The 2013 Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race, Ireland

The Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race was held on Saturday 5th October, 2013. There were 3 distances to choose from; a 27km route, a 59km and a 69km, all involving a mix of trail running, cycling and kayaking. We chose the 69km.

First of all, here’s a film of the event, it’ll give you an idea of what to expect from the route if you’re thinking of doing it yourself.

Part 1 – David Wise

Hopefully you’ll have already seen my film of the race. If not, do have a look, it’ll show you just how scenic, challenging and interesting the event was. It’ll also highlight how lucky we were; bright sun and warmth in Ireland, in October?!!! We weren’t expecting that at all…

We got to Cork Airport from Heathrow with Air Lingus. I think it was a pretty good flight although I can’t be sure as I’d enjoyed the free bar in the airport lounge a bit too much before we left and then when we arrived we started to enjoy some of that famous Irish hospitality, first of all at a traditional farm and then back at the hotel, which ended with me stumbling back to my room in the early hours in a rather confused state. I was pretty amazed I could still stand, actually, considering the litter of empties we’d left in our wake. Not that it effected my mate Dave. He’s from Essex you see, so binge drinking’s in his blood (nothing like a bit of reverse-Orientalism to open the article, eh?). All in all, it probably wasn’t the best way to spend the evening before a big race, but there you go, we live and learn.

I wasn’t too bothered actually, I was in ok shape and reckoned I could finish the course, which was all I was after really. There’s no way I could win it, I wouldn’t want to – for somebody to win somebody else has to loose and I’m not into that at all, the only competition that counts is the one going on inside myself – so all I was up for was an enjoyable hack through some lovely countryside, and a nice weekend away.

Before I go on, something about that ‘nice weekend away’. Don’t, please, think of going to Killarney just for the weekend, as we did. Firstly because it’s a lovely place and it’s worth much more time than that. And secondly because, as people who run, bike and kayak in the great outdoors, presumably because we love being there, shouldn’t we be doing all we can to preserve it? From what I’ve been told, short haul flights are among the most destructive we can take. The main issue with flying is the amount of pollution that’s pumped out as the plane takes off and lands – the in-between cruising at altitude bit isn’t too much of a problem. Coming back from this event I had a bit of a Damascus moment and promised myself that if at all possible, in the future when I fly someplace I’ll make the trip a long holiday rather than a short weekend, so as to get the most out of the journey and also to cut down on the amount of flights I take per year. So, if you can, make your trip to next years Killarney Adventure Race (or anywhere else we recommend as a great race destination, such as Athens, Budapest or Rome) part of a week or more holiday in the area, you won’t regret it and the world will thank you for it, one day.

Ok, environmental lecture ok, let’s get back to Killarney. The other competitors were a friendly bunch, and everybody looked in fine form. There had been regular newsletters in the few months’ lead up to the race detailing training routines which I reckon had helped a lot of people. It’s not easy to train for such a varied event unless you actually live in a similar area to the one you’re due to race in. I think I was also helped by my many years of mountain walking too; stage 1 and stage 4 were as much about hard slogs up steep, rocky inclines as they were about running. A few of my mates back home who are really into cycling had said they’d be interested in the race if only they were better runners. I told them after I got back, you could have done it, there was very little running going on for most of us as the trail sections were out and back routes up and down mountains. Over half of it was walking, I reckon. So if you’re a cyclist who’s not too lively on their feet and you’re thinking about this race next year, my advice is, go for it, it’s within everybodies reach…

Dave didn’t bring his bike with him and I haven’t got one of my own so we rented them from O’Sullivans Cycles, who are based in Killarney. They fitted the bikes out for us (adjusted the saddles, etc) and transported them to the race start line, which was a 20 minute drive away (our own bus journey was included in race entry). We didn’t need to worry about kayaks as the organisers were providing those. All we needed to bring with us from England really was our racing kit and a few mandatory bits like bike helmet, pump, spare inner tube and a small first aid kit.

The race expo was quite small, we were round it in 10 minutes. They had a great ice cream product there called Fit Fuel though, apparently it gives you 20gs of protein in every small tub. It’s the sort of product you’re given in hospital if you can’t eat and you needed your nutrition. What a great idea it is, ice cream that you can feel good about eating. Only 5gs of fat per tub too. It tasted good, I recommend you check it out if you can -

Now to race day. For those of us taking part in the 69km race route (there was also a 27km route and a 59km route) there were several ‘waves’ of chip timed starts, when the field was released at regular intervals between 8 amd 10am, so as to ease congestion on the routes. The race consisted of the following 5 stages:

Stage 1: Mountain Run – 7.5km. Starting at the base of the McGillycuddy Reeks this stage took us through a tough steep bog mountain trail up and over Strickeen mountain. We walked most of the up, and jogged and stumbled our way back into town, where our bikes were waiting for us, ready for…

Stage 2: Road bike – 35km. The ride had a rather large hill within the first 5km, not steep enough that we had to get off and walk but our lungs were bursting, that’s for sure. Then there was a great, fast downhill on a firm road. It wasn’t shady at all and the surface was pretty good so if you were a very confident cyclist you could get great speed up here. We only managed 35mph tops but then again, we were being cautious. Then there was a long haul along the flat-ish valley floor, gradually turning into an uphill that got very tough. Again, not enough to make us walk it, although some did, but certainly enough to eye the summit (clearly visible thanks the ambulance stationed there) with longing. The views of the valley off to our left on the way up were a dream. Then we hit the summit and got onto a well surfaced road and we were flying, downhill all the way for the next 10km or so to…

Stage 3: Kayak – 1.5km. We picked up a sit on top kayak from the lakeshore just down from the bike drop area and had a choppy paddle on a circular route around the spectacularly clear waters of Muckross Lake. The way out was tough as the wind was in our face but the way back felt like somebody had us on a rope and was pulling us in. Those who were on their own just paired up with other solo competitors who had arrived at the lakeshore at the same time, nobody seemed to have much of a wait.

There was no specialist knowledge needed to paddle; the person at the front just goes for it and the one at the back does the same but also adjusts the side they paddle on according to what the person in front is doing. I enjoy a bit of open canoeing once a month so found it pretty easy but I’m positive that anybody can do it, regardless of experience.

Everybody got wet, very, from our feet up to our waist, as the kayaks have no sides and the waters were, as I said, choppy. Plus we had to wade in up to our calves to get the craft in the first place. I was obviously a bit worried as wet shoes plus wet socks plus the forthcoming Stage 4 seemed to equal a fair chance of nasty blisters. Still, once out of the canoe we ran back towards the bike drop area and began…

Stage 4: Mangerton Mountain Run – 18km. Starting by going under a 250 year old tunnel under the road, we ran up through forest, past the impressive Torc Waterfall and to the base of Mangerton. From here a mountain track – sometimes boggy, mostly rocky – led to the Devil’s Punchbowl, 50 metres from the summit, where we drank from a clean lake before turning round and heading back down for the final stage, which was…

Stage 5: Road Bike – 4km.This final short cycle stage brought us to the finish line at the Gleneagle Hotel where all competitors were be given medals and vouchers for hot food. There was a free massage on offer too, and a dip in a barrel, which I think was acting as a hot tub. I gave that a miss; the sun was out, it was perfect weather for lazing about on the lawn, and there was nothing more I wanted to do after that tough 69km than laze about in the sun! What a way to finish a race.

It’s worth mentioning that some people wore road running shoes, but they quickly dropped behind. They were better suited for the bike riding that my rather heavier trail shoes but when dealing with the many rocks and wet, muddy bogs that littered our trails they just weren’t up to the job. So, if you’re doing this event in the future, bring trail shoes with good ankle protection, for sure. I was wearing Helly Hansen Pace shoes, and although they do feel large compared to the more lightweight road and trail shoes I’m pretty certain they’re responsible for me walking away from this event with my ankles in good shape.

To discover more about the Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure race, please visit

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