CROSS COUNTRIES: Joe O’Leary in one of the world’s toughest endurance races in the Swiss, Italian and French Alps.


By Sean Moriarty

A Killarney man has completed one of the world’s toughest endurance races in the Alps after running almost non-stop for 28 hours.

Joe O’Leary (45), an accomplished mountain runner, took part in last weekend’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 160km race with elevations gains of around 10,000 metres.

Based in the French town of Chamonix, it is widely regarded as one of the most difficult foot races in the world, and one of the largest with more than 2,500 starters. The race, which has strict entry and qualification requirements gained over a two-year period, crosses the French, Italian and Swiss Alps.

O’Leary qualified on the back of several Irish results including winning last year’s Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai Ultra Marathon from Millstreet to Ballingeary, but elected to enter the 160km race as opposed to the 170km.

“Believe it or not the shorter distance is actually more difficult as we face more direct climbs,” he told the Killarney Advertiser this week. “The climbing in Italy is crazy stuff, I had one section where I climbed for 2000 metres, around here you have Carrauntoohil, you can only go just over 1000 metres before you start to come down again.”

The Lissivigeen man competed the course in 28 hours and four minutes and finished 29thin his age category.

“I wasn’t watching the time as that would just wreck your head,” he added. “I finished where I thought I would time-wise. My quads were wrecked though that night and my ankle was sore and slowed me up. The last nine kilometres was relatively easy and maybe I could have come in under 28 hours but I was getting hungry and decided to stop for a bowl of soup and enjoy the last bit.”

He hopes to return to the event again and even has ambitions to contest the 320km event that runs alongside the two other races.

“That is a team event, you need a team of four so you are never on your own,” he said. “It is for the real head bangers.”