Yesterday I did the Killarney Adventure Race for the second time. It is a tough 67K course that has two tough hill runs with a tough but stunningly beautiful cycle and a kayak section sandwiched in between. After dropping my bike back to Kate Kearney's Cottage and registering on Friday evening I stayed in a B&B in Killarney. I rose at 06.30 and went down to the deserted dining room to have some breakfast. There was nobody about as they didn't start serving until 07.30 but some cereals had been left out and I snuck into the kitchen and raided the fridge for some milk and juice. So after a double helping of Wheatabix I loaded up the car and got ready to depart for the finish area and bus departure point to the start. When I came back in to check out there was a girl in the kitchen so I asked if she could make me a quick omelet which she did. So I was well stuffed by the time I finally left for Muckross at 07.40.
This year the numbers entering were nearly treble that of last year. Over 1100 souls in all. Last year I opted for the third wave of starters and my start time was at nearly 10am. This year after doing so well in last years race (22nd in 5:03:40) I decided to try the second wave so our bus left Muckross at 8am. There was a great buzz about as all the competitors busied themselves warming up and getting ready. On the bus there was a hum of conversation as people chatted excitedly about the challenge ahead. Oh one thing I forgot to mention is that it was a stunning morning. Absolutely clear skies and the first frost of the Autumn meant that Killarney National Park would be seen at its wonderful best today. There was a bank of fog clinging to the lake but more about that later. As we drove the eight miles or so to the start the views to the mountains glowing a russet gold colour in the morning sun, soaring above the fog was breathtaking. What a start to the day. Everything was well organised at the starting line. A good safety briefing and a rigorous kit check were done and soon we were ready for the off. As we waited for our time to arrive the first of the elite runners arrived. Tim O'Donoghue raced in to collect his bike and there was almost a sense of disbelief as the incredible time of 31minutes was mentioned. I was nervously excited myself but a bit apprehensive as I hadn't done much training before the event. Still there was no turning back now and then we were off.
There was the usual dash to the front by the really fit and the over eager inexperienced ones. By now I guess you could say that I have the experience but not the super fitness so I set off at a steady pace and concentrated in getting into a rhythm. On we went up the narrow road for a kilometer or so before a sharp turn onto the switchback track that makes for the summit of Strikeen Mountain. This is where the inexperienced get to regret their over zealous dash from the start and I passed a fair few as I methodically plodded along. I wasn't able to run it all but I managed a fair bit and conserved my energy as I realised that there was a long way to go. The super fit of course met me on the way back as I approached the summit but there wasn't too many in my group. I dibbed in and a quick about turn and I enjoyed the downhill dash back. This time I had no mishap on the way down and ( a fall with a gashed knee last year) so I arrived in to the bike transition area in good form. By now I was well into it.
After my usual slow transition (I must get pedals for the bike that I can use ordinary shoes on) I was pedaling into the "Gap". This bike section is surely one of the most beautiful in Ireland. Not only are you cycling through the Gap of Dunloe with its twisty road and rugged beauty but then you make the rapid descent in to the Black Valley, one of the most remote and beautiful places in the country. This is followed by the stiff climb up to Molls Gap and then the descent past "Lady's View" and along by the upper lake to the transition area near Muckross Lake. There was still a distinct nip in the air and whenever I was in the shade I need no encouragement to keep going. This was especially true as I descended into the Black Valley as I once again entered the fog and the temperature plummetted. Passing the church and school at some speed the gorse that lined the roadsided was covered in spiders webs and it made for an otherworldly sight when I dared take my eyes from the rough road. The steep climbs that have to be done in order to reach the "Head of the Gap" coupled with the lack of time I had spent on the bike had taken their toll. I was constantly fighting off cramps in both calves. This made for some painful episodes but gradually the problem eased. Despite that I enjoyed this section and generally held my own, especially on the flat. As is usual there were some that sped past me on the uphill sections. This year the transition was moved from the roadside at Torc to a spot in Muckross park which meant that there was a short section on a rutted gravel trail. This made for an interesting finish to the cycle although my bike isn't exactly designed for this type of ground.
From the transition there was a run of about one kilometer to the lake edge where the kayak section began. I arrived alone so I didn't have a partner so I opted for a single kayak and set off. Very quickly I saw that the bhoy was only four or five hundred metres offshore. The dense fog of earlier meant that the organisers had curtailed the course. Bugger and damm but I guess safety is paramount and the prospect of the organisers having to go searching for lost participants wouldn't have been a good thing. Anyway a mere six minutes after entering the water I was out again and setting off on the long run to the lake near the top of Mangerton. I was now struggling and my legs felt like lead. Still there was nothing for it but to go on. I ran where I could and walked the rest. Even on the steeper mountain sections I found the walking difficult. Eventually the top arrived and I took the time to have a long drink from the lake and set off down. The cramping problem was back and for most of the way back they felt like they were going to lock up. Still I made good progress and I guess my by now fairly extensive experience of hill running meant that I was able to overtake a fair few people. Still I was really dissappointed to later discover that I was almost fifteen minutes slower in this section than last year.
From the transition at the bottom it is a mere fout kilometers to the finish line. This was mostly on gravel trails again but it was soon over and I crossed the finish line in 4: 58: 48. and in 55th place. There was a great buzz about the place and the hot tubs were a godsend. I stood in one and let the heat sooth my aching legs while I chatted to/congratulated some of the guys that had finished around me. There was a mega queue for the free chips but after I had changed and packed up I decided to head for the comfort of home. I was tired but pleased with my efforts. There is great satisfaction in completing such a tough but beautiful course and I am already looking forward to next year. As I write plans are afoot to enter another adventure race in West Cork in a couple of weeks. I'm off to do some training. :o)