A Winter’s Tale at Ballina’s Belleek Woods Trail Marathon 2016


Winter is death. Leaves flutter from trees leaving the skeletal branches as exposed and bare as a body without flesh. Summer’s aromas have left the air and the once green leaves turn to a brown mush underfoot. (All marathon photos are in albums here.)

The fading seasonal light that dapples through the trees is insufficient to get my shutter speed to where it needs to be for clean, sharp images of runners and so I have to ratchet up my camera’s light sensitivity which leads to pictures with more noise.

Today’s marathon in Belleek Woods sees many of the weekend warriors running on and on because this is what they do.

A chap I keep encountering (the first time he was a Viking in the Kilkenny Medieval Marathon) is below and, amazingly, he only started running six months ago and has already run twenty three marathons and proudly exclaims that he’s reduced his waist from 58 inches to 36 which is really impressive. He’s two off his MCI (Marathon Club Ireland) medal for having run 25 as running just one seems to be no longer the achievement it was once thought to be.


Here today are some old faces, many new (to me), and their smiles are invigorating. I’ve come so used to seeing many of the same faces from one week to the next that now they are starting to feel like friends. They smile every single time they see me with or without my camera and if smiling were an Olympic sport then all of these people would be world champions.

Belleek Trail Marathon Ballina.jpg

Walking back along the route of the marathon, I am awestruck by the aesthetics of it. It is situated alongside a river and among its treasures include a castle, a concrete boat, and a wonderful duck pond teeming with life.


After a modest 600 photos or so I start getting mild dizzy spells and resolve to call it a day and head for home.

At an aid station near the finish line, I ask a group of children on duty if I can have a glass of water and they insist that I have as much as I wish and that there was cola there too. They then beckon me to follow all three of them into the nearby clubhouse where there was tea, coffee, cake and sandwiches. Of such children, I’m sure no parent could feel anything but a sense that they were the wealthiest people in the world. I’d like to have taken a photo of them, but I’m reluctant to even post photos of my own child on the internet.

When having tea and cake, a man asks me about where he can see my pictures and I inform him they will be on The Galway Cow. Typically, people look rather confused when I say this and I’ve become accustomed to remarking that their confusion tells me that they are clearly not Hindus as Hindus love cows. However, this particular chap didn’t look confused in the slightest and proceeds to tell me a rather fascinating story about how he once went to India for a two week trip and ended up staying for a year.

“How was that?” I asked him and he said it was because he was so dumbstruck by the abject poverty he encountered there. He proceeded to tell me that the experience prompted him to renounce his car and buy a bicycle and use the €10,000 a year he saved on transport to give to the charity Bothar so that they can buy cows for the impoverished. By his reckonings, the details of which I won’t enter into, he was saving around 100 lives per year. “But I don’t want you to write anything about me on The Galway Cow,” he said, “I’m only doing it out of guilt.” He then said he was happy for me to tell the story as long as I didn’t mention him specifically.

On the road back to Galway, the sun’s sinking below the horizon casts luminous shades of orange, gold, and crimson on the horizon.  A few grey, jagged clouds stretch across the darkening blue hue of the sky and it balances the gloom like a spectre; the magnificence of the sky is as a smile which pierces the darkest, most feverish night and elicits joy in even the most sorrowful of winter tales.


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