Dingle Adventure Race – top of Mount Brandon
The weekend in Dingle was one the best weekends in a while. Dingle’s worth a visit alone for the pubs, music, food and scenery of Chorca Dhuibne. But throw in the mix an Adventure Race, an open water swim in Ventry and golf in Ceann Sibeál and you’d need a week to recover.
Years ago people did marathons to get an adrenaline buzz. Then came along triathlons. Now the latest growth sport is adventure racing. I know you thought combining 3 sports was bad enough, but why not add a fourth? Oh and forget about roads, let’s run up a mountain and sprint down the other side. No time to even take in the stunning views of Tralee Bay, the Blasket Islands and the Dingle Peninsula.
So along with 300 other mad people, I signed up for the Dingle Adventure Race. This involves a 25km cycle, a 10km mountain run, a 10km road run, a 2km sea kayak and a 1km run to finish. Oh and none of this is flat – except the sea I guess. The cycle is up 500m over the Conor Pass. The climb is up Ireland’s 9th highest mountain, Mt Brandon (952m). The run is along the road back to Dingle, when your legs are getting heavy. Then there’s a kayak around Dingle Harbour.
So the setting was amazing. The course was tough. Then the sun came out to top it all off. We even had a celebrity politician start the race. Michael Healy Rae, T.D. came up from shiny new road from Kilgarvan to fire the rifle shot which started the race from Dingle’s Marina. Most people were carrying a back pack, as there was lots of required gear: from first aid kits, to food/drink, even a whistle (which I frantically searched South Dublin for on Thursday evening).
The cyclists spread out pretty quickly as we began the climb. It was only 4.5 miles, but it was steep. I tried to stay with the lead group of about 20, but couldn’t keep the pace, so fell off a string of riders behind the main group. Once we got over the Conor Pass, I said to myself WOW. The views of Castlegregory and the Maharees beneath were breath-taking. So we picked up speed on the winding, open roads and descended at 65km+ at times, down the hill towards Cloghane. The transition was in a muddy field behind a pub in this little village. I half expected to rack my bike on a cow’s tail or a sheeps back.
I absolutely loved the climb, even though it tough and I’d no time to enjoy the amazing views. Out of transition, the climb towards Mount Brandon began. At first it was easy to run, as we passed through fields, up a country lane and then across some open land with fences. I picked off a good few places, so was edging towards top 10. Then the climb got a bit steeper, so at times you jogged gently and then took rests on the steeper climbs up, where you could only step up. I caught an experienced mountain runner, Paul Mahon, only for my shoe lace to untie, so I lost 30 seconds and about 10 minutes of effort beforehand!
The climb got rockier and steeper. At times, you were using your hands to literally pull yourself up to the next rock. If you fell back, you could do a humpty dumpty down the hill. Eventually we made the final coll towards the summit, so I pulled ahead of Paul towards St Brendan’s Cross and Shrine at the top. The views were incredible – you could see west towards the Blasket Islands and east towards Castlegregory and across Tralee Bay.
No time for a picnic, so the descent began. This was the BEST adrenaline buzz all year! We had to follow the white crosses which marked the Stations of the Cross down the mountain. The descent was tough, physically and technically. Your legs take a pounding from the pressure of landing so heavily on them. Mentally you can’t relax, as every step has to be planned to avoid sharp rocks, gaps between rocks, muddy puddles, slippy grass.
Eventually I fell. Slipped off some rocks when running fast. I fell forward and scraped my side, legs and elbows. Paul passed me and helpfully reminded me my footwear may be to blame J So I immediately convinced myself I’d be trail runners asap, provided I could get down the mountain alive. I had a few more falls – one particularly fun slide of about 30m on wet grass. If I’d had a sled, I could have kept going all the way to bottom.
I felt good starting the run, so was sure I’d be able to catch Paul up ahead. If only I could get sight of him down the road, I felt I’d be able to reel him in. But then I realised that my legs weren’t turning as fast as normal. The mountain and bike had taken a bit out of them. Other problem was that I couldn’t see anyone ahead. So I ploughed along on my own, with no one behind either. I reached 5km, got some water and felt good, but was like a runner out on a training run on an open road, as there was nobody around. It didn’t feel like a race! Well, I did pass one old man who shouted “you’re the 5th” at me. So I arrived into Dingle and turned over the bridge to the kayak start area.
This was the most frustrating part of the race. It was way harder than it looked to paddle in a straight line towards the buoy, because of the tide and winds. I kept veering right at first. But I guess most people aren’t strong kayakers, so it should even out right? I could see Paul safely ahead of me, so I wasn’t going to catch him. I was afraid to look back, but felt sure there was nobody. So I made my way around the rectangular route, marked by 4 buoys and got out for the final run into town. I was delighted to cross the finish line so raised my hands in the air in celebration. Then the man on the mike told me to “dib out” which meant swiping my chip into the dibbing machine to clock my time. One of the minor differences to triathlons and running matts.
I was delighted to finish 4th overall, 10 minutes behind the winner in 3hrs 20 mins. It was great watching every come in after, as it’s a tough race for all. Some guys spent 6 and 7 hours out there, which must really take it out of you. Meas mór a gach éine. We celebrated with lunch and a creamy pint in Danno’s sunny beer garden. That night, after a big feed in the house (Norma’s banoffi was amazing) we headed down to Danno’s for the prize giving. I got a pair of Oakley’s for 4th, which was sweet. The lads got more prizes for 3rd in the relay. As always in Dingle, the night ended up in An Droichead Beag. We only went for one. As always.