I now know why the Achill ROAR logo is a woolly sheep. After cycling around the island, I definitely met more sheep than people on this remote part of west Mayo. Anyway this race has been on my to do list for a few years now, since it’s such a beautiful place and I’d heard good things about the event, organised by Paul Mahon and Hilary Jenkinson of Outfront Events.
First impressions of the race was that it’s great value, cheaper than many other races which can be €20-30 more. So the sleeveless fleece (with the obligatory sheep) was a welcome surprise. Definitely something practical that I’ll wear more than another technical t-shirt. Nice buff too. Plus the food after finishing the race was great (sandwiches, brac, hot drinks, fruit).
To Kayak or not to Kayak: I swam!
Paul has been on my back for a while about getting my own kayak, or at least practising between races, as I’ve lost a bit of time in a few races this year. I meandered through the Blackstairs Adventure Race, throwing away the win and lost out on 3rd in MOXIE due to a slow kayak than the guys up front. So Paul’s race offered a get out of jail cause, for many and other triathletes: I could do a 1,200m swim instead of the 2,500 kayak around Lough Keel. Score!
The other bonus was that I could swim in my own skin – no wetsuit required! I love swimming in togs, as wetsuits take so long to put on/take off, plus the water in summer is nice. We’re all too soft saying 14C requires a wetsuit – Triathlon Ireland take note. Imagine being able to do a sprint triathlon in your club colours, rather than 400 people all looking like seals?
I had the novelty of starting the race in my Belpark tri suit, my trail runners, a swim hat and goggles. Off we went for the 600m run to the lough. I ploughed into the water, Baywatch style and tried a few dolphin dives. I quickly realised the lough was pretty shallow, barely up to my knees, so waded out over 200m to the first buoy. Another novelty: I was the first swimmer! Added problem of having to sight the buoys myself, rather than following the wave of fish ahead of me. Anyway I really enjoyed the tranquillity (being alone) of the swim and exited ahead of the Cavan kayakers and race favourites, Dessie Duffy and Cillian Heery.
The Mountain Run: Our Lady and Dead Dogs
It was cool entering T1 in the lead, which I promptly lost due to having to put on a bike top and jacket. Paul abused me for that, rightly so! Off onto Keel Beach, chasing the 2 lads. The sand and rocks were tough, as we had to run through the water for a bit. Up a steep climb, along the cliff with amazing views back on Keel Beach and the bay. Wow. I got passed by Lonan O’Farrell, who was flying, so down to 4th. Up past a statue of the Virgin Mary (plus a monument to a dead dog too apparently), then over the TV masts and the steep descent down towards the beach. The views were absolutely stunning. 15km in total, still in 4th, with Cillian slowing and just into T2 ahead of me.
The Bike: A Lap of the Island
I figured Dessie, Cillian and Lonan would pull away, given their biking strength, so I was hoping to hold 4th and maybe they’d puncture. The bike course was largely flat, but with 2 gradual climbs and a few steep ones around the Atlantic Drive. Some spectacular scenery and hardly a tourist in sight. This really is the Wild Atlantic Way! Jonathan Caulfield flew by me on his TT bike and I got worried, down to 5th. Aidan McMoreland joined me at half way, so he had a chat and started working together, taking turns at the front. Jonathan wasn’t pulling away – that TT bike didn’t like hills. More sheep on the road, plus a few tractors to pass. That’s an Achill traffic jam. On the last summit, 5km from home, I pushed hoping to get clear of Aidan. Luckily it worked and I held the gap into T3 and 100m dash across the line.
Post Race Fun in the Sun
The sun was shining now, the beach looked amazing, everyone was happy munching on food and drinks. Who said we didn’t have a summer? Days like this in Ireland are magic. I didn’t even feel that tired – my brain is conditioned to a run after a bike (aka triathlon) so I kinda missed a 2nd run! Anyway, job done, happy with 5th, although the few minutes I lost after the swim with runners/shirts could have cost me, as Jonathan was only a minute ahead.
That night was great – a fancy dress party in Gielty’s Pub. Pity Mayo didn’t beat Dublin. There was a great atmosphere around – most people stayed 2 nights. I was impressed by energy of all the newbies, people who’d never done anything like that and signed up for the 27km race with friends. My costume wasn’t a winner either – I’d recycled my 80s boy band (NKOTB) look but was outdone by some serious competitors!
Anyway, well done to everyone, this race ticked all the boxes, so I’ll definitely be looking to go back in September 2016. Next up is holidays in Galicia, then targeting a PB in the Porto Half Marathon. Back to Co Louth for the Triathlon Sprint National Championships and then down to Killarney for the KAR. Hoping to complete by 5 adventure series races back in Mayo in November – Sea2Summit. Busy times but worth it.