The Kerry Way UltraNite – Diary of an All-Night Runner

This was the moment I had feared. Just after going over on my left foot, feeling that familiar pain of bruised ligaments on the outer side of my ankle. This surely means the end of the run for me. I had started off strong, confidently passed many runners on the flat and the uphills, but now I am being overtaken on every downhill stretch. I had hurt my ankle months earlier in training and it has become a recurring thorn in my side. The downhill section is the part of the run where you can make up good time by running really fast while using minimal energy, but I was moving so slow now through this section that everyone who I had passed earlier was now just gliding past me. This felt so frustrating. I was handing back all the gains that I had worked so hard for earlier. Yet despite being so careful and almost slowing to a walk, I had hurt my ankle again. It’s around 4:00 AM and I have already been running for six hours through the night. I have already changed the batteries in my head torch twice. It is still another two to three hours before daylight, but I’m injured on the side of a mountain, and everyone is now overtaking me. I step aside to take stock of my situation.

Two weeks earlier, I had checked the Kerry Way Ultra website and found a place on the UltraNite ultramarathon. A race that starts as night falls, at 10:00 pm, and continues through the night.for a time limit cutoff of 25 hours.

The Kerry Way UltraNite is a mountain ultramarathon that is part of the Kerry Way Ultra event. It is a 90 km (55 mile) mountain ultramarathon that includes 2400 metres of climbing that traverses a mountain route comprising paths and tracks, with about a fifth of the running is on road. 

The race starts as night falls, at 10:00 pm, and continues for a time limit cutoff of 25 hours.

The definition of an ultra-marathon is any distance longer than a marathon (42.2 km). However most Ultrarunners consider 50 km to be the minimum distance for an ultramarathon classification, while others consider it to be fifty miles and some consider it to be fifty miles in the mountains. 

This event satisfies even the most selective definition of an ultramarathon. It starts in Waterville, on the Iveragh peninsula in Kerry, at 10:00 PM on a Friday night. The run must be completed within 25 hours by 11:00 pm the following might. The Race Director, Eileen Daly, and her team of volunteers, have been doing an exceptional job of putting this event together over the years. The event has a very professional feel to it. The lead up to the event had a series of video presentations and interviews by the excellent enthusiastic host and runner himself, Sean Clifford. This year, amidst severe COVID-19 restrictions, the race logistics have become much more challenging and complex. A condition of the race going ahead was having minimum contact between race volunteers and participants, which meant minimal support with each participant being encouraged to be as self-supported as possible. I didn’t have a support crew, but instead availed of three of the aid stations to leave drop-bags containing water and food. I have been carrying 2 litres of water and about 1.5 kilogram of food. The absence of a support crew and minimal aid-stations added another element of hardship to the challenge. This didn’t deter me as years of long-distance hiking has conditioned me to being self-sufficient. If that didn’t sound daunting enough, the event starts at the beginning of the night to ensure that the maximum distance is covered during the hours of darkness.

I had made a comeback to running just a year earlier. I have ran in the past, but it was about ten years since I donned a pair of running shoes. I have always been very active in the mountains, be it hiking, camping or rock-climbing. I’m a pretty adventurous soul, having hiked in places many fear to tread. I’ve been bitten by snakes, had gunshots fired over my head and have had my fair share of falls. Still there is an element of endurance that captivates me like nothing else. It’s the mental challenge of pushing against the will to stop, the need to sleep, and the overcoming of pain and suffering. Maybe it’s a type of self-transcendence. Maybe just stubbornness. But there is also the absolute simplicity of running that strongly appeals to me, especially in the great outdoors. And there is something in me that is drawn to endurance. I guess I’m drawn to that stoic concept of seeking out discomfort, embracing it and overcoming it.

Running long distances is an amazing experience, that impacts your mental strength; your physical strength; and your outlook on life. It can become a metaphor for life itself and for an understanding of the nature of suffering, the human condition and the impermanence of things.

I’m so tired now, it’s almost 24 hours since I last slept. A four hour drive on the same day of the race was a bad idea, I should have drove down the night before. My clothes have already gone through several cycles of being soaked with sweat and having dried out. Not fully dry, but that kind of sweaty dry, where the clothes stick to your skin and you can feel the clusters of salt and minerals etching into your body.

Running is a great way to warm-up and stay warm. You can generate all the heat that you need, but when you stop you get cold very quickly and risk hypothermia. I have the mandatory kit which includes a rain jacket and foil blanket. The rain jacket also acts as a windbreaker giving a degree of protection against losing heat through convection or wind chill. My mandatory kit also includes a first-aid kit; water and phone. I also have trekking poles which will allow me to limp to the next aid-station if I have hurted my ankle badly.

I’m now standing on the side of a mountain in the middle of the night having hurt my ankle while running an ultra-marathon.

I put some weight on my left ankle which actually feels okay now with only a small amount of discomfort. I try to walk on it slowly and transition into a gentle jog. The pain disappears, but my ankle feels very unsteady. This has happened to me before. In a hiking challenge the previous year, I went over on my ankle, continued on, but then went over on it a second time, causing me to have to retire from the race early. But that was in the daytime, not in the middle of the night.

I’m back running now, facing a long downward section on rough ground where I slow down to a crawl. I know if I go over on my ankle a second time, I’m out of the race entirely. As it is, I’ll be able to get to the next aid-station. I may even be able to complete it within the 25 hour cutoff. But the prospect of hobbling along through another three hours of darkness followed by another full day depletes my resolve. I’m not enjoying this and just want it to be over, to be home. I’m questioning why I ever decided to do this. I just want it to be over. I don’t even care now whether I finish it or not. I want to be home in bed, just home on familiar territory and in comfort.

I continue on as the only alternative is to sit on the side of a Mountain and wait for sunrise.

I can’t remember how long I’ve been running. At full intensity my headtorch lasts about two hours, I have already put in two new sets of batteries, so that’s about… my thinking has slowed down now… where was I? How long have I been running, I look at my watch and it says 4:25 AM. Having  started the previous day at 10:00 PM makes that about six hours. Six hours from twenty-five hours, that gives me a lot of time for the cut-off. Too much time to just quit. I really want to just abandon it now. It’s unimportant. The important things are very simple things, the important thing is just to be home now. I continue downhill. I don’t care about times now. I don’t care about finishing. But I will try to finish it all the same.

I try to stop thinking of the finish and how far I have come. I let go of everything and just think about the next step. I think of the phrase “this too shall pass”. It occurs to me that this is a form of meditation, staying in the moment, no past, no future, just one foot in front of the other. This works for a while but thoughts of the remaining challenge keep flooding back into mind. I bring my mind back to my next step. This is exactly like meditation. Meditators call it monkey-mind, the tendency of the mind to jump from idea to idea, like a monkey jumping from branch to branch.

There is also the mindfulness metaphor of the lion mind, which goes something like this: “Imagine what would happen if you held up a bone in front of a dog. Where would its eyes focus? What would it do if you threw the bone? The dog would likely be completely focused on the bone and chase after it. On the other hand, what would happen if you held up the same bone in front of a lion? The lion would sit upright as the bone is waved, eyes looking beyond the bone and directly at you. The lion understands the bone is just a small piece of a larger reality, and therefore is not distracted by it”. My ankle, the distance remaining, the tiredness, are like the distraction of the bone, where the larger reality is overcoming the mind wanting to give up. I find this image helps in cultivating a mind of equanimity, a mind acceptance, which helps me at this moment to put one step in front of the other.

It’s nighttime and the only view ahead of me is the four metres illuminated by my head torch.

But when I look up I see a full moon with some clouds passing by. The sky is clearly visible. The clouds floating in front of the full moon reminds me of an old hammer house horror movie. This is one of the darkest parts of the world. It is only one of four areas in the world to receive the Dark Skies Gold Tier Reserve designation by the international Dark Sky Association.

A designation awarded to places on earth with the least light pollution and a draw for astronomers and skywatchers from the world over. Who said that mountain runners don’t appreciate the Mountains like hikers do. This is a comment that I’ve heard many times. I’m a hiker and a runner myself and I can tell you that all outdoor activities complement each other. In fact running can heighten one’s awareness of one’s surroundings. While running you are forced to be completely present of what’s happening around you and where your foot will fall next. It’s not possible to space out or daydream on a run like it is while hiking. Tonight, as a runner, I am acutely aware of the earth beneath me while appreciating the detail in a clear night sky above me. I have never quite experienced the night sky like tonight.

I remember a quote from a Navajo runner in the film “3100: Run and Become” – a film about the world’s longest race, a 3,100-mile race around a New York city block.

In the film, the Navajo runner says: “Running is a prayer. We use our feet to pray to mother earth. We breathe in father sky …”

I pick my steps carefully on this rough downhill section. My head torch flashes twice, which is an indication that I have about half an hour of battery life. I don’t want to stop yet but know that I need to soon. My head torch beam continues to become dimmer which isn’t good for seeing the rough terrain. I stop and change the batteries which flood the ground with a high intensity light that makes picking my steps a bit easier. I should have changed my batteries earlier.

Eventually, after what seems like an eternity, the rough downhill section finally comes to an end and the trail flattens. I start picking up my pace now. I catch another runner. I forget about the suffering and just go with it. I start noticing that I’m passing more runners and beginning to feel strong.

I can’t pinpoint the point where I went from despondent to elated, but it must have been somewhere along the dark banks of the Kenmare river. I catch up with another group of runners who must have been twenty minutes ahead of me when I hurt my ankle. They are stopped at a point where the path divides debating which way to turn. I see the Waymarked sign and advise them the correct direction. I know that sometimes a certainty can easily be replaced with a doubt if it’s discussed for too long, especially when tired, so I don’t engage in the discussion, but continue onward leaving them the option to follow me on not. This is a good strategy because it keeps me in the flow.

The way is very well marked with the familiar yellow man – a waymarking sign that is used on all of Ireland’s main long-distance hiking routes. At night, the luminous yellow man can be seen hundreds of metres away by the reflection in the beam of the head torch. This is one advantage of running at night. At the start of the race, a GPS tracking device was taped to each participant’s running vest, which allows the Race Director to follow every participant in real time. If they go off-course, a call from the RD will set them straight. The online tracker also ensures that participants don’t take shortcuts, such as on the busy road into Kenmare, in which case a time penalty or disqualification would follow.

As I continue, I’m beginning to feel re-energized. I am now picking up my pace and enjoying it.

As I arrive at the Templenoe aid-station, I immediately spot my drop bag. I mix concoction of a Tailwind energy powder with a litre of water and refill my water bottles and then pack food for the next section. The food consists of raisins and gels. While repacking my supplies, I drink another litre of water. I’m out of the aid-station in about minutes. I wasted too much time at the first aid-station, but now I’m becoming more efficient at these pit stops.

As I leave Templenoe, I pick up my pace and follow the Kerry Way back roads that avoids the more direct busy road into Kenmare. The undulating road gradually climbs. The quick turnaround at the last aid station and my strong pace bolsters my spirit. The road continues to climb for about three or four kilometres. I get into a routine of a gentle trot, slowing to a walk on the climbs and into a run on the descents. I hear the footsteps of three runners behind me and expect them to overtake me at any moment as they sound like they have a solid pace themselves, but they don’t. They seem to be pacing off me, speeding up when I speed up and slowing when I slow down. This boosts my confidence some more as I think that maybe I do have a good running strategy afterall. Eventually the half hour of climbing gives way to about three kilometres of downhill. During the downhill section, the last hour of twilight gives way to sunrise and with no further need for a head torch. Daylight brings a new sense of confidence that I can finish this race provided I don’t do anything stupid, like hurt my ankle again. I ease off on my pace slightly. The three runners catch me, chat and overtake. We play a game of leapfrog for the new few kilometres. Eventually we all arrive at a sharp left turn that gets us off the road onto a trail that quickly turns into a kind of bog. I slow down as I know how easy it would be for me to go over on my ankle again. Eventually, I see Kenmare, the last aid-station.

I arrived in Kenmare at 8:18 AM, Seven and a Half hours ahead of this station’s cutoff time. Now, barring an unfortunate injury, I will finish this ultra.

I have been carrying 2 litres of water and 1.5 Kilograms of food, but have only been drinking one litre of water and eating about half a kilogram of food, between aid stations, so I decided to reduce my weight by jettisoning about 1.5 kg of water and food weight. I have been needlessly carrying this excess weight for the last 60 kilometres, which with some mental math, I reckon added an extra eleven minutes to my time so far.

I’m out of the Kenmare aid-station in less than three minutes and feel strong mentally and physically. 

There is a very long unrelenting climb on the road out of Kenmare. The section from Kenmare to Killarney is harder than I had expected, but it’s a beautiful day and I’m so happy that I’m here doing this. Eventually the route goes off-road across beautiful landscapes.

I am thinking of the feeling of eventually crossing the finish line but also enjoying the fact that I’m still running. 

I think of the iconic cliche credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson “Life is a journey, not a destination”. It’s such an overused cliche these days that it’s wisdom is easily missed. It’s the moment, the present that we live in. The destination can often be a comedown. But one of the real benefits of running an ultra, is that the journey is so long and it gives you time to enjoy the journey and spend more time in the moment.

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.

Ernest Hemingway

The Ernest Hemingway quote about the journey might be also be paraphrased to training. It’s good to have a race, but it’s the months spent training that matter in the end.

The route into Killarney is particularly beautiful. Eventually, I reached Torc waterfall. Every hiker that I passed wishes me luck. I tried to respond with friendly banter but I’m only capable of monosyllabic replies at this stage, which have to be paced with each outbreath.

Torc Waterfall, Killarney National Park.Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan

By the time that I reach Torc Waterfall, I’m feeling elated. Going through Muckross House is a bit confusing, but eventually I’m back on the road again running to the finish line. People are cheering me on and cars are beeping their horns. At first I’m perplexed and think they have mistook me for some serious athlete or ultra-runner, but then I think “hey, today,  that’s me”.

Four hours after leaving Kenmare, I reached the finish. It is 12:22 PM. My official time is 14:30:29. A race Marshall uses a sharp knife to remove the GPS tracker from my running vest.

Eileen Daly, the Race Director, presents me with a wooden medal and I have a quick chat with the legendary ultra-runner, Eoin Keith.

I walk back to my hotel. At the check-in, the receptionist is chatting away to a customer. She throws a glance in my direction and says to the customer “There’s another one of them”. She beckons me forward and says “it’s not a hotel you should be checking into…”. We all have a good laugh. The other customer seems to be entrawled with the fact that someone might run 90 kilometres through the night and keeps me in a conversation about it. I am tired but still excited to be discussing it with someone who is genuinely interested.

As I talk, I think of one of those endurance heros that I’ve read about in books like “Born to Run” manifesting off the page into a real person and that person becoming me. I have become my own hero. As we talk, he tells me he is not into running, but into cycling, endurance cycling. He tells me he cycled 48-hours non-stop from Mallon head to Hook head. I enjoyed the conversation and the bonding comradery amongst people who do exceptional things.

The long distance run through the night was not about medals or even time but about challenging myself both mentally and physically. In the week leading up to the event, I was secretly wishing that it would be cancelled. After doing it, I can honestly say that it was the most rewarding event that I have done in years. 

Epilogue

I was on a complete high, feeling invincible, for five days after the run. It wasn’t until Friday when the runner’s high began to fade and then suddenly I was hit by extreme fatigue. The next few months will be spent in recovery with very easy running. I’m very grateful that I got the opportunity to participate in this event and eagerly await my next endurance event, but after a good period of recovery.

Credit has to be given to all the volunteers that make events like this possible.

My statistics and results for the event were:

  • Weight: 76.9 kg (Both morning weight and my 5-day median weight)
  • Waist Circumference: 88.2 cm (5-day median)
  • Body Fat Percentage: 12% (Calculated using a Body Fat Calipers, which is within an athletic Body Fat range)
  • Official Distance and Ascent: 88.9 km/2340 m
  • Official Time: 14 hours 30 minutes 29 seconds
  • iTRA Points awarded: 3

In closing, I would like to mention the UTMB.

The UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) is a single-stage mountain ultramarathon that is considered to be the holy grail among ultra runners. It has flashed onto my radar from time to time, but I still haven’t decided whether I would want to do it, as I prefer the smaller, more local races. But I would like to be at a level of fitness that I could enter if I choose to do so. The International Trail Running Association (iTRA) grades the difficulty of races and these gradings can then be used for entry into the UTMB races. I would like to know that I was at the fitness standard for participation in the UTMB. As it happens, if I were to complete another similar race, then that would qualify me for entry to the UTMB CCC – an alpine race deep into the wilderness of the Grande Randonnée du Tour du Mont-Blanc (GR TMB). 

Having said that, for me, it’s not about medals or competing against objective measurements but a more subjective competition with myself.

The joy of finishing the Kerry Way ultramarathon wasn’t receiving the wooden medal at the finish line but proving to myself that I could overcome the pain and suffering to complete such an event.

An Ideal Body Weight Is Probably Lower Than You Think

Weight is one of the most talked about topics today. The perception of an “ideal” body weight (IBW), is often based on what is promoted through the media. TV, movies, magazines, advertisements have us chasing after a weight that is only based on the perception of what a desirable weight is. This perception has changed considerably over the last century.

But there is a less frivolous side to a desirable weight. The notion of an ideal body weight (IBW) was originally introduced to estimate dosages for medical use, where the metabolism of certain drugs is more based on IBW than it is on total body weight. Insurance company actuaries then refined its use to estimate life expectancy for life insurance policies. Today, IBW is widely used in medicine, healthy weight recommendations, and throughout sports.

A person’s weight is highly individual and not an exact science.  There is no measure that can definitively state how much a person should weigh to be healthy and it’s much more important to make healthy life choices such as regular exercise, eating a variety of healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress.

Having said that, it is still useful to find a recommendation on an ideal body weight that is based on available data.

The gold standard today for measuring “normal” body weight is the BMI Index. This is the calculation promoted by the WHO.

However,  when I plug my height into this equation, the first thing that I notice is the size of the range. The BMI index is showing a normal healthy weight range of 20 kg. Really? My weight can go up or down by 20 kg and still be normal.

I’ve been tracking my weight with some health biomarkers, such as cholesterol and blood pressure for years. From these observations, for myself at least, I have found the BMI index to be very misleading. My biomarkers only start moving into their normal range at a weight below 78.8 kg, which is about four kilograms lower than where the BMI index is telling me that I am at a normal healthy weight. But it is not until my weight drops below 76.5 kg, that all the tracked biomarkers come into the normal healthy range, which is a full six kilogram below the BMI recommendation. 

My healthy body weight is below 76.5 kg, which is six kilograms (13 lbs in the US or over a stone in the UK) lower than the upper bound of what the WHO’s BMI index gives as a normal weight range.

Needless to say, I have lost confidence in the BMI index as a measure of a healthy weight. It probably has a place in classifying obesity in large population samples, but from my experience it is not useful for calculating an individual’s healthy weight.

This led me to researching other models and formulae that would fit with my recorded observations.

The following table lists the main formulas and tables used to estimate ideal body weights and weight ranges. Estimates of an ideal body weight, for a six foot male of medium build are also included for comparison purposes

FormulaCommentSample Weight*
Metropolitan Life Height-Weight Tables 1943, Revised 1983In 1943, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company introduced their standard height-weight tables, which would indicate those persons with the lowest mortality rates70.0-76.3 kg
G. J. Hamwi Formula, 1964Invented for medicinal dosage purposes.
80 kg
B. J. Devine Formula (1974)Originally intended as a basis for medicinal dosages. The formula is now universally used for Ideal Body Weight.
77.0 kg
J. D. Robinson Formula (1983)
Modification of the Devine Formula.74 kg
D. R. Miller Formula (1983)Modification of the Devine Formula.73 kg
Harry J. M. Lemmens Formula (2005)This formula is an improvement on the other formulae. The formula is: Ideal Body Weight (kg) = 22 x height^2 (meter)73 kg
Healthy BMI RangeBMI is currently the official metric for classifying individuals according to different obesity levels.
62.0 - 83.0 kgs
*Comparison result for a six foot male of medium build.

There are limitations to all these formulas and methods, so picking a formula is a bit like sticking a finger in the air. However, I wanted to place my selection on a more scientific footing, based on my empirical observations of comparing my weight with tracked biomarkers, such as cholesterol and blood pressure.

Using my own height, I compared the estimated body weights, which I’ve summarized in the chart below:

As you can see the BMI index is pretty broad. Perhaps too broad. When I plug in my healthy biomarkers on the chart, the BMI healthy range is not healthy at all at its upper limits of normal. However being so broad it includes other models that appear more accurate. Perhaps the BMI healthy range needs to be narrowed somewhat.

The most commonly used formula today in medicine and for calculating an ideal body weight is the Devine formula, but as can be seen from the chart above, it also calculates an ideal body weight that is above the range of the healthy biomarkers.

Perhaps as the western world’s weight increases, so does the ideal body weight formulas. If the formulas are based on current population averages, then this might be expected, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy averages.

However, if we go back seventy-five years we find something different. We find a population with very little obesity and now we can find ideal body weights within a population of people that are already at a healthier weight. 

As far back as 1943, we find height-weight tables that match my own biomarker observations. In 1943, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company introduced their standard height-weight tables for men and women. The tables were revised slightly in 1983. They indicate those persons with the lowest mortality rates. It is interesting to note that these statistics were produced for profit incentives by the insurance industry trying to find people with the lowest mortality rates to offer life insurance policies.

It is interesting to note that the midpoint of this range closely matches the ideal body weight formulas used by Miller, from 1983, and Lemmen, from 2005.

As the Lemmen formula is the most recent while still concurring with the old Metropolitan Life tables, this is the formula that I use for calculating an ideal body weight.

To calculate an ideal body weight range, I take a range that is 4.5% above and below the IBW, as this range closely matches the Metropolitan Life tables. This gives an ideal body range that can be easily calculated from the lemmen formula, while being very close to and within the range of the Metropolitan tables. In this case the healthy range is much narrower at about six kilograms compared to the unrealistically large 20 kg normal healthy range given by the BMI Index.

I’ve coded the ideal body weight together with the ideal body weight range into the calculator below.

How does weight affect Activities?

There is no question that shedding a few extra kilos will make most weight-bearing activities more enjoyable while also improving performance and minimizing injury.

Healthy runners will race about 2.75 seconds a  kilometre faster over a marathon distance for every kilogram that they lose. 

Losing excess weight is also good for your Knees.

According to a study on knee impact forces by Ross Miller, Ph.D., every step you walk causes a load on your knee that is 2 to 3 times your body weight. 

So someone weighing 77.0 kg, who loses.one Kilogram, will reduce the load on their knee by around 150-240 kg.

According to Miller, the accumulated forces on the knee over a given distance is the same whether walking or running. 

These forces increase when running by between 5 to 12 times your body weight, but as your foot is on the ground half the length of time when running compared to walking (30% vs 60% of time) , the accumulated forces are the same.

From my own experience, I noticed a considerable difference when mountain running at a weight of 76 kg and at 77 kg. At 76 kg, I feel really light and springy on my feet when running on technical terrain compared to the plodding sensation when only a mere kilogram heavier.

A lighter body weight makes for more enjoyable Mountain Running

For me, being within my ideal Body weight range at 76.0 kg, has a noticeable improvement on both my health, running form and performance.

Running becomes more like a floating or bouncing experience. A type of active meditation, like Yoga.

Typical weights of endurance athletes

It is interesting to compare this IBW calculation with the weights of endurance athletes as an aspirational exercise.

AthleteSportHeightWeightIBW*Diff**
James WilksMixed Martial Arts and producer of the Game Changers.185 cm77 kg77.3 kg3.2%
Scott JurekLegendary Ultrarunner who set course records on many events.188 cm77 kg77.8 kg-1%
Jim WalsmleyUltrarunner who won the JFK 50 Mile three years Inna row.182 cm70 kg72.9 kg-4%
Sage CanadayUltrarunner who won the USATF 100K Trail Championship; Speedgoat 50k; Lake Sonoma 50.180 cm68 kg71.4 kg-5%
Yassine DibounUltrarunner who won Leona Divide 50k.180.3 cm68 kg 71.5 kg-5%
*Ideal Body Weight calculated using the Lemmen ormula.
**Percentage above or below the IBW calculation.

We notice that athletes, at the top of their game have a weight close to the healthy IBW range shown above. The above athletes also follow a high carbohydrate vegetarian or vegan diet comprised mainly of healthy whole foods.

A Prioritize Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle takes effort but it’s a worthwhile one, that fits well with a minimalist philosophy of intentional living.

People often can achieve great things that have the power to impress their peers, but if that effort is wasted on acquiring consumables and being a slave to a fashion industry then its quite sad and misguided.

When you are at a healthy weight, everything looks good on you, allowing you to really simplify your wardrobe to a few items like a pair of jeans and a couple of t-shirts. You don’t need to waste time thinking about fashion or colours. A healthy weight allows you to enjoy healthy active pastimes, like running and hiking that cost virtually nothing.

A minimalist lifestyle is not just about getting rid of things, it’s about prioritizing the important things in your life, like people, health and authentic aspirations.

Protein for a Plant-Based Athlete

Any movement requires energy, whether it’s a comet hurtling through the night sky or a human climbing the side of a mountain.

We, humans, get our energy from the food that we consume. Our food provides us not only with the energy we need to perform great physical feats, but also provides us with the nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy and prosper.

Let food be thy medicine.

Hippocrates

I have long espoused a healthy living lifestyle that includes stress-reduction through minimalism and mindfulness; a level of activity compatible with our evolutionary origins; and high quality, natural yet affordable food.

The nutrition plan that I follow could best be described as a Whole-Food-Plant-Based diet. This is mainly a vegan diet with minimal refined or processed foods. My reasons for drifting towards this way of eating are for a variety of reasons which include ethical (I like animals and there is already enough suffering in the world); health (all the reliable research indicates that this is the healthiest way to eat); environmental (such a diet uses a fraction of the resources of eating meat, meaning less deforestation, less polluted rivers and less climate change); and minimalism (while being one of the healthiest ways to eat, it’s also one of the simplest and cheapest).

Such a diet of mainly vegetables, fruits, legumes and wholegrains is a complete source of nutrients. Contrary to popular belief, it is also a plentiful source of protein.

It’s amazing how many people still believe that you can only get protein from animal products or that plants have no protein. In fact, a head of cabbage derives nearly 20% of its calories from protein. One peanut butter sandwich has the same amount of protein as a 3 oz (100 g) steak. As I will show later, the average 77 kg (170 pounds) person needs no more than 60 g of protein per day, whereas a 77 kg endurance athlete needs no more than 110 grams of protein per day. This amount of protein is easily obtained from a simple and varied wholefood plant-based diet.

A diet containing wholewheat, grains, beans, nuts and seeds will provide sufficient good quality protein. It saves you money too, by being about a third cheaper than a diet containing meat-based products.

I am a very active person, into all sorts of endurance activities, needing carbohydrates for energy and protein for building and repairing muscles. My diet has always provided me with enough energy, but I was curious as to what the scientific literature had to say on the matter. 

The US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is:
0.8 grams per kg of body weight per day.


Weighing in at 77 kg (170 lbs), I could be considered to be at an ideal healthy weight for my height of 183 cm (6 foot), so my baseline protein needs comes in at about:
60 grams of protein per day.

However, as an ultrarunner and long-distance thru-hiker, my protein requirements would put me in the realm of an endurance athlete.

For an endurance athlete, the RDA would increased to:1.2-1.4 g per kilogram of body weight

An endurance athlete, weighing 77 kg (170 lbs) would therefore require:
92-108 grams of protein per day.

Searching through the literature, I found the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine, have similar recommendations for endurance athletes, but push the upper limit of the confidence interval a bit higher 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on training, which for a 77 kg athlete would be 92-144 grams of protein per day.

Having passionate interest in endurance and endurance athletes, I find it very interesting to study the protein consumption of the best endurance athletes in the world.

According to studies1, the Kenyan elite runners, who have been setting new marathon records for decades, consume 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or about 10.1% protein of their total caloric intake, predominantly from plant sources.

What do I do…

My takeaway from all this is if elite professional marathon runners at the top of their game, can set new world records, on a low-protein diet, then my protein needs are really quite modest.

As a recreational endurance athlete, weighing 77 kg, my protein requirements are:

  • 1.3 grams of protein / kg of body weight
  • 11% protein of total caloric consumption
  • 100 grams for a 77 kg endurance athlete

Plenty of Protein in Plants

The protein derived from plant sources is completely sufficient without the need for further supplementation or the consumption of animal-based products. The research is pretty clear on this.  Indeed, a recent article in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that the maximum amount of protein that can be used for muscle building in one sitting, over a four-hour window, is around 20-25 grams. Any extra protein above that amount is oxidized for energy as an expensive glucose or flushed down the toilet. Think of that the next time you’re sitting down to a large steak…

To drive home the point further, this study concluded that a protein intake of more than 1.6 g / kg of body weight provided no further gains to muscle growth.

So in our example of the 77 kg (170 lbs) athlete, a protein intake of more than 123 grams of protein per day provided no further gains to muscle growth.

When more may be better…

The only research that I could find justifying higher protein intake is amongst lean athletes who are severely restricting their caloric intake.

This article concludes that protein needs for energy-restricted resistance-trained athletes are likely 2.3-3.1g/kg of fat free mass scaled upwards with severity of the caloric restriction and the leanness. It should be noted that the protein requirement is based on fat free mass and not total body weight. 

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Popular articles by proponents of high-protein diets often misrepresent this high-protein recommendation in two ways: firstly, by misclaiming the recommendation as being based on total body mass; and secondly, as a recommendation for the normal population instead of the cohort of already lean athletes who are in severe caloric restriction.

Fat free mass is your weight when you subtract your body fat which reduces the recommendation accordingly.

For example, a 77 kg athlete with 20% body fat would actually have only about 62 kg of fat free mass. The recommendation is based on the 62 kg fat free weight, not the 77 kg total weight.

As an example, a 77 kg athlete, with 20% body fat, who is in severe caloric restriction would likely benefit from a protein intake of 143-192 g / day.

Note again that we are discussing an athlete who is already lean and severely restricting their caloric intake.

As mentioned earlier, this particular athlete, when not restricting their caloric intake, would normally only need 92-108 g of protein per day.

I’m getting the quantity, but what about Quality

Protein is the macronutrient in your body that, amongst other things, builds and repairs muscle tissue. Protein consists of 22 amino acids. Our bodies naturally produce 13 amino acids, but the other nine need to be sourced elsewhere. 

A protein is considered ‘complete’ when it has nine essential amino acids in somewhat equal amounts. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be made by the body and therefore must be consumed from our diet.

Animal sourced proteins are considered complete as they contain all nine amino acids. A plant protein is considered incomplete because any one particular food may not contain all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities. However, by eating a variety of plant foods, the different foods complement each other to give sufficient essential amino acids. It is also very easy to combine two incomplete protein sources to get the nutrients you need.

For example, brown rice has several of the essential amino acids, but not all nine in sufficient quantities. Beans, lentils and chickpeas have the essential amino acids that the brown rice lacks. Simply pairing rice and beans will give you a vegan-friendly meal with complete proteins.

Here are some examples of combining plant-based food to get complete proteins;

  • Whole grain bread and hummus
  • Whole grain toast and Peanut butter
  • Spinach salad with nut and seed toppings
  • Oatmeal with pumpkin seeds or peanut butter
  • Lentil soup with whole grain slice of bread

The complementary proteins do not have to be eaten at the same time. Provided that you combine complementary proteins within about 24 hours, the body will pool the amino acids and combine them when available. For example eating whole grain toast for breakfast and peanut butter for dinner will combine the two incomplete proteins into a complete protein.

By eating a naturally varied diet you don’t really need to give much thought to this process.

Not only is it healthier, It’s cheaper

A study published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that eating a plant-based diet is cheaper. The study looked at consuming 2000 calories from the US MyPlate nutrition guidelines and from a plant-based diet. The savings was about $750 a year. For a seven-day meal plan, the US MyPlate diet co.st $53.11 — a cost that would be much higher if you were to choose meat from animals that were free range or antibiotic-free.

Not only is this diet cheaper than eating animal-based products, but it provides more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are considered essential to any healthy diet. In other words, we end up spending less to eat healthier.

What do Elite Athletes Eat

When discussing nutrition needs and in particular protein needs, it is educational to study the diets of those athletes performing at the top of their respective sports. Athletes follow many different diets, but here I’m going to mention two groups that follow a WFPB diet. If elite athletes can perform at the top of their game on such a diet, then there is no need for anyone consuming animal-based products.

As an ultra-runner, I find the nutrition of two groups of athletes particularly interesting; The Kenyan marathon runners, who are currently setting world records, and the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who are considered the best ultrarunners in the world.

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge sets a new record by running sub- two hour marathon in Vienna. Photograph: Alex Halada/AFP/Getty

Kenyan marathon runners eat a High-Carb, Low-Fat, Low-Protein diet, primarily plant-based, which is approximately 85% carbohydrates, 10% protein, and 5% fat, consisting mainly of: cornmeal porridge; collared greens; beans; and bread.

Another very healthy group, known for their ultra-running athletic prowess are the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico.

In 1992 and 1994, Tarahumara runners won the Leadville 100, an ultramarathon so challenging that less than half of its participants completed the race. The first place winner in 1992 was 52 year old Victoriano Churro. In this group of people, heart disease is almost unheard-of, high blood pressure is non-existent, and their blood levels of total cholesterol and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL), are extremely low. The Tarahumara Indians of Mexico consume a high carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein diet consisting of 78% Carbs, 10% protein, 12% Fat, with a daily protein intake of 87 g. The main diet of Tarahumara is corn, beans, vegetables, and fruits.

Both groups consume only about 10% protein, with carbohydrates being the bulk of the diet.

And Finally…

In conclusion, all the reliable research indicates that a Whole-Food Plant-based diet is a healthy diet and even sufficient for elite athletes performing at the top of their game. It is a responsible diet that reduces global warming, animal cruelty, unnecessary pollution and depletion of natural resources.

As top-level athletes can perform so well on a plant-based diet, then such a diet is more than sufficient for the ordinary person in the street.

The choice to consume animal products is not based on health or performance. It is a taste and lifestyle choice that has serious repercussions on one’s own health; the suffering caused to other animals; the destruction of forests for animal feedstock; the pollution of rivers from animal effluent runoff; and an unnecessary contribution to global warming.


References

  1. Food and Macronutrient Intake of Elite Kenyan Distance Runners , By: Onywera, V. O., Kiplamai, F. K., Tuitoek, P. J., Boit, M. K., Pitsiladis, Y. P., International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism, 1526484X, Dec2004, Vol. 14, Issue 6

Maamturks Ultra Challenge

The Maamturks Ultra Challenge is an idea that originated during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, as a way to extend the traditional Maamturks Challenge into a loop circuit that avoids carpooling.

Although originally conceived as a logistical convenience, the route showcases the best trails in Connemara and creates probably the toughest hiking challenge in the country.

It is about 55 km with 3000 metres of ascent that follows the scenic Western Way before tackling the traditional Maamturks route which itself already has reputation of being one of the toughest hiking challenges in the country. This extended version adds an extra 30 km of waymarked trail to the traditional challenge. The extra hardship is compensated for by vistas of a beautiful scenic trail along the Western Way.

The Maamturks Ultra Challenge starts and finishes at Leenane Hotel in the village of Leenaun. The route follows the Western Way for 30 km to the start of the traditional Maamturks Challenge and then follows the route of the Maamturks Challenge back to Leeanne Hotel.

A route of the challenge can be viewed from the following Viewranger website. A GPX of the route can also be exported and imported into the GPS device of your choice.

Redemption on the Lug

The pharmacist told me that I have a subconjunctival hemorrhage and insists on taking my blood pressure. Two days earlier, I had completed Ireland’s toughest hiking challenge, the lug challenge.

The Lug challenge is a self-navigated biennial event that spans 18 mountain tops, covers 53 km and climbs over 2300 metres. The event takes place across open mountain terrain which includes marsh and bog. A tough event made much tougher from a night of relentless rain that made the underfoot conditions the worst in at least fourteen years.

But the story begins three days before this event, on Wednesday, when I prepare my strategy to aim for a podium finish. I have chased after a top-place finish in the Lug for four years. In the last one, I finished seventh. But this year, I felt a a podium finish was achievable, to finish in the top three, a symbolic outcome, an overcoming, and it was either now or never. This time I had the appetite and the mental fortitude to push my mind and body to its limits.

I started my preparation scientifically, by switching to a very high carbohydrate diet.

This is called carbo-loading where you load your muscles and liver with a fuel called glycogen. So for three days, I ate pasta and Spaghetti for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By Friday night I had gained two kilograms in body weight. This weight isn’t all fuel, as each gram of glycogen binds to about 3 grams of water. Although this extra weight gain could be viewed as an unnecessary burden, it provided an efficient source of energy and the weight penalty could be mitigated by carrying less food and water.

On Saturday morning, a Three O’Clock alarm has me awake and on a bus by Four AM, along with another hundred participants.

Waiting for the bus that will drop us at the start

The bus drops us off on the side of a desolate road in the Dublin Mountains, in rain and heavy mist. At 5:15 AM, I commence my third lug challenge.

I have already completed two lug challenges and after each one, have said I would never do it again. But here I am, again.

It is two hours to the next control station and already my feet are soaked through. This time I am wearing non-waterproof trail shoes. The problem with waterproof shoes is that when water gets in, and it will get in, it stays in. Half an hour into the challenge, both of my feet are soaking wet.

My strategy for a good time is to reduce the weight that I carry including the clothes that I wear. But for such a strategy to work requires a sufficient exothermic reaction to produce enough heat to avoid hypothermia. In other words, I must maintain a fast pace to avoid getting too cold. Especially with wet feet accelerating the heat loss.

Some people have already made their own way to the start line and have a fifteen minute head start on me.

I start out easy, passing participants along the way, making my way through two hours of bog, white-out and rain, until I make it to the first control station at the Sally Gap. I catch up with the group of five that had started earlier. After inquiring at the control station, I learn that there are two fast runners in front of this group which puts me in eight position. Motivated now, I feel confident that I can improve on this position, so I push on though taking myself into third position. I’m concerned that I may be pushing my pace too early and burn out like I did in the 2017 challenge or make a hasty navigational decision that will cause me to lose ground.

As I traverse from the Sally Gap towards Gravala, I lose the faint track taking me onto uneven ground which severely hampers my pace. I am now moving very slowly but burning a lot of energy and fatiguing for no benefit.

Unlike a road event, such as a Marathon, where the surface is constant irrespective of weather conditions, an off-road event is determined mainly by the terrain and underfoot conditions. The difference in effort between wet boggy conditions and a dry bog can be as much as double the energy requirement and hence double the potential time to completion. Achievement in such events is normally considered in terms of finishing positions rather than comparing absolute times to previous events.

I stop to check my map and realised that I have veered too far right into very uneven and steep ground, which slows me down considerably.

I try to maintain my pace but now my heart is going into its anaerobic zone, the place where you run into oxygen debt. This would be unsustainable and quickly result in burn out. But my dilemma is that if I slow down too much and lose my position after having fought so hard for it then I will mentally throw in the towel.

Events like this are at least 80% mental and 20% physical. Any mental doubt now will feed on itself and only increase over the next eight hours. But I know that over the next hill, the gradient flattens and there is some downhill.

I gamble by pushing my body into oxygen debt to get out of this slough of despondency, with the hope that I can recover on the next downward section.

The gamble pays off. I’ve only lost about fifteen minutes, and I can now bring my heart rate back out of the red zone to a sustainable level. I think I’m still ahead. I can hear voices in the distance but can’t tell whether there are in front of me or behind. I haven’t drank any water for three hours now but I don’t want to stop and so I push on again. I reckon there must have been about a litre and a half of water in my body from carbo-loading. When I arrive at the third control station, I learn that I’m still in third position.

Encouraged, I push on quickly, but, as it turns out, a little too hastily. I quickly pick up the correct track from Mullaghcleevaun, but in my haste, I veer too far right and then over-correct by veering too far left. After stopping multiple times to check my map, I realise this navigational error has cost me another fifteen minutes.

I now hear voices parallel to me and see the group I had overtaken two hours earlier ahead of me. I’m about to enter the pain cave.

The pain Cave is the mental fatigue you feel when your already tired and realise the distance still in front of you.

I have needlessly lost half an hour in navigational errors due to too much haste. My heart sinks, I have gone from third position to eight position. I start following the group but it takes me some time to catch them. My heart rate has now gone into the anaerobic zone again, which is not sustainable.

This is my low point. I abandon the idea of finishing in third place. Another dream gone as my hopes have flown before. I am now deep in the pain Cave.

As I catch the group, I tag along at their pace and my heart rate begins to settle back down into the upper limits of my aerobic range – a range that I could sustain for the distance. Buoyed by the comfort that I can at least keep their pace and still finish in the top ten, I start assessing the group. I can see that the three people towards the end of the group are outside their comfort limits and won’t maintain this pace for the full course. I overtake them which puts me in fifth position of a very close group. I’m still not sure if my assessment is correct so I decided to test it by pushing the pace for a while. I proceed to the front of the group, where I regain third position, and then start pushing the pace.

To get someone to chase you, you need to increase the pace very subtly, almost imperceptibly. Then continue gradually increasing it very, very slowly.

My tactic works, the two leaders give chase, the last three people in the group now realise they can’t keep up and slow down considerably splitting the group. I can’t maintain this pace so I gradually drop back from third position to fifth position where I just draft behind the two leaders and get my heart rate back down to a sustainable level. From the top of Toneaglee, I realise this is my last opportunity to consolidate my position.

I need to act now and make it clear that I’m taking a decisive lead. So I push ahead again, into third place and start opening a gap, leaving no misunderstanding that I’m determined to take third position.

Events like the Lug Challenge are not just about speed, but also navigation, tactics and an overall strategy.

With equally matched participants, it can be like a chess game

I keep the pace and hit the next control station, the Wicklow Gap, in third position. This is the second control station for me to hit in third position.

I made another navigational error after Lough Ferrib, but I’m confident that I have a good chance of holding onto third position.

Even though my feet are soaked, I’m traipsing through water and bog, I feel very little pain and I’m feeling great. Actually feeling on a real high.

Runners would call this the Runner’s High.

The Runner’s High used to be credited to a brain chemical called Endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, similar to morphine. But more recent research from the University of Heidelberg suggests that another chemical, endocannabinoids, having a similar effect to cannabis, is the main contributor to this high. The research is showing that continuous rhythmically exercise for at least two hours at moderate intensity, such as the lug challenge, produces this state.

I’m feeling good now and totally in the flow.

The last major climb is to Lugnaquilla and I now push on at a steady pace. At Lugnaquilla, I’m still in third position, but there is still another 6 km to the finish line, so I keep the pressure on. My leg muscles are pulling all the oxygen out of my blood system, leaving me lightheaded. I imagine that there are others behind me, hot on my trail. I can feel my heart pumping like it’s expanding to fill my ribcage, the blood pounding through the back of my head. As I descend from Lugnaquilla, the vision in my left eye starts to blur.

Eventually I reach the finish line.

I have now reached the finish line in 10 hours and 30 minutes, an excellent time considering the underfoot conditions, placing me clearly in third position.

This is a podium finish, finishing in the top three. The event has left me elated.

My mind has triumphed over the body and I feel a great sense of elation, like I’ve conquered something, something deep within my being.

Two days later, being concerned about by bloodshot left eye, a subconjunctival hemorrhage, I visit the local pharmacist. He takes my blood pressure which is normal and concludes that the most likely cause for this type of condition was the elevated heart rate for an extended period of time.

The event has taught me several lessons and has reaffirmed my Stoic philosophy. Not the least of which is finding strength and support from deep within one’s innate self. Working hard at what’s within your control, refusing to worry about what’s outside your control and the wisdom to know the difference.


The Irish Munros

A Munro is defined as a mountain peak over 914 metres (3,000 feet). Ireland has 13 such mountain peeks.

These peaks get their name from Hugh Munro, who in 1891 published a list of all the Scottish peaks above this height.

Strictly speaking a Munro outside Scotland is called a Furth. Other names include three-thousanders.  Whatever name is used, they all refer to the same thing, a mountain peak with an elevation of at least 3,000 feet (914 metres). An Irish Munro also requires a topographcal prominence of at least 15 metres.

In Ireland there are 13 such Munros, ranging from the highest, Carrauntoohil, at 1039 metres to our lowest Munro, Galtymore, at 919 metres.


The full list of Irish Munros are shown below.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Carrauntoohil MacGillycuddy's ReeksV8038441039 1039
2Beenkeragh MacGillycuddy's ReeksV801853
101091
3Caher (East Top)MacGillycuddy's ReeksV792839
1001100
4Cnoc na Péiste MacGillycuddy's ReeksV836842
988254
5Caher (West Top) MacGillycuddy's ReeksV78984097524
6Maolán Bui MacGillycuddy's ReeksV83283897341
7The Bones / Carrauntoohil Tooth MacGillycuddy's ReeksV80084795937
8Cnoc an Chuillin MacGillycuddy's ReeksV82383395854
9Brandon Mtn Brandon GroupQ460115952927
10The Big Gun MacGillycuddy's ReeksV84084593970
11Cruach MhórMacGillycuddy's ReeksV841848
93232
12Lugnaquillia Dublin.WicklowT032917925849
13Galtymore Galty MountainsR878237919899
Note: Some sources include Cnoc an Chuillin East Top, at 926 metres, IG V828834, as a Munro, giving a total of 14 Irish Munros.
However, it's prominence is not sufficient to be listed by The Scottish Mountaineering Club.

Logistics of climbing all the Irish Munros in a Weekend


The following itinerary, courtesy of Dublin Free Hiking, is an efficient way to complete the Irish Munros, by starting in the east of the country at Lugnaquilla and finishing on the west coast at Mount Brandon. Climbing all the Irish Munros will require about 370 km of driving between the various trailheads.

Day 1

Starting from Fenton’s Pub (Irish Grid Reference: S 973 935 or GPS: N52.984,W6.552), the most easterly Irish Munro can be bag, followed by 170 km drive to the Galtymore trailhead (IGR: R 893 203 or GPS: N52.335,W8.1575), near the village of Skeheenaranky, to climb the Galtymore peak.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Lugnaquillia Dublin.WicklowT032917925849
2Galtymore Galty MountainsR878237919899

Day 2

The next trailhead is at Cronin’s yard, which is a 130 km drive from the Galtymore trailhead. Starting from Cronin’s Yard Car Park (IGR: Q 476 118 or GPS: N52.02584,W9.69658). From here ten of the Irish Munros can be bagged by following the Hags Glen Circuit with one diversion to include Caher East and West Top.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Cruach MhórMacGillycuddy's ReeksV841848
93232
2The Big Gun MacGillycuddy's ReeksV84084593970
3Cnoc na Péiste MacGillycuddy's ReeksV836842
988254
4Maolán Bui MacGillycuddy's ReeksV83283897341
5Cnoc an Chuillin MacGillycuddy's ReeksV82383395854
6Caher (East Top)MacGillycuddy's ReeksV792839
1001100
7Caher (West Top) MacGillycuddy's ReeksV78984097524
8Carrauntoohil MacGillycuddy's ReeksV8038441039 1039
9The Bones / Carrauntoohil Tooth MacGillycuddy's ReeksV80084795937
10Beenkeragh MacGillycuddy's ReeksV801853
101091

Day 3

Finally, a 70 km drive gets you to the last trailhead, Faha Carpark (IGR: Q 493 1201 or GPS: N52.2395,W10.206).

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Brandon Mtn Brandon GroupQ460115952927

When climbing the Irish Munros as part of a timed event, the clock starts at the first trailhead and stops at the trailhead after the final peak. 

For example, if you were following the above itinerary, timing would start at the Fenton’s pub trailhead, before climbing Lugnaquilla, and finish at the Faha Carpark, after descending mount Brandon.

In Conclusion

Whether you want to call it the Irish Munros, the Irish Furths or the Three-Thousand Series, if you climb the peaks listed above you will have completed the highest Irish peaks above 914 metres with a prominence of at least 15 metres.

The Lug Walk 2019

The Lug Walk is a long distance linear traverse of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, taking in more than 18 summits, while covering 51 km with 2400 meters of ascent. It is the toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar.

.

The walk, over open mountain terrain, starts at Stone Cross, near Bohernabreena in the Dublin mountains, and finishes, between 10 and 16 hours later, at Seskin in the Glen of Imaal.

The toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar

Walk Johnny Walk

This is undoubtedly the toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar. It’s not just the early 5:00 AM start, or the 51 km distance that you walk on the day. It’s not the fact that you climb 2400 metres taking in the highest highest eighteen peaks in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. It’s all of these, but then add in bog, and then more bog. Instead of getting the normal foot bounce from solid ground which each footfall, you’ll be engaging extra muscles to pull that foot back out. If it’s a typical lug start, then you can expect to be blessed with the famous kippure micro-climate of horizontal rain. Don’t expect to have any dry garb by the time you arrive at the Wicklow Gap. So why do it? That’s a good question.

The walk is organised every two years by the Irish Ramblers Club. Two years seems to be the amount of time necessary to forget how hard it is. I have done this challenge twice and each time I’ve said never again, but here I am preparing for it a third time.

The walk itself dates back to 1964 when it was first organised by the Irish Mountaineering Club and was known as the Arnott-Russell Mountain Endurance Test.

Now, if by any chance 51 km is not enough of a challenge for you, then you could always consider the tougher 85 km Lug Endurance Challenge.

Camino Primitivo – Completo

Midway upon the journey of my life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost

DANTE, THE DIVINE COMEDY.

After a hard push through the last few days, I’ve just finished the Primitivo.
The Camino has a special significance over long-distance walks in that it has a long tradition of Pilgrimage. People often walk pilgrimages expecting a road to Damascus conversion but that seldom happens and when it does it’s usually short-lived or superficial. Finding real meaning is a process that can take a lifetime. Walking is a good way to reconnect with nature and by extension with oneself.

Walking is the perfect pursuit because it’s so accessible to so many; it has low impact (both to the body and the planet); it’s cheap; and it’s great for your mental health. It doesn’t even require trips to exotic locations. Some of the best walking can be done from your own front door.

People often travel to far flung places to escape from themselves, but the fact is that wherever you go, there you are.

They change the sky, not their soul, who run across the sea.

Horace, Roman Poet

Yourself always turns up no matter how far you travel. Walking in nature surrounded by mountains and forest is the best type of walking, as it allows you to connect outside yourself with nature and reconnect with your unique innate self.
If the mountains and forest are not accessible to you, then becoming an “urban hiker” around your own city is beneficial too.

Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home.

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

So where to next is the question. As a minimalist and non-materialist, I have come to value experiences over possessions. But now I have to ask myself, am I trading one of societies old addictions for one of societies new addictions and at what cost. Are experiences becoming the new possessions at the cost of making real connections.

Instead of an addiction to status and possessions, we are addicted to experience and novelty. And the end result is the same. Our relationships, our connections to what’s real, sometimes suffer.

Mark Manson

For the moment, I want to explore my own country more.

My next overseas trip will probably be to the Kom-Emine, a 720 km high altitude route, in Bulgaria. This is much wilder and more isolated trek than doing a Camino route.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Happy Travels!

Primitivo – Day 06 – Grandes de Salime

After yesterday’s breath-taking walk, today’s walk was a bit more mediocre with mainly road-walking around the Salime hyrdo Station.



Since I have started this walk, I have stayed in the municipal Albergues for €5 / night. Tonight the Albergue is €6 / night.

These Albergues are great value containing all the facilities that you might need, such as warm showers, full kitchen facilities. There is also a choice if private Albergues which cost between €10 and €12 which offer more such as free WiFi and so forth.

As an extreme outdoor person, I have hiked in the wildernesses for weeks without a shower, so having a shower every day is beginning to feel decant, but still nice.

My pilgrims credencia is filling up with a history of where I’ve been with many blank spaces for where I will be going. Life is a blank book with each new chapter waiting to be written.

Primitivo – Day 05, via Hospitales

The route from Borres to Berducedo, via Pico Hospital, is a stunning route. Starting sr 7:30 there was no let up in the awesome beauty of the landscape.

The route quickly climbs to an elevation of 1200 metres giving exceptional vistas of the local mountains and the Pico de Europa in the distant.

Farm animals relaxing the sun along tge way.

A few cows blocking the path.

Mainly open mountains but also beautiful forests.

This is spectacular landscape. Definitely the best Camino for landscape.