Trail running is the ultimate test of your running credentials, if you are a regular to the hills, why not sign up for the toughest trail running races on the Irish circuit.

Running in a straight line on a flat surface is overrated. Find yourself a hill and take it on. Trail running is a great test of mind and body and the best way to escape the more mundane challenges of day to day life. Once you’ve got to a decent level of fitness, it’s time to test yourself against other trail runners. The world has got some great races to offer and trail running is not a bad excuse for a holiday, but here are our favourites on your own doorstep.

1. Gaelforce Mountain Challenge


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Gaelforce organises a whole range of sporting events that take place throughout the country. One of the toughest is the Mountain Challenge, in the wilds of Connemara on the West Coast. The course takes in some truly spectacular scenery. There are three levels to the race: 12km introductory, 12km intermediate, then the full 22km hack for the experts. The race is full of tough ascents that will push you to your limit.

2. Carrauntoohil

This race pits entrants against Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohil. The race is organised by the Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA) who have rated the challenge as ‘Extreme’, scoring it ten out of ten for difficulty. The race is only 12.5km but centres around the brutal 1km crawl to the peak of the mountain. Catch your breath at the top as the beauty of Ireland unfolds beneath you, then when you have had your fill, hack your way back down.

3. Maurice Mullins Wicklow Way Ultra

Wicklow is the venue for this testing trail race and the 51km course is not for the faint-hearted. There are nearly 2km of climbs across the route that will have your legs screaming for respite. The Wicklow Way Ultra is another race that scores a ten on the IMRA’s scale of difficulty so if all this seems too much you’ll be glad to hear there is a shorter 25km course on offer.

4. Glendalough Trail Run

This 15.5km race takes place in early November pitting runners against the elements as well as the course. There are 500m of climbs to keep you honest and plenty of scenic views to take in en route. The Glendalough Trail Race is a fantastic running experience with a route that is both scenic and challenging. The Trail Race not only offers an enjoyable albeit tough day out but it also helps raise much-needed funds for the charity Fighting Blindness.

My way: trail running in the circuit of brockagh

5. Galty Crossing

The Galty Crossing is part of the IMRA Munster Long Distance Challenge, a 32km race with 1500m of climbing, played out under the shadow of Cahir Castle. This event is for experienced mountain runners with the ability to navigate and there are no water stations along the way so you’ll have to carry all your water with you. No one said it would be easy!

6. Art O Neill Ultra

When someone tells you there is a one am winter start to an ultra, you know its going to be a tough one. The Art O Neill Ultra is not to be taken lightly; the route, terrain, time of night, darkness, navigation and the weather combine to put you through your paces, but if you survive it, you will be buzzing for weeks on end. It’s a 53km self-navigated route from Dublin Castle to Glenmalure Valley – 30k on r d, and 23k off road.

7. Mourne Way Marathon

The Mourne Way Marathon is one of Ireland’s premier off road running events. They offer a selection of distances; from 10km to ultra. The routes are fully waymarked and do not cross the tops of any mountains so you get the views without having to pull yourself up mountains. Surreal views of mountains, coasts, and countryside are all on offer to distract you from the pain!

8. Coast to Coast Mountain Race & Mountain Walk

The Coast 2 Coast Mountain Stage is an individual event under the bigger multi sport Coast to Coast Challenge. With over 32km of mountain roads, forest tracks, open mountain trails and a summit of Northern Irelands Highest peak, Slieve Donard you’ll have enough to keep you occupied for the duration of the race. Perhaps the following year you can upgrade to the full Coast to Coast challenge!

Trail running: all you need to get started

9. Ballyhoura Trail Ultra Marathon

Another ten on the IMRA scale of difficulty is the Ballyhoura Trail Ultra Marathon. There are three race distances on offer; the half marathon, marathon and ultra marathon. The Ultra is a nice 58km loop, starting and finishing in the town of Kilfinane It usually takes runners four to six hours to complete.

10. Dublin Peaks

The Dublin Peaks is a 30km, unmarked route that takes place in October, so the weather could be your best friend or your worst nightmare. The race starts at the entrance to Ticknock Wood and sees runners visiting several summits. There is a free route choice for a lot of it, but with two cut-off times, don’t go wandering too far!

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