Wednesday 13 December 2017

Billy Keane: The Tarahumara were born to run but could they handle 'the bog'?

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Into the middle of the bog we went. It was cold for Easter. Cold for anytime. "They'll jump in there," said Gordon Flannery. You'd half expect a crocodile to stick his head up from the murky depths of the freezing bog canal.

There are no crocs in Ireland. This may be a good thing if you're a turf cutter but not so good if you're an environmentalist. And what happened to the alligators and the crocodiles? We can't blame St Patrick. It had to be the meat factories.

"Some of the lads were torn to bits by the underwater thorns but they went off course and there was definitely no crocs," explained Gordon. The 400-metre long, chest-high, freezing canal is only one of the challenges facing the mad people. These are the runners and cyclists who will go full belt for 69km in the Listowel-Ballybunion Bog2Beach Challenge on April 27 (

Two horses and their jockeys pass by on the boggy Sive walk, so called after my dad's first play. We often walked here, dad and me. I think it was his favourite place.

The sea air travels in from the Atlantic and dad used to take it in huge gulps. It would revive the dead of Newgrange. The earth moved as two horses and riders pass by on the old bog road. The weight shifts the bog. It was like standing on a sponge cake. The bog is alive and this one even has a cannibal plant that devours innocent and unwary insects. It's a lovely place to race. Easy on the joints. Like running on balloons that don't burst.

In the bog the Tarahumara came into my head. If you want to know why the ultras push their bodies to the limits of human endurance, you must study the Tarahumara.

The Tarahumara live in the near impenetrable Copper Canyon of northern Mexico – the Barranca del Cobre. The tribe live to run and run to live. They seldom leave Mexico but when they do the Tarahumara win all the long races.

You know the way it was when you were a kid and we ran everywhere – and always at top speed. But everyone told you to slow down. The Tarahumara run forever and no one ever tells a kid or an adult to ease up. Christopher McDougall has written a fascinating book 'Born To Run' about the Tarahumara. Order it from your local bookseller. If we keep doing business online, there will be no bookshops left.

There's a story of a Tarahumara runner hunting down a deer until the animal died from exhaustion. McDougall describes the Tarahumara as the "happiest and healthiest people on earth". And therein lies their secret. Running makes you happy. The recession wasn't all bad. We now realise the best things in life really are free. Thousands of people have taken up running and cycling. It's a lot easier on the bank balance than building conservatories and buying apartments.

New friendships are formed and the isolation is taken out of running by the group therapy. The Kerry Crusaders were founded here in Listowel by Gordon Flannery.

His brother Howard died in a road traffic accident while training for a charity race a few years back. We were good buddies. I often kept him out late and I'd say he didn't do much running the next morning. Howard started the Clare Crusaders and the men and women of the Banner County have raised hundreds of thousands for charity.

Gordon must have Tarahumara blood in him. The Bog2Beach Challenge is a savage test and all the proceeds go to our excellent local community centre, where, like Patricia the Stripper, they make fat men thinner.

We were so caught up in the bogs and Barrancas, we'll have to skip a lot of the Bog2Beach.


There is no more beautiful downhill spin than into Beale Beach and Litter Strand. A fat-bellied boat lay low in the waters of the Shannon estuary, waiting for the tide. Scattery Island sat impassively in the flow with the round tower watching out for Vikings and over on the far shore the Banner County shone in the cold sun. And not a soul to be seen.

On the way home we did see a man in an old van slamming on the brakes to avoid a careless cock pheasant with no respect for his own safety. For the fun of it our driver George O'Grady asked the van man if he had seen our pet pheasant. "Oh feckit," said the van driver, "I'm awful sorry, I'm after hunting him into the ditch." People make places.

There's a run on Ballybunion beach. Right to the Feale Estuary on the loveliest beach in the world and today the seaside town host its own half-marathon at 3.0. You'll get to see the finest cliff walk of all with a Virgin's Rock, a Nun's Beach and the Nine Daughters Hole. Better even than the Tarahumara's favourite Sierra Madre trails.

Come here then to this often overlooked but never unsung piece of heaven, for the first Bog2Beach challenge. We will make you so welcome and the after-party will be yet another fun-filled marathon. North Kerry is struggling. But we have what it takes to survive.

Keeping small places alive is the toughest challenge of all. The Tarahumara will know what I'm on about.

Irish Independent

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