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Trail Running in Ireland

With the weather warming up and the days getting longer, the paths of Ireland’s forests and woods are filling up with trail runners taking advantage of the season. Trail running differs from traditional road running in one simple but important way–it takes place off the beaten path and out in a forest, on a mountain, or anywhere in between. It’s a great way for runners to infuse energy and variety into their workouts while enjoying the natural scenery.

Ireland is an excellent country for trail running. Our varying terrain and abundance of natural trails affords athletes the ability to try new routes as often as they please. Some trails are relatively easy and others are extremely difficult, but ask any runner training in Ireland where they like to go for a mix of challenge and natural beauty and all of them will offer up the same location: Wicklow.

Here at Great Outdoors, we have staff who participate in nearly every sport under the sun. A lot of them do a little bit of everything, too. But our notorious trail runners, John O’Regan, John Guy, Ian Conneely and others, have offered to share some of their advice and experience about trail running, Wicklow, and gear recommendations.

Why trail running?

Trail running isn’t easy. In fact, it can be extraordinarily strenuous on the body and test your physical and mental strength in ways that you’ve never anticipated.

John O’Regan, one of our sponsored athletes, is an ultrarunner, which means he specialises in running in any distance longer than a marathon, which is 42.195 kilometres. When asked why in the world he would put himself through that, he said that it happened by accident. Years ago, he’d heard that there was to be an ultramarathon in the Sahara Desert, and he thought: “What a cool way to see the Sahara Desert!” Since then, he’s been running competitively and has completed races on all seven continents. He says that the appeal of running really started with his interest in all of the wonderful places that running could take him.

Indeed, trail running is an excellent way to get out and see new places.

Conrad from our Clothing department originally hails from  South Africa, but loves how trail running has allowed him to see more of Ireland than he might have otherwise. The terrain is unique  and varied. “Running can change so much depending on the terrain. So it’s always a different view or underfoot, wherever you go.”

Where in Wicklow?

Ireland isn’t a large country, but there are many, many different places outdoor enthusiasts claim as the “best spot” for their preferred activity. Wicklow, has been noted time and time again as a perfect place for trail running.

John Guy, a store manager who you might find in our equipment or footwear sections, prefers the St. Kevin’s Way in Wicklow. The main route begins in Hollywood and stretches 30 kilometres into the Glendalough valley, following the footsteps of the 7th century St. Kevin. Ancient pilgrims used to follow this path to honour the saint, but modern runners and walkers enjoy this trail for its varying terrain and stunning scenery.

Aaron from our Footwear team  likes to run up The Spinc. Although at times can be “excitingly slippy,” Aaron enjoys the scenery and challenge of the popular Glendalough trail. “Plus, if you live in Dublin, Glendalough very accessible, so you can do it in a morning before your day beings proper. There is public transport from Dublin to Glendalough if don’t have access to a car.” Daily car rental is also super handy these days, which is a great option if bus connections aren’t available.

When training for races, Ian frequents Howth Head which is a stunning head land jutting out into the sea in North Dublin. The trail options are varied so you can choose your distance. Great views and numerous swimming spots make this a brilliant trail running location.

Maybe John O’Regan sums it up best: “Go to Wicklow, and you’ll understand why everyone likes Wicklow.”

What gear do I need for trail running?

The importance of choosing the right gear simply cannot be overstated. While everyone has their own preference of clothing and accessories, all can agree that the most important aspect of your trail running kit is your footwear.

John Guy wears a pair of Hoka ATR Callanger 5 runners. He prefers this model not only because they offer great grip and cushioning, but also because they fit him well. “And they’re not waterproof,” he adds. “Waterproof shoes are good at keeping water out, but they also keep water in. And when you’re running out in the forest or something, your feet are probably gonna get wet anyway. It’s better to have a pair of shoes that will let water out.”

Conrad, prefers La Sportivas Bushido. Like John Guy’s Hokas, they’re not waterproof, but they’re light, breathable, and are versatile enough to add comfort and protection for longer runs. “Get shoes for the terrain you’re going to run on, though,” Conrad advises. “If you’re only running on the hard trails instead of  muddy fields, get shoes that are made for that terrain.

Ian chooses the Speedcross 5 when trail running. But because he prefers to have extra support and a better fit for his foot shape,  Ian  also uses Sidas Mid Arch Active Insole  for running, lighter hiking and walking .“They help stabilise the foot when you’re running or walking. And that’s great when you’re running on uneven surfaces.”

John O’Regan uses a pair of Columbia shoes for trail running, but he claims that his favourite piece of gear is his Garmin Forerunner 935 watch. “I’m a stats person,” says O’Regan, “and it completely tracks the progress for you.” With a built-in barometer, altimeter, and compass, the 935 tracks elevation changes, distance, and direction to keep you from getting lost while monitoring your long-term performance. It also advises you when to take a rest or recovery day. “And committing to good recovery is extremely important. That’s when your muscles grow.”

Any advice for people just starting out?

Unlike many sports, running is something that you can do right out of your front door with minimal equipment. All of our runners suggest starting out slow and easy if you’ve never really run before.

“If it’s your first time trail running, give yourself an escape route,” says John O’Regan. “For example, run the perimeter of Phoenix Park.” The terrain is varied enough to give you good practice on different types of surfaces, but you’ll never be trapped on the trail without a shortcut to get home.

“Just know yourself and know your limits,” Ian  agrees. “Get the right kind of shoes and pace yourself, build up your distances and pace sensibly”

John Guy urges you to not allow shorter winter days to discourage you from getting outside. “Put on a headlamp and you get to see an entirely different environment than you do in the day.” Especially if you’re on a trail in Wicklow, running at night with a headlamp can be almost mystical, with deer and wildlife all around. “Just make sure you know where you’re going!”

Try running with a group and make it a fun activity rather than purely training. IMRA (Irish Mountain Running Association) is a great resource to find out about upcoming races or routes to try.

We’re here to help

If you’re looking to get into trail running or know someone who might be, don’t hesitate to come into our store on South Great Georges Street.  Our staff is eager to help you get ready for your next trail running experience with advice and gear recommendations–you won’t walk out of our store until you’re happy with your kit!

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