and watch the world and his mother wander past on foot, bicycle, pram and jaunting car. Yes, we do have sunny days in Killarney…