The Costa del Dingle. I never thought I’d say those words, but 2 weeks ago was so spectacular with scorching temperatures, crystal blue skies, turquoise blue waters and an amazing adventure race and sea swim to cap it all off.
This was my 3rd trip to Dingle for the adventure race, and I can honestly say it’s my favourite event of all sports. The 2nd weekend in June is the first race I think about each year, and you should too! After my first trip in 2011 (read the race report here), I was buzzing after climbing Mount Brandon and taking in the stunning scenery. This year was even better, with a great buzz on Friday night when we arrived late after a long drive from Dublin. The yellow race tops were everywhere around the harbour. The Mediterranean climate was exceptional for Dingle – I’ve been there many a time on windy, wet, dark summer’s day, but this made you feel like you were in a different world.
I really liked reading Paul Mahon’s form guide for the race, especially as I got a mention, after coming 4th over the last 2 years. It makes it exciting when you’re challenging at the front and are up against 3-4 top runners who have great form and history at winning races (Tim, Diarmuid, Adrian). Paul was slagging me on Friday, saying I should have learned from 2011, when I couldn’t descent Brandon properly, and Paul himself had passed me! The form guide suggested I should have a good race:
Last year’s 2nd Adrian Hennessy and 3rd Diarmuid Collins both raced on Carruntohill last Sunday and will again look to make the podium but 4th placed David Power will probably have improved more since and this trio will again be very closely matched. Collins will need to minimise his losses on the bike if he is to overcome the other pair on the long road run to the kayak but Hennessy and Power are both in good running form so this will be an intriguing battle for sure.
Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh was the race starter and it was great to hear his musical voice in the backdrop of his home town. On a stunningly calm sunny morning, he set the scene for where we were and what we were about to see. If we couldn’t see the Aran Islands or the Blaskets from the summit, we should get our eyes checked! Michéal did the countdown as Gaeilge and we were off. He thanked the “man or woman above for giving us such a wonderful day” – this made me think of all those who’ve left us for another journey above.
I pushed hard on the cycle up the Conor Pass, and worked well with another guy to catch the 2nd group with Tim and Adrian on the descent into Cloghane. My new bike buddy asked if I was a runner or a cyclist. He was a cyclist, so pulled me along faster than I would have liked, but he thanked me and assured me he’d buy me a pint and later that night for working to catch that group.
Climbing 950m up Mount Brandon takes me an hour, with lots of walking pace sections, especially the steep ramp at the back of the lakes. Out front I could see someone pull away and saw someone closing on my in 4th. I thought it was Tim, but it turned out to be Diarmuid, as he caught me on the descent. I was happy to be 3rd at the top of the mountain and felt good for the race.
The downhill is where I can struggle against the top guys, but was confident starting off given my experience of hill running over the last 12 months. However soon enough I felt sluggish and conscious I was putting great force on my leg muscles, so tried to relax. I realised I was slowing and losing time but thought I’d be fine once I hit the road. However the heat was getting to me and the road didn’t offer relief. I continued to struggle up the hill, slowing to 5:00min pace. “Get to the 5km water station and you’ll pick up” I told myself. However the battle got harder, my energy and leg speed was dropping. I’ve never ever stopped in a race, but really wanted to stop and walk.
At the water stop, I stopped, took 2 cups of water and still needed more time. I walked, then ran again. Still at slow pace. Two km later I had to stop again and walk. It was horrible. I’ve never hit the “wall” before (even though I have the Connemarathon t-shirt!). My mind was telling me to quit and skip the kayak section. But I was alone on the road, in 4th, so still on a good race. A few guys passed me, and luckily they were in the relay, so I felt ok. Then a guy passed me who said “no” when I asked about the relay. “Ah crap” I thought.
At the kayak, my old foe Paul Mahon caught me. But I managed to stick with him on the 2km kayak, which was good so I thought I can pass him on the run home. Exiting the kayak, my calves seized with cramp and I screamed with every step. I’ve never had such heavy legs, even doing the marathon. Paul and another competitor pulled away, so I just put the head down and trundled my way back to the finish. I did finally say “well done” to myself for sticking with it, after all the doubts and pain. I heard Noel announcing I’d finished 6th, so not bad considering I’d a flop on the run. Probably due to heat, dehydration and pushing too hard on the bike and climb.
Looking back, it was an epic weekend and I learnt so much from hitting that wall. Will I pace it a little better on the bike and Brandon climb next year? Or just train harder up the mountains over the winter? Every time we race, we learn something new and get stronger. At the finish, the first man to shake my hand and say “Comhghairdeachas” was Michéal. That made me feel top of the world again. We had a little chat for a minute. I could barely stand but managed to find the words as Gaeilge to tell him “go raibh an rás níos dheachair an bhlian seo ach tá mé fós sásta.”
The celebrations that night were great – dining al fresco with fresh fish we cooked ourselves and then a great party in Dannos. The next day we had an equally stunning day, sunbathing on Dunquin beach as if we were in the Med and then doing a big open water swim across Smerwick Harbour from Ballydavid with Nuala Moore.
Who wouldn’t be back down in June 2014?
Race results here: Tim O’Donoghue won in a course record time of 2:57 – meas mór!!