Monday, January 16, 2012

Art O'Neill ultra marathon report

Ken’s Art O’Neill Challenge
Blog Entry 1.

This will be a short blog, 2 or 3 entries. Partly to track my experience of the Art O’Neill Challenge (which takes place tonight) and partly to show how my intake of Pro-Argi 9 helped me get through it.
However, I haven’t got through it yet!
Two bits of background – firstly the event itself – it’s a 55km overnight ultra-marathon (you can run, hike, or a combination) from Dublin Castle down and over the Wicklow mountains to the Glenmalure Valley, thus replicating the famous flight of Art O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell in the 16th Century. For more info on the event they have a great website and the event also raises some crucial funds for Dublin/Wicklow Mountain Rescue.
Next, a few comments on my preparation.
Ok, so it hasn’t gone perfectly! But, when does training ever go perfectly?!
It’s been a mild winter, but since December I’ve had a lingering cold/cough. This is very unusual for me, ever since I started taking Pro-Argi 9 my immune system has been excellent and I think it’s been at least 18 months since I had a cold. I also woke up with a bad neck strain 4 days ago, but thankfully that has diminished.
Basically, my training has been quite unscientific – just runs at the weekend, athletics sessions on Tuesdays (Crusaders AC) and other miscellaneous bits of running/walking/stretching/gymwork etc.
However, I slept well last night and will try for another nap around teatime before making my way in to the city centre.
Nutrition wise, I’ve been trying to eat sensibly since Christmas (battling a bit of weight gain!) and obviously am carb-loading since yesterday. I’ve also upped my intake of Pro-Argi 9 in the last few days, to 3 scoops a day. For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, it is the best arginine supplement on the market. I sell it myself (with my business partner Paul) and can also get you involved in selling it (if you’re interested in a nice simple 2nd income).
A brief word on the product – arginine is a Nobel winning food supplement which creates nitric oxide in the body and has been having revolutionary impact on many health issues, especially anything cardio related. It’s also amazing for energy and for athletes. But there’s way more information on our website and please contact me at or by phone or Facebook if you want more info.
Anyway, back to tonight’s event.
I am officially listed as an ultra-runner, thus setting off at 2pm, whereas the walkers set off at midnight. Realistically though, I won’t run it all, just the road parts, and on the mountains I aim to run the flats, and the safe downhills. Otherwise we’ll have to see. One thing for sure, I’ll be running very slowly! I’ve never attempted anything like this before, and my previous longest mountain race I’ve done was 22 miles/38km (nearly 5 hours), plus I’ve done a couple of road marathons.
Ok, if I don’t report back before the race – watch out for my blog posting to say how it went! All going well, I’ll complete the race in less than 12 hours, thus finishing by 2pm on Saturday afternoon, and should be back to my laptop in Dublin by evening.
Good luck to all the other participants and let’s hope we all have a safe night on the mountains!

Blog Entry 2. 9 Hours 25 minutes later!

Well it's over and I'm glad to say the race went well!

For anyone who didn't read my first blog entry, I was doing the Art O'Neill Challenge - a 55km overnight ultra marathon (you can run, hike, or a combination of both) from Dublin Castle over the Wicklow mountains to Glenmalure, in tribute to the legendary prison escape/run by Art O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell in the 16th century.
This year, just for good measure, the organisers chose Friday 13th as the date!

Arrived at Dublin Castle just before midnight to see the hikers off - and then in to register, and finally, off we went running through the Castle gates at 2am out to a bemused Dublin - 80 runners in hi-vis jackets no doubt being a strange sight to bleary-eyed pub-goers staggering out of the chippers..

I'll try not to make this blog too long, but just to back-track a bit and talk a bit more about my pre-race preparation. I said I would mention nutrition. It's such an important part of long distance running, and I usually get it fairly right. This event though I, not quite – and my stomach wasn’t in great shape throughout the race. Even though, for about 36 hours before the race I was keeping it simple, plenty of carbs, litres upon litres of water, vitamins and things like dark chocolate to store fat (no jokes please!) Plus, of course my 3 Synergy products, Mistify, Phytolife and Pro-Argi 9. Some readers may not be interested, so I won't go in to more detail here, but please feel free to read more about them on, or to contact me for more info. Final word on it - Pro-Argi 9 is amazing for energy, and definitely helped me through my first ultra-marathon!

The only other things to mention about preparation are Kit (which I mostly got right), Sleep (I got a crucial 2 hrs sleep at Friday teatime as well as a fairly good night's sleep on Thurs) and Training (it went as well as could be expected - given a lingering cough and a sore neck).

So, to the race!
I was running with Justin and Jacqui, and we stuck together all the way to the mountains (30K of road), and were also in touch with Aidan, who had set off at 1.15.
Our plan was to run all the road parts, all the trails/fireroads and any safe mountain downhills and to walk the extreme uphills and the parts with very bad terrain. We mostly stuck to this plan!
The road part was (as expected) long and boring, enlivened only by the excitement of the event and camaraderie of the other runners, plus the knowledge that runners got attacked last year by locals in the countryside just beyond Tallaght (and no, not by animals!)
Anyway, nothing untoward happened, and we made it to the first transition stop in Kilbride (20K) in just over 2 hours.

By this point I had already made 2 mistakes. Firstly, I think we ran the first part too fast. For me, anyway. This was to lead to problems later!
Plus, I was wearing too much and my core body temperature was probably too high. It was a perfect night mind you - great visibilty and quite mild for the time of year. Temperatures I think ranged from about zero to 5 degrees.
Also, we spent a little too long in transition - it's amazing how long it can take to change top/runners, rearrange kit (for the mountain section to come), and have a bit of soup. Lessons learned here about Kit logistics!
And, oh yes, mentioning soup, that reminds me – as I said before my stomach was NOT in good shape for most of the run. Whether it was nerves (probably not, maybe it had a small impact), something I ate (not sure), or just the overall shock an event like this does to your body (most likely), I really couldn't take in much sustenance throughout the race. My total food intake was - one energy bar, one banana, one cup of soup, one bowl of porridge and one coffee - which is NOT enough food for an event this physical and this long. And I just couldn't stomach any of the electrolite drinks or Lucozade I had brought with me, and thus realised I was going to be very short on liquids, as I only had 2 bottles of regular water. Despite filling these bottles up at every transition station, I got quite badly dehydrated over the 9 hours.

Anyway, after the first break, off we went on the final 10k of roads, passing Dave and Don (from my job) walking, who seemed to be performing great and still in good spirits, until we hit the mountains proper at Black Hill. At this point Jacqui went off on her own, which looking back, she probably should/could have done earlier, as she is an amazing runner and was being held back. Likewise later in the race I was holding Justin back, but on the other hand, the company of another runner helps in other ways - eg keeping morale up. I should also mention that Justin did a great job of navigating us over the mountains - despite excellent moonlit conditions and 450 other people on the hills it's no easy task, and we made great progress - always taking the quickest lines.

At the top of Black Hill and on to the gap beside Mullaughlaveen (Billy Byrne’s Gap?) it was quite cold and windy, and (now nearly 4 hours in) our feet were completely soaking wet. Having said that I was happy with my decision not to wear waterproof socks, I just wore thin merino lining socks (thanks for the tip, Aidan!) underneath regular long-distance running socks and mountain runners. Once you keep moving, your feet don't get cold.

Terrain at this point was tricky, but manageable. My head torch wasn't really good enough (it wouldn't take a genius to realise a good head-torch is rather important for running over the Wicklow mountains at night!).
And this is the thing I'm most relieved about, sitting at my computer the day after - that I didn't get a single injury the whole night! Despite copious opportunities to twist an ankle in a rabbit hole, or fall off a peat hag, or slip down the Art's Cross climb(!), the worst thing that happened was about 6 or 7 falls - mostly in the latter stages by which time my brain wasn't really working but thankfully none of these falls did any damage.

From the gap, we made it down (a couple of hours later) to the start of a forest, and on to a trail. But, for the last half hour of that open mountain stretch - the most magical part of the event happened - you've probably guessed it - daybreak! Just a lovely transition from moonlight to daylight as the vista of the rest of southwest Wicklow towards Table track opened up, just amazing - as had been looking backwards at the trail of head torches back towards Black Hill, and earlier again - looking back to Dublin city and the sea from high up in the Dublin mountains.

After this, magical moments started to become thin on the ground (!), as the race was really taking a toll. I was dehydrated, under-nourished, and my legs were starting to get very sore, and my back/neck a bit sore too. I'm sure sleep deprivation was a factor too, but because we were running, or at least walking fast (on open mountain) we HAD to concentrate - I imagine sleep deprivation was a bigger problem for the walkers.

From here we had about 30 minutes of trail, until we arrived at the 2nd transition station. This time we kept it quick - just swiped in and out again (with our timing chips), a quick bowl of porridge, a coffee and a water refill, and off we went on to Leg 3.

This was to prove the most ferocious. For me, at least. Buoyed a bit by being finally in daylight (it was a lovely morning) and the porridge, this soon faded as we hit the open mountain route up to Art's Cross. We hadn't 'recce'd' this part, but Justin continued to do a great Nav job, and we did it in good time. But, the terrain was difficult and the final part up to the Cross itself was 'hands and knees' stuff. This had a couple of impacts - incredibly draining on energy and legs (which were by now not functioning at all well) plus my gloves/hands got soaked for the first time, leaving me with cold hands for the remainder.

From Art's Cross, it was a long flat-ish slog in a newly emerged fog (ironically visiblity had been better at dead of night) across sloshy peat-hags and finally downwards to a trail and on to what even my tired eyes could see was finally the Glenmalure Valley, and thus, not far from home!

From there it was a long (for me anyway) 4km or so, on trail (with the river on left) to the finish. By now, I was running like a very elderly person, but at least I was still running, and 9 hours and 25 minutes after I left the city centre, I crossed the finish line. They had a proper finish line with banners, and everybody got a bit of a clap when they finished. The event organiser was there as I crossed the line, a chap called Gearoid I think, and I was glad to shake his hand and congratulate him on an amazing event. The toughest thing I've ever done? God, yes! Would I do it again? Possibly not. But -I learned a lot - about preparation, logistics, nutrition, pacing, and how to deal with a long race mentally. My plan now is to continue to be sensible about my running (my knees are doing ok, but I need to be careful) and continue to measure the impact of the products I take to help with my running (and my health in general) especially the Pro-Argi 9.

Post race, I caught up with friends in the Glenmalure Lodge for a bit, prior to the bus back to Dublin. Next morning now, and I feel ok actually, had a long nights sleep, plenty of food and a hot bath, with a massage to follow in 2 days time.

A big thanks to my fellow runners - there was so much camaraderie out there, even though it was getting like a zombie movie towards the end, as people staggered towards the finish - and a huge thanks to the organisers and to Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue who were out in big numbers and made us all feel safe on this endeavour which some of my friends have variously described as mad, nuts, bonkers, you name it!

The last thing I'll say is, I hope everyone made it safely through the night, and congratulations to Eoin Keith for winning the event, shattering the record (previously held by, um, Eoin Keith!) by 90 (count 'em) minutes - with a winning time of 5 hrs 26 mins.

See everyone on the hills again soon..

My sites/blogs; (content coming soon)
email: or
Tel: 00 353 (0)85 7129060

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 Review of the Year

Indicative of the times we live in, this was a bad year for me for attending concerts/plays and albums purchased etc, but that doesn’t mean I don't have plenty to say about it!


So, let me start with gigs. I can’t remember when I last saw so few concerts in a calendar year, and it wasn’t just recession related – there really weren't that many I was bothered about. I only saw a few Dylan shows, and have reviewed them independently on the blog, so just to reiterate it was a pretty good year for the now septegenarian performer.
The setlists have improved (marginally) but it’s the quality of the performances that really hit home this year. And it’s mainly visual. Audio wise, he continues to do (mainly) interesting things with what’s left of his vocal chords, but visually he is out front of stage now for over half the show, mainly without guitar, and is moving around and throwing shapes as only a 70 year old Bob Dylan could (or would) do. It’s hard to explain how this works and how it so dramatically improves the show, sorry but it really is a case of ‘you had to be there’(barring, that is, the somewhat lacklustre October Dublin show). It's not all visual though, the music is good too, and the shows are well worth downloading.
Dylan’s support act on the winter tour was Mark Knopfler and it was interesting to see a few of the Knopfler sets, even if every night is identical. It may seem obvious - but the most interesting thing about his show is his guitar playing, especially as he plays very few Dire Straits songs and mumbles the lyrics. Charisma wise he trails a long way behind his tour-buddy Bob, but he made up for this with his nice guitar contributions to Dylan’s sets (usually on the first 3 or 4 Dylan songs of the night) and in his perfectly timed hand-gesture during a moving tour-closing ‘Forever Young’. Again, there’s an element of you had to be there, but here’s a link to a decent youtube of that moment (it happens in the final verse)
The Dylan shows were the only ‘big’ shows I saw, and were my favourites of the year. Runner-up was definitely Gillian Welch in the Grand Canal Theatre, also reviewed on this blog at the time.
Probably my 3rd favourite show of the year was a very enjoyable performance of Mahler’s 5th Symphony in the National Concert Hall. I’m not particularly expert on classical music, but his symphonies just have so much going on, and in a live setting you can get completely lost in them. Oh, and classical music is great value! In Dublin anyway..
Earlier in the year, before she became an 'arena-artist' I saw Imelda May in Vicar Street and it was great to see her strong rockabilly show in this small, and local (she was born and raised a few streets away) setting.
Another artist I saw in Vicar Street was Richard Thompson, only the 2nd time I’ve seen him, and as expected - the show was funny, literate and choc-full of great music. All from one man and a guitar, which is not usually my favourite format. Mind you, having said how good this show was, I would still love to see Richard sometime with his band, knowing that he is as good electric as he is acoustic.
Oh yes, and Paul Brady also played a really good show in the same Dublin venue back in April, showcasing the variety in his back catalogue with no little style and vigour.
The other band I enjoyed a lot this year was the Waterboys who I saw twice, once supporting Dylan in London, and then on their own at the atmospheric Tall Ships festival in Waterford. Both shows were very good and I must say I’m torn between their Yeats show and their ‘standard’ show. 2012 bodes well in that the band plan to do a compromise show, doing a set of Yeats songs, followed by a set of Waterboys songs.
Finally, just to mention some of the other acts at that Dylan festival show in London – the Waterboys shone brightest, but also of interest were sets from Christy Moore (not as good as normal due to a poor sound mix) and the Cranberries (ditto) and the Gaslight Anthem – who were kind of ‘Bruce meets The Clash’ with a fanatical young following.

Live artists of the year

Bob Dylan
Gillian Welch (with David Rawlings)
Mahler’s 5th Symphony by the RTE concert orchestra
The Waterboys
Paul Brady
Mark Knopfler
Richard Thompson
Imelda May


I had a somewhat more prolific year for films than gigs, and there were plenty of good 'uns.
Top of the pile was the amazing Martin Scorsese documentary on George Harrison, which I was lucky enough to see on the big screen. Choc-full of great footage, much of which was new to me, and no little insight in to the story of one of my favourite artists. The best contributions were from McCartney, Ringo and Olivia.
The King’s Speech came out around New Year last year I think, and deserved all its awards. A classic period biopic/drama, it had great acting, writing and directing – which is about all you need in a film.
Hugo was a magical film about childhood and early Cinema and was a rarity in that it actually merited being in 3D – it also had a great storyline and was an unusual genre for Scorsese to tackle. Having said all that, it wasn’t really a children’s film – too long and too slow probably, but for this adult(!?) it was just fine!
Midnight in Paris was another solid Woody Allen film,as were his previous few, not that that stopped all the critics slavishly calling it a ‘return to form’. The same thing happens all the time with R.E.M. albums! Well, not anymore, now that they’ve retired..
Anyway, back to films - the 2nd Sherlock Holmes film was fairly entertaining, yes of course it was ridiculously over-the-top, but that was the intention I imagine..
The Adjustment Bureau was a witty and enjoyable adaptation of a Philip K Dick story, which as with all his stories, left you pondering longer than most writers.
The latest Pirates of the Caribbean was a (very)slight improvement on recent installments, especially the London scenes.
The Maids on the 7th Floor was a hilarious French 60s-set comedy, hard to see anyone in Hollywood ever coming up with something like this. It also had something to say, about French and Spanish culture and immigration etc.
The only other non-English-language film I remember seeing in 2011 was The Skin that I Live In - a creepy Almodovar film about possession, revenge and other themes, which almost worked. A bold effort though, and very enjoyable.
Other films I saw that had their moments but didn’t set my world on fire were things like The Guard (over-rated) and Rum Diary (a bit rambling).
Early 2012 looks like being a good period for films – I’ll try and review some of them on the blog, (eg The Artist), plus some others I missed in 2011 (eg True Grit)

My top few films

Living in the Material World – George Harrison documentary
The King’s Speech
The Adjustment Bureau
The Maids on the 7th Floor
Midnight in Paris
The Skin that I Live In


As with concerts, it was a quiet year, I think I only saw three. And one of them was a musical, so really it was only two!
Both were enjoyable though, especially Pygmalion in the Abbey. It’s such a strong play, full of lines that you’d recognise from THAT musical (ie My Fair Lady, for which Pygmalion was the source), and very well acted by the ensemble cast, especially Risteard Cooper as Higgins. I’ve said it before (I think!), but Cooper is very underrated as an actor.
Hay Fever was ok as the Gate’s summer play, but it’s not my favourite Noel Coward play and would only give it 7/10.
The musical I saw was Spamalot, a silly but enjoyable Monty Python romp. It had some good singers – and the script is not bad, with some nice local Dublin ‘tailoring’ – however a mark deducted for Phil Jupitus who seemed to be sleepwalking through his part.

Best Play



It was a quiet year for art in Dublin as the National Gallery is partially closed for renovations. And I never got around to seeing the Frida Kahlo exhibition in IMMA. I did get to see the highly lauded Leonardo exhibition in London though, thanks to 3 hours of early morning queuing! It was very enjoyable, and seemed to have nearly everything that survives of the great man, barring the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper!
I also got to spend a few hours in the Prado in Madrid, which is one of those museums overflowing with old Masters on a scale that takes the breath away. On a lesser scale, but full of similar quality art is the neighbouring Thyssien Museum which I also visited during a very enjoyable weekend in the Spanish capital.

Exhibition of the Year

Leonardo – National Gallery London


Not a vintage year, but not too bad either. I don’t know if it’s creeping old-age – but there just aren’t so many albums I’m interested in being released these days. It was great however to finally see a new Gillian Welch album, and it certainly ranks close in quality to her first 4 albums which were a hard act to follow to say the least. The songs seemed to work better live though.
And, conversely, the reverse seemed to be the case for the new Wilco album! But, I haven’t had it long, and it needs a few more listens before I can really rate it.
For now though, my album of 2011 is Tom Wait’s new one ‘Bad as Me’. Full of roaring rockers and gorgeous ballads, the songs are snappier and somewhat more effective than on Real Gone. Great arrangements and singing (yes, singing!) too – and boy would be great to see this album in a live setting.
Other good new albums include PJ Harvey’s ‘Shake England Shake’ albeit it's slightly overrated - and The Black Key’s boisterous El Camino. And there were lots of good songs on the Noel Gallagher debut.

Albums of the year

Tom Waits Bad as Me
Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest
Wilco – The Whole Love
PJ Harvey - Shake England Shake
The Black Keys – El Camino
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds


Again – mainly re-reading old books, and stuck in magazines and newspapers as well as stuff about music or running.
So, really, the only one outstanding new novel I read this year was the ‘new’ Sherlock Holmes book ‘The House of Silk’ by Anthony Horowitz. It was the first time the Conan-Doyle estate has sanctioned a new novel and Horowitz seems to have really captured the feel and style of the original books, not to mention that it is as ‘un-putdown-able’ as Doyle’s best!
I also really enjoyed a great book about mountain running called ‘Mud Sweat and Tears’ by Moire O’Sullivan.
Online and via Apps, I enjoyed content from the Irish Times, New York Times, Evening Standard, and more. Plus lots of great websites and blogs. Some more examples;


Ok, anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for period dramas, especially if set between, say, the 1880s and the 1940s.
So, I was always going to like Downton Abbey. It may have the occasional unintentionally funny line, and the 2nd series had a slightly rushed feel about it, but it’s still a cleverly constructed piece of television and it isn’t topping the ratings for nothing. That said, the X Factor also tops the ratings so what do I know!
Plus, I was always going to like South Riding. Nowhere near as popular as Downton Abbey, but this small 3-part 1930s drama (adapted from a novel) was top notch, most notably for the performance of the amazing Anna Maxwell Martin.
If I had to choose one programme though as the best on TV at the moment I’d have to go for Sherlock – the contemporary re-imagining of the Conan-Doyle stories. However the first season was 2010 and the 2nd season started on New Years Day 2012, so I guess I’ll leave my actual review for the moment..
Other period dramas I saw were the BBC’s Great Expectations (it was ok), the Young James Herriot (a bit disappointing really) and Sky Atlantic's Boardwalk Empire (it started off ok, but got quite boring after a while, frankly), oh and while I’m not wild about Dr Who, the Christmas Day special was quite good.
Which leads me to ask – barring Sherlock, did I see ANY CONTEMPORARY drama in 2011?!
Phew - Blue Bloods to the rescue! A fairly bog-standard NYC cop drama – some people didn’t like it – but I thought it was pretty solid, not the greatest writing of all time, but good acting and nicely directed (it kept you wanting to know what’s coming next).
In 2012 I resolve to watch The Killing and The Wire (yes I still haven't seen The Wire)!
And leaving drama aside, I watched a fair bit of news, music programmes and documentaries – none of which really stood out, maybe other than the BBCs Frozen Planet.

Top few TV progs

Downton Abbey
South Riding
Frozen Planet
Blue Bloods


Culture Night - always one of the highlights of the year in Dublin. And it’s completely free. Amazed more people don’t go to it.

Personal stuff

A tough year, but a really good one for the reasons that matter..

Final word

This blog is mainly about culture, and sometimes about running, but please see my short list of websites (below) which are about other matters.
And keep an eye on where I'll be launching other writing and expanding on other projects in the coming months. There's nothing on that site yet, but please feel free to bookmark it!

See you all down the road in 2012..

Ken Cowley
email: or
Tel: 00 353 (0)85 7129060