Last updated on November 25, 2023
Hey, are you a keen runner? Cool, then there’s nothing to stop you following your passion on holiday in Ireland!
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Or the other way around: If you’re a keen runner (or runner, of course…) – have you ever thought about a holiday on the Emerald Isle?
Ireland offers fantastic landscapes that you can conquer on a running holiday. Whether you prefer to run along one of the many kilometres of beaches, in a beautiful wooded area, over a steep mountain or on the edge of high cliffs – there are plenty of options for every taste.
You can also take part in running events in Ireland. From an everyday run to a mountainous ultra-marathon, you have plenty of choice on the Emerald Isle.
In this article, I will give you an overview of trail running in Ireland. What makes trail running in Ireland so special, what opportunities do you have to do a bit of running on holiday and what running events are there here.
I’ve been running for years in woods and fields and also in mountainous terrain. I also used to take part in a few running events for everyone, did a bit of triathlon and ran 25 kilometres twice. Nowadays I hike more than I run. But in any case, I know many, many beautiful areas in Ireland – on foot!
My family and I are from Germany but have lived in Ireland for several years (second home). In the summer, we run our motorbike rental business here south of Dublin (https://www.easycruiser.tours) and also offer guest rooms (https://www.the-view-accommodation.ie).
So, let’s get running:
Why trail running in Ireland?
Yes, why run in Ireland? I can think of several reasons:
Ireland has a pleasant climate for running
When the thermometer in southern Germany climbs above 35 degrees Celsius in summer and heads towards 40 degrees Celsius, it is just 25 degrees Celsius in Ireland. Still warm enough for running, but much more pleasant.
In spring or autumn it’s more like 12-18 degrees and in winter there are many days with around 10 degrees. In our experience over several years, the temperatures in Ireland are very pleasant for running for most of the year.
Of course, like everywhere in north-west or northern Europe, it can also rain in Ireland. In summer it is usually just a few showers or a little drizzle. In the winter months it can also rain more persistently. Roughly comparable to northern Germany. Have you already run in northern Germany? Then you can also run in Ireland.
Ireland has beautiful and very diverse landscapes for running
On the south-east coast there are over 70 kilometres of the finest sandy beaches – they offer flat running in the sand, right by the sea.
In the low mountain ranges of Ireland, there are gravelled forest paths through extensive woodlands on the one hand, and narrow paths through upland moors and steep, rocky paths up to the barren mountain tops on the other. Good examples are the Wicklow Mountains National Park or the Killarney National Park.
There are several cliffs hundreds of metres high on the west coast. Hiking trails lead up the coastal mountains or along the cliffs. Good examples are the Cliffs of Moher or the Cliffs of Slieve League.
There are beautiful lakes and river landscapes in the Heartlands, i.e. in the interior of Ireland, where you can also walk on hiking trails directly along the water or over the countless hills through the countryside. This is possible, for example, on the Shannon or Erne and their lakes, or on the large lakes north of Galway, Lough Corrib or Lough Mask.
The Irish are helpful and hospitable
Lost your way on the mountain? No problem, you will be helped.
Are you at a running event and don’t understand the organisation? Just ask anyone – you will be helped.
Have you sprained your ankle and need help? You’ll get it – from people who just happen to be there and will help you.
In Ireland, people look after each other and help each other – including tourists.
Conversely, you are also expected to behave considerately and helpfully, in traffic and otherwise – and that’s the right thing to do.
In any case, you will feel at home here. That’s how we’ve felt for many years in Ireland. And it’s the same for most of our motorbike guests or our overnight guests who are visiting Ireland for the first time. And you’ll certainly feel the same when you go running.
Where you can do great trail runs just for you
Want to go on holiday to Ireland and fit in a few nice trail runs every now and then? Then I have some tips for you here:
The Wicklow Mountains are a nature park on the east coast, south of Dublin. They offer numerous extensive hiking trails through forests and over the mountains, which remain below the 1000 metre mark here.
You can use a section of the famous Wicklow Way for your trail run, run one of the mountain routes to a summit or simply set off at random – there are so many options. Incidentally, the Wicklow Way is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in Ireland. See: http://maps.toughsoles.ie/dist-maps/latest/Wicklow%20Way.pdf.
The Wicklow Mountains are also ideal for a multi-day holiday with several runs.
A good starting point in Wicklow are the well-marked looped walks in Glendalough. There you will find an early medieval monastery and a beautiful valley with two lakes. From there, there are several well-marked hiking trails that you can also walk very well. Probably the best known is the Spinc Trail, which takes you out of the valley and into the mountains. From the top, you have marvellous views of the valley, the lakes and the mountains all around.
If you head further into the mountains from Glendalough, you’ll find a variety of trails leading up to the bare heights, for example at Sally Gap, or Lough Tay.
Some good trail descriptions in the Wicklow Mountains can be found here: http://trailrunningireland.com/category/trails/wicklow-trails/.
If you are only in Dublin for a few days and would like to do some walking in between, I have good news for you: The area surrounding Dublin also offers some nice running trails. See: http://trailrunningireland.com/category/trails/dublin/.
If you’re already on the east coast, you can also run a few kilometres on the beautiful sandy beaches of the south-east coast. Beautiful beaches can be found at Brittas Bay, Old Bawn, Morriscastle, Ballyconnigar, Ballynaclash, Ballinesker and Curracloe.
In Killarney National Park on the south-west coast of Ireland, you will find the highest mountains in Ireland, some of which are over 1000 metres high. The landscape is fantastic and very varied.
There are numerous shorter hiking trails here that you can also walk. See: https://www.nationalparks.ie/killarney/things-to-do/#walking.
Then there is the Kerry Way, one of Ireland’s most famous long-distance hiking trails, which you can also walk in sections. See: http://maps.toughsoles.ie/dist-maps/latest/Kerry%20Way.pdf.
Connemara National Park is located on the west coast, not far from Galway. Connemara is characterised by a very rocky and barren mountain landscape. There are few hedges here, as there are in the east, but there are many stone walls that demarcate the pastures and cover the landscape with a pattern.
Diamond Hill may not be one of the highest mountains in Ireland, but what it lacks in height, it certainly makes up for in distant views. The views from the summit are simply marvellous! You can climb Diamond Hill – or walk it! You can find this and other routes here: https://www.alltrails.com/de/parks/ireland/county-galway/connemara-national-park/trail-running.
The Slieve Leagues are the highest cliffs in Ireland and even some of the highest cliffs in Europe! You can marvel at them from the Bunglass Point viewpoint – or walk up the steep hiking trail! See: https://www.komoot.de/highlight/683196.
The Cliffs of Moher are not the highest, but certainly the most famous cliffs in Ireland. And rightly so, as the vertical, 200 metre high cliffs are very impressive. A narrow hiking trail, the Cliff Walk, runs along the edge of the cliffs for a good 11 kilometres along the coast. You can walk all or part of it, in one direction or back and forth, or even run. Siehe: https://www.komoot.de/discover/Cliffs_of_Moher_Trailemail@example.com,-9.4287600/tours?max_distance=4820&sport=hike&map=true&toursThroughHighlight=233196&focusedTour=1225813259.
If the mountains of Killarney National Park are too steep for you, I have a milder but still very beautiful option for you: the Slieve Bloom Mountains Nature Reserve in the heart of Ireland. Hilly land, sunny heathland and cosy mixed forests with streams and many hiking trails. You can run on some of the many hiking trails, or take a closer look at these trail running recommendations – see: https://www.alltrails.com/de/parks/ireland/county-laois/slieve-bloom-mountains-nature-reserve/trail-running.
So, now you’ve got a great selection of running trails in mild hills, rugged mountains, mixed and coniferous forests, on the beach and on the cliffs of the Irish island!
If you’re looking for a sporting challenge with like-minded people, then read on:
Where you can take part in Irish trail running events
Fancy taking part in a trail running competition in Ireland? You can be helped! I’ve listed a few great events for you below:
The Dublin Mountain Running Club organises the Glencullen Run in November, just south of Dublin. It’s 5km or 19km and anyone can take part. See: https://www.dublinmountainrunningclub.com/competitions-copy.
Endurance Life organises the Sheeps Head Ultra Marathon over 46 miles around the Sheeps Head peninsula on the southwest coast of Ireland. The race takes place in April and is very challenging with 2180 metres of elevation gain on rocky terrain. See: https://www.endurancelife.com/sheeps-head.
Atlas Running organises the Dublin2Belfast Ultra Marathon over 173km in April. On the Atlas website you will also find several much shorter races for everyone. See: https://www.atlasrunning.co.uk/dublin-to-belfast.
At Extreme North you will find the Quadrathon Challenge, an event in August over four days with up to four marathons or up to four half marathons. The venue is the beautiful Inishowen Peninsula on the north coast. See: https://extremenorthevents.com/quadrathon-4-half-full-marathons/.
If the really big events are too intense for you, you can find some other nice running events here: See: https://www.runningcalendar.ie/calendar/trail-running/.
Maybe there’s a nice run for you too?
Tips for preparing your trail runs
Experienced trail runners can safely skip this part, as they have run everywhere and in all conditions and know their way around.
But if you don’t have that much running experience yet, then read on so that you know what to expect.
When trail running in Ireland, you will experience a variety of surfaces and surfaces. From fine sand, to slippery boggy ground, fine and coarse gravel paths, tarmac, roots and rough stones, to “cross-country, no way to find”, it’s all there.
It goes uphill and downhill and the hills seem to go on forever. The wind tugs at you on the coast and on the mountain tops too. Rain? Yes, there can be too.
It shouldn’t get really cold or really hot – but exceptions prove the rule, so keep an eye on the weather forecast.
If you normally run in the city or on the treadmill at the gym, you’ll soon realise that the changing surfaces put a lot of strain on your ankles and knees. You also need a lot of concentration so that you don’t fall or injure yourself on challenging terrain.
Running uphill and downhill forces you to constantly adapt your stride length to the conditions.
It’s best to always try to keep the same rhythm, which can mean very small steps uphill and downhill. Why downhill? If your muscles are not used to the strong impacts of running downhill, you should not overstrain them, but rather slow down.
Running in sand or mud also forces you to place your feet differently. You can’t run over your heel so much in soft ground, but it’s better to place your feet flatter, i.e. with the whole sole more or less at the same time.
If you’re not used to all this, then just start with shorter runs – you can always increase the distance. Make sure you get enough sleep and rest between runs so that your muscles can cope with the unaccustomed strain.
Remember to drink enough water and possibly also magnesium. For longer mountain runs, you may also want to take energy bars or muesli bars with you to provide your body with carbohydrates en route.
You can buy very good hydration packs, i.e. slim rucksacks with a water bladder and a little space for accessories. For longer mountain runs, a light rain jacket and a first aid kit are good companions. You should also take your smartphone with you for orientation or to call for help if necessary.
Running shoes are particularly important because they have to be able to cope well with rocky terrain and offer the foot good support and protection. The soles of trail running shoes usually have a good profile, are made of a firmer material than normal jogging shoes and offer more toe protection.
If you have good jogging shoes and are planning smaller trail runs, then you don’t necessarily need to buy new shoes right away, the joggers will do for now.
You can find even more good tips for trail running in Ireland here: https://www.runni.org/tipsfromtheexperts.
Beautiful mountains, stunning coastlines and many, many beautiful running routes – that’s Ireland. And a pleasant climate and friendly people – that’s Ireland too.
Whether you want to run a bit on holiday on your own or take part in trail running events, whether you want to enjoy the countryside or complete an ultra marathon – you’ll find what you’re looking for on the Emerald Isle.
I have listed a few options in this article, but of course there are many more.
You can discover them for yourself – on your upcoming trail running holiday in Ireland!
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Image credit cover picture: Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash