I’ve been looking forward to the 2nd weekend in June since January when I signed up for Dingle Adventure Race 2016. I said last week it was favourite race and favourite weekend of the year – and that’s across all my triathlons, running races and adventure races. I first ventured down west in 2011 and had a blast and have had a brilliant time each weekend every June since (I also wrote a blog in 2013).
What I most like about DAR is the atmosphere – as Naomi said there’s a “great vibe”. There’s a real sense around town that the race is on – distinctive yellow DAR jerseys everywhere, supporters enjoying pints in the bars near the marina, cars with bike racks and camper vans parked everywhere. Race organisers Noel and Yasmin from Irish Adventures do a great job of making the race itself great, with a lovely jersey that people proudly wear all over the world. I bet I’ll see one of those jerseys up a mountain in the Rockies one day (like the Kerry GAA jerseys you see in Augusta at the Masters).
I’ve done well each year with a run of 2x 4ths, a 5th, a 6th and a 9th. Paul Mahon’s formguide is always fun to read how it’s shaping up, with rumours of darkhorses like F1 and triathlete Jenson Button making a start. Paul figured the top 6 would have a “same again lads feel” and he was spot on. He reckoned I was “showing improved form this year” but like Eric Wolfe (who beat me last year) “could struggle in the water” on the kayak leg. I was confident of doing well, as I’ve been fit and racing regularly. I’ve been working on my nutrition with Barry Murray, so a little anxious to see how my energy levels would be.
The Full distance race is a tough runners slog – after a 27km bike ride over the Conor Pass into Cloghane, it’s straight up Mount Brandon, with a 950m climb over 5km, then down the far side, another tough 10km road run back to Dingle, a 2km kayak around the harbour (shortened to 1km) and a 1km cruel run down to the Marina (as your legs cramp after 3hrs pounding).
Pre-race I was relaxed – we got down by teatime on Friday, beating the Friday rush, so could relax with dinner in John Benny’s. After a last minute panic changing my pedals to flats (I hate when they get stuck on the crank), I got a good nights sleep and a nice light breakfast at 6am in a darkened bedroom. My nutrition plan was LCHF based – so scrambled eggs, 1/2 an avocado, a sausage and a coffee. After an hours extra sleep I was up, stretched and got there for the 9am start with Michael Healy-Rae and his shotgun!
The bike was fast – climbing I was in behind the 2nd group a few minutes down, so on plan. Nuala Moore gave me a cheer at the top and after a fun/fast descent, I worked the last 10km with a guy called Kevin, who was strong and told me “get on my wheel and let’s do 30 sec on/ 30 sec off.” It was hard work to hold his wheel, but really helped push me along and minimise the gap ahead. “Thanks Kevin” I said as we entered Cloghane. The climb is my favourite and a strength. I hoped to moved up and passed Dessie Duffy who was struggling. I scrambled up past the lakes, into the clouds and after the summit the dangerous descent.
The ground was drier than previous years which was nice, so I felt confident, although the risk of tripping on sharp rocks and smashing yourself is a hairsbreadth away. Dessie re-passed me before the bottom, but I pulled him back on the road back into town from Ballybrack. It’s a killer of a road when the legs are tired, everyone finds it mentally so tough. I thought I might catch Eric (exact repeat of last year) but I couldn’t see him down the long straight road ahead. It was nice to have Jerry O’Sullivan pass by on his bike a few times, giving updates on who’s behind/ahead as well as water. Tim O’Donoghue was also out with some water – thanks lads.
The kayak was cut short, due to wind, which seemed harsh as it was fine for me. I kept ahead of Dessie which surprised me and I ran happily into town, comfortable I was top 6. I was happy to hear Noel call my name on the mic, saying I was in 5th. He did say I was from Cork, but I’ll let away with it, since Yasmin handed me a cold can of Tom Crean’s beer straight after I got my medal. The soup, sandwiches, fruit and water afterwards was great, as a sea of yellow jerseys mingled happily. It’s a great finish area, as everyone stays around and supports people doing the mini, sport and full distance races.
That afternoon Naomi and I went for a drive around Slea Head which was lovely. Dunquin beach is just amazing every time I go there. The power of the sea at it’s strongest: the sound of waves crashing in on the rocks, the colour of the green sea, blue sky and grey stone walls makes a spectacular backdrop. After a quick snooze that evening, we got a nice feed in Dingle Bay Hotel and headed into the party and prize giving in Danno’s. It’s great to meet old friends – there’s a big Tramore gang: the Brennan’s, the Frisby’s and the O’Shea’s. Mr Frisby gave me a laugh when he called me and later showed me the name in his phone for me – not David Power but “Could Do Better Power.” He gave me a bit of slagging for missing out on prizes last year and I failed to live up to his expectations once again!! We ended up in Paddy Bawn’s and the night was over too early.
Sunday we’d one of the best bike spins all year – the run cleared and off we set around Slea Head. The plan was a 3hr spin so we saw everything – Dunquin, Ballyferriter, Ballydavid, Brandon Creek, Coláiste Íde. We even made it up to the foothills of Mount Brandon – I never realised how steep the climb up that road is – running down it in the race you don’t realise. I was delighted to pass the Raidío na Gaeltachta studios – I’ve listened to Philip King broadcast the “South Wind Blows” from the most westerly radio studio in Europe and always envied the location of his workspace!
Food worked out well on the race – the light breakfast I had was perfect, I felt good with energy. I drank a bit of water on the bike and carried a sweet potato brownie plus 2 date/nut balls. That’s all I ate over 3 hours and I felt good. No gels, no bars, no bananas. It was a risk but as Barry said after, it’s just a worry in your head but it’s not a real physiological response. I made up for it after – with super meals on Saturday (sea trout) and a crab-trio in the Boatyard during lunch outside on Sunday. I feel off the LCHF bandwagon while recovering – lots of brown bread, a full Irish breakfast on Sunday and a few ice creams and pastries. I think I burned enough calories to keep me balanced 🙂
Photos thanks to John Shiels & Valerie O’Sullivan