End of the Season

I met Emily about a month ago at a kid’s birthday party.  That’s where we, parents, meet up these days… or during the coffee shop for morning fix. She asked if I would be okay to type an end of season blog having written my first one at the start of the season around February/March.

To be honest I’ve been trying to find the time since and now, well here goes…

 

Since February I’ve been training for the Castle Series first sprint triathlon in Gort, Co. Galway. Whoever is familiar with this, knows it is a series of triathlons based in castle grounds across Ireland, England and France. I couldn’t have picked better location! I highly recommend it and will be signing up again for the longer distance events in 2018. It wasn’t the best of weather in early May. The water was so cooold!! I was dreading the swim, and I wasn’t the only one. Plenty of lost souls threading water on the start line had that familiar ‘I am sh*tting it’ look, including yours truly. New wet suit, new goggles, new thoughts, will I manage the transitions?, will my legs feel like concrete blocks after the bike?  Then ‘BANG!’ the gun fired and we were on, heads down in the murky water, the first experience of being swam over, kicked left, right and centre.  Once you’ve come to terms with the initial shock, the next sensation is the lack of visibility, not helped by my normal eyesight running a close second to Mr. Magoo. The only saving grace was the ginormous orange inflatable course buoys. The first turn arrived and I realised my breathing had settled, my stroke lengthened and I kicked for the shore with all my might.

Out of the water, wet suit half down (careful!), run to T1, wet suit off, now hopping on one leg, helmet on, race belt on, bike shoes on, bike off the rack and I’m running to the start in 3 inches of the finest muck Ireland has to offer (see pic 1). Then back to earth, I couldn’t clip my shoes in and it was time for some foot stamping and cursing. Once I’m finally going on the bike it felt amazing. 21km passed so quickly, a quick energy gel in for that extra sugar kick and I’m cruising. T2, bugger, fell off the bike, the sweet kiss of concrete on my knee, there are children present, don’t swear. Bike racked, trainers on and now for a run off-road around the castle grounds for 4km. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good and I flew through the finish line at 1h 21min.  My first tri (new lingo!) medal, wow, I was hooked.

 

Pic 1: Muddy...

Pic 1: Muddy…

 

Since then I’ve completed a sprint tri in Kilrush, Ennis, the Hell of the West in Kilkee (full Olympic distance, I did the 41km bike and 10km hill run) and the Castleconnell sprint tri.  In meantime I’ve also done the Limerick half marathon, Tough Mudder (full 11 miles with obstacles along the way for good measure) and the Newport bike sportive 60km. Along with my road bike group we’ve completed two long rides around the lake in Killaloe. The first was in June with Group 2, averaging 22kph and more recently in September with Group 1, averaging 28kph, 8 lads and little ol’ me, the only woman!  Wonderwoman, imagine the theme tune, haha. And I did my second Dublin marathon which sucked! Running did not come easily to me this year, but another one under my belt is ok for now.

 

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Pic 2: Muddier…

 

Basically, my Summer consisted of 5-6 training days a week. Swimming in the lake or pool 3 times a week. Not running much, just twice a week while my son had his athletics but it felt like I was cycling constantly. Every Wednesday, evening sessions, 500m swim and stationary bike intervals afterwards, hill repeats.

Every Sunday morning session with the lads, 70-80-90km routes with a restorative coffee afterwards.

 

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Pic 3: Only woman of the bunch!

 

I do rowing and bike turbo sessions at home, often at 6am, before heading off to work or else at 9pm in the evening before heading to bed.

My home also seems to have turned into a mini gym. Bikes and a turbo trainer, Concept2 erg, chin-up bar, 3 sport bags always ready, one swim bag (indoor), one swim bag (wetsuits), and yet another packed specifically for each race. It’s funny but as I look around me it’s still the same now!!

 

Looking back you can get a bit rose-tinted but it wasn’t easy at all. In the middle of all the mayhem I started a new job in June, but I had to keep my old job as well, such is the modern world. So it was 2 jobs, an active 5 year old who was on ‘his’ summer holidays, entertaining, training, cooking, shopping, the lot. Don’t ask me how I did it by myself, I truly don’t know. I had my ups and downs, more than my fair share of complete meltdowns and plenty of sleepless nights.

But despite all this, or perhaps because of it, I learned to be organized like the CEO of multinational. Dinners were prepared in advance and child care always had to be planned well in advance based on my training schedule. Although food was quick I tried not to let that lower the standard of nutrition. I’m also a firm believer in organic produce and most meals consisted of meat (lamb and sirloin steak mostly), fish, tuna and lots of veg, particularly sweet potatoes and avocados. I found I was snacking constantly on nuts, dried fruit, crackers, quark (I had to look it up too), nut butters (yum!). Now when I think back, I often ended up having a second dinner around 10pm at night. It actually felt like I was eating constantly.

Despite all this, motivation for me was never an issue. Once I’d signed up for a race, that kept me going. The high I felt was amazing.  Meeting like minded people at the events or even while out training. People for whom this lifestyle is our normal, is a tremendous feeling.

 

What’s for the future? Well, next year I plan on doing my first half Ironman, and all going well the year after my first full one. In order to prepare for the step up in class I am planning on hiring a coach to help me to train more smartly and effectively.

I am also hoping Santa will be kind and I’ll find a new carbon-fibre bike under the tree this year (no I’m not demanding at all!).

By the way, I can’t let the opportunity go by without mentioning how expensive it is to exercise in Ireland?

Membership fees, race fees, decent gear… thousands upon thousands of euro… but hey, who needs high heels anyway?!?!

 

Monika 🙂

Towards a Better Me: Part 10

Realisation:

 

‘The Fear’ was still my training mate this week, but I had Denise back this week. ‘Did ya miss me?’, she said as she bounced down to the PT room. ‘Yes, Michelle made me do planks!’, was my reply. The laughter from her indicated she wouldn’t be taking it easy on me.

‘Any more issues since?’,

‘No’,

‘Good, time to take it back up!’

Oh, what I had let myself in for! It was a tough session, and Denise was holding no punches. But Denise had let slip, she had a new beau. The other girl taking part in the training session and I wasted no time in taking the piss and attempting to freak her out. And while it was fun to see her squirm, I was genuinely thrilled for her. Tuesday night was gone in a flash. It was quite a blur. I can only remember one of the bench presses. I couldn’t get over how heavy the 25kg bar felt. I hadn’t used it in the three weeks and it felt so heavy. It took everything to do those bench presses.

 

Thursday’s morning session was also a blur and quite tough, not helped by the fact that I had missed breakfast. Denise and I had the personal training centre to ourselves. I know I had the bench presses with the 25kg bar but I don’t know what else. Seriously, I really should write these soon as to the day as possible. It’s only been a week like! It was a very good session. I head to work after my shower very pumped and made to the office just on the stroke of nine.

 

I had my little sister and one of the bitchmittens’ founders, Rhona and her new hubby coming down the weekend and she was currently trying to convince me to go cycling. I haven’t been cycling since last June. My gears are fucked and take absolutely ages to change, which really grinds my gears. (See what I did there! Sorry I know I’m not the funny one.) And on my last bike ride, I only managed about 5km and half way through took my gear frustrations physically out on my bike and kicked the shit out of it! I may have even bent the back wheel, but I cycled back just fine. So finally, I reluctantly agreed to cycling if Pierre could fix my bike. Luckily (or unfortunately), he could and we were able to borrow bikes for Rhona and Cormac from our friends.

 

I wasn’t expecting much from me and I had told the others they may have to leave my lying on the grass somewhere while they went all the way to Crosshaven. It 15 km, I was thinking I’d be happy with 7km. It was a gorgeous day down in Carrigaline and the Carrigaline – Crosshaven Railway Walk was looking lush and green and full of people walking, running and cycling. We made our way out and everything was going well. Knees were a bit sore but that was about it. I was quite happy to fly past where I had stopped and had a fight with my bike. And I just kept going, I was in the rear but I was easily keeping up with the guys. The lads pushed forward leaving Rhona and I behind as we chatted. Though they didn’t get far. They had pulled over to take in the beautiful scenery.

 

After a barely of a minute of stoppage and a couple selfies, we were back on the trail to Crosshaven with me and Rhona leading the way. I was in great form, enjoying myself immensely, saying hello to everyone I passed. God only knows what they thought of me. Crazy lady on her purple bike! Before I knew it, we were in Crosshaven. We mused about whether to get a coffee here or head back and get one in Carrigaline to drink at the beach. Beach was the call, so back on the bikes we got and off we went. Unfortunately for me, the gears on bike were stuck in quite a high gear. And I was belting it back in, leaving the others in my dust! Pierre eventually caught up with me and I stopped to let the others catch up. Pierre has a bike computer on his, and clocked me at 28km per hour. Once I caught sight of Ro in the distance off I shot again only stopping at the end of the trail. It took the guts of 45 minutes out and only 1 minute back in. I got a chance to sit down and wait for the others. The gear issue became my undoing once we reached the big hill up to my house. I ended making the climb on foot. It seemed like the longest trek ever! I jumped back on once it had levelled out a bit and then there was only the short ride back to the house where the others were waiting.

 

All in all, it was very good day. I got to remember why I loved cycling so much. I used to go everywhere on my bike when I was younger. I was quite surprised that I was able to cycle the whole thing and with ease, if you exclude my aching knees and the hill! But when you compare it to how far I got last year, it was a clear indicator of just how much more fit I have become in only three months.

 

Now if only I could cycle the mini marathon and I be set.

 

Everest Base Camp

EVEREST.

One girl’s trek to the foot of the World’s highest Mountain – Everest Base Camp.


So three weeks before the departure date, I get an opportunity to tag along on an expedition to Everest Base Camp.  Anyone who knows me knows I am not one to turn this type of thing down so before I know it I have landed in Kathmandu and am waiting for my spin to the hotel (I say spin because even though it’s close to midnight when I arrive, the ride from the airport certainly leaves me spinning!)

A & Sherpas

Meeting the Sherpa team

 

At the hotel I was reunited with the expedition guide aka my husband Mike (who was guiding this trip) I also get to meet the rest of my trekking group and my new best friends for the next few weeks. Kathmandu is as crazy as you can imagine, it is busy, smoggy, some might say dirty and every place you look there is something weird and wonderful going on. Buying, selling, wheeling, dealing, everything seems to happen right out in the open at street level.  The food hygiene authorities might be a bit uncomfortable as very often food is dissected and butchered in the open air.  At times my inner vegetarian wept!

Lukla Plane

World’s smallest plane?

 

There was some slight anticipation with regard to actually getting to the mountains. You can walk from Kathmandu in 3 or 4 days but as there are no roads as such, most trekkers save time and energy and brave a hair raising 30min flight, to start the trek from the small mountain town of Lukla.  Those with a fear of flying look away now…

Yak packing

Yak Pack!

The plane is small and so is the runway. In fact it is said to be amongst one of the most dangerous airports in the world. But saying that I also think these pilots are some of the most skilled in the world so it evens itself out☺  After a slight delay due to weather we eventually made it safely to Lukla and the gateway of the Himalaya. We were welcomed with blue skies and my first impression was how nice the clear mountain air was after the dusty city of Kathmandu.  Most hikers’ journey begin from Lukla, it usually starts with an introduction to your wonderful Sherpas, who are invaluable to this journey along with the powerful Yaks who are loaded up daily with expedition bags and gear.  The next important thing is your teahouse; these are dotted along the trail and provide your bed and board for the journey.  The first few days are truly mesmerising, the mountain air, the powerful rivers, the hanging rope bridges and all with a backdrop which can only be described as postcard like.  

Namche Bazzarr

Namche Bazzarr

After two days trekking the first significant stop is the village of Namche Bazaar at 3440m.  Like its name it is a bizarre place, it reminded me of a ski resort with lots of shops selling outdoor gear and some nice coffee shops, of course an Irish bar and a hairdresser! (which was very welcome on the way back down) The village has a nice buzz to it and most people take a rest day/acclimatisation day here which is what we did during which we took the time to visit the Sherpa museum and hike up to the renowned Everest View Hotel.  I also got the chance to test my running or jogging legs around here, which is not recommended by the way unless you are feeling pretty good with regard to the altitude. I’m lucky  – each time I’ve been to altitude I have had little or no ill effects. I was told I must have been a Sherpa in a previous life:)  I felt very much at home and at one with the mountains, the people and the pace of life there.  The simplicity was very therapeutic.  

Prayer Wheel

Temple visit prayer wheel

 

It’s a funny thing, Altitude; it definitely affects people in different ways.  Once we climbed on and especially after 4000m a lot of people began to suffer headaches and loss of breath, but I was OK.  We had a very specific acclimatisation plan in place and one day we hiked to 5100m and back down to 4400m to sleep. “Climb high sleep low mentality”. From Namche the hard work starts and the villages and tea houses get a little more remote and basic but every place along the way each brought something different to the trek.  We had a night in the village of Tengboche which is home to a Buddhist monastery which we were very honoured to be allowed visit.  Again there is so much to soak up; each place has an array of history, authenticity and its own story.  The days on the trail turn into a mesmerising rotation of eating, trekking, sleeping and between all of that you simply soak up the environment, the atmosphere and the people as best you can.

EBC

Base Camp

Our final walk into Base Camp was a beautiful one for us, we had blue skies and the trail wasn’t too busy other than the usual yak jam, it was just perfect. You can see Base Camp from a long way out and when I arrived I found it quieter and more serene than I imagined it.  It could have been the people I was with but there was definitely a sense of calm and a respect for this place.  Funnily there were no remains of tents or expedition life which I was surprised about. I felt I could have stayed there all day. Everyone in our wonderful group made it safely to Base Camp under the expert guidance of our Sherpas and my awesome husband and guide Mike and there was great sense of achievement and congratulations both with us westerners and our Sherpa team.    

Flying high at 5000m

Flying high at 5000m

The hike back to Lukla is challenging and not to be underestimated.  They say that most accidents happen on the way down.  Maybe it’s human nature for complacency to set in once the main event is done but there is still a long way to go to get back to where you start from.  I personally had mixed feelings on the walk back, of course the thoughts of a shower and running water and a glass of red were appealing, but it was really hard to say goodbye to the simplicity of life in the mountains and the people of Nepal.  

The trip had so many highlights and not just reaching Everest Base Camp. In fact, one of my favourite memories is simply watching the young Nepali kids playing with not a care in the world. The trip has  made me appreciate the simple things in life and the things we take for granted.                  

Stricking a mt Tree pose

Mountain Yoga 🙂

Personally I will most definitely return to beautiful Nepal hopefully to take on some of the lesser known peaks (no great interest in the big one my mother will be glad to hear)  For this trip I was happy to trek safely to Everest Base Camp and simply soak up Nepali Mountain life while trying to make as little impact or disruption to the locals and the landscape as possible.

As always when you get back from a trip like this people ask the question; would I be able to do it? The answer is yes, while it is a challenging expedition with the proper preparation, the right guide and support team, a good group and an open mind as the saying goes “the world is your oyster” and it is up to you to find your pearls;)

xxx

Bitchmittens Andrée

Ps

Andrée travelled with Earths-edge.com which is the company her husband and professional adventure guide Mike works for. It’s an ethical and socially responsible adventure tour company that’s based in Ireland.

ADVENTURE: Romancing The Stone!

Turn Back Most of you will know me as a Triathlete but my background is actually adventure sports and it was through this mutual love that I met my awesome adventurer husband Mike Jones. Our 4 year college degree was a Bachelor of Arts in Outdoor Education and we got to spend a lot of time in the mountains or on the rivers and lakes of some of Ireland’s most remote and adventurous places.

A Romantic Escape

 

To say the adventure buzz is a little rife in our house is a bit of an understatement! Mike recently qualified as a Mountain Leader with Mountaineering Ireland and guided his first expedition up Kilimanjaro last month.  All went well and he heads out there again this week to take on Africa’s highest peak with another bunch of enthusiastic clients. Between the two trips, we decided to spend some ‘quality couple time’ together and in true ‘us’ style we headed out, not to a nice spa or for a fancy dinner – but for the hills

Last week it was decided the ‘quality time’ would be spent in lovely Kerry, specifically in Ireland’s largest mountain range; The Macgullicuddy Reeks.  While both of us had climbed Carrantuohill numerous times, Mike had always talked about a route he did two summers ago. It  turned out to be one of his favourite – a beautiful, yet challenging day in the Irish mountains. We decided it was time for me to give it a go.  I wouldn’t exactly say I am in the best climbing condition, especially not compared to someone who had been living at altitude for the last 12 days but I knew I could hold my own and hoped all the rope work and mountaineering skills that were ingrained in us over the years in college would come flooding back.

On top of the world

Planning the Climb

Most people climb Ireland’s highest peak via a steep gully known as the Devils ladder, however the route we were taking ‘Howling Ridge’ is a multi-pitch rock-climbing route which requires harnesses, ropes and specialist gear know as a climbing rack, which is basically lots of shiny,colourful pieces of metal that get slotted into cracks in the rock, from which safety ropes can take the climber’s weight in case they fall. Many spend years collecting and building on their ‘climbing rack’ and all this shiny gear can end up being worth a pretty penny.   

That morning we set out, lunch and snacks in tow, and after a coffee stop in Killarney we hit the car park area at the foot of the climb at around noon. We hit the base of the climb and got harnessed and roped up in good spirits. With multi-pitch climbing you have a lead climber and a second climber. While in my climbing fit days I would have ‘lead-climbed’ today was definitely not going to be that day, and I was more than happy for Mike to lead and me to second.  Pitch 1 was fine and all about getting used to the techniques again, the calls, the rope work and most importantly getting into my own personal climbing rhythm.  The weather was perfect and  I was thinking we’d top out on the summit after five, maybe six pitches as it didn’t look that far away. (Famous last words!)  As we got higher the pitches got a little harder, with a couple of challenging moves and I was very glad I wasn’t leading.   After five pitches the tiredness and burning arms started to kick in. It was here one piece of gear got stuck. I just couldn’t shift it from the rock!

Howling ridge

Trouble on the Rocks?

Annoyed, I ended up leaving it behind and climbing on (which is a real no go for climbers and their precious and expensive gear) so when I joined Mike again and told him he decided he had to go back down and retrieve it! He down-climbed on an Italian hitch and I belayed him back up the same way.  Not an ideal scenario and it added to our time on the climb.  

At this stage we decided it was time to grab a snack and take a few minutes rest in order to be fully fuelled for the next lot of pitches.  “You defo need your wits about you for the next half” I remember Mike saying…YIKES!  But I smiled on, though maybe I would have reconsidered the spa option at this point!   

Refuelled, we pushed on. Now each pitch seemed to test me a little more.  I found a ‘chimney’ section particularly challenging, but hey this is what we were there for  – the challenge! Every now and then, when Mike was leading and he went out of sight I would have a slight moment of doubt, but my method of coping with doubt is this; be aware of it, allow it in and then let it out I would also pinch myself and look out across the amazing surroundings and think how lucky I was to be there, doing this incredible climb with the man I love!  For the last pitch we just roped up and moved together. This is a technique you use a lot in Winter Mountaineering.  It means you can move pretty quickly and cover ground fast and this was important, as both time and snack supplies were slightly running out.  

 

Topping OutOn the final pitch I had mixed emotions. My little arms and body were screaming and wanted the constant pulling and dragging to end, but my mind was thinking  – maybe we should have brought the tent and camped the night to extend the fun and do it all again tomorrow! The last little slog to the summit is always exactly that… a slog. When we got to the familiar big cross that marks the summit there was just one other fellow climber who, on seeing us coming from the Ridge side greeted us with “Ah ye took the hard way up!”  I laughed at the understatement.    

Coming Down

We chose the quickest and steepest descent via the Devil’s Ladder, which is quite worn and loose in sections but we both have sturdy knees and good descending skills, another thing that was ingrained into us in college!  An hour later we were at the foot of the ladder.  At this stage again my body began to feel really tired, unlike my mountain goat of a husband, so true guide and porter style he took my pack and carried it for the remainder of the hike out.  Now that’s my idea of real romance.  At this stage we had been on the hills for 8 hours!! But what a wonderful 8 hours   

 So as it is named “Howling Ridge” was it really howling? No, thankfully we had perfect weather conditions, but it was a ridge! Is it the route everyone should take in order to make their way to the top of Ireland? No.But with the right guide, equipment and preparation, it is possible for most.   

So whatever the route, my advice is…get yourself to the mountains folks, even if it is your local little hill and it takes you all day to climb, climb it and then enjoy the views from the top!

 

#BitchMittens Andree

 

 

For more information on The Bachelor of Arts in Outdoor Education at GMIT see www.gmit.ie/outdoor-education/bachelor-arts-honours-outdoor-education

For information on Hill Walking and Mountaineering training, courses or to join a club in your area see www.mountaineering.ie

For more info on Trips or Expeditions with Irish Expedition Company Earths Edge see www.earths-edge.com

Adventure: You are NEVER too old!

Adrenaline Junkie Erica fights back!

Erica PBM

As I discussed in my last blog I like to encourage people to push their limits a little every now and again. That’s probably why one of my most hated sentence in the English language is “I’m too old for that.”

OK – so there are some things that might be out of reach – like winning an Olympic medal for gymnastics or running a 100m in less than 10 seconds.  However there’s nothing stopping us from doing gymnastics class at 40 or taking up running at 50… I didn’t start snowboarding until I was in my 30’s and I was nearly 40 when I started climbing.

 

Grey hair

On the slopes everyone looks the same age 🙂

 

I mean why the hell not?? What’s stopping you, REALLY?  I wonder if when people say “I’m too old” what they really mean is –  they find it hard to motivate themselves. When people say “Oh I’m not fit enough”, what they are thinking is that they’re afraid to put themselves out there to try new things.

“People are afraid to try new things”

But in the words of Obama “YES WE CAN”! Us humans are amazing, our bodies are fantastic pieces of engineering and we are designed to move and test our physical abilities. And the most amazing thing is the more you move, the better your body gets!

Around the age of 30, if we have a sedentary lifestyle, we can start to lose between 3-5% muscle mass per decade but if we exercise we can slow that right down. Once we hit 75, our muscle loss worsens again, but guess what minimises that? Yup, you guessed it.  Exercise!

Contrary to what you might expect, the last thing I would recommend is hitting the gym.

I do use them, they have their place but I wouldn’t recommend them if you are new to exercise. The best way to a better, stronger life is to find a sport or active hobby that you enjoy and get stuck in.  If you progress and if you need to, you can back that up with gym sessions.  Basically, if your exercise is wrapped up in something you love and enjoy doing, then you will be a lot more motivated.

So if you think you are too old remember the 100 year old woman who abseils for a hobby, or the countless octogenarians I’ve seen doing tandem skydives, or my over 55 climbing buddies who are some of the best climbers in our club, or my mother’s Active Retirement Group (who we nicknamed the Overactive Retirement Group) who enjoy bowling, golf, dancing, yoga and whole host of other activities.

If we are here and  not in our sick beds then we are never too old to give anything a bash.  

Even the wilder stuff, as long as you have a good teacher who is safety conscious and well trained then there really isn’t anything stopping you. Next time the thought crosses your mind that you’re too old to try something new, make a decision. Do you want to get old faster, or stay feeling young?  So OK, none of us will be beating beat Usain Bolt in the 100m, but by getting stuck in we will stave off the aging process, kick start our feel good endorphins and have a bit of fun!

xxx

#BitchMitten Erica

 

 

 Five adventures to try – at any age:

 

Five AdventureSkydiving. Skydive Ireland are based in Kilkenny and offers tandems and solo jumps for first timers. You can do it for a registered charity, or for yourself. It also makes a great and inspiring gift for friends. A voucher costs between €235 to €275.

Hillwalking: For loads of information about safe and awe inspiring walks around Ireland check out www.mountaineering.ie.

Supping: Stand up paddle boarding looks quite hard, but is actually such a lovely way to take to Ireland’s waters.  We recommend a crew called SoulKite  and they run SUP tours along Lough Derg. Check out their great pics on  Facebook. The large, lightweight boards are more stable than they look and a sedate paddle works the core and upper body, while letting you enjoy the riverside views.  Try some onboard yoga if you’re not afraid to get wet! They also run Kite Surfing classes from Lahinch, for the more robust adventurer. Www.iksa.ie also run loads of kite surfing schools around the country where you can learn.

Rock Climbing – We highly recommend Awesome Walls. All the BitchMittens are big fans of the Dublin climbing school. (In fact we might have to plan a Bitches day out!) From 8 to 98 – it’s a very safe and exciting way to get the adrenaline pumping and the body working. With the best walls in Europe for indoor climbing, there are routes for all levels of ability, with one on one private coaching. You’re fully harnessed the entire time and in very good hands. They run outdoor classes too!

Ziplining – There are at least three great Zipline parks in Ireland, Dublin Cork and Roscommon run by Zipit. Challenge your fear by speeding through the forest canopy! A great family day out that will get the blood flowing and give you something to remember. 

 

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