Trail Running the Kerry Way: Part 1

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    In September and October 2017, I spent 24 days in Ireland, hiking and trail running two of the most well-known long distance trails in the country. As a guide for Xcelerated Adventures I was sent to Ireland for my second trip around the Dingle Way, guiding hikers 111 miles through the mountains and along the beaches of the eastern Atlantic. We had a blast! Once our trek was finished though, I set my eyes on a separate goal: trail running the 131-mile Kerry Way.

    The idea for trail running the Kerry Way arose from a combination of factors: I had 10 extra days in the country, but didn’t have any extra money to tour around, and lately I had been hiking a lot but felt like a walking pace was always too slow. It made sense for me to stay on the trail, spending little money and doing it fast. What started as a offhand idea grew into an obsessive need to constantly move my legs.

    Here’s the kicker though: I had no idea what I was doing. Sure I ran a lot, but usually never more than 8 miles at a time. Most of my trail runs were on the flat outer islands in Georgia, nothing like the muddy mountains I knew I was about to face. Oh, and I had definitely never ran with a 15 pound pack on for 9 days. Can’t forget that detail.

    I probably messed up the worst in arguably the most important category: shoes. I did most of the run in Chaco sandals, although I used my regular (and very bald...) Asics running shoes for back up most days. Although the Chacos were awesome for hardy grip and dunking my legs into foot-deep mud, the straps cut into my toes and arches. I mitigated the issue by spending 30 minutes each morning wrapping my feet in layers of moleskin and kinesiology tape. It probably felt pretty bad while I was on the trail but like most type 2 fun, I don’t really remember it being all that terrible now. Actually, I’m pretty satisfied by my decision to run in my Chacos. They still smell like Ireland mud and sheep poop though…

Earlier in the day, I had been running with my Chacos on, and dealt with calf-high mud, which you can see by the mud line on my left leg. I would trade out shoes during the day as the terrain changed along the Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Oct. 2017.
Earlier in the day, I had been running with my Chacos on, and dealt with calf-high mud, which you can see by the mud line on my left leg. I would trade out shoes during the day as the terrain changed along the Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Oct. 2017.

Kerry Way and Dingle Way Trip Breakdown

    This was the general breakdown of my time in Ireland. I spent 3 days running the Kerry, followed by 12 days guiding the Dingle Way, and spent my last 7 days finishing up the Kerry. Placing the Dingle Way in the middle of my time in Ireland allowed me valuable slower days to gain muscle before returning to the more difficult mountains on the Iveragh Peninsula.

I visited Ireland from Sept. 21 to Oct. 16, 2017. I trail ran the Kerry Way for three days before meeting my hikers and guiding them on the Dingle Way for 12 days. I returned to the Kerry Way and finished it during my last week there. I spent 9 days running, 8 days backpacking and took 4 rest days, 3 of which were during the Dingle Way. Photo: Marat Usmanov, Oct. 2017. Calendar overlay by Sara Weaver.
I visited Ireland from Sept. 21 to Oct. 16, 2017 and trail ran the Kerry Way for three days before meeting my hikers and guiding them on the Dingle Way for 12 days. I returned to the Kerry Way and finished it during my last week there. I spent 9 days running, 8 days backpacking and took 4 rest days, 3 of which were during the Dingle Way. Photo: Marat Usmanov, Oct. 2017. Calendar overlay by Sara Weaver.

Kerry Way Trail Run Packing List

    Planning for the run wasn’t very difficult. I explored a few extremely minimal options like running with just a small CamelBak pack with very little storage, but I didn’t feel safe without extra things like a backup battery, my headlamp and another bottle of water. Eventually, I settled on carrying my 36 liter Osprey Sirrus pack, although I filled only 15 liters or so. The burly straps with perfect adjustment options worked really well for me along the trail.

    For the first three days, I brought more than I needed. I reduced my load for the last 7 days, and carried the below.

These are all the items I brought with me during my trail run of the 131 mile Kerry Way. I've also included a column of things I got rid of to save weight and things I wish I had. My pack was about 15 pounds, but I never weighed it. Sara Weaver, 2017.
These are all the items I brought with me during my trail run of the 131 mile Kerry Way. I've also included a column of things I got rid of to save weight and things I wish I had. My pack was about 15 pounds, but I never weighed it. Please note: If you're planning on backpacking the Kerry Way or camping, your list will likely look very different than mine. Sara Weaver, 2017.

    My pack probably checked in at about 15 pounds, but I never actually weighed it. During the first day, I thought I’d go insane from the back and forth shuffling of my pack on my shoulders, but with some minor adjustments a couple miles in, it started to feel pretty good and didn’t bother me at all during the rest of my run. Actually the contrary; the movement complemented the sound of my feet pattering on the ground and sort of became a comforting noise coming from behind my shoulders. It’s a little weird how deep in your head you get when you’re out there alone.

Kerry Way Trail Run Statistics

Below are my statistics from my 9 days trail running the Kerry Way.

These are all my relative stats when I trail ran the Kerry Way and my favorite image in this entire article. I've highlighted points of interest including my greatest distance covered in one day, my fastest average pace, my greatest single-day elevation gain, and my fastest mile and slowest mile times. Looking at this spreadsheet, I resist the urge to think to myself, "I could have gone faster, I could have been better." Truth is, this was the hardest physical challenge of endurance I have ever undertaken, and I'm proud of all these statistics. I finished the Kerry Way, faster than most people! My slowest mile was at the beginning and my fastest was at the end, displaying a very clear personal improvement. The Kerry Way has done nothing but instigate my trail running addiction. Sara Weaver, 2017.
These are all my relevant stats when I trail ran the Kerry Way and my favorite image in this entire article. I've highlighted points of interest including my greatest distance covered in one day, my fastest average pace, my greatest single-day elevation gain, and my fastest mile and slowest mile times. Looking at this spreadsheet, I resist the urge to think to myself, "I could have gone faster, I could have been better." Truth is, this was the hardest physical challenge of endurance I have ever undertaken, and I'm proud of all these statistics. I finished the Kerry Way, faster than most people! My slowest mile was at the beginning and my fastest was at the end, displaying a very clear personal improvement. The Kerry Way has done nothing but instigate my trail running addiction. Sara Weaver, 2017.

Kerry Way Journal

    I kept a detailed notebook with me that held trail descriptions and my thoughts. I’ve included these and some photos from my first two days on the trail in this article. I’ll release the articles about my other seven days spent on the trail soon, and I hope you enjoy following along! I’ve tried to order the photos chronologically so you can get the best idea of the weather conditions and what I was seeing during my journey.

Day 1 on the Kerry Way

    Navigating to the start of the trail in the cute town of Killarney was uneventful, with a couple bus rides and a night in a hostel. I bought another jacket because the weather was cooler than expected, and I’m grateful I did. I spent my first day tracking down the official start of the trail and cramming my body with as much Irish comfort food as I could manage. I’d lose 7 pounds over the next few weeks.

Muckross House is the first landmark along the Kerry Way, about two miles into the 131 mile trail. The house is surrounded by expansive lawns and gardens, and as I'd come to be grateful for, manicured and flat running surfaces! Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Muckross House is the first landmark along the Kerry Way, about two miles into the 131 mile trail. The house is surrounded by expansive lawns and gardens, and as I'd come to be grateful for, manicured and flat running surfaces! Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.

    I set off early in the morning a couple days after my 24th birthday, and tackled the first 5 miles past the Muckross House to the Torc Waterfall at a decent pace. I saw several other runners and tourists along the way, all staring bug-eyed at my pack. I admittedly looked pretty ridiculous. Even I wasn’t convinced that I’d be able to run this thing.

Beyond Muckross Houses lies Mangerton and Torc Mountains, between which lies the Kerry Way and Torc Waterfall. On this day, I ran against winds gusting up to 30 mph, and hours later the foreboding clouds opened up above me. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2015.
Beyond Muckross Houses lies Mangerton and Torc Mountains, between which lies the Kerry Way and Torc Waterfall. On this day, I ran through this pass against winds gusting up to 30 mph, and hours later the foreboding clouds opened up above me. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2015.

    The second leg of my trek threaded up through the incredible Killarney National Park (KNP), between Torc and Mangerton Mountains. I thought some of the path through the boggy terrain was uneven and difficult to run on, but I hadn’t seen anything yet. The trail through the park is one of the most well-kept of the whole Kerry Way. I was sooooo in over my head.

Looking back on the pass through Killarney National Park. Torc Mountain guards the path on the left, while Mangerton lies to the right. There's a lake near the top of Mangerton known as the Devil's Punch Bowl. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Looking back on the pass through Killarney National Park. Torc Mountain guards the path on the left, while Mangerton lies to the right. There's a lake near the top of Mangerton known as the Devil's Punch Bowl. This section presented some of the most outstanding landscape along the entire Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.

 

The abandoned home sat along the Kerry Way which threads through Killarney National Park. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
The abandoned home sat along the Kerry Way which threads through Killarney National Park. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.

  After exiting the other end of KNP, I descended to a forest and wound my way along Upper Lake with small, forested islands peeking up from the water. Then came the rain and within an hour, I was soaked through, exhausted and only capable of walking the last 3 miles. I had never tackled 15 miles in a single day before, and this was only day one. I eventually arrived at the Black Valley Hostel in the middle of nowhere, stoked, soaked and sore. It was 2 pm and although they didn’t officially open until 4, the owner let me in early and allowed me to take a much needed shower.The evening was spent around the fireplace trading stories of adventures with two Irish gentlemen and a Brit, all up in arms how a sweet thing like me could possibly want to do something like this. I conceded that I had no idea.

Day 2 on the Kerry Way

Wet, rocky, black peaks stand sentinel over the Kerry Way as it weaves through the surreal Black Valley. It was a cold and wet morning, but the weather was supposed to clear later in the day. With some of the most challenging and dangerous trail later this day, I was hoping it would. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Wet, rocky, black peaks stand sentinel over the Kerry Way as it weaves through the surreal Black Valley. It was a cold and wet morning, but the weather was supposed to clear later in the day. With some of the most challenging and dangerous trail later this day, I was hoping it would. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
I met this sweet girl on a rainy day traversing the Black Valley along the Kerry Way. One of the few farm animals that allowed me to pet them! Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
I met this sweet girl on a rainy day traversing the Black Valley along the Kerry Way. One of the few farm animals that allowed me to pet them! Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.

    This 12 mile leg brought some of my favorite views of the Kerry Way along with the onslaught of injuries I’d face during the rest of the run. I slept in and took my time getting ready because I didn’t want to arrive to my hostel early like I had the day before. After setting off in the mist and before reaching the first mountain pass, I lost my way for about an hour. I eventually made my way over a shoulder of Broaghnabinnia Mountain, right as the morning drizzle cleared to reveal the stunning image of Black Valley on one side, and Bridia Valley on the other. This is a strong contender for my favorite spot along the trail.

There's nothing quite like the mysteriousness of an Irish forest. The ground was muddy, the air was misty, and the branches seemed to suppress every sound. This was the first deeply forested section along the Kerry Way, towards the end of my run through the Black Valley. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
There's nothing quite like the mysteriousness of an Irish forest. The ground was muddy, the air was misty, and the branches seemed to suppress every sound. This was the first deeply forested section along the Kerry Way, towards the end of my run through the Black Valley. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
This scene is very typical of the Black Valley landscape. Short scrub, dense with invasive rhododendron ponticum dusting the ground with its perennial brown leaves, and the intimidating outlines of rocky mountains jutting out from the never-ending fog. Although it was just day 2 of the Kerry Way, I was about to get very used to this view. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
This scene is very typical of the Black Valley landscape. Short scrub, dense with invasive rhododendron ponticum dusting the ground with its perennial brown leaves, and the intimidating outlines of rocky mountains like Broaghnabinnia jutting out from the never-ending fog. Although it was just day 2 of the Kerry Way, I was about to get very used to views like this. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Broagnabinnia Mountain on the left stands above the Black Valley. In the distance, you can see the Kerry Way winding up to this gorgeous path which marks the entrance to Bridia Valley. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Curraghmore Mountain on the left stands above the Black Valley. In the distance, you can see the Kerry Way winding up to this gorgeous pass which marks the entrance to Bridia Valley. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.

    After descending into Bridia Valley, I stopped for lunch at a cafe actually in the middle of nowhere and enjoyed my meal with a German man who had hiked the Kerry Way two years earlier. Beyond my half-finished tomato soup was a 380m rise through sheep pasture, opening up to a view of Lough (Lake) Acoose over the top. My left hip was really tight, but I ignored it and continued to press on. Although I was out of breath, the steep, grassy path wasn’t yet muddy and the ascent was pretty straightforward; I just had to keep pushing up! The trail down the other side of this mountain was the opposite - muddy, rocky, slippery and technical, but oh, so fun. I was grateful for the later afternoon clear weather; this mountainous stretch is nearly impassable in a downpour.

Once I traversed the Broaghnabinnia pass, a panoramic view of the expansive Bridia Valley stretched out beyond. The colors may appear over-saturated, but that is simply that the grass is always greener in Ireland. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Once I traversed the Broaghnabinnia pass, a panoramic view of the expansive Bridia Valley stretched out beyond. The colors may appear over-saturated, but that is simply because the grass really is greener in Ireland. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
It is easy to follow this Kerry Way trail marker into the inviting green pastures of the Bridia Valley below. Don't mind if I do! Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
It is easy to follow this Kerry Way trail marker into the inviting green pastures of the Bridia Valley below. Don't mind if I do! Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
After descending to the Bridia Valley and enjoying lunch at the remote Cooky Monster Cafe, I took the opportunity to turn back and see Broaghnabinnia Mountain rising above the Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
After descending to the Bridia Valley and enjoying lunch at the remote Cooky Monster Cafe, I took the opportunity to turn back and see Broaghnabinnia Mountain rising above the Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.

    Upon descending to the valley on the other side of the ridge, I entered an expansive forest for the last few miles, when my first severe ankle twist occurred. I teared up, walked for a minute, then was back on the run. It wasn’t that big of a deal at the time, and soon after, I arrived at my accommodation in Glencar for the night, totally elated and feeling accomplished. That evening, I limped around like a ragdoll above my rigid hip and swollen ankle, knowing that the next leg was only 8 miles. I shared a few Guinnesses and talked politics in the adjoined bar with a couple of German girls who were hiking the Kerry Way in the opposite direction. They were camping in the rain out back, and I was grateful for my cruddy little bunk.

I still can't wrap my mind around the fact the I circled this massive landscape in its entirety. The weather cleared and the blue sky made the intense uphill sections a little less taxing. I can't wait to someday return to the Bridia Valley. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
I still can't wrap my mind around the fact the I circled this massive landscape in its entirety. The weather cleared and the blue sky made the intense uphill sections a little less taxing. I can't wait to someday return to the Bridia Valley. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Lough Acoose rests peacefully below the impressive mountain range known as MacGillycuddy's Reeks along the Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Lough Acoose rests peacefully below the impressive mountain range known as MacGillycuddy's Reeks along the Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Another abandoned home sits overgrown, tucked in the dark forests of Glencar just beside the path of the Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.
Another abandoned home sits overgrown, tucked in the dark forests of Glencar just beside the path of the Kerry Way. Photo: Sara Weaver, Sept. 2017.

    Did you enjoy reading about my Kerry Way run synopsis and my first two days on the trail? Drop a comment below to tell me what you think. Let me know if you’re looking forward to reading about the rest of my journey, and until then, happy travels!

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