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Shannon Trail

By the Shannon's Leafy Banks

For most of us the odds are a million to one against encountering, during our daily ten-miler, one of the great Kenyans or Ethiopians or Moroccans. But for those fortunate enough to live in or near Limerick and run regularly on the Shannon's leafy banks the same odds shorten dramatically. The explanation lies in the newly established Hartmann International Sports Injury Clinic on Patrick Street in the city center.Run this trail with us and you'll be treading the stamping ground of several of the world's greatest athletes - you might even bump into one of them.

Ger Hartmann was himself quite an athlete - seven times Irish triathlon champion between 1984 and 1991, holder of the Irish record for that most extreme of events, the Hawaiian Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride, 26.2 mile run in a touch over ten hours).

Five days after he won his final national title, a bike accident abruptly and prematurely ended Hartmann's tri-career. He has since focused his considerable energies into building his world renowned sports therapy business, first in the States and since last autumn in his native city.

Ger is our guide for this month's adidas trail. The route, as he runs it, is from the premises of his family's former jewellery business on Patrick Street, which he has now converted into hi-tech treatment and rehabilitation rooms.

The trail is generally flat and firm though the fields at The University of Limerick can be somewhat soft and muddy - good trail shoes are recommended.

It is basically an out-and-back route with several possible starting points, the obvious ones being the city end or the university with its generosity of free parking.

If starting from the city, you can leave the car beside the Texaco garage where the main Dublin road meets the river. Alternatively, take the first left out the main road and park down by the canal at the old Guinness depot.

Our city center starting point is the picturesque Lock Quay Bridge, whence you can look down the fast flowing Abbey River.

Cross the bridge and swing right along the Plassey Bank on a cinder trail that runs alongside the disused canal by which barges carrying Guinness from Dublin drew up at the now ruined distribution depot - the old white building that you shortly pass on the south bank of the canal.

Continue past St Mary's Rugby Club grounds and, a little farther on, a large pond being developed as a nature reserve and bristling with reeds and wildlife. In face, wildlife is abundant on this route - you will be unlucky not to encounter swans, herons, cormorants, and other water fowl en passant.

Shortly, you come to the narrow, hump-backed park Bridge. Here, as all along this canal section, you have the option of running on either side. We cross to the south bank and continue, passing under a railway bridge and in less than a kilometer reaching the new White Bridge, or Guinness Bridge as it is officially known, which straddles the canal at its junction with the Shannon.

If you want diversion here, cross the bridge and follow the river bank north on a path that will take you to the Shannon Fields and the suburb of Corbally.

We, however, turn south and follow a firm dirt path along the tree lined shore, passing the point where Ger, in his triathlon days, would run out during his lunch break, hide his running gear under a bush, and swim up and down the river before returning dripping wet to the shop and be back in a shirt and tie within ten minutes!

No swimming for us. We press on, following the vast meanderings, reaching in a kilometer or so the impressive span of the Black or Plassey Bridge, which in season lures salmon fishers. Here, you will see the ruins of Castletroy Castle on your right.

A further option here is to cross the Black Bridge and follow a path, the Lough Derg Way, the few kilometers to the Headrace Canal that feeds the ESB hydroelectric plant at Ardnacrusha.

We proceed, however, along the south bank, past a line of fishermen's cottages with their upturned boats beside the water. Several hundred metres on, and you are running along a beechlined avenue that will be an oil painting in a couple of months when warmer weather coaxes out the fresh, green leaves of spring.

Note the University buildings appearing on your right and soon take a right turn across a small bridge spanning a stream and follow the path into the campus.

Ger's seven-miler leads us past the National Coaching and Training Centre and on toward a neat little rooming complex known as The Village. Turn right beside an all-weather pitch and run up a grassy bank that forms the bowl containing the running track. Run around the rim of the bowl to the southwest corner, drop down from the bank, and run an anti-clockwise lap of the large sportsfield.

These fields have played host to both World university and World Military CC Championships in recent years.

Partway up the far, east side of the pitches, pass through a gap into another large field and run a lap of that one. Be warned that these fields can be soft and muddy after rain. Therefore, if your start is from the University, run the river bank first and leave the fields till last, they being largely an extra mileage option depending on time and energy.

After lapping the second field, return beside the track to the river or add whatever extra laps of the fields that you feel able for.

Retrace your steps along the Shannon's banks to the canal and the White Bridge, where for the sake of variety you may choose to cross the reach the city via the opposite bank.

If you are in the area, don't miss the opportunity to run this route with its rare bonus of a chance encounter, however, fleeting with some world beater you have only ever glimpsed on TV. This, you see, is where Ger sends them between sessions at his clinic. You never know who might overtake you!

Shannon Trail

Location: Plassey Bank, Limerick
Directions: University of Limerick - turn off Dublin Road at Castletroy or follow signs to city center.
Parking: City Centre or University
Distance: 7 miles (approx)
Terrain: Flat varied surface - cinder, dirt, grass