A Rare Gift

This summer, I spent a week traveling around Southern Ireland with a dear friend. But I’ve been hesitant to sit down at my desk and put into words my experience. I’ve waited, soaking the experience into my soul, before I shared it. Just like long runs deepen your connection with people, nature, and your inner self, an international adventure strengthens relationships – to yourself and to others – and creates lifelong memories, stories and experiences over miles and miles that cannot be made any other way.

My Irish adventure involved hiking, walking and running along cliffs, exploring castles, discovering hidden beaches, touring gardens, hiking through waterfalls and rainbows, eating seafood, sightseeing, logging almost as many miles on our feet as in a car, and having so much fun outdoors that we’d allot only 10 minutes to shower and throw on clothes before heading out again. Plans were easy and subject to change. The miles on the trip were exactly what I needed.

Below is a map of our journey. Click on the markers to see pictures!

Runners learn endurance and it serves us well in every area of our life. I channeled this endurance during a long flight from Richmond to Atlanta and then to Dublin—where we immediately rented a car and headed to the Cliffs of Moher, on no sleep. At least, I didn’t sleep. I met a friend on the plane (that can’t sleep on planes either) so our happy “hour” chatting lasted all night long and into the morning, when we started spiking our morning coffee with Bailey’s to make it through the final stretch. Being a runner came into play—pacing, patience and the ability to function on very little sleep. And, of course, lots of coffee.

Exhaustion didn’t stop us; I was determined to enjoy every moment of my time in this new place.

The views along the Cliffs of Moher were breathtaking. It’s a view that reveals the enormity and power of our beautiful world; I felt so small in it. The sea was like a battlefield of giant waves hitting the rocks with such force it gave the appearance of geysers of water spouting high from the collisions. The seascape was so high and the clouds were so low you could barely see where one ended and the other began. I’m grateful we could run and explore the cliffs by foot. There is no better way to see the terrain, beauty and history of this beautiful country.

Travel tip: we stayed at this B&B. Thank you James and Shelia for the best stay ever.

The adventure continued to Dingle, and I return to the subject of endurance, because we were back in the very small car, driving down very narrow roads. I spent some time in hopeful prayer that we would make it, in one piece, to the next town.

Dingle quickly became one of my favorite places in the world. The countryside was lush, green and fresh. Beautiful wild flowers cascaded down rock walls lining the winding, narrow roads. We pulled over often to take photos and to soak in the prettiest mountain views I have ever seen. We saw sheep and cattle feeding in the fields or herding along the roads, ignoring us while we stopped to watch. We took our time driving along the peninsula with full view of the sea, learning about the history and the culture of the people with our eyes and hearts wide open. We ate fresh fish and chips. We drank Guinness and danced.

I didn’t want to leave Dingle. This place and our time there was a gift from God. I said thank you often, squinting into the sunrise over the cliffs. I wanted to linger here, just for a bit and relish the goodness of this moment.

Travel tips: Stay at this B&B. Thank you Michael and Blandina for a wonderful stay. I will be back—one day. 

Visit this local pub, where we listened to great Irish music and danced the Irish waltz with the locals.   

This pit stop was yet another reminder that while we meet many people in life, we never know the moment when we will meet the ones that we’ll remember forever. Bart and Mariam: I hope our paths cross again. These are the moments I hold most dear.

On the advice of the locals, we decided to squeeze in a stop at Killarney National Park. We thought it would be a great place to run. As it turned out, this was not a leisurely walk in the park. The hills of Killarney were eternal and beastly—up stone steps and winding trails—but the scenery was so amazing that you barely noticed how hard you were working. We ran and explored the trails and saw the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen. We visited Muckross castle and gardens, where the lush plants and flowers exploded with color, like a canvas of vibrant hues and shadows that would pop into focus as you drew closer.

The next stop on our journey was Cobh, a sweet quaint, beautiful seaport village. While yet again I could wax poetic about the beautiful scenery, my most notable memory from this leg of our journey is that the people of Cobh are the nicest, friendliest humans on the planet. For instance, on my last day, during an early morning walk, I spotted a small souvenir in the window of a shop that I wanted to buy for my grandchildren. The store was closed and I was about to turn towards home, when the young shopkeeper went out of her way to open her store for me to make that one totally-not-worth-it-for-her transaction.

At the end of our brief stay here, I felt happy, grateful exhausted and full. Pictures are worth a thousand words.

Our final destination before heading back to Dublin was Wicklow Park. We didn’t have much time here as the trip was long and time was short. But my travel companion’s one request before we left was to stop here—to see where the TV show Vikings was filmed (and we secretly hoped to run into some of the cast, like this badass :).

Wicklow Park is a popular location for films. While we didn’t succeed in meeting any of our favorite show’s cast, we did enjoy sandy beaches, rolling mountains, hidden lakes, bogs and small villages. We very quickly understood why this beautiful spot makes the perfect Hollywood backdrop.

We finished the trip back in Dublin and at the infamous Temple Bar for dinner with flowing Guinness and lively Irish music. It is a “must go” destination when in Dublin. After dinner, we strolled around Dublin, taking in the bustle of a lively city—the busy-ness was a stark contrast from any other stop on our trip.

A journey through Ireland is like a deep breath for your soul. My time there was overflowing with goodness, friendship, culture and adventure. Saying goodbye to this country was awful. At the airport, the only thing heavier than my carry-on bag was my heart. But the memory of this adventure–this rare gift—is now part of who I am, just like every place I’ve ever run and every person I’ve ever run with. They are the building blocks of me.

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