Loving the outdoors in the West of Ireland

Being ACTIVE is a sociable, physical and mental activity

I have always been an adventure addict; climbing trees, jumping off shed roofs onto the autumn leaves, ploughing down new paths in overgrown fields with sticks, rollerblading down steps – whatever would get the heart racing! Since I’ve moved back home to the West after being away since I finished school 12 years ago, I’ve immersed myself into the world of the wild outdoors and I have not been disappointed by what’s on my doorstep – little did I know how much I had yet to explore outdoors in the West of Ireland! If you’re still doing the maths – yes I’m 30 years young!

Growing up in Ballina was great, and an idyllic location for any sport you can think of. Our Bed & Breakfast overlooks the River Moy and Belleek Woods, and we’re on the coast road to Enniscrone beach. We can see the Ox mountains from the back of the house and the Nephin mountain range from the front.  Although these natural and beautiful facilities were all on the doorstep, my world growing up was all about Gaelic football, soccer and basketball. I just could not understand why someone would run if it wasn’t after a ball – that’s why rounders and squash were given a lash too.

Once I headed off to college in Limerick, the adventure rose to another level and I fell in love with a new addiction called ‘travel’. I bought a car and I was off, uncontrollably blasting round the country; towns, islands, cities, sleeping on couches, in the car, sometimes in the ditch – well that was the ‘craic’ at the time. I still played a bit of football but my commitment and passion for the game was no longer the same, I just wanted one thing and that was to explore and discover new places and cultures- to kick routine in the ass and live a mad, spontaneous and exciting adventure.

For me the best way to discover a country, its beauty and its people is through sport. What I mean by sport is getting out there and being active, climbing the local mountain in Laos, paragliding in Argentina, chasing sheep with the shepherds in New Zealand or whatever way you can, to integrate with the people and explore their countryside.

After the last three years living in France, and years of travelling to various countries around the world, I decided that I wanted to return back in my home town of Ballina to be closer to family.  I now see the place through new, and much more cultured eyes. I would need 50 hours in the day and 10 extra pairs of legs to do even half of the activities I want to do in the region.

Adventure Race Boyle Rachel's Irish Adventures

Causeway Coast Adventure race series in Boyle, Feb 2016

In the past number of years, I have started to do long distance adventure racing and I’m still addicted. There is a bit of a trend here as you may have noticed, when I’m addicted to something, it can be dangerous yet thrilling as there are no limits! So you might ask, what is long distance adventure racing and what can you do in Ballina? For some people, long distance sports are anything that is over the marathon distance of 42km, this is known as ultra-distance marathons. For me, long distance adventure racing is a single or combination of long distance activities, usually mountain biking, mountain running, kayaking and maybe a bit of shooting or abseiling, over a distance of days. It is the perfect way to explore a large area or country as you see it from so many different angles and at different paces, by day and by night and all shared with what become lifetime friends.

To give you a few examples of events, La Marathon des Sables is an exhilarating series of 5 ultra-distance marathons that takes place in the Saraha desert where you are self-sufficient and it is up to 50 degree heat- it was a fun adventure for me in 2014. ITERA is a 5 day multi-sport expedition race, 600km with full navigation that will take place this August with a starting point in the West of Ireland. I’m really looking forward to taking on this adventure with my 3 team mates; Adrian, Greg and Peter- will miss our leader Paul for this one! Ireland and the West of Ireland in particular is a paradise for long distance adventure racing, we have an abundance of wild open mountain where it is just you and the sheep, stunning scenery and challenging terrain. The cliff-lined shores along the Wild Atlantic Way offer a kayaking heaven as you can get up close to the rugged caves and imagine what it would be like to keep going as far as our cousins in New York!

There are a huge variety of adventure racing events in Ireland, both short tasters and longer pleasure adventures. Examples of great events I have already done this year include: The Gaelforce mountain run in Killary, the Causeway Coast Adventure race in Boyle, the Gran Fondo cycle in Westport and the 200km Audax cycle around Mayo. The main reason I love adventure racing is the social aspect, meeting like-minded people with a passion for the outdoors and exploring. For this reason I have organised a sociable adventure race training weekend called ENERGISE YOURSELF that will take place this May 22nd to 24th.

I also love the mental and physical challenge, especially when I’m part of a team. I’m never the fastest in a sprint and seem to have very few gears but endurance racing is all about having a diesel engine, pacing yourself, logistics and mental and physical preparation – it’s not always the fastest that wins the race, especially when there is navigation involved.

Ballina is a great base for training in the outdoors. There are an endless number of cycle routes with spectacular scenery, rolling hills and coastal views. I love the Nephin mountain range, it’s not called Ireland’s First Wilderness area for nothing- it’s wild, beautiful and is a really fun playground for mountain biking and trail running. You certainly don’t have to worry about traffic (maybe at a sheep crossing!), overcrowding or noise pollution; you can really be at one with the natural beauty.

For my sunrise runs I have a few local loops but really feel so lucky to have Belleek Woods on our doorstep, it’s natural wildlife, trails hugging the Moy estuary and hidden trails or ‘bush’ running deeper into the wood, are me the perfect way to meditate and kick start the day. I can then jump into the kayak to paddle across the river for one of Marjorie’s breakfasts!

It’s easy to get active outdoors in the West of Ireland

There are over 40 clubs in Ballina and a huge variety of evening classes. I’ve joined 8 clubs since I’ve come home, from the running club to squash, Gaelic football and triathlon. If I had more evenings I’d try even more classes but my personal favourites so far have been Hot Pilates with Strand Fitness, fun Pilates with Caroline Slowey and Krav Maga in The GYM Ballina. Talking about gyms and personal trainers, if that is what you are into, the town is full of them and they all operate to a really high standard and provide a very professional service, Functional Fitness, the GYM Ballina, Quay Fitness, the Twin Trees, Hotel Ballina, Niamh Moffatt Fitness – and the list goes on..

My next event will take place tomorrow. I only found out about it yesterday and just signed up. It is just a training event but still it’s never a joke in endurance sports. With two other mad warriors, Eamon and Seamus, we will cycle 365 km as part of the Audax Easter challenge, leaving from Ballina and heading along the Wild Atlantic Way coastline out to Blacksod and then down to Galway. I asked the guys, how will we get back to Ballina and they said, sure we have the bikes, we can cycle back- why did I even ask!? I’m looking forward to it, I love to cycle through the night and the weather is promised bad so it will be good mental strength training, that and the lads will have to sing me a few hymns!

So, to conclude all the above waffle, if you are from Mayo, get out there and explore what is the adventure capital of Ireland – it’s on your doorstep so do not miss out! If you are not so lucky to be from our beautiful corner of the world, make the opportunity and get over here for an adventure, but do beware, you might not want to leave!