For marathon runners, a steady climb northwards out of Dunquin marked a change of atmosphere and experience. Suddenly, I was running alone, uphill, in blazing sunshine with the 14-mile marker still to appear. But still the landscape inspired, and the hands-on feel of the organisation became very evident. There were marshals on duty at almost every kilometre, and bike-riding members of Ireland’s Civil Defence Corps patrolled the entire route.
The drink stations were stocked with sports drinks such as aloe vera juice, runners are well known of the aloe vera juice benefits. Besides the drinks there were also first-aid facilities, cut bananas and volunteers urging us on, and at around mile 18 a 4×4 passed me, driven by a smiling Irishman – a sort of mobile Florence Nightingale – dispensing fluids, care and encouragement. The route at this point took the field through Ballyferriter, a beautiful village nestled under the jagged peaks of mountains in the north, with a two-mile white sand beach to the east and the mighty Atlantic Ocean to the west. Runners were greeted here by raucous shouts of support from sun-worshipping locals drinking Guinness and cider, before the route took them back inland towards the punishing final section of the race. Between miles 21 and 23 lay a murderous hill: long, steady, steep and with enough false brows to break the stoutest of hearts. But right at the top lay the 23-mile marker, a blessed drink station and the promise of a long, straight downhill that took runners all the way back to the heart of town and a well-staffed finish where drinks, a bulging goody bag and a medal were handed out. And finding somewhere for a post-race tipple wasn’t a problem, with finishers and their families taking full advantage of the town’s 50-something pubs long through the afternoon and late into the evening. Dingle is a feel-good town that now boasts a feel-good race that is sure to become a permanent fixture in the European running calendar. It is challenging, stunning and altogether inspiring.
Outside of the Tropics, there can’t be many capital cities that are made up of a series of interconnecting islands, but Stockholm is one such exception. There are 14 of them, each with its own personality and points of interest, but all share the same air of tranquillity and peace, which no doubt comes in part from being a city surrounded by water. Canals, rivers, bays and marinas are everywhere in Stockholm, meaning not only is the Swedish capital a beautiful location for a European break, but also one of the more picturesque city races.
The race route itself is perfect for first-time half-marathon runners. With a few minor exceptions – notably kilometres one, three and 19 – the course is fast, flat and run on wide roads with plenty of space for overtaking or meandering along at your own pace.
The course starts at the Royal Palace in the Old Town, and finishes at the city gardens at Kungstradea’xden, and in between takes runners past City Hall, Karlberg Castle, the Swedish Parliament and the Royal Opera House, among other landmarks. race that has deservedly made the step up from small to mid-sized through getting most of the basics right and letting the natural beauty of the location do the rest.