The Bugs go adventure racing in Ireland

The Bugs go adventure racing in Ireland

Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race

In early October, a few of the bugs were lucky enough to take part in the Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race which, in the 3 years since it's inaugural event hosted 500 competitors, has grown to become the (current) largest Adventure Race in the world with 2400-odd competing in 2014.

Did you take part in any adventure races or indeed the KAR this year or in previous years?
Tell us about your experiences in our forum. You can see our pics from KAR2014 here.

Picture-perfect setting

The race is indeed just that with prizes up for grabs for the elite competitors, however as a first-time adventure racer, the aim was merely completing the grueling course.

Set in the picturesque Killarney National Park, the race has gone from strength to strength, and to be honest it's not surprising why. The landscape wasn't just wild ferns and moss, the stone walls and bridges of early settlement add a human touch to the rocky valleys and their streams and lakes. 

 Killarney is in Kerry county along the west coast of Ireland, where the Wild Atlantic Way - Tourism Ireland's inspired answer to the Great Ocean Road - offers spectacular touring, whether cycling, driving, boating or hiking. The area's incredible natural beauty makes it the ideal base for adventure tourism, which is why Killarney was also chosen to host the 2014 Adventure Tourism World Summit (#2014atws) in the week following the KAR. Their 700-odd delegates explored the region and tweeted their experiences, compiling an amazing gallery of the best adventure touring the region offers.

After arriving on a rain soaked eve, no doubt we were all thrilled to wake up to a cloud-less sunrise, and after breakfast we hopped on the shuttle bus which would deliver us to the start line. When asked whether there was any local wildlife to be concerned about, the Irish dj sat next to me on the bus joked "Only a big Kerry man" and I knew we were in for some good craic..

 Emergency survival kit - Check.
Waterproof Jacket - Check.
Route Map - Check.
Race Number - Check.
Spare trousers -
...Why on earth would I need those?


The competitors were released in waves, and set off up a mountain ascent that felt like it started almost immediately, wet from the previous week's rain and littered with loose stones and mud-traps. The sun and rain jostled for position for the entire race, alternately warming chilly fingertips and cooling burning muscles. The slope was bare, exposed to bitterly cold winds, but it also presented tantalising views of the bike leg to come, the road snaking into the valley below. 

 The first bike leg weaved for 35 windy kilometres through several valleys and over ridges, on remarkably well-made surfaces. I don't know how more people didn't stop throughout the Gap of Dunloe to take photos as I did (pictured at right). The roads were wet but spirits were high and the relief of taking to the low-impact ride after such a concentrated, technical run leg was apparent. The next valley, Black Valley was even prettier with little farms and waterfalls, but proved too difficult to stop and photograph. Mercifully after the toughest hill climb up to Moll's Gap, there was a steady descent of no less than 17km down to Lake Muckross for the kayak race leg. 

Race Characters

With a field this large, there were bound to be some colourful characters on course. There were a lot of international competitors in addition to the enthusiastic Irish contingent who seem to have taken to adventure racing like ducks to water. There was Lisa, a lovely Irish mum who was running on empty and gratefully accepted my spare gels and powerade, and my kayaking buddy who helped me race a boatload of boys back to shore.  

 Pairing up with a fellow competitor for the kayak leg provided a nice element of teamwork into the otherwise solo effort and a welcome chance to let the legs relax while the upper body took care of the paddling. 

I'd be remiss to leave out a mention of the poor woman who was tasked with telling me my leggings had split, the Go-Pro wearer who swore he wasn't behind me while my behind was exposed, the marshalls who lent me some XXXXL fluorescent yellow pants to cover up on the long descent, and the local spectator who surrendered her friend's waterproofs which allowed me to finish. Basically having your leggings split halfway through a race is a great excuse to meet people... butt seriously, bring spare shorts - you never know.

 If you're a nature lover and a fan of physical challenges this is the ideal, scouring a brutiful landscape for hours on end in a personal quest to conquer on foot, in pedal and with paddle in hand. The roads remained open to traffic, despite the large race field, and several bikes had been abandoned with the marshals on the descent from Moll's Gap for the racers to continue running the course after a minor collision occurred, so it is advisable for participants to have experience sharing the road with cars. 

So kayak leg finished, water bottle filled, what now...

I still have how far to go?

The second run leg loomed large, literally. Extremely steep, heavily wooded and NEVER-ENDING is the only way to describe the Forest Track Run ascent. Worse still for the 70km Expert racers who made the extra slog up Mangerton Mountain. The descent, though steep, was nowhere near as technical as the first run leg and it was a quick run back to the lake to retrieve the bike for the final, flat race leg into the finish.

Yay, the finish line! When's the next one?

 The best thing about the adventure race atmosphere is that everyone is there to have a good time - feels a bit like a ski resort in that respect. The race sponsor, Helly Hansen set up a huge celebration at the finish line, transforming the carpark with hottubs, deck chairs, kit stalls, beer stalls and free hot meal stations - the perfect setting for dissecting the day with fellow competitors and supporters alike. Luckily for us the sun agreed to join in the post-race festivities too!

Regardless of your preparation, it is going to be a rough recovery - the rough terrain and intense gradients make the uphills and downhills particularly hard on the legs - ice/cold water baths are recommended all around.

The good news is that after 60+ km of effort, whatever you eat for dinner is going to taste like the BEST meal imaginable - that or the chip shop in downtown Killarney really does have the most amazing burgers in the world..

If you think an Adventure Race sounds right up your alley, get involved, and get ready for next years race with our learnings.. above, and below:

 Essential Adventure Race prep

  • Spare shorts/leggings
  • Sense of humour
  • Waterproof outer shell
  • Gels (even if you don't anticipate needing them!)
  • Water bottle or camelback
  • Proper Trail Running shoes 
  • Experience cycling in traffic
  • At least a few trail runs under your belt

Did you take part in any adventure races or indeed the KAR this year or in previous years? Tell us about your experiences in our forum.

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