In these austere times you don't have to look too far to find a holiday destination that can provide memorable running options as well as a terrific break ...
Do you fancy heading somewhere different this year but like most of us in an 'era of austerity' you're operating on a restricted budget? If you'd like to broaden your running horizons with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of fun then you could do a lot worse than consider a trip to Ireland. And there's the added bonus that when you get there the people you meet are in even more difficult financial straits than you are!
But where to go? And what race to choose? Ireland's a beautiful island - terrific scenery and incredibly friendly people and it does have a strong running tradition so there are events throughout the year and all over the country. Events with great names too - like the Mick Malloy Classic and the Fields of Athenry 10K!
Let's start with the big ones. Both Dublin and Belfast host popular marathons with the capital of the Republic's event scheduled for Monday, October 31. 2011 will see the 32nd running of the Dublin Marathon so organisers have had plenty of time to make sure their race through the historic Georgian streets of the city goes like clockwork. Half of the anticipated 10,000 field will be made up of overseas runners, many of them attracted by a flat course and a friendly crowd that gives you plenty of support along the way. And remember Dublin is a great city to celebrate post-race, just settle down to enjoy the Guinness and the craic as you relive your heroic deeds of earlier in the day.
Belfast is another city with a great marathon tradition and its race will celebrate its 30th birthday on May 2 - Bank Holiday Monday. 2,500 runners will take part in the full marathon but much of the excitement and drama will be provided by the 10,000 people who take part in the 5 leg relay race - 2,000 plus teams. Abbey AC men were first home in 2010 in 2:22:48 in the event which starts at the City Hall and finishes at Ormeau Park. The relay race is an ideal 'group' event with legs from 3.5 miles to 7 miles in distance and like Dublin, Belfast is a great city for a night out after the exertions.
If it's a marathon you're looking for but you'd like to see something of the Irish countryside then look no further than County Kerry, and the Dingle peninsula. There in early September you'll find a triple bill of marathon, half marathon, and for those of a particularly sturdy disposition, an ultra.
The marathon and half marathon start in Dingle village. The marathon completes a full loop of the peninsula while the half finishes near Dunquin (outside a famous pub called Kruger's) with a bus laid on to bring you back to Dingle. The Ultra starts at 7am in Glentenassig wood on the other side of the mountain from Dingle and joins the marathon and half marathon courses in Dingle village. The ultra has a time limit of 11 hours. Finishers of all events receive a special medal, long-sleeved shirt and goody bag. This is an opportunity to experience at first hand one of Ireland's most beautiful regions as the Dingle peninsula is noted for it's breathtaking scenery, with a rugged, unspoilt landscape and stunning beaches. It was the location for David Lean's spectacular film Ryan's Daughter - get yourself in the mood for a memorable trip by watching the movie and imagining the views as you run along in your chosen event!
Remaining with the scenic theme the Connemara International Marathon in April is a day of racing around a very beautiful part of the west of Ireland - like Dingle there's a marathon, a half marathon and a 39.3m ultra event. It's usually a sell-out (3,600 entries) with a big international representation. Runners make long journeys to enjoy the dramatic setting of mountains, glacier lakes, rugged green-brown landscape in and around the challenging mountain wilderness of Galway. The course meanders past bogs, hills, lakes, and quiet villages. Extras include the Irish welcome, the sense of comradeship on the lonely route and the unmistakable buzz throughout the day.
OK, it's not just about marathons and Ireland has dozens of shorter races that might act as the focal point for a holiday with a running angle. We'll mention a few to whet your appetite.
First up's a big one - the Great Ireland Run. Sunday, April 10 is race day in 2011 and a big field of 10,000 plus will show up to run in the beautiful surroundings of Dublin's Phoenix Park. Lots of charity runners, a sprinkling of celebs and a wonderful atmosphere guaranteed.
One small race with a big reputation is the Dunshaughlin 10K which is run on a Saturday evening in June on quiet roads around the town which is about 20 miles north-west of Dublin. This is a well-organised event with a long history, great prizes, kilometre markers, a flat course and plenty of time afterwards before the pubs close.
Another small event that caught our eye was a 10k in October which runs through the Donadea Forest Park in County Kildare. Again the event is close to Dublin and it has won many admirers not just for it's natural setting but also for a unique medal, a great goody bag and a great spread of food post-race. The race is restricted to 600 runners so enter early to avoid disappointment.
There's plenty of time to plan a trip in 2012 to the race that many believe is the best in Ireland - the Ballycotton 10, a 'classic race at a classic distance'. This is a superbly-organised 10 mile race around the rural back roads of East Cork, centring on the picturesque seaside fishing village of Ballycotton. The village and its pubs are geared-up to look after visitors on the big race weekend in March, and the Ballycotton 10 even has its own song, maybe it should be twinned with Newcastle's Blaydon race! All in all - what you get is a festival atmosphere that is truly hospitable and unforgettable.
With 2,500 participants, this is a sell-out event. Terrific organisation - the course is carefully measured, marshalled and timed, a free pre-event package and post-race results are posted to all, and there is a comprehensive array of prizes in all categories, plus souvenir mug for all finishers and post-race refreshments. And all for 15 euros!
To check out the races mentioned and lots of others go to the events page at www.runireland.com. For great packages to the Dublin Marathon, the Dingle Mararthon and the Ballycotton 10 visit www.sportstoursinternational.com/running and look at the package options.