TRAINING: Kerry Cures All

"It's a great neck of the woods isn't it," said my co-worker Fergal when I mentioned spending this Easter weekend in Killarney, Co. Kerry.

Thursday evening I set off with Rob, Aoife, and Dee on the long road-trip down to Killarney, we had all signed up to 4 days of "Minnock-Maddness", Barry's now traditional Easter Training Camps. Rumour has it this year would be less training more social. Well as rumours go this one too had to be judged against your relative standpoint...

Day 1 - Out-Trip
Having had the week off, and finished a short 6k run in Marlay Park, I had the car stocked with what seemed, at the time, absurd amounts of sports drink, dried fruit, yoghurt drinks, cereal, and smoothies. A bit of chocolate, loads of different teas varying from my favourite Earl Grey to the exotic Acai-White Tea or Dermot's favourite pineapple-grape fruit Green Tea, and all my running gear (ok, I left a few tees at home after all) rounded off the preparations. No wait, I forget the many power gels, the Nuun Electrolyte tablets and a few million litres of water.

Sounds bad, well turned out I needed most of it!

The drive was relatively uneventful, except for the psychological terror inflicted on my poor sat-nav for taking us on a sightseeing trip of Cork (I've always wanted to see Cork!). A good one-hour pitstop on the way meant we arrived at 23:30, having left Dublin around 18:30. Needless to say we didn't waste much time before going to bed, but a few quick glances around our impressive apartments at the Quality Resort confirmed to us that this could only turn into a great weekend...

Day 2 - Speed
Rob and I did a minor sleep-in until about 09:00, then took a short 5k jog before capping up a perfect morning with breakfast and a snooze. We discovered that we had no butter, or anything else really, for the bread. Luckily I always have an emergency honey in my car (don't ask), which kept us going through the weekend.

Most of the crew, bringing us up to well over 20 people, arrived during the Friday morning. Barry had send out news that we'd have to postpone the anticipated ascent of Carrauntoohil because of poor weather conditions, which meant a few opted to arrive late Friday or Saturday morning.

The rest of us drove towards Castleisland to attend a special speed session with John O'Connor at the Rioacht track. This was quite an eye-opener, while I was familiar with a good few of the plyometric sessions and some of the stretches, I saw many new speed and coordination drills that will now make it's way permanently into my training programme.

Coming home on the Tuesday, I had only explained the basics to Emma before she said: "Yep, you should do that each week at the moment." May I add that jumping through hoops or trying to drag your leg behind yourself is good fun as well as being good training!

The day finished up with a long run, most people opting for the 10k version through Killarney out to the park leading around the lakes. I joined Rob and Barry for what I was told would be a "1:20" run. I turned out closer to 1:30, but I was surprised to hit the wall completely for the last 5k or so.

I was thinking the lads where pushing the boat out a little to rattle the newcomer, but having taken a look at the splits at home, there's nothing hard about the run. Average pace of 4:53, or 12.2kph, is something I normally do with not a bother. My training run today I did in 4:31 splits with little bother at all.

My muscles where still tired after the last weekend, and the speed session, and looking at my statistics, my heart rate was strangely elevated, an average 165 for the 12.2kph. It should be closer to 145-150 under normal circumstances. Strange...

As all the following evenings, we dined on gorgeous food, starting in the hotel restaurant. I'd have few health-conscious choices and feasted on swordfish and sea trout. As the evenings progressed we'd have increasingly more drinks to round off, but this evening started with just a few bottles before everyone gathered in Cormac and Niamh's apartment to toast on their engagement. Congratulations!

Day 3 - Big C
Carra is the nickname for Liverpool player Jamie Carragher in the minds of most people. Not so for hill runners, for us it's the nickname of John Lenihan's personal god, Ireland's highest peak: Carrauntoohil, standing well over a 1000m side by side to two of Ireland's other 3000-footers, Beenkaragh and Caher.

Running (slash walking!) this little knoll was easily the highlight of the trip for most of us, especially those, like me, who have never had the pleasure before. What was the worship all about? How tough would it be? These questions intruded upon my mind as we drove the short trip to the McGillycuddy's Reeks, or just Reeks, where Carrauntoohil stands proud.

We went off in a big group, and I tried my best to take it easy as my muscles were still screaming and stiff. Our pace was generally comfortable and plenty of breaks broke the pace as we stopped for photos, food, or just a quick glance at the harsh, yet undeniably beautiful, landscape. There is something moon-like about the Reeks in their yellow-brown splendour, so unlike the green-brown palette of Wicklow.

The closer we neared the top, the better I started to feel, and as the flat pace slowed on the tricky ridge between Caher and Carra, slippery ice covering many a rock, Mike Long and myself had plenty of time for chat as a small bunch of runners had headed on ahead. The last climb to the peak of Carra was no fully visible, and as we rushed up, many of our group caught an angry glare from the frequent hiking groups. Were they jealous of our sparse need for gear?

At the Peak
Some great photos were taken as we lingered at the top. It was cold now, but the angry wind that had swept over the Caher ridge was somehow gone, possible Carrauntoohil was sheltered behind Caher or Beenkaragh). Even so, several from our group felt eager to run back after the summit photos had been taken. Jackie borrowed another layer of Barry, who, well-organised as always, had brought spares.

Even in my shorts, I quite enjoyed it, and spent some time walking around, even touching the cross at the summit (and didn't get hit by lightning in the process). As I sat down to devour one of Aoife's flapjack, I looked up and saw a mountain leader dressed in green, I recognised him as leading the "fast group" of Glenwalk 2.5 years ago when I had one of my first trips into Wicklow.

There was disgust on his face as he looked at my shorts and, not recognising me, he coldly said: "Get down quick." Barry asked for volunteers to join him for the full circuits of the Reeks here, navigating the even trickier ridge between Carra and Beenkaragh. A small group joined him, but having under-dressed, wearing my thin sport's jacket, and forgetting my gloves (not to mention the shorts), I thought it prudent to go back down the normal way.

Anyway, I was interested in seeing how the race descent would "feel like". Hopefully, next year I can join for the full circumnavigation of the three peaks.

I didn't feel the cold much, though, which gives me hope for the future. I'm extremely susceptible to heat, so the Sahara Marathon, Death Valley and others will always lie beyond my capabilities (and desire), but the Alaska, North Pole, Everest, and Antarctica Marathons attract me to no end. When you're from the North, I guess it's natural to feel a calling back towards it.

To be continued....