Ireland: Day Seven (The Ministry of Scilly Walks)

This morning I managed to sleep later than yesterday, but unlike in Texas it’s still possible to run at 8 A.M. and not fry.  Yeah, the Irish keep mentioning how warm it is–and admittedly I was prepared for highs in the 60s not mid 70s, although it still doesn’t qualify as hot–but it was still pleasantly cool when I headed out to find the Scilly Walking Tour trail. 

I can’t be the only one who went immediately to the Ministry of Silly Walks skit, right?

I retraced my steps from yesterday but could see no signs or gates indicating its location. I knew, though, where to find the other end of it–almost to Summercove–so I ran (hiked) up the High Road and figured I’d follow the Scilly Walk back. 

And it was amazing. 

Hilly at first, then mostly flat as it followed the curve of the harbor toward the town center. Narrow, paved with asphalt, and incredibly green. Gates and doors led to various residences, and one person had even gotten a car down there. But the vegetation obscured most signs of human habitation–it was quiet and peaceful and incredible. I encountered two people the whole way. 

Once I followed a dirt path, just to see where it went, and it deposited me on the High Road in a place I immediately recognized. It had one of those zigzag barriers that people can walk through but vehicles can’t negotiate, just like the one at the far end, but this one was unmarked, sitting unobtrusively to the left of a private residential gate. I never would have recognized this spot as an entrance to the Scilly Walk had I not just appeared through it from the other direction. Not only that, a second entrance flanked the gate to the right, but I decided to go back the way I came and save that rabbit hole for tomorrow. 

Back on the main path, I followed it until it reached a cluster of homes, and the main road. It was on kind of a treacherous curve that I had skipped by taking a side staircase that allowed me to stay on the sidewalk, so it’s no wonder I hadn’t found it on the way out. But now I know how to access it from both directions. 

It turned out to be only 2.5 miles (since I didn’t run all the way out to the fort this time) so when I reached the town center I just ran up and down the twisting, narrow streets until I reached three miles. It wasn’t a long run, but it was hilly and quite scenic. And I’m getting spoiled by the non-Texas temperatures. 

Ireland: Day Six (Charles Fort)

Kinsale is hilly. 

And my bedroom has more of a skylight than a window, and therefore no curtains. So at 5:30 A.M., since I was wide awake with the sun, I decided to run through the town and out toward Charles Fort (Dún Chathail). It was first constructed in 1682, considered the “new fort” compared to James Fort on the other side of the harbor which dated back to 1607. 

Yesterday from the boat tour I’d seen a road or path that followed the harbor around to the fort, and I wanted to check it out. But pretty quickly this turned from a run to a hike–between running a half marathon and climbing the world’s steepest steps to my bedroom, I was in no shape for hill sprints. So I took it easy. 

It was about 1.6 miles to the fort, which of course was closed at that hour, but I could walk around a bit and see it from the outside. 

On the way up, I encountered one car. On the way back, I saw two more cars and three people. Guess this town doesn’t really wake up early. 

Looking at my Garmin map, I see that I must have missed the trail I saw from the boat–there’s another path between the road I ran and the harbor. Well, I saw the end of it just before the village of Summercove, but never found the beginning in Kinsale. So maybe tomorrow I’ll try that route. Perhaps it will be slightly less hilly.  

Ireland: Day Five (post-race hills)

Climbing up the Rock of Cashel (Carraig Phádraig in Irish) was a little challenging the day after running a half marathon. But only a little. And so worth it. 

The round tower is the Rock of Cashel’s oldest building, dating to 1100. The other structures are only slightly newer, and over the last 800 or 900 years the site has served as a cathedral, fortress, and a castle. At one point some 18th century archbishop had the roof removed because only buildings with roofs paid taxes.

We got there before the tour buses (well, most of them) and were on our way out as the crowds descended ascended. Thanks Rick Steves, for that advice!

From Cashel we drove on the motorway to Cork, then headed south to Kinsale, a coastal town most often associated with the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, as survivors (and bodies) were brought there. These were the narrow local roads we were warned about! Most were one or (if I was lucky) 1.5 cars wide, and very twisty. Meaning lots of blind corners–with speed limits of 60-80 km/h, which is 40-50 mph. That is insanely fast on a two-way road barely wider than our Audi. And the streets of Kinsale itself are just as narrow, but with parked cars taking up half the driving lane. I got a parking space outside the house where we’re staying, and I’m afraid to leave again for fear of having to negotiate these 16th century streets in a 21st century vehicle. 

The house is about 3/4 of the way up a steep hill, past the Desmond Castle which dates back to around 1500. And we walked up and down that hill to the town center and back four or five times. I may not have run today, but the day after a half marathon I’ve racked up more than 15,000 steps, most of them on an incline. And that’s with two hours of driving and an hour on a harbor tour boat. 

The “heat wave” (it was almost 80*) is supposed to break tomorrow, returning temps to the 60s. I know my friends back in Austin find that amusing; I’m just going to enjoy it. 

Kildare Thoroughbred Run: half marathon

The half-marathon starting area was maybe a block from the hotel, and when I headed out, I was pleased with the overcast, almost drizzly skies. But as soon as we started, naturally, the sun came out. 

I don’t know how many people ran the half, but it was nowhere near the 700 indicated on their Facebook page. Perhaps the 700 was for all four distances combined? Because as we took off, I was literally at the end. Greeeeeeat. I kept pace with the group in front of me, but I paid for that later. 

An interesting thing about the race: they closed maybe one section of road (at the very end) the whole distance. Even as we started, we had to dodge cars in the square. But one thing I’ve noticed here is that drivers are much less impatient, much less aggressive than what I see back home. So while a vehicle coming up behind me was unnerving at first, especially considering they directed us to run on the left–with traffic, not facing traffic–I feel like it was far safer than a typical run through my own neighborhood. 

And it was a … rural race. Two-lane roads were the norm, but at times the road was only one car wide. Course marshals did an excellent job directing us at tricky junctions–twice they had to open gates so that we didn’t run over cattle guards. And the signage was good, although it took me until about mile eight to realize that after the halfway point, the distance markers (in km) counted down. 

I think just before mile two I passed someone who stopped to walk. Near six I passed another. I got in front of one guy just after the second water stop and two more who stopped to stretch at the third one near mile 11. I passed two more between 11 and 12. And maybe one more person in there somewhere. So I wasn’t last. But I couldn’t quite catch the group of three ahead of me on the homestretch–remember when I said I paid for trying to hang with that group early on? Yeah, although my first half looked strong, I couldn’t hold on to it. While there were shaded spots, especially around the beautiful National Stud horse breeding facility, the sun was still a factor. My headphones died (possibly permanently?) at mile 10. And only three water stops for a half, on a warm day, was less than ideal. My best races have been in winter, with temps in the 30s and 40s. But… no excuses. 

While I didn’t PR (I kind of knew by mile eight that was off the table) I did finish my fifteenth half-marathon in my second-best time. And it was great to experience a race in another country–some things like mile/km markers are different, they don’t sing any kind of national anthem before the start, and they don’t hand out medals at the end (we had to pick them up from the community center a block or so away). But the human spirit is the same. Random strangers stop to applaud the race leaders. Runners who have finished yell encouragement to those still on the course, and friends jump in to help each other make it across the finish line. And we all walk a little gingerly when it’s over. 😉

Ireland: Day Three (driving)

Since I’d been to Dublin before, I had its basic geography in my head and could navigate around pretty easily.  But today, we moved into new territory: driving. 

We took the bus back to the airport where we picked up our rental car–they gave me an Audi–and I spent forever trying to figure out all the bells and whistles. I think fully half the time was spent trying to release the electronic parking brake. And then it was time to head out. 

I drive a manual transmission every day at home, and it comes second-nature to me. But shifting with my left hand felt really awkward. I couldn’t dwell on it too long, though, because I had to focus on staying on the left and following unfamiliar traffic signs. On the motorway, I found myself drifting to the left in my lane, I guess because visually I’m used to seeing the road from the left side. So I had to make a conscious effort to move further right. 

And then I had to navigate my first (and second, third, fourth, and fifth) roundabout. Actually these are pretty easy–I found traffic lights and turn lanes far more confusing. Which is weird. 

We took a detour to a town called Newbridge to see if I could claim my free birthday Starbucks, but alas we couldn’t locate it. Then Kildare was just a few more minutes down the motorway. Three roundabouts and a right turn, then a tight squeeze into a parking space, and we were at the Five Jockeys pub to pick up our race numbers. Because of course it’s at a pub. 😉 

The hotel where we’re staying was only a block or so further down the road–the race starts basically in front of the place–and after a brief trip around the block I scored a parking space I could navigate into reasonably well. Now I think the car will stay there for a while. Which is fine because it reeks of smoke. I cracked the windows–maybe it will air out some before I need to drive it again. 

Did I mention central Ireland is having something of a heat wave? It’s in the high 70s today; overnight it’s supposed to drop into the 50s, but the half-marathon starts at 10:30, and the hour-by-hour forecast predicts it will jump into the 60s by then. Fantastic. So I’ve lowered my expectations for this race juuuuuuust a bit. 

We’ll see in the morning, I guess. 

Ireland, Day Two (Dublin)

Good thing I went for my run Thursday night. Because I slept until 9:30 Friday morning. 

After breakfast brunch, we crossed the Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey and headed to the National Museum of Archaeology, near Trinity College. We decided to start at the top and work our way down. About 30 minutes into our exploration of the Vikings in Ireland, at the same time I walked through a doorway, an alarm sounded. I looked around with an “I didn’t do it” expression (B said later he yanked on a pair of headphones accompanying an exhibit to untangle them when the alarm sounded, and he had similar thoughts). Then a museum worker appeared and politely ushered us out with, “Fire alarm, please make your way to the exit.” The alarm went quiet, but the ushering-out continued. This particular exit deposited us in a courtyard on the side of the building–no sirens, no fire brigade. Many people walked back around to the front entrance, but we decided to come back later. It’s a free museum, so it’s not like we had to recoup admission costs or anything. 

Down the block and around the corner is the National Gallery, home of Picasso, Monet, and Rembrandt. It’s free also, except for the special exhibit on Vermeer. But a lot of remodeling was going on and entire wings of the museum were inaccessible. We found two Rembrandts and sped by a lot of other paintings. Then it was back to the archaeology museum. 

On the way back to the hotel, we crossed the Millennium Bridge and wandered in and out of some of the Henry Street shops. But I didn’t even run and by dinner time I’d accumulated 19k steps, with the search for dinner still ahead of us. 

Saturday it’s my birthday and we’re off to Kildare (via a rented car I get to drive) and the race!

Ireland, Day One (Dublin)

A few weeks before our trip, I got an email from the airline notifying me that they’d changed our Austin to Dulles domestic flight to one that left Austin 30 minutes later, which in turn cut our connection time at IAD to just 53 minutes. To add another degree of difficulty, we couldn’t check in online because we were flying two different airlines. So we had to physically scan our passports both when leaving Austin and again at the Dulles gate in order to collect a boarding pass for the international flight. 

The airline agent in Austin assured me that since we’d checked in, the second airline would know we were coming. And the flight arrived about ten minutes early, most of which was negated by some questionable advice we got–to race from Terminal D to C, then catch the train to B. We were told it’d be faster than waiting for the military transport people mover to load up and deliver us from D to B. 

So that’s how we found ourselves sprinting through Dulles, sweaty and out of breath, arriving at gate B7484858 (seriously, how many gates do they have??) as the last group of passengers was boarding. We made it, but I seriously was not confident until I buckled my seat belt. 

So that was Wednesday’s workout. 

We arrived in Dublin at 5:00 A.M., by now Thursday morning. As predicted, I didn’t really sleep–running through the airport then sitting for eight hours wreaked havoc on my quads, and I couldn’t really get comfortable. 

But the jet lag would make that sprint feel like a walk in the park. 

Customs and baggage claim (and coffee-acquisition for me) went quickly, and we’d been deposited in front of our hotel by 6:45. Our first order of business was to find breakfast, a surprisingly difficult task at that hour. Then we wandered around trying to find the castle, stumbled upon St. Stephen’s Green and walked its perimeter, and located one of those hop-on, hop-off buses. We rode around more than we hopped on or off, and two of the three of us (not naming names, but it totally wasn’t me) fell asleep at least once. 

After I located sparkling lime water at Tesco, we headed back to the hotel.  I told them continued napping would wreak havoc on their jet lag, but they both fell asleep again. So I got out my running stuff and took off. 

Dublin is a busy city on a Thursday afternoon; road construction combined with crowded sidewalks made my first mile awfully slow, even in 59*. I didn’t see any other runners, even in St. Stephen’s Green. I felt like people were giving me the side-eye. And once it started raining, I know they were giving me the side-eye from under their umbrellas. 

I ran two loops of the park, then took a detour through Trinity College. Again with the side-eye. I don’t know–I went to the University of Texas, where students and community members frequently run through and around campus. I know I’ve done it a time or two–what’s not to love? It’s gorgeous, shaded, and pedestrian-friendly. Maybe it was the time of day, maybe it was the rain. But I saw a distinct lack of runners, and it made me wonder if I was committing some kind of cultural faux pas. 

I zig-zagged my way back to the hotel, avoiding an international incident.  

I’m not sure whether I’ll run again this week, or just wait until (gulp) Sunday’s race. But did I mention that our room is on the top floor of the BnB? The manager gave us the key and said, “Go up. And up and up and up.” And I managed 29,605 steps for the day. But first, sleeeeeeeep.