Dingle Marathon, the best marathon in Ireland. A reader recently sent in a question that was fairly straightforward: “Any good recommendations for a marathon abroad?” So, after a moment of pondering we thought: “Hey, let’s ask Mike!” After all, he’s been known for finding some of the most obscure races outside of the US. So we did and he answer was simple: Do the Dingle. And here’s why…
There are some races renowned for the host city and its crowds. Some for their history or top competition. Others for the challenge they present whether it be elevation, temperature, or terrain. Ireland’s Dingle Marathon is a race to be run for it’s beauty.
For its third year, race director Ken Dunne has turned a rave run into the perfect destination race. The Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry is Ireland’s westernmost point, boldly jutting out into the awesome expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Typical of southwest Ireland, this area is rugged and rustic as steep cliffs and hard sandstone endure against the eons of punishment the rain, wind and sea dish out. It is a sparsely populated area, of only 2,500 residents, but it’s breath taking scenery attract a relaxed mix of tourists young and old.
This course began in the center of the seaside town of Dingle, and followed the coastal Slea Head Drive through Ventry, west towards the Blasket Islands. This is the kind of race where you forget about time, forget about effort, and enjoy the reward of all the training that got you there. This is not an experience that can be duplicated by sitting on a tourist coach bus and looking out the window. This is not a race to watch your splits and hustle for a PR. This is a celebration of where you can bring yourself when you’ve trained to be an endurance athlete, and is to be savored like a glass of excellent whiskey.
The 930 half-marathoners finished near Dunquin and were bussed back to Dingle. The 358 marathoners turned inland for a rugged series of inland hills. The elevation profile is easy to underestimate. Similar to the Cape Cod Marathon, the rolling hills in the second half slowly sap the energy that seemed so bountiful in the first 13 when the view was majestic and miles were easy. Spectators became even more sparse and turned out to cheer on many locals who were in the race. After reaching a peak in Ballynana, the final 3 miles of the course were all downhill, lonely, straight, and boring. It served as a reminder to focus inward to grind out the final, toughest miles. The call of the finish line could be heard a mile away by the music and fans lining the streets in the final stretch back in Dingle.
I have run some marathons just to finish. I have run some marathons to try to get a PR. I have run some marathons because I knew they offered a unique challenge. And while it’s not the easiest destination race for someone coming from the US, it is definitely worth it. When you ask me about the Dingle Marathon, with a twinkle in my eye as I remember mile after mile of watching the ocean disappear into the horizon, I can say that I ran the Dingle Marathon because running is good.
Race director Ken Dunne did a great job communicating all the necessary info and updates over email in the months leading up to the race. Runners living in Ireland received their packets by post, so the packet pick-up and pasta party was somewhat spare & subdued. Regarding the start, there was plenty of parking because this is a relatively small race and most runners stayed in Dingle town. The starting corral seemed unnecessarily narrow and lacked guidance regarding pace groupings. Yes, as usual, I decided way to late to get in the corral and have a phobia of climbing the corral fence and face-planting 5 minutes before the starting gun. There were 8 aid stations, most offered only water.
Regarding the finish: perhaps I have grown to take the buffets at the end of US marathons for granted, but I felt let down by the post-race finisher’s area. The only thing I found was a hot dog that I could not stomach. However, the proximity of the boat ramps into the frigid water provided excellent relief for the legs and the abundance of local pubs offered plenty of means to restore calories in both liquid and solid form. Great spectators. Very cool, talkative vibe amongst the runners before, during, and after the race.