Myself and my usual running partner Brian arrived in the little village of Tullaroan in plenty of time, after a 135 mile drive from Tralee, and registered in the local GAA club where the marathon was starting. There were lots of MCI members doing this, as well as a few Kerry Crusaders, so there were plenty of familiar faces.
After some course instructions from Race Director Vincent, we set off in near perfect conditions. The marathon was to be run in two 13.1 mile loops. The first few hundred yards brought us from the GAA grounds up to the picturesque village of Tullaroan, and then a right turn and we were off into the Kilkenny countryside. At around the 2 mile mark, we met the first of the infamous Tullaroan hills, and this would turn out to be a taster of things to come!
The locals were out in force with aid stations, and I remarked to Brian that I had never seen so many aid stations so close together – there were tables outside lots of houses with water, sweets, and fruit – a great sign of community buy-in to the event. I also saw something I’ve never seen in a marathon before – local people with signs up telling runners they could use the toilet in their house – brave people!
Myself and Brian toiled up the first hill, which seemed to go on forever (it was actually about two miles!) and comforted ourselves with the knowledge that all this climbing meant there must be some really great downhills……
Every time we thought we’d gotten to the end of the climbs, it seemed there was another one, and we started to wonder if this marathon was going to defy the laws of physics and climb for 26.2 miles before coming back to where we started!
It turned out there was two fairly steep descents, at around miles 8 and 12, and these gave the tired leg muscles some relief. When we got to mile 13, we had the slightly daunting task of doing the whole thing again. When we came back to the village on this first loop, we were on for a finish of 4:40 or so, but I knew from the tiredness in my legs that the second loop as going to be a lot slower. We refueled in the village, and set off again. This time we (or more specifically me – Brian was in much better shape than I was!) decided to walk the worst of the hills, as we intended this to be an ultra training run more than anything else, and even if it wasn’t, I knew I was not going to break any records today.
I found this second loop very, very tough – the last 6 miles or so I was all but crawling, and if it wasn’t for Brian driving me like a recalcitrant donkey, I’d probably be still out on the course.
I had, for some reason, always envisioned Kilkenny as being flat – sort of the Netherlands of Ireland – that bubble has certainly be burst – it felt more like the Nepal of Ireland on Saturday.
We had decided beforehand that we would target a time of between 5:00 and 5:15 for this marathon – Brian wanted to take it easy because he was doing the Cork City Marathon on the following Monday, and I wanted to take it easy because I’m slow! In the event, we crossed the line in 5:03:50, and, considering I felt like I was going to collapse for most of the last few miles, that wasn’t too bad.
Although a tough course, this was another brilliant marathon – the course was one of the most scenic I’ve run, winding through the countryside on quiet rural roads, with the lovely village of Tullaroan providing a nice counterpoint. The local support was fantastic, and the race director, Vincent, really knows how to make runners feel welcome. There was coffee and sandwiches in the GAA club afterwards, and everyone was so friendly and welcoming. If you want to do a marathon that tests your legs for hills, you won’t find a better one!
Well done to everyone who completed the marathon, half, 10k, and 5k, and thanks to Vincent and his organisation and support crew – you guys did a top-notch job – I wouldn’t have said it straight afterwards, but I will be back next year!
Thanks to Brian, yet again, for helping me through the tough parts, and for all the MCI and Kerry Crusaders gang for the craic.