A new generation of endurance races has been breeding like rabbits – mucky, hyper rabbits – in Ireland in the last few years. Trail running, cycling, swimming and kayaking have cosied up with grassy fields, mountain passes, heaving bog and spectacular views, to produce the young and spritely adventure race.
The circuits can range from tough to ticklish, with a race for everyone: walkers, runners, and have-a-goers. They’re certainly no ‘walk in the park’, but the supportive atmosphere between participants and, of course, the sense of adventure makes for an appealing mix of novelty and adrenaline.
So we’ve hand picked what we reckon are the most adventurous races around the island, and asked a couple of racers to tell us why they return for the, well, punishment each year.
Galway, 7 May 2011
Connemara proves a stunning background to the race of kayaking, cycling, and trail running (walking and jogging also acceptable, they tell us!) The race is almost half the distance of Gaelforce West (31km) so racers don’t have to spend every weekend jumping bog and cycling mountains in training.
Challenge is definitely the word! It was long, my muscles ached and thought I’d never see the end… but it was also one of the best things I’ve ever done! There’s the sense of camaraderie with other racers, scenery that – once you manage to catch your breath – takes it away, and that incredible feeling when you cross the finish line is worth every minute of training!
Counties Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Fermanagh and Down, 14 – 15 May 2011
If Connemara didn’t strike you as a challenge, we have something else up our sleeve. A 300km-long sleeve. Yep, the two-day 26 Extreme Coast to Coast will see you start at one side of our island (Enniscrone beach, County Sligo) and head east through quaint villages, mountain ranges and along famous waterways, until you have no more east to go – and finish at the sandy shores of Newcastle, County Down.
Counties Cork, Limerick and Tipperary, 29 July – 1 August 2011
This beast of a 36-hour course is almost worthy of a US Marine training session. A finish line, three counties away, is the aim for the brave teams of four, who must trail run, mountain bike, kayak, abseil, orienteer and clay pigeon shoot their way through Ballyhoura country to win. The curious ‘Beast’ in the race title stems from past competitors seeing little beasts and goblins in the forests and mountains as sleep deprivation and low blood sugar levels kick in. All part of the adventure, we say!
County Mayo, 20 August 2011
From sea to sea, the Gaelforce West takes its hardy contenders, via beach running, harbour kayaking, bog crossing, and the ascent and descent of Croagh Patrick (The 764m mountain was traversed by one participant in an astonishing 30 minutes last year – yes, you read that right, 30 minutes!) Over 3,000 racers partake in the 67km of cycling, hiking and kayaking, turning Westport into a riotous centre of excitement and celebration for the whole weekend.
Gaelforce West 2010 Female winner Derval Devaney:
Gaelforce in 2009 was my first experience of an adventure race. Prior to that I had competed in triathlons – what I call a ‘clean’ sport: predictable, precise and calculated. Adventure racing is different – anything can happen. In 2010, when I crossed the line to come first in the females, I was asked: How did I feel? Wrecked. What did I think of the course? Torture. Will I be back next year? Definitely!
For those who can’t wait until August, get to Donegal for the sister event of Gaelforce North on June 4th.
County Galway, November 5th
Don’t be deceived by the relatively short distance, this is 10km of climbing through trees, climbing ropes, jumping off cliffs, and crossing all manner of muddy and watery obstacles. Oh, and all in November temperatures. Definitely one for the tough, and turf, guys and gals.
Ireland has plenty of athletic events, triathlons and marathons on throughout the year.
If you’re more a watcher than a take-part-er, we’ve put together a guide on Ireland’s Gaelic Games so you know your sliotar from your fixtures before you take in a match over here.
We’re not bad at rugby either, especially since we got that brand-spanking new stadium up. Check out our preview of the Irish rugby season at the new Aviva Stadium.