Everyone Says Hi: Trail Running Distractions

trail runningI’m back running 5 days a week now, in my usual, make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach to training for a new event. This time it’s the Glen of Aherlow Loop the Loop Ultra Trail Run on September 19—except I’m leaving out the “ultra” bit and doing just one loop of the trail run. You would think that a 13.1 mile mountain run with an elevation of 1,369 feet would provide enough distraction for a complete trail-running neophyte, but it hasn’t stopped me noticing things that are utterly unrelated to running. Like saying hello.

I headed out on a 5-mile run last week because it was half way through the week and I planned doing a 10-mile run on the Friday, so I figured going for a run half my longest distance midway through the week was a scientific enough training programme for me. I also wanted to clear my head because I was feeling cranky. I was still feeling cross after the run—partly due to general age-related grumpiness, but partly because I greeted two people on my way around, and neither of them even grunted a reply.

Now, I am not a remarkably sociable person (in fact, that is one of the reasons I like running), and I don’t say hello to every passerby if I’m somewhere busy, but I do think there are far too many of us on this planet to behave as if we lived in our own little worlds. A meeting of eyes and a mumbled “‘Morning”is not going to damage your psyche.

I have been considering whether I am being unreasonable and whether it is presumptuous of me to expect somebody to respond when I squeak out a hello as I lumber past them. Maybe I am. Maybe I should just jam my headphones in and keep my head down. But maybe our shared humanity is just too precious a link to avert your eyes or stare blankly when somebody makes a brief appearance in your world. We’ve seen too much of that lately.

Don’t worry: To any fellow world citizens who wish to avoid my grating greetings, you won’t have to fling yourselves into an accommodating bush; just don’t make eye contact and you’ll be quite safe. I’ll pound past, and my red face won’t be because I’m cross but because I’m starting to discover far too late just how tough training for a trail run can be.

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.)

Learning to Swim in Italian

content writer runningA fortnight after our trip to Scanno, there are two things I want to learn:

– how to swim.

– how to speak Italian.

The Italian bit is easy to understand: As soon as we escaped the gritty heat and noise of Rome for the fresh prettiness of Scanno, I knew I wanted to stay. Given that tourists only trickle into this gem 155km west of Rome, without Italian you are really are reduced to Charades if you want anything other than gelato or vino. Although now that I come to think of it, maybe it’s not so necessary after all.

content writing runningAs for the desire to learn to swim, I can’t see myself getting far in a triathlon by holding my breath and flailing the other competitors into submission. Triathlon? Well, if you watched the annual Xterra triathlon in Scanno, you’d fancy yourself as a triathlete too. Of course, it has everything to do with the setting: Scanno is the kind of place that makes you want to skip down the wooded slopes singing. There is a purity in the air, an absoluteness in the colours, and a sparkle in the lake that makes you believe you would live more completely if you were to just roll your belongings into a spotted handkerchief and set up camp here.

content writer runningSo the desire to do a triathlon has much to do with the sight of horribly attractive Italians (even in day-glo Lycra) gliding effortlessly along the glassy surface of Lago di Scanno on a deliciously hot day, trotting through the tangle of medieval streets carrying their bikes as they climb flights of ochre steps, and loping along forested trails to the finish line. And all I need to do to claim my place among those bouncing, honey-limbed triathletes is learn to swim.

When I do complete my first triathlon, and I am unable to untie my shoelaces because the circulation has shut down in my fingers, I will remember  a golden day in Scanno and decide that the learning Italian bit was probably  more important than the swimming bit.

Generation Gaps

I have a Portugal the Man album, and I think I get away with wearing Converse with dresses, so I sometimes forget that my son and I do not occupy the same universe.

Then something like this happens:

My son sends me a picture of his date’s debs dress so that I can buy him a matching tie. This is her debs dress:

Debs Dress

I remember what I wore to my debs. It looked something like this:



I’m off to knit myself a fetching headscarf with matching support tights.


Sand Gets in Your Eyes

copywriter KerryThe image the organisers of the Brandon Bay Half Marathon use to promote the event depicts a sparkling expanse of blue sea and sky glimpsed from between swaying fronds of marram grass on golden dunes. It didn’t look like that last Saturday. Or maybe it did, only it’s hard to tell when your eyes are squeezed shut against an onslaught of wind, rain and sand.

About 90 of us lined up for the half marathon, although when I say lined up, I mean huddled against the whipping wind waiting for the race to start so we could get some blood flowing and stave off hypothermia. The route is loosely aligned with a series of little red plastic flags dotted 10.5 km along the beach, but everyone has their own personal version of the event, given that you have to negotiate sand that ranges in firmness from pillow-soft to bone-jarring hard, dotted with pebbles and shells in some parts and disappearing under waves and streams in others.

By the time I reached the 3km mark it all seemed very silly. The prospect of scurrying back to the start and wrapping up in warm dry clothes seemed the only sensible option, particularly as the gathering pools of water in my ears had started channeling the wind to create a weird whistling soundtrack to my trudging. The one thing that spurred me on was the thought of the half-way point. I knew from last year that once I reached that magical spot in the sand, I could turn my back on the wind and allow it to carry me like a strapping gazelle back to the finish line. So I bore with the flying snot, the anchor of my sodden shirt, and even the smiling faces of the leaders passing me as I reached the 9km mark, and, sure enough, everything changed on the return leg.

I actually found myself overtaking people and finished just a minute behind the third woman home. Momentarily elated, I downed a cup of soup (soup in July!) and was soon frozen again, my Bart Simpson fingers dead to all feeling. There was little time for the usual post-race chat with fellow sufferers, as we were all in a rush back to the warmth of our cars, and, anyway, chattering teeth and howling wind make it difficult to understand what people are saying.

Will I do it next year? I can’t wait! I think I’ll bring a hat, though…

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.


Life’s a Beach

I’m in one of those “meh” stages of training, when heading out for a run seems about as useful and appealing as ironing bedsheets. Fitted ones.

I was probably a bit too eager announcing I would run the Dingle Marathon as soon as I had sweated over the finish line of the Lakes of Killarney Marathon, so now I’m starting to look for a way out whenever it is mentioned. I’m starting to hear excuses like “€70 is a lot for a run around Slea Head…/I wonder is running a marathon on the road seven weeks before the Mourne Mountain run a good idea…/It could be very warm…/I think I’m due a hair appointment that weekend..” spoken in a voice that appears to be mine. The result is that that, even though I have two perfectly serviceable legs and I am surrounded by scenery like this,

web copywriter Ireland

web copywriter irelandAnd this,

I just can’t get enthused about running these days.

But I have a plan to get me fired up about running again. I’m going to run a half marathon on a beach next week. I don’t mean on a road next to a beach or in a park overlooking the sea. I mean 13.1 miles on sand. I did the inaugural Brandon Bay half marathon in Castlegregory last year. It felt much longer. The sky was rolling with black surly clouds that occasionally slapped us with needles of rain, just in case the unrelenting gusts of gritty wind were not mean enough. The course is obviously completely flat, which has its advantages, but it also means that you can see just how far you have to slog until you get to the tiny little dot that is the half-way flag. Then there’s the sand. You find what you think is the Goldilocks medium between not-too-hard and not-too-soft, but then it vanishes into a mass of puddles, so you add miles to your route veering between surf and dunes trying to get the balance right again. It’s all very challenging, but in the spirit of all the best epic fantasies, there is turning point, a stage where you leave the dark shadows behind you and enter the sparkly place.

As soon as you round the flag, the wind is at your back, the sun comes out, and angels sing. Well, maybe not the last two, but things definitely take a turn for the much, much  better.

And that’s what I’m hoping for next Saturday.