So after 3h30m of racing around Killarney National Park, in the biggest adventure race of the season, with the most competitive field I’ve raced against, I find myself 5 minutes clear of the field. My heart should be pumping and my legs aching as I push the bike for the last 10 minutes to the finish line.
Yet I’m very calm, breathing slowly, resting on my bike beside transition near Torc Waterfall. Taking it all in as hundreds of competitors pass by me running or cycling. I’ve time to take off my jacket, tuck it away and think. Let me explain, but back to the start…
Paul Mahon, race organiser of Outfront Events, does a great form guide ahead of every adventure race, which is a much anticipated part of the build-up. Will I get a mention? I hope Paul doesn’t mention my kayaking, or maybe he’ll say my run in Achill was good. Please pick on someone else! Anyway most people agree Dessie Duffy is the clear favourite and I get a top 5 mention: “Power is showing good consistent form and is well suited by the running legs in particular of the course so will be hoping to sneak into the top 5 again.”
The banter continued on Facebook with Paul asking for a top 10 prediction – we all find it hard to pick, as the top 2-3 is clearer, but 4th-15th is a mix of strong guys and on the day anyone could do well. Exciting stuff to get us motivated and wary of who to watch.
Run up Strickeen
After a 5:30am breakfast in a dark bedroom (thanks to Vincent the night porter for room service!) we were bussed out to Kate Kearney’s Cottage by 7.30am. The day was foggy and calm, no wind which was unusual but chilly. The run up Strickeen was fast from the off, but I settled in around 5th on the way up. A few guys passed me on the descent, as expected but I hung in there and we all got back to transition in a close group. I was happy at this stage, hoping to get into a group in the bike to work together.
Biking Heaven, if you had time to look around
The 45km bike ride is spectacular, passing through mountains, lakes, valleys. The Gap of Dunloe was the first climb and I’d gotten together with Barry and Dessie in the 2nd bike group. The descent was twisty and fast, risky enough since the surface was not clear, with gravel, but luckily it was dry and the sheep stayed off the road! Dessie pushed on but later another group formed with Killian at the front. We got to Moll’s Gap together and 5 of us descended. I thought great, let’s push hard and work together. It saves the legs for the long run to come and we’ll move faster.
I got impatient as we weren’t rotating at the front, so pushed up front and did my bit. Schoolboy error happened then, I dropped off to the side, the group went through but we hit a slight climb. My deceleration and the hill, combined with tired legs meant I lost the wheel of the train and immediately knew I couldn’t get back on.
I cursed myself, as they would sail away down the mountain while I’d be pushing hard on my own. I then got worried I’d have to share a kayak as I was now out of top 10 and single kayaks were guaranteed for top 10. Ah, it made me realise how tough bike racing is mentally/tactically – same in draft legal triathlon.
Kayak & Mangerton
I was surprised to see the gap ahead on the water was shorter than expected, so I got motivated again when I saw Barry just a minute ahead of me and everyone else strung out on the lake. The kayak course had been shortened, due to fog I guess, so again this played to my strengths, with the 18km Mangerton climb to come. The race is only half over at this stage, so the run really will shake up positions.
I passed my mam and dad on the run and they said I was in 12th. By the top of Torc Waterfall steps, I was up to 8th, having passed Jerry and Barry. I was happy now, moving well. I arrived at a junction in the forest and the marshall pointed me left, even though I knew the course was right and the arrow said right.
Anyway, I shouted this to him but he said go on. I kept running and figured there was a new loop on the course or something. But my sense of direction told me we’re going down and away from the mountain. Anyway, pretty quickly I meet the lead group all running back towards me. I turn around a join them. We get back on track and the group quickly agrees the race is over and we should cross the line together. That’s fine with me but I still want to run up Mangerton, so I push on, while the lads stay in a group. I said I’d wait for them at the bottom.
So now I’ve lots of time to think. Dilemma: I’m leading the race, with over 90 minutes left and I’ve my strongest leg to come. On the other hand, we agreed not to race as we were sent off course. On the flip side I know that it’s an athlete’s responsibility to know the course. But if the course changes, you don’t ignore a marshal I guess. Look at Chris Mintern getting DQed last week in the triathlon national champs (different circumstances but terrible result for someone who’s competing at top level).
So I push on, through the mud, streams and rocky trail. It’s steeper than I remember, lots of walking. The fog is dense so no amazing views of the lakes. At the top I know the descent will be good, although my heels are hurting as my socks have slipped under my heel and are going to give me a blister. I decide not to stop but put up with the mild discomfort. People keep saying “well done, you’re first” and I feel a bit like a fraud saying “I’m not the real leader”. But I am…oh dilemmas.
Sitting on my bike
So now you know why I sat on my bike at the bottom. I decided to wait there for the others so we’d cycle in together. It took quite a while, at least 5 minutes and I feel detached from the race, as if I’m a spectator, not a competitor. Right, they appear so off we go. Mark tells me they agreed not to dib out at the finish, meaning we don’t technically finish the race or get a time. Sounds fine once we all do it.
The two boys push hard on the 4km bike home, so at least we raced, but once we got into transition, it was so anticlimactical as I walked, not sprinted, over the line in “2nd” behind Mark, but knew it didn’t count. We didn’t dib out and handed out timing chips back and explained to timing company, who look confused but dealt well with it.
Post race food, massage, discussions
So after food, a massage and some good yoga with a Chilean girl I feel tired, cold and want more food! However the organisers called us together before we left. They were quick to acknowledge the mistake and wanted our input on how to rectify. After a good group discussion, we agree there should be no prizes/winners in the male 70km race and the prizes should carry over til next year, as it wouldn’t be fair to give prizes to those who dibbed at the finish and we couldn’t say pick the winners based on time up to kayak.
I was impressed with how quickly the organisers dealt with the issue – as I said it’s a first world problem, as everyone got down the mountain safely, no ambulances, and 2,490 people Killarney didn’t care (or even know). But still it is a big race and those competing for national series points and race wins want to do well.
For me, it wasn’t about the prizes, but I did want to see how I’d fare against the top 15 racers in the country. I predicted I’d come top 5 and given I was 8th at Torc, I figured I could have moved up a few more places. It was a great race with battles on the bike and run legs, with lots of trading of places in tight groups. Just what we all wanted.
My last big race is Sea2Summit in Westport next month. I’d love to do SCAR in West Cork in 2 weeks but I’m away – it’s a great event, with all money going to local charities, so check it out if you can. Since I’m away with work in the US next week, I’m going to squeeze in a 8km on Vancouver Island. I can’t visit a new city and not run around it. Although right now my legs can’t move me down stairs, so give me a few days to recover!
1 minute promo video from 2014 race: https://youtu.be/UeqS4jOeBho