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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!