Sunday, October 31, 1999

TR Ireland & Wales

10/23 –10/31/99

This trip was planned from the get-go to be a ten-day re-exploration of a previous trip that Nicole, Jason and I made to Wales and Ireland during our 1st month in England. As you may recall that was the trip where I received my Ph.D. in UK driving!

The purpose of this trip was to run two marathons: one in Dublin and one six days later in Wales.
Since they were so conveniently close in time I decided to drive again and in fact I had to retrace much of the same route we took six months ago- motorways north through Birmingham and then west to Wales where you immediately hit those wonderful roads. But this time the roads were not as intimidating! I drove straight through to the ferry terminal in Holyhead the first day and found a small B&B close to the terminal. The next morning when I told the owner/hostess that I was going to Ireland to run the Dublin marathon she decided I needed extra fuel and doubled the normal ‘full English breakfast’.
Now I don’t know if you have ever had one of these ‘cholesterol-heaven’ meals – fried bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes and eggs with toast but it can’t really be good for you because it tastes so damn good! But you don’t want to eat again for the rest of the day!
Adequately fueled I headed for the Irish Ferries terminal to board the fast ferry – a hydrofoil that crosses the Irish Sea in less than two hours. Little did I realize that the high winds that the UK had been encountering for the past week had whipped the Irish Sea up into 12 to 15 foot swells. I have never seen so many seasick people in my life! About 80% of the passengers were seasick within the first hour. The big breakfast did not seem like such a great idea now! I actually didn’t have any problems with the sea because I have seen much worse but watching, listening and smelling 300 people throw up makes it very difficult to keep a greasy breakfast down!
But I did manage to keep it down and eventually the captain had to slow the boat down to reduce the rocking because the passengers were not getting better!
Having been to Ireland and Dublin before came in handy as I had booked a hotel right on O’Connell Street that was only 500 feet from the start and finish of the marathon. No long trips to get to the race or back to the hotel and no freezing my butt off waiting at the start!

When we had visited previously we spent only one night and the next morning in Dublin and hadn’t really explored the city. So this trip I took the mandatory city bus tour and discovered that we had missed 75% of the tourist highlights and history of the city. I reiterate – the first thing to do in any city is take an organized city tour! It points out the major attractions/sites, describes the local history and gives you the layout of the land so that you can explore further on your own. I discovered the Dublin Castle, Phoenix Park- the largest urban park in the world, and the guide pointed out the many bullet holes in the buildings and statues from the many unsuccessful independence wars during Ireland’s violent past. We missed all this history on our first trip!

The marathon itself is treated as a big event in Dublin. It is held on a Monday of a long ‘Bank Holiday’. They call all their long holiday weekends ‘Bank Holidays’. The city and people support it enthusiastically. The marathon has about 6000 entrants of which 50% are from the US. About 90% of those runners/walkers are ‘Charity Runners’-Leukemia, etc. But it is a big economic infusion for the city. Dublin was also hosting some of the World Rugby games at the same time so the city was humming!
The marathon course is a fairly flat 26-mile loop through and around the city but most of it is in the suburbs so it is kind of boring. But there were lots of spectators cheering on the runners and Irish bands playing along the course.
I decided to run easy since I had another race in six days that I knew would be much harder. So I ran an easy 8:15-8:30 pace until the 25 mile mark where a ‘Leukemia team member’ from San Diego and I got into a pissing match or running duel. I don’t know what started it but suddenly neither one was going to let the other get to the finish line first. Right –all you need after 25 miles! So we ran the 26th mile in 6:55 where I passed his young ass and sprinted to the finish line to beat him! He was about half my age and I figured it was important to teach him that although youth is a major factor, wisdom and experience can be more important! That little spurt helped me finish in 3:37, which is respectable for ‘taking it easy’.

Now that the ‘work’ was completed it was time to enjoy Dublin. After a nice hot soak in the tub I headed to the Irish Pubs to listen to some live Irish music and enjoy some good beer. I have to admit that I was amazed that even on Sunday and the Holiday Monday the pubs were absolutely full and buzzing with activity! At my second pub I ran into a bunch of Aussies who had just left the rugby match where Australia had defeated ? This turned out to be a big mistake as I am telling you that you do not – I repeat YOU DO NOT want to celebrate with a bunch of Aussies!
They had me drinking Guinness and I don’t even like dark beer! The next morning my head and stomach hurt much worse than my legs!
And I had to rise and leave early to start to the second leg of my adventure. I figured that since I didn’t need to be in Wales until Friday that I might as well experience some golf in Ireland. I had pre-booked hotels and tee times at three golf clubs in the Ireland Midlands –all within 100 miles of Dublin. The first golf course was Glasson, which is near Athlone. The course is situated on a peninsula jutting out into Lough Ree (Lake of the Kings). It is a hilly course bounded on three sides by the lake so half the holes are in the hills and half are on water. But the scenery and views from every hole were spectacular! The course ate my lunch –I didn’t break 100 but I didn’t care! And surprisingly the weather turned out really nice. It was cool but sunny and I had been prepared to play in rain all week! The hotel was located right on the lake and in fact there was an island about 100 yards offshore that is supposedly the geographical center of Ireland!

Then it was on to the Esker Hills Golf Club in Tullamore. As the name suggests this is a very hilly course. Half of the tee and fairway shots are blind shots because of severe dog- legs or hills! Needless to say I lost a lot of balls and didn’t break 100 again – but I still didn’t care! That night I decided it was time to treat myself like a king so I stayed in a castle. The Kilkea Castle is the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland. It has been inhabited since it was built in 1180! The exterior has essentially been untouched since it was built. A local hotel chain bought the castle five years ago and converted it into a luxury hotel.
They left the exterior untouched and only updated/changed the interior as necessary. The rooms are furnished with antiques or replicas so you definitely know you are living in an old castle. I was lucky (?) to be placed in a room at the top of the southwest battle tower overlooking the battlements.
Unbeknownst to me this tower is rumored to be haunted! But I don’t believe in that crap?
Because the castle is located on its own estate in the boonies I decided to eat in their renowned (but very expensive- but then remember I am a King! ) restaurant. After dinner I went to the bar for a nightcap and then retired early since I had the 8am-tee time on the hotel’s private golf course. Upon retiring I checked my door as I usually do to double-lock it. But it did not have a double lock or safety chain so I just made sure that the door was closed and locked. At exactly 2:45 am I was awakened suddenly as my room door was opened and the door swung in about one-quarter of the way! The only thing I could think of was to shout “Hello, Hello”? The door immediately slammed shut! But then a god-awful thumping noise started up in the hallway or somewhere in the tower. After a few minutes I got annoyed and called the front desk to explain that someone had tried to enter my room and now there was a loud noise in the hallway. I waited a few more minutes and still the noise didn’t go away so I called the front desk again and complained more strongly and demanded that they get their ass up here to investigate the problem.
After a few more minutes the noise went away and I fell back to sleep. The next morning on the way to breakfast I asked the front desk what they had found the previous night. They explained that they had sent an employee up to the tower but he had found nothing or nobody and no noise.
They claimed that no employees had been in the tower at that time and no unauthorized persons had access to my room key. So I guess the mystery will never be solved! But it couldn’t have been a ghost! Ghosts don’t open doors –do they? Don’t they just walk through them?

My good luck (?) at the castle continued as my tee time was delayed two hours by the first frost of the season. But the reward was the nicest weather day of the trip! It turned out to be sunny and warm. I tried to rush my way through the links course only to shoot a 51 on the front nine. So then I forced myself to slow down and concentrate and shot a 41 on the back nine that was the hardest part of the course. I had finally broken 100 in Ireland!
Then it was time to head cross country on the back roads again –and I mean back roads! Most were single lane unpaved roads. If you met another car someone had to find a place to pull over or back up! I was heading across and over the Wicklow Mountains to the Irish Sea. I stopped for lunch in Hollywood –I even took a picture of the HOLLYWOOD sign perched on the side of the Wicklow Mountains with the sheep grazing all around it!
The mountains are similar in height and geology to the Appalachians but with much more pasture. It is very scenic with lots of green hills and valleys and zillions of sheep.
I spent my final night in Killiney Bay, a small seaside resort that is an exclusive suburb of Dublin on the south side. And I did a final five-mile run along the Irish Sea in preparation for the next marathon.

The next morning it was back to the ferry that was much smoother this trip. I had decided to travel north from Holyhead to explore a small coastal resort in North Wales. Llandudno used to have a copper mine but it petered out in the mid 1800s so they converted the town into a seaside resort. It is very picturesque and I realized that Wales is the undiscovered secret of the UK. It has everything the other countries do –mountains, ocean, and lots of sheep. But it is much cheaper to visit and less congested! I spent the night there before moving on to the Snowdonia National Park where the marathon was to be run. On the way to Llanberis I stopped at LLANFAIRPWLLGWYNGYLLGOGERYCHWYRNDROBWLLLLANTYSILIOGOGOGOCH. This is the longest town name in Britain and it means literally ‘Mary’s church by the white hazel pool, near the fierce whirlpool, with the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave’. How would you like to put that on your return address every time you write a letter?
Then it was over and through the Snowdonia Mountains to Llanberis that sits on the shores of Llyn Padarn (Lake Padarn) at the foot of Mount Snowdon. This is a very scenic area and is a mecca for hikers and climbers.
As I was checking into the Royal Victoria Hotel, a 200 year-old hotel situated on the lake, I met Wally Herman –the retired doctor I spoke about in a previous letter. He was running his 87th country! By now the weather had turned nasty with very strong winds. In fact I discovered that I had been lucky to leave Ireland when I did because the ferries were being cancelled due to the high winds and rough seas. I had planned to do some more sightseeing in the area but the weather was too bad! But I figured I couldn’t complain since I had good weather all week when I had expected to play golf in the rain and cold.
So I did some shopping in Llanberis and the first thing I noticed was that everyone spoke Welsh. They also spoke English but their first language was Welsh that is impossible to understand. I had also noticed in the Midlands of Ireland, especially in the boonies that everyone was speaking Gaelic. I thought it was nice that the people are reviving their native languages!

Sunday was D-day for the marathon and the weather had not improved so I knew it would be a tough day! The marathon started in Llanberis, climbed a 1000 feet up the Llanberis Pass and then dropped a 1000 feet down into Beddgelert. At the top of the pass the winds were gusting at 60 mph and were so strong that I was afraid that I was going to be blown off the mountain pass! But they were at our back – until Beddgelert where we turned southwest into the 60mph gales! From there we climbed another 500 feet up to Pont Cae Gors before descending again. But fortunately the wind started to change direction and assist us. The final climb was the worst. From mile 21 to 23 we had to climb 1000 feet up a hiking trail to the top of a mountain. Running as fast and as hard as I could without walking it took me 20.5 minutes to make that climb. As I neared the top of the mountain I figured I would be able to make up the time on the descent. WRONG! The descent was so steep and the trail so treacherous that I literally had to lean back into the mountain and apply full leg brakes and weave my way down the trail that was grass, mud and loose rocks. One mistake and you wouldn’t stop until you hit the bottom of the mountain! It took 18 minutes to descend two miles! But finally we hit pavement on the edge of town and ran the final mile through Llanberis to finish on the shores of Llyn Paradan. My time? 3:43 which was damn good for that course and the conditions.
I actually enjoyed the marathon because the course was challenging but the scenery was spectacular as you passed through several valleys and passed by several lakes, rivers and waterfalls. We also passed through several small villages and all the locals were standing in that nasty weather cheering all the runners along! It’s a good marathon and a great place to visit if you love nature and beautiful scenery!
And having completed a marathon in Wales I have now completed a marathon in all four countries of the United Kingdom!

Fortunately I do get to rest for a few weeks before my next marathon adventure begins.
So stay tuned!

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