Wicklow Way - Dublin, Ireland
They say variety is the spice of life. Well, that is also true of ultrarunning and this run along the Wicklow Way just south of Dublin, Ireland had variety in spades. The variety came in the form of weather conditions, landscape, and trail types. This run also took a lot of gear because of those weather conditions plus extra safety equipment in case we got stuck. Oh, and the “we” part. Most of my trips are solo but my friend James came along for this run. He’s a pretty hard core guy, so was good to have him along on the trip.
Let’s start by talking about the weather conditions. When planning this run for February I wasn’t sure it was possible but I found a 50k a few weeks later somewhere else in Ireland. It wasn’t necessarily sound logic but it was at least one proof point. Just a couple weeks later there was a massive blizzard in the area so it can be unpredictable. I also mistakenly started by looking at the average temperatures in the cities and towns near the route. As you know, the weather in a town can vary dramatically from a nearby mountain peak. This is why I turn to the site https://www.mountain-forecast.com. It’s quite amazing since they forecast wind and temperature at multiple elevations up to the peak. It is a really invaluable tool for planning any run with elevation. During our run the temperature varied from 50 Fahrenheit (10 c) in the valleys with no wind to 20 Fahrenheit (-6 c) at the peak with 50 mph (80k) winds. This variation throughout the run meant constant stripping off of clothes because we were too hot, and then putting all our gear back on and still being cold. It was while preparing for this run that I got a Neoshell (like Gore Tex but newer material) jacket and pants. James did the same and I’d say these items are some of the most versatile in my closet. But anyhow, back to the weather… we encountered wind, rain, snow, sleet, fog and below freezing temps.
In terms of the trail itself it also had a lot of variety. It started out with some rocky single track that transitioned to dirt road / Jeep trail but constantly changed throughout the run. There were cobblestone paths, rocky approaches to peaks, soaked field where we jumped between the puddles, paved trail in a park, forest single track and finally a small number of road sections. I’m probably missing a few things as the terrain was in a constant state of flux.
The landscape also had a lot of variety depending on the elevation and the remoteness of the particular section. At the start we took a side trail and ascended into another world of giant trees and ferns. It was especially surreal since it looked like a large windstorm had come through recently and uprooted many trees. We decided to not reach that peak since it became too difficult and we felt it a bit dangerous to continue. In addition, there were taller peaks to hit later. On the taller peaks we got above the tree line where the landscape was quite stark as it’d been scoured by the wind. We had to take a bit of shelter behind the concrete monoliths to take pictures. We also passed farm fields with sheep and spent a good deal of time in forests and finished off running along some hedgerows into the town where we stopped.
The original plan was to run a point to point back to our bed and breakfast. I’d previously scheduled a ride south from the B&B to a point on the trail I’d picked. Our B&B was not far from one of the taller peaks, Djouce that we planned on hitting the next day. The track I’d set was about 36 miles but about 10 miles in we realised we were moving too slow. All the constant gear changes, sight seeing on side trails, and tough footing really slowed us down. I felt we were running a lot but the stops can really add up. In addition we were both carrying 13-14 pounds (5-6 kg) of gear and water. We started to think about cutting the run down to 50k. This was James’ first 50k so we were focused on that goal as well.
The great thing about ultrarunning destinations is the surprises. I plotted a town we could divert to and figured we’d find some place to call the B&B to pick us up. It was now about 7pm in the night. As luck would have it there was a cozy hotel with a bar / restaurant nearly empty but with a large fire going in the fireplace. They didn’t think it so odd we came in soaking wet so we peeled off our clothes and took two barstools near the fire. I had a burger and some hard cider. Maybe not your normal post run dinner but it tasted good.
The adventure didn’t end there. The next morning we got up early and drove a few minutes to the Djouce trailhead parking lot. We the made a quick ascent and descent as we needed to get back to shower, checkout and head to the airport. Djouce was quite amazing as it was near whiteout conditions at the top. I wish I had more pictures but my phone turned off due to the cold and my fingers were to frozen to get my battery out. A helpful hint is to always have a backup battery as that will bring your phone back to life if it shuts off in the cold.