by Matt Tucker
In May, 2015, Saucony held a contest where 26 random winners of run specialty shops from the USA had the chance to be a part of a relay race spanning Ireland from Dublin to Kinvara. The race would take place over the course of two days. Joining the winners from America would be competitors from Canada, Germany, France, Belgium, the UK, and Ireland. 70 very lucky winners would be a part of one of the most amazing running adventures I have ever been a part of.
Upon landing, we were taken to the City West Hotel, just southwest of Dublin. After a quick change of clothes and a lunch, all 70 of us were taken to the Guinness Storehouse, where we took part in a private tour, learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, and had a tasty catered dinner. After some introductions and opening speeches, our respective teams discussed who would run each of the next day’s stages. Each runner was assigned two legs for the first day, and one leg for the second day. The excitement was almost too much to bear. I discovered I would be running along the back roads of Ireland, where tourists are scarce. This was the Ireland I was hoping to see.
After a night’s “sleep”, and a delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs, we boarded our team luxury busses, where we would spend the next two days. Upon leaving the hotel, we were taken about 5 miles to the southwest, along the shore of Lake Blessington, where the race was to start. The weather was a cool 55 degrees, and there was a chance of rain showers throughout the day. I couldn’t have been more excited.
After the gun sounded and the first set of runners was off, we made our way to the first transition, where I was to be the second runner. Where nervousness had been a factor in other races in my past, only excitement was had. Here I was, getting ready to run along a narrow and winding road in Ireland. It was almost too much to bear. Along came our first runner. I hastily put the timing chip on my ankle, and I was off. Our motor bike escort behind me, I plodded my way up and down the winding, hilly road along the lake, peering at stone walls and small farmhouses. Residents were standing out in the streets, unsure of what was going on, but cheering us on nevertheless. I’m not sure my feet ever touched the ground. Five and a half miles later, I found myself handing the timing chip off. A dream had just come true…
The legs of the race continued through Hollywood, (yes, it was in Ireland first) Dunlavin, Carlow, Leighlingridge, and finally ending in Gowran, just outside of Kilenny. The rains increased throughout the day. Where others complained about the moisture, I was loving every minute of it. Although my legs were done for the day, I ran the last leg only because I wanted an unrushed view of the countryside. When I arrived in Gowran, I saw a local man who appeared to be returning home from the store. Walter and I spoke for about 10 minutes about where he was from and what I was doing soaking wet, running through town sporting red shoes. About 10 minutes later, my teammate came running back to find me. He told me the finish line was right around the corner at a pub and my beer was waiting. We walked to Laughlin’s Pub, where we quenched our thirst with a pint or two of Guinness, Smithwicks, and gnoshed on some Irish pub food. It had been raining, and we were soaking wet and cold. It was time for some rest
We caravanned to Kilkenny, where we took part in a short tour of the famous Kilkenny Castle. Built in 1195, it holds some of the most intricate and beautiful artwork I have ever seen.
After the tour, we were taken to the stunning Lyrath Estate Hotel, where we had a ceremony, dinner, and, you guessed it, more pints.
The next morning, we were bussed across Ireland to the west coast. We had a quick tour of the Cliffs of Mohr. The scenery and sounds of the ocean pounding the rocks 600 feet below was stunning. I was getting excited for my run along the coast.
The day’s run started near the village of Doolin, just north of the Cliffs. My leg was an 8.25 mile rolling route along a small roadway next to the ocean. It began on a tiny road lined with beautiful houses and short, vine covered rock walls, some of which are hundreds of years old.
After about a mile of gentle climbing, I finally came into view of the Atlantic. As I ran along the sea, I could hear the waves crashing on the rocky shore, see castle and church ruins in fields of green, and feel the clean, cool air of western Ireland. I ran my route covered in goosebumps while I dealt with the lump in my throat. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. Coming around a corner, I could see the village of Fanore nestled along the coast in the far distance; my destination. I don’t think my feet ever touched the ground. I ran beyond my limitations, carried on by adrenaline and emotion. This is what I was here for. People often ask what the highlight of my trip was; this was the most epic 8 mile run of my life.
As we continued along the coast northward, we had come up on the Linnalla Irish Ice Cream shop. I remember asking the clerk if their ice cream was made from the milk of grass fed cows. With a confused look on her face, she replied, “Is there any other way of making it?” I quickly learned they don’t feed their cattle grains…
As we reached Galway Bay, we ran along back roads so narrow, we insisted they were only one way. This was still the Ireland unseen by the typical tourist. Before long, we found our way into Kinvara; our final destination. The entire team got out and ran the final 2 km to the finish line. There was a pub at the end with complimentary Guinness and massages. The end of the most amazing running experience of my life was here.
We gathered ourselves and drove to Galway, on the north shore of Galway Bay. A quick shower and change of clothes, and I went downtown in search of a famous Claddagh Ring for my lovely bride. After picking that up, it was back to the hotel for closing ceremonies and more Guinness, traditional Irish fare, and some Irish dancers. Several of us decided we wanted a night on the town, so we worked our way to New Quay Live (pronounced Key) for some live music. Somehow, we ended up enjoying more Irish beers… The drive back to Dublin was uneventful, as my body had finally given in to 4 days of nonstop activity. I slept for the entire drive. We all said our goodbyes as we boarded our respective flights home.
From the announcement of the winners, to the family hugs at the Tucson airport, it seemed like I had just been in the most amazing dream of my life. It hardly seemed real. This was a trip I had not planned, researched, or had time to get excited for. It was over as quickly as it started. I was left numb from the experience. I embraced the opportunity as rare, and enjoyed every last second of my time traveling across Ireland. I did not see Ireland from a tourist standpoint. I did not wander shops, restaurants, or popular historical sites. What I saw of Ireland was the simplicity, beauty, and genuine hospitality of the Irish countryside and it’s people.
I have many people to thank for this opportunity. There are a few, though, who made this happen. I could very well have brought out a Saucony shoe for every customer I came in contact with the intent on winning a contest, but I did not. Instead, I saw a particular Saucony shoe as a difference maker to the customer who needed it. Some needed other brands, but to others, Saucony was the shoe for them. Shoes do not make the runner or walker, but often, they help get us on our feet, and into the outdoors. We walk, run, or stand more comfortably in shoes that work for us. I hope I was able to make a difference in the lives of those who came in to Fleet Feet Tucson to purchase a pair of Saucony shoes from me. You all made a difference to me, for sure. To those customers, I thank you for this amazing and unforgettable experience.