Guest Run Report – Eileen Jones

If you’re not captivated by the notion of a parkrun on a tiny island off the southern coast of Ireland, there’s no romance in your soul.
I’d never heard of Bere until late autumn in 2019, after the parkrun at Cliffe Castle in Keighley, when we were chatting to a woman who’d spent the summer touring Ireland in her campervan. Bere, she said, was her favourite, and having a fair sprinkling of romance in MY soul, I was hooked. I’m going there next summer, I vowed.
Only there was no next summer, nor the summer after, and sometimes I wondered if Bere was a dream, a mirage. But the urge grew ever stronger, and when I mentioned my quest, my holy grail, to my friend Eithne, she insisted on coming along. Not for the parkrun, but to trace her mother’s family, who came from Bere. Little did we know then that around 75% of the island’s population are O’Sullivans, and my quest was going to be a lot easier than hers.
Plans were made. And altered at the last minute when our first choice of accommodation was cancelled because the hosts tested positive for you know what. We flew to Dublin, picked up a hire car, spent the first night in an exotic yurt somewhere in the Glantee mountains, and eventually made it to Castletownbere, from where I could see that the island actually existed. On the Friday we made our first crossing, for the launch of a remarkable exhibition, The Hold, curated by artist Mary Sullivan, who had gathered a remarkable group of creative women during lockdown to provide photographic evidence of their favourite “things”, and a tapestry of individually embroidered squares reflecting their lives on Bere. One of them featured parkrun; it was already clear that parkrun is a very prominent part of life on the island, and that it’s also dominated by amazing women.
(I’d been told from On High that we would have a wonderful time. Paul and Joanne Sinton-Hewitt had been here a few years ago, and said that we would fall in love with Bere. They sent their best wishes to all the friends they’d made here; at the moment they’re cycling to Rome, to St Peter’s from St Paul’s, Dome to Dome. Sorry, Bere parkrunners, I got it wrong, they still have another three days to go.)
Saturday. I was awake at 5.30, we were at the pier at 8.30 for a ferry not due to leave till 9. This was more than disconcerting for someone who lives in fear of Being Late for Anything, and often arrives at a parkrun before the team of course setter-uppers. I know Irish parkruns start at 9.30, but there was a bus to catch at the other side, too?
And sure enough, our “bus driver” was on the ferry, Colin Gleeson, a retired GP in the over-70 category (no secrets with parkrun, sorry folks), who subsequently came fifth. In an event where the first finisher was a woman, and so was the third finisher, with a schoolboy in second place. Also on the ferry was Maureen Power who had done her 100th the previous week. And by the time we got to the start at Rerrin village, the numbers were starting to add up. And up. Joanne Sullivan was about to run her 303rd. Ann Marie Harrington was doing her 250th that day. And Edel Murphy was about to run parkrun no 284 then dash back to serve teas and breakfasts in the Bakehouse Café.
For all the stats, see the results page, but this report is all about the people. They were the warmest and most welcoming ever experienced anywhere, and this was my parkrun number 300 in location number 123. (Eithne, having abandoned family history for the day, was doing her ninth, and was just as warmly embraced.) There was love abounding, for their island, for their parkrun, for their friends, for their visitors. Their warmth more than compensated for the lack of time to “warm-up”; here you get your second wind after the first hill.
It’s a fabulous route on a fabulous island. Tarmac-ish, on narrow tracks which sometimes had grass in the middle. Awesome views. Some of it’s actually on road, but at that time on a Saturday morning the only drivers among the island’s resident population of 168 would be either running the parkrun or volunteering. We came back down past the Military Drill Hall where Mary Sullivan was opening up her exhibition for the day, and then turned a tiny corner beside Murphy’s shop which houses the Bakehouse Café. I loved every single step of the way; PSH, you were right.
But it’s possible that I’d never have got there without Proinnsias O’Keefe. A man of considerable running ability with a facebook profile that looks like a Smurf. I’m not sure how we first made contact, maybe via the facebook parkrun tourist group, but Proinnsias knew the answer to every question. What time does the ferry run? How will we get to the start? What’s the weather forecast? Where should we go for dinner? A million thanks for your help, your kindness, your welcome, your lift back to the ferry when we wanted to stay on in the café after the mini-bus had gone back.
And thank you to all on Bere Island. So many of you told me your stories, about how parkrun had changed your lives, and I promised to give you the link to get a copy of my book. It’s on Amazon, or if you want a signed copy, order it from the publisher’s website below (I’ll alert them to Irish orders; don’t worry about the postage). I promised I’d come back to the island for my 400th, so I’ll be back in another couple of years or so. But probably long before then.

You Can’t Have Too Much of a Good Thing!

Z50_4977As an Event Support Ambassador for parkrun, one of my "duties" is to visit the events I try to support, which means I must visit Bere Island twice a year to check up what John Walsh is up to! (John has a similar role for my home parkrun in Tralee, so I need to be a bit careful what I say).

However, to characterise it as a "duty" is definitely not appropriate, as it's actually the highlight of my parkrun year (among many other highlights!) It's been almost three years since I last did Bere Island parkrun, thanks to the unmentionable. I've been able to visit the Island a couple of times, but it's just not quite the same without parkrun...

Z50_4986I arrived very early to avoid the Ring of Beara cyclists, but that's no hardship as I had time for a walk around the town. I've always loved the friendliness of the locals, but I'm afraid attempts to make conversation with the first couple I encountered were met with a stony silence. Most unusual. And what's more, they seemed to be still practicing social distancing. There's definitely something fishy going on!

IMG_1686But all changed around 8:45 when the "mainland" group gathered for the first part of the Bere Island parkrun Adventure - Colum's Ferry. Some of the regulars were missing but the ferry passengers included Colin and Claire whom I have met every time I have visited. So there was plenty of news, parkrun and otherwise, to shorten the journey.

IMG_1689We also met the Brennans, visiting from Malahide parkrun for their first time, what a wonderful way to wind up their week in West Cork! They had no idea what lay in store for them!

IMG_1691With Colin G taking the wheel, the bus trip is usually very... interesting! I had a Front Row Seat, sandwiched between Colin's, so I had a great view of proceedings.

I'm sorry to say, however, I was just a little bit bit disappointed by today's journey. There was no drama whatsoever for the whole trip. The bus started without a push, the doors all opened (and more importantly closed), no punctures or mechanical problems, and only a single red light on the dashboard. But I suppose it's all about getting us all safely to the start line, and Colin did that well as always!

IMG_1692Waiting for us when we alighted was Mary, who just arrived on the Island for a holiday yesterday and was spotted by the eagle-eyed John Walshe and recruited as today's Run Director. Although she hadn't done it for a while, it was no bother and we were all off just after 9:30.

The Bere Island parkrun one-lap route is amazing - not an easy course with several hills, and a few potholes that led to Dominick's safety briefing "No Galloping!", but the scenery is magnificent (remember, parkrun is the holder of the unofficial "World Cup of parkrun Beauty" and absolutely steeped in history - but you need someone like John W or Joanne beside you to point out all the landmarks.

This time, I was on a mission - I wanted to add Bere Island to the list of parkrun I'd managed un under 30 minutes. My last visit took me 37+ minutes and my best, even with John helping me, was nearly 32 minutes back in 2018! So it was a tall order. I could see Joanne just behind me and I knew if I could stay ahead of her it would definitely be a PB for me.

IMG_1697Joanne is a legend of parkrun, not just on the Island. She is their most loyal park runner, despite her promise to visit us in Tralee some day. It wasn't until I looked at the results that I realised she was doing her 300th parkrun this week, every single one on her home course (who can blame her!) And it is only very recently that she was knocked off the top of the list of Most First Finishes! She is also one of very few Irish park runners who have earned not one but two "250" T-shirts - one for running and none for volunteering!

Anyway, my strategy worked, and I ended up with a time ten minutes faster than my last visit! I could go home happy... but not just yet!

Michelagh was four minutes ahead of me, first finisher again - and another PB, her third or 2022! Hot on her heels was another Bere Island icon, Colin Gleeson, who runs his parkruns like he drives Colum's bus - foot to the floor and slow down for nobody!

One more local to mention from the results page, Finola's Age Grade was just a whisker behind Colin's at nearly 74%, as she finished ahead of Maureen.

Among the First-Timers were Maria, fairly new to parkrun, who started very well only to be overtaken by Colin with his local knowledge, and Celine, visiting from Malahide with her parents, also sporting a "250" top on its first outing! The Brennan's went home from the Island without any doubt they had visited one of the best events anywhere in the parkrun world! Aine and Olive did their first ever parkrun.

The detailed results of this week's parkrun are here.

IMG_1703Thank you to the great volunteers, without whom parkrun couldn't function - if you haven't tried it, give it a go - you might be surprised how much fun it is and it's a lot easier than running!

IMG_1705Of course, the parkrun experience here doesn't finish when the timekeepers stop clicking - depending on your pace you get a chance to visit the Bakehouse where Edel and Michelagh were serving up delicious breakfasts... and a surprise for me, a slice of Edel's Lemon Drizzle Cake. I've seen lots of drizzles on Bere Island, but this was the best by far!

It would be great to stay longer, but a trip to my favourite overseas parkrun always leaves me wanting more, so I'll be back. Thank you to everyone for the hospitality and craic! You are all welcome (especially Joanne!) to Tralee any Saturday morning!

Tony Higgins




Record Breaking!

A little piece that John Lenehan wrote following his record breaking run here with us last week. Grab a cuppa, sit, relax and enjoy.
277307962_4415784905188633_2495016864950823451_nI love visiting Beara, and I’ve had an eye on the Bere Island parkrun record for years. The record of 16:04 on such a tough course was a high bar indeed. For me to have any chance at breaking it, everything needs to come together - good fitness, good weather, no injuries. I’ve ran at Bere Island 6 or 7 times and on each occasion, things never quite aligned.
But on 26th March 2022 I found myself on the start line and things were good. Not perfectly aligned, but all pretty decent. My fitness was reasonable and I’d managed a 15:40 5k a few weeks previously - this indicated to me that the record might be on. Weather conditions were decent, particularly for the time of year. The stage was set. I knew I would be close. If I broke the record, I thought it would only be by a matter of seconds. But equally I might just miss it. One thing was for sure, I’d give it everything. These reasonably well-aligned opportunities don’t come about very often!
I’d thought about how best to warm up beforehand. There isn’t enough time between getting off the minibus at the GAA grounds and the run starting to do a long enough warm-up. I’m not getting any younger and the warm-ups need to be longer and longer as I get older... I’d had a chat to a clubmate at a race a few weeks ago, who is the same age as me. We established that we were like old cars - we need to be treated with care and to have ample time to warm up! So I headed down to the pier in Castletownbere well before the ferry was due to leave, and I did my warm up before getting on the ferry. This allowed plenty of time to do a long enough warm up. I did note that there was a bit of an easterly breeze blowing, more strongly than I expected. It was forecast to get stronger as the day wore on.
There was nothing that could be done about the wind, and a short ferry crossing and a roller-coaster minibus ride later and we were in Rerrin. I was “Rerrin” to get going. I had done my homework. My best time previously was 16:12 (8 seconds outside the record). My mile splits for my 16:12 were 5:34, 5:17 and 5:00. I needed to be 10 seconds up on these times to break the record by 2 seconds.
277223387_4415784395188684_3920956303199105786_nThe countdown started from 5. Impatient, I bounced up and down. “Go!” And I went. Hard, but not too hard. The first mile is hilly and into the wind. Go too hard and you’ll “blow up” later in the run and not break the record. But if you don’t go hard enough, well, then you won’t break it either. It’s a tough balance. My legs felt good. I had new runners on and the fresh cushioning was good. I felt strong up the early hills. I could feel the headwind, but it could have been a lot worse. I glanced to my right. Spectacular views. But no chance to enjoy them. I had to focus on the road ahead and the task at hand. Mile 1 beeped on my watch - 5:26. I was already 8 seconds up. So far so good. But had I gone too hard? Would I pay for this later in the run...?
I kept going and got to the turn at the far end of the course. With the uphills behind me, and the wind now behind me, I hoped the pace would pick up. I was running fast. Breathing hard. A man with a dog was approaching a gate. “Stay put, both of you, til I’m past,” I thought. I didn’t need a dog running at me and getting in the way. Goodness knows what the man and his dog made of me huffing and puffing past, but they stayed put and that was all that mattered.
Mile 2 beeped on my watch. 5:14. I had gained another 3 seconds. I was now 11 seconds up. I was where I needed to be. But could I hold the pace? If I could run the last mile in 5 minutes flat and then manage a sprint finish, I’d break the record. I might even get a sub-16. But a mile is a long way when you’re on the limit and in the red zone. And that last mile is certainly not easy. You think it’s all downhill but it’s not. It undulates. There are uphill drags. On an uphill drag I glanced at my watch and it told me I was running at 5:35 pace. Too slow! I was starting to fade. I had to keep the pace strong. I had to average 5 minutes flat in the last mile. I had to get back up to speed. Of course you are going to run slower on uphill gradients, but what’s really important is getting back to full speed as quickly as possible after an uphill.
I hit the steep downhill. It’s so steep, and pretty twisty, and actually quite difficult to run down at full pace. But there was no letting up. I glanced at my watch at the bottom and it told me I was running at 4:45 pace. Now it was just a short flat run to the finish. Or so I thought. Coming into Rerrin the road kicks up to the bakehouse. There were two big vans parked on the inside line of this short climb, so I couldn’t take the shortest and quickest line. This short incline was probably worse than climbing Hungry Hill. I could feel my strength ebbing away. It was maximum effort to get up past the bakehouse. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty. Deep into the red zone.
I shot through the gap at the T-junction. Not long left now. I didn’t hear my watch beep at mile 3 and I wouldn’t have wanted to know anyway - it wasn’t going to be good news. I knew I was fading fast. I needed a 5:00 mile and I didn’t feel that I was going fast enough to get it. I needed this to end. But I didn’t need it to end by being tripped up by the two chickens that had just appeared on the road right in front of me. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “To trip up a runner chasing a record...” Not funny… not a good ending… Luckily the chickens saw me and quickly flapped off into the bushes.
Not long after the chickens clucked off, there was a red van parked at the side of the road. It’s funny what you remember. There was a minuscule incline where this red van was parked. It was nothing really, you wouldn’t even notice it normally. It felt so difficult and my speed just disappeared on this incline. If I was going to run this record close, I had to get back up to speed and run full tilt for the next 20-30 seconds. I turned into the home straight. I had no idea how close I was to the record. I blasted through the finish line and stopped my watch and didn’t see the time - I was trying to get stopped before literally hitting the wall ahead of me. I wasn’t going to get stopped in time. Fortunately the farmyard gate was open. Through the gate I went and I got myself stopped and collapsed onto a trailer. It took a few minutes to get my breath back. I was spent. I didn’t dare look at my watch. But I had to. It said 16:00. I had done it!
I went back to the finish line and they confirmed 16 flat. I had broken the record by 4 seconds. It was that close. I knew it would be close. It all came together. It was nice to have done it. The weather played ball. I had a reasonable level of fitness. I had a fresh pair of runners. I had a clean, unimpeded run. Who knows when the next opportunity might have been? Or whether someone else might have come along and set a record that was beyond my reach?
I headed off for a cool-down, but it was a pretty slow cool-down. The legs and lungs were burning. I admired the views. There’s not much chance to admire the views when running at full pelt, but on the warm-down I was able to. It’s a beautiful place. Even more so when the sun is out and the sea and sky are blue and Hungry Hill is cloud-free in the distance. After taking a few photos of other runners, I finally made it back to the finish area. I managed to find my barcode on my phone - I had stupidly left my paper copy behind - I had remembered to bring it to Beara but forgotten to bring it to Bere Island…
277522693_4415780991855691_6240957605468050496_nIt was nice to chat to people afterwards. John Walsh was about, and he got in touch with the previous record holder (is there anyone John Walsh can’t get hold of?!) who passed on congratulations. That was very gracious of him. He set a high bar. Maybe we will meet one day on Bere Island. The Bere Island parkrun community is fantastic. The whole event is a brilliant experience - the location, the travel to and from the mainland, the people - the participants and volunteers.
BAKEHOUSEAnd of course the bakehouse...! An essential part of the Bere Island parkrun! But with all the cooling down and chatting and getting changed, there wasn’t a great deal of time before the minibus was leaving, so it was takeaway scones rather than sitting in. Later, it was a fry-up. And later still it was a couple of beers. None of these things happen very often - breaking a record, fry-ups and beer. All three together is surely unprecedented and unlikely to ever happen again!
I’ve always been made to feel really welcome in Beara and Bere Island. So a big thanks to everyone. It truly is a great place and a great parkrun, with a great community behind it. I hope to keep coming back. Whether or not I’ll be breaking records again is questionable, but there’s no place like Beara and no place like Bere Island for a run!
John Lenehan

New Year

We will be hosting a New Year’s Day parkrun on Bere Island at 9:30am. Start off the new year with some fresh air exercise and plenty socialising.  See you all there.



There will be no parkrun on Bere Island on Christmas Day. We will see you all on January 1st for our New Years Day parkrun at 9:30am. Happy Christmas to all parkrunners and a Happy New Year.

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