By Ryan Atkins
The La Cloche trail in Killarney was the first long distance trail I ever tried to run and likewise, it will always hold a dear place in my heart. This Trail isn't the longest, the hilliest or the prettiest trail I've ever run, but it accumulates 2600m of climbing over the 75 km it traverses.
For most trails to hit these numbers they require large mountainous climbs, but the La Cloche trail instead goes up and down little hills (the largest is about 250m). The relentless ups and downs make it almost impossible to settle into any sort of rhythm. On top of this, nearly every step has a rock or a root to content with. The rock in this area is made up of pink and white Quartzite, which is super hard and polished smooth. These are the slickest rocks I've ever seen and if you don't have very grippy shoes, you can slip and fall all over the place.
The endless challenges are interspersed with a true wilderness experience. Once you leave the parking lot, there are no options to "bail" on the run, meaning it requires complete commitment. If you get hurt, you will have to self-rescue. As such, you need to bring everything with you.
For me this meant the following:
Once you set off on the trail, it's just yourself and the roughly 10-15 other hikers you might see out there who are taking 3-10 days to complete the same circuit. The mental aspect of this trail is highly crucial to success. I found that for this trail, it's so technical and tough that if you really try to "push it" at any point, you can easily overdo it and injure yourself.
My mantra for this challenge was to "just let go" and "let it flow'. I tried to visualize myself moving over the terrain like the glaciers and water that shaped them so many years ago. By flowing around the trail and remaining relaxed and calm I was able to move at a faster pace than I've ever been able to.
About 5 hours into the 9 hour run I started to feel the effects of the white rocks reflecting the heat back to me and the overall warm temperatures. It was around 28C and 80% humidity that day. At one point it became a true struggle to keep my pace steady. As soon as I sped up, I would feel the effects of the heat and get dizzy.
The heat sapped my motivation and the rest of the run was spent going over mind tricks to run "one more kilometer" ... and then another. This way, I was able to slowly tick off the last 30km and keep a decent pace, which landed me with the FKT of 9 hours and 5 minutes. The previous FKT was from 9 years ago and sat at 9:25. I was pretty happy to finish and spent the next 30 minutes in a lake trying to lower my core temperature.
Info on Ryan's unassisted Everest Challenge.
For a list of the FKT's that Ryan has, check the authority - FKT.com
Ryan Atkins has written for the VJ blog before - Pre-Race Nutrition