Extremely good fun

Test yourself to the limit at one of this year’s endurance festivals


Ireland has a festival for everything. From storytelling to matchmaking, oysters to steam engines, there is a weekend dedicated to it in some corner of the country, and fitness is no exception. Those whose hobby is to push their physical endurance to the limit can choose from a busy calendar of sporting festivals throughout the season. For anybody seeking the motivation to get off the sofa, now is the time to circle some dates in the calendar, sign up and get training.

Endurance training can be a solitary pursuit, so taking part in a mass sporting event gives a welcome shot of camaraderie. The experience of lining up at a start line in a throng of like-minded people is incredibly uplifting. Adrenalin surges, pain is ignored and personal targets are hit.

26 Extreme Coast to Coast
May 18th-19th (multisport race)
A lifetime of bragging that they have crossed the island under their own steam is the reward for competitors in the 26 Extreme Coast to Coast. Starting in Enniscrone, Co

Sligo, and finishing in Newcastle, Co Down, the route is not for the fainthearted. The first day’s route winds its way along sandy beaches, rural roads and one of the longest sections of inland waterway in Ireland. Competitors will overnight on the shores of Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh before setting off by bike for the foothills of the Mourne Mountains, the final obstacle to be crossed before the finish line.
26extreme. com

Tour de Conamara
May 25th-26th (cycling)
Part of the 2013 Celtic Series, the tour is ideal for anyone who wants to try their hand at a cycling sportive for the first time. Choosing between two routes, 80km and 140km, participants will pedal through some of the finest landscape in Ireland. Cyclists have a further option to get a group of friends together and take part in the Nós na Gaoithe 40km team time trial in south Connemara.

The second day of the festival is given over to more relaxing activities, with a family funathlon in Carna that includes cycling, walking and entertainment.

Tri Athy
June 1st (triathlon)
If you have never done a triathlon but think this could be your year, the TriAthy is a great place to begin. With four different distances, plus a junior category, participants can choose their level. The Olympic triathlon comprises a 1.5km swim, a 40km cycle and a 10km run. If that sounds a bit much, the sprint triathlon is half that distance, while gluttons for punishment can try the double Olympic race. First-timers can dip their toes in with the TryAthy, a more accessible challenge comprising a 250m swim, 20km cycle and a 3.8km run.

The swims are in the gently flowing Barrow, and the cycle and run routes follow close to the river, giving a flat course that is easy going for newbies while giving the more experienced the chance to hit personal best time. triathy.ie

Wicklow 200
June 9th (cycling)
Seen all the gangs of lycra-clad cyclists whizzing around the roads every weekend? Wonder what they’re training for? The answer for more than 2,000 of them is the Wicklow 200, a non-competitive cycle ride that covers 200km around the roads of the garden county. It may not be a race, but the route is challenging and hilly, with climbs totalling more than 2,000 metres, and participants are allowed up to 14 hours to complete the route.

Although arduous, the event is famous for its relaxed, friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The Wicklow 200 is open to all comers, and has included cyclists aged from 12 to almost 80 years, and from beginners to internationally known former professionals. If 200km sounds a bit much, the 100km Wicklow Challenge takes place on the same day and shares most of its route with the Wicklow 200, so you can have all the fun with half the legwork.

Dingle marathon
September 7th (road running)

There is nothing like fine scenery and good company to ease the pain of a long run. The Dingle marathon offers both. The three races in this festival – half, full and ultra-marathons – take runners along the spectacular Dingle peninsula. The half marathon follows the coast from Dingle to Dunquin, giving magnificent views of the Blasket Islands. The full marathon continues through the village of Ballyferriter and some tough hills, culminating in a panoramic view over the entire landscape before the long descent back to Dingle.

There is more on offer than just running. The entry fee includes a pasta party the night before the race for carb-loading and discussion of race strategy, a barbecue after the race and entry to a local night club.

Glendalough Swim
September 7th-8th (swimming)
The beautiful upper lake of Glendalough, Co

Wicklow, is the setting for two days of swimming races. With three distances on offer, this event will appeal to seasoned swimmers, first-timers and anyone who has ever looked longingly at the waters of Glendalough and yearned to jump in for a swim. The distances: 750m, 1.5km and 3.9km, are the same as those for triathlons, making this a golden opportunity for triathletes to practise the challenging swim leg of their sport.

Mourne Mountain Marathon
September 21st-22nd (navigation)
The Mourne Mountain Marathon is the event that makes the other races look easy. Brute force and fitness will not be enough to get participants around this course. Teams of two must navigate their way to a number of control markers, in the prescribed order, choosing their own route between each one.

It is a two-day challenge, and the teams must carry everything they need to camp overnight in the mountains. It is not an elite event, however. There are four levels of difficulty to choose from, ranging from 35km to 55km, and competitors may run or walk, but all teams will need some experience of mountain navigation as well as survival skills.

Connemara Rough Diamond
September 28th (adventure race)
A fiendish combination of running, cycling and an assault course awaits competitors in Connemara this September. There are three levels to choose from: the 17km intro course, the 32km sport course, and the expert-level 60km option.

Each race includes the 1km Fear Gorta assault course through Kylemore woods, the details of which are a heavily guarded secret. Sumo wrestlers are rumoured; muck is guaranteed. The real test of endurance comes later with music and celebrations in Clifden for anyone still standing. connemararoughdiamond.com

September 29th (road running)
It’s a marathon, but not as we know it. The Donegal Mooathon promises 26.2 miles of full-fat madness, with runners encouraged to dress as cows. Acceptable apparel for this race includes horns, bells, black-and-white body paint and cow suits of any colour. The race rules specify that those not dressed as cows must wear black and white, or face potential disqualification. For the not-so-mad cows out there, a “semi-skimmed” half marathon is on offer.

The half marathon is also an official World Heart Day walk, so non-runners can join the herd. Both races are point-to-point, starting just outside Letterkenny and finishing near the beach at Downings, and incredible scenery is promised.

For those who have accepted that they will never grace the winners’ podium, there is always the chance of taking home a prize for best fancy dress.

Gaelforce Turf Warrior
November 2nd (obstacle race)
The Turf Warrior Challenge offers the chance to round off the season in a flurry of mud and sweat on the banks of Killary harbour in Co Galway.

The deceptively short 10km course is packed full of climbing, swinging, leaps into the Atlantic and all kinds of other mayhem and madness. Said to be the toughest course in Ireland, it promises to test competitors’ stamina, nerve and camaraderie.

The fun does not end with the race. Once they have washed the mud off, all warriors are invited to a themed party in Killary Adventure Centre.

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