10 (not too difficult) fitness challenges to aim for in 2020

The  ‘Swim for a mile Challenge’ event held in the National Aquatic Centre in Blanchardstown. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

I once knew a man who would dismally greet the coming of each new year with the words: “Another 12 months gone by and still no better”. January certainly bestows a sharp reality check after the warm optimism of the Christmas period. It’s when many of us are prompted to look backwards and notice how the years have begun rolling seamlessly together as it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish one from the other.

So, why not resolve to make 2020 different from what has gone before? Perhaps next January, you can look back upon the year with a glow of satisfaction, having taken on one of these 10 challenges below. We’ve selected ones that aren’t too difficult to achieve but still require focus and preparation. Just one will provide the perfect incentive to up your fitness in 2020 and then, perhaps, move on to greater things in future years.

The bragging rights to a marathon

If you want to put your toe gently into the faster-flowing waters of self-improvement, the Slievenamuck Mountain Marathon is just the start you’re looking for. The advantage is that you don’t actually have to complete a full mountain marathon, since there is also a half-marathon walk on offer, which should be manageable for most people with training. Taking place on April 5th, the half-marathon involves a 21km walk through hill terrain that comes with the bonus of arresting views across the scenic Glen of Aherlow, to the salient peaks of the Galtee Mountains. If you want to go for broke, there is also a full-on 42km mountain marathon, which you can choose to walk or run. galteewalkingclub.ie

Walk the Camino

To gain a Compostela (completion certificate for the Spanish Camino), pilgrims are required to walk at least 100km of a pilgrim path, finishing in the Galician city of Santiago. For Irish pilgrims, a special indulgence from this rule is now on offer. The Cathedral of St James has agreed to grant a Compostela to those who complete the 75km Camino path from the northern Spanish coast to Santiago, provided they have already completed a certified 25km pilgrimage in Ireland. The Irish paths accepted for this purpose are listed on the Camino Society website. Having footed the required 25km in Ireland and obtained the necessary documents from the Dublin Camino Office, head for Spain and the ancient city of A Coruña. Here, you follow a picturesque and uncrowded route that leads to Santiago, which has been walked by Irish pilgrims since medieval times. caminosociety.com

Swim a mile

An age-old truism propounds that the more we do something, the better we get at it. If you can now manage a length or two of a swimming pool, there is no reason why you should not be able to swim a mile in three months’ time. The secret is practice. Swim Ireland coaches have written a swimming plan that will enable those who can swim a little to swim a mile with just 12 weeks of training. You can choose to follow the plan alone, or join one of the 47 training groups at pools nationwide. Afterwards, your watery mile can be proudly completed at an official Swim For A Mile challenge event. Here you will be timed and receive a Swim For A Mile pack as a reward marking your achievement. swimforamile.com

In the footsteps of saints

Walkers on the Irish Pilgrim’s Journey
Walkers on the Irish Pilgrim Journey

Once upon a time, if you longed for a pilgrim walk, it was first necessary to survive the penitential experience of getting through an airport. Thankfully this is no longer the case. Long predating the Spanish Camino, Ireland’s ancient pilgrim paths have recently re-awakened and are now echoing once again to pilgrim footfall. Each August, the volunteer groups associated with five of these ancient trails come together to create an Irish Pilgrim Journey of 120 km, which is fully guided and lasts for one week. Led by volunteers, it follows ancient pilgrim paths in Cork, Kerry, Wicklow and Mayo. So, if you would like to engage with Ireland’s mystical history while in the company of like-minded people, mark August 22nd to 29th into your diary now. Having completed the Pilgrim Journey, you will be awarded a Teastas (completion certificate) by Ballintubber Abbey. pilgrimpath.ie

Spin the Ring

General view as the The Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle passes through Sneem Village. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
General view as the The Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle passes through Sneem Village. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Registration opens on January 6th for this superb cycle challenge around Ireland’s most scenic ring. If you are not a cyclist but are in reasonably good health, you still have plenty of time to prepare for this 170km circuit. Be warned though: the Ring of Kerry Challenge is a long and demanding day involving 1,560m of ascent. If you are not used to being in the saddle, the key to successful completion is getting out on your bike consistently for at least three months. The organisers suggest a preparation period with 40km spins in April, rising to 80km in May and 120km in June. Do this and come July 4th, you will enjoy the pleasure of a superb downhill finish through the splendour of Killarney National Park. ringofkerrycycle.ie

Get high on the Knock ME Down

If your target for 2020 is improving your all-round fitness, this event may be just for you. Taking place on September 5th, the multidisciplinary Knock ME Down Challenge is great fun for participants. The 30 km cycle, kayak around a picturesque mountain lake and 5km run over demanding terrain makes for a memorable challenge that is always sold out well in advance - so book early. If you would enjoy a stiffer challenge, the Knock ME Down MÓR offers you exactly that. It requires a longer run, and comes with a final “sting in the tail” - a challenging cycle over the famous Vee Gap. knockmealdownactive.com

Go the distance

If you’d like to attempt one of Ireland’s long-distance walking trails, but feel you are not ready yet for the 10-day rigours of the Kerry Way or even the seven-day challenge of the Dingle Way, fear not; the Slieve Bloom Way is the perfect one for you, which is possible to complete without too much difficulty in three days. The best place to start and finish the 84km trail is from glorious Glenbarrow in Co Laois, on the east side of the range. Your route – along well-built forest pathways for the most part – then follows high heathery ridges and drops into deep sequestered glens. Stick to the trail and you will enjoy a very real sensation of being detached from modernity, especially if you spend your two overnights camping wild amid the high Blooms.

Walk the wall

Built a century ago to enclose the catchment area of the Silent Valley Reservoir, the Mourne Wall was designed to keep livestock from contaminating the Belfast water supply. Filtration processes have now rendered it obsolete, but it is still a wonder to behold, as it mimics the Great Wall of China by an undulating 35km over the Mourne summits. Following the wall for its entire length makes for an unforgettable circuit, and this is one adventure you can DIY, as the structure offers an infallible navigational guide. The challenge involves 3,000m of ascent, so you will need to be fit and well kitted out for the unforgiving high mountain environment. You can accomplish the challenge in one long 10 to 12-hour hike, or over two less demanding days with one memorable night spent camping wild in the High Mournes.

Everything stacked in your favour

Go sea stack climbing in Donegal
Go sea stack climbing in Donegal

If an adrenalin rush is your thing, then sea-stack climbing will certainly push your buttons. The storm-tortured and previously unclimbed sea stacks off the Donegal coast were ignored for centuries until Iain Miller saw their potential. His company, Unique Ascent, now offers genuine thrill seekers an opportunity to summit Ireland’s most outstanding sea stacks as part of an adrenaline-rich experience. First, you descend great cliffs to gain the ocean. Then, it’s across open sea to reach the base of the towering stack, before you climb up the great edifice while held by a safety rope. Arriving on the tiny summit, you will find yourself surrounded by a surreal world consisting of nothing but ocean and sky. It will prove a genuinely out-of-this-world experience you are unlikely to forget. uniqueascent.ie

Howling Ridge: Since 1987 this has become Ireland’s most famous climb
Howling Ridge: Since 1987 this has become Ireland’s most famous climb

Conquer Ireland’s most-renowned mountain ridge

In February 1987, Kerry men Con Moriarty and John Cronin ascended the northeast face of Carrauntoohil in search of ice climbing. To their astonishment, they discovered a previously unknown ridge they christened Howling. This has since become Ireland’s most-famous climb, its iconic status making it a rite of passage for those wishing to experience the knee-knocking intensity of climbing exposed rock. However, to ascend Howling safely you need certain rope-work skills and these are provided by local company Kerry Climbing. Over an intensive day in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, you will learn rock-climbing techniques and rope work. Then, on day two, you make a guided ascent of Howling, before continuing on to Carrauntoohil’s summit to celebrate your achievement. kerryclimbing.ie.