The first weekend in October is now fixed in my calendar as a must-make trip down to Kerry for the Killarney Adventure Race. This was my 2nd year going down –both the race and weekend events lived up to the high bar they set last year.
I was delighted to finish 5th in the Elite 67km race, which attracted a top field, with the top 10 full of adventure racers, cyclists and a few dark horse triathletes. Dessie Duffy from Cavan won the main race, in a blistering time of 3:48 but it was narrow margins all the way back, with Eric Wolfe less than 30 seconds behind and Aidan McMoreland closing in 20 seconds later. Personally, I was stoked with my race – 5th behind Jerry O’Sullivan, so not as good as 4th last year, but a better race for me against a stronger field. Moire O’Sullivan won the ladies race in convincing fashion.
How the race played out
After breakfast at 5.30am in a dark corner of my bedroom, trying not to awake the girls, we ventured out to Kate Kearney’s on buses at 7am in the calm darkness before day break. It was cold but calm. The sky looked like it was going to bring us a nice clear autumn day. The mountain run up Strickeen is steep, twisty, rocky but wasn’t muddy. Paul and Jerry led the way, I got settled into 3rd by the top and was happy descending – last year I’d forgotten by trail runners, so ended up running in flats which was torture on the sharp rocks.
Many of the good descenders flew by me, Aidan was flying, so I kept pushing but dropped back to 8th. Onto the bike, no shoe change, as I’d flat pedals so off to chase Adrian up ahead. Luckily we worked together up the Gap of Dunloe and could see the lead group of 5 cyclists were together. Crap, that would mean they could pull away and save energy for the run. The bike ride of 35km is spectacular, through the Gap of Dunloe and Black Valley.
Wheel to Wheel – no time to eat
We caught Paul Tierney, after he had a coming together with a camera motorbike on the Gap, but luckily he was ok so we now had 3 to work together. We made good progress and were joined by a few more strong cyclists (Mark Nolan, Peter Cromie and Nigel Keane) by Moll’s Gap, so descended on the twisty roads to Muckross together. It was fast and really helped us all, but it was tough, as if you relaxed and dropped the wheel in front, you were gone. I couldn’t even find time to eat a bar until the end – I knew I needed fuel as I’d 2 hours of mountain running left.
We all came into transition together, although a few of the guys were surprised by the off-road gravely trail into the forest! I burst past Paul and Adrian coming onto the beach of the lake, moving up to 6th as I remember single kayaks were limited and I wanted to get one. There was a slight headwind but no big waves, so it was steady as she goes around the rocky island. I expected to lose time to the leaders here, but could hold my 1 min gap to Aidan and Jerry up ahead. Nobody passed me, so I got an even bigger kick as I knew I would be strong on the long mountain run.
The “well done” mountain
With over 3 legs and 2 hours under our belts, so have to pinch yourself to remember the race has barely started. With over 100 minutes of mountain running ahead over 18km and 700m of climbing and descending, you realise it really is just the first half of the match. For me, at least I could think of it as playing against the wind in the first half (against the strong cyclists and kayakers) but I believed my strong mountain running would help me play with the wind in the second half.
I passed my mam and dad at Torc Waterfall which was nice, as they’d come down when they heard how good the race was last year (plus they’d take any excuse for a holiday in Kerry!). Up the steps, through the forest, I was closing on Aidan and Jerry, so reckoned I was 6th. Onto the open mountain, you couldn’t even see the top of the Devil’s Punchbowl where we were headed. Underfoot it was rocky but the ground was hard, just a stream of fresh water after all the rain.
Well dones all round
Marshalls were great, saying we were 5 minutes behind the leaders. My goal was to stick on Aidan’s tail, since I knew he was a strong runner. To my surprise I was able to pass him and chase Jerry. He was like an ox, powering up the hill, cutting corners taking the tougher line. We passed triathlete Trevor Woods, who asked “is it far?” so I knew he was cooked. Dessie and Eric flew past us on the way down, so I got to the top in 4th. I had the 2nd fastest climb of the day (59 min) behind Dessie which I was delighted with.
I knew the descent was a different game. Last year I lost out on 3rd to Adrian on the descent. Aidan is like a sprinter bouncing down the mountain so he disappeared once past me. I expected Adrian or Paul to pass me if they were close, but they were much further behind on the climb than I expected. I kept pushing and was delighted to get down to the forest in 5th. Passing so many racers was great – I’ve never have so many people say “well done” “you’re 5th” “keep it going” – such a nice atmosphere on an open mountain.
The 6k bike leg back into town is hard, even though it’s short as your mind plays games: “Will I cramp? Will I get caught before the line?” Luckily, I made it over the scaffolding steps and over the line safely in 5th. It felt great to have battled elbow to elbow for hours with so many top racers and come out top 5. Dessie and Eric had the top 2 places wrapped up, but Aidan really showed his downhill class taking 3rd from Jerry (he took over 5 minutes out of me on that 34 min descent).
The post-race finish area is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It has everything – luckily mother nature also brought lots of sun, so we could relax in the red deck chairs, sip an Erdinger beer or a pint of Avonmore milk. There were free massages, the barrel hot tubs, burgers, pints, coffees, happy faces, muddy legs, aching bodies, but the one common thing was a sense of achievement, whether it was your first 27k race or your 100th mountain run.
That night the party was great – the awards were great to see all the winners. It was great to see Liam Delahunty receive a special achievement award, recognising his efforts to fundraise for MS Ireland. Having been diagnosed with the condition a few years ago, he was determined to make the most of life so is taking on 24 adventure races.
I was lucky to be on the Dingle Adventure Race team – we beat Killarney Adventure Race team by a tight 33 seconds (cumulative of 4 best times). Eric, Adrian, myself and Mark Wolfe made up the team – who we were reminded none of whom hailed from the Kingdom. Well at least we kept it within Munster!
Photos thanks to Valerie O’Sullivan & Marek Hajdasz