Embracing the Wild: A Beginner's Guide to Trail and Mountain Running in Ireland

December 12, 2023

Embracing the Wild: A Beginner's Guide to Trail and Mountain Running in Ireland

Trail Running in Ireland isn't just a sport; it's an immersive experience intertwined with the ruggedness and beauty of the Irish countryside. Ireland is full of natural beauty and covered in trails, perfect for Trail and Mountain Running. Picture yourself running along the top of the Sliabh Liag cliffs in Donegal, across the undulating landscape of Connemara or tackling Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, Co. Kerry. These trails are not merely tracks woven into the landscape of 1,000s of years; they're living, breathing entities that demand respect, attention and strength.

Trail and Mountain Running comes in many forms, it can be roughly described as a mix between road running, cross country, hiking and mountaineering. This form of running covers a huge spectrum of terrains, difficulty and distances. On the beginners side, it can simply be taking to your local park/woodland and jogging off path. Jumping over roots, weaving between the trees, getting muddy and having fun. The focus is on having fun and not falling over; lower your speed and keep your eyes affixed to the ground, approx 6 feet in front of you. This will help you skip over rocks, roots and other obstacles on the trails.

Trail Running transitions into Mountain Running quite smoothly, there’s no defined line that tells you when you’ve somehow become a mountain runner. It’s fair to say Mountain Running is a more extreme version of Trail Running. Mountain Running tends to include a lot of vertical ascent and descent. An example of an extreme Irish Mountain Running event is the Seven Sisters Skyline in County Donegal. The event is 55 km long, with over 4,000 meters of elevation gain and loss, traversing the Derryveagh Mountains - a range of seven hills with heights of between 450 - 750 meters.

Choosing the right gear is essential, trail-specific shoes, akin to rugged armor for your feet, offer unparalleled grip on the uneven terrain. Dressing for the elements becomes an art, especially in Ireland, layering up in moisture-wicking fabrics that adapt to Ireland's unstable weather. Carrying some safety items is also essential while out Trail Running, such as a charged mobile phone, enough calories to get you through the session and of course an adequate amount of water with the aid of bottles or a hydration vest. This list increases in size as your adventure gets longer and more difficult.

Adaptation is the name of the game in Trail Running. Techniques learned on athletics tracks need refinement to navigate the Irish trails. Shortened strides and an agile pace become your allies, allowing you to dance over roots, negotiate rocks, and react quickly to sudden elevation changes. It's a delicate balance between speed and mindfulness, where every step is positioned with care and meaning.

Safety and respect form the cornerstone of this sport. Always share your plans with someone trustworthy, especially when venturing into remote trails. Keep a watchful eye on the fauna that calls these trails home, and be prepared for a sudden change in the Irish weather. Leaving no trace becomes a mantra—ensuring these trails retain their natural beauty for generations to come.

Ultimately, Irish trail running isn't just a physical activity; it's a spiritual togetherness with the countryside. The trails, with their challenges and discoveries, invite you to admire the untamed beauty that surrounds you. As you traverse these paths, remember: it's not solely about reaching the destination but savoring every step of the journey. Trail running in Ireland isn't just a sport; it's an invitation to embrace the wild and let it transform you.

Written by Francis Kelly, founder of Galway Trail Running. Galway Trail Running is a collective of over 100 trail running enthusiasts based in County Galway. You can join in any of their trail sessions for free, by simply reaching out to them on Facebook or Instagram.

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