Monday, October 24, 2011

The Achill Roar.

The view fron my tent towards Keel
A couple of days after we came back from the UK I headed up to one of my favourite places in Ireland, Achill Island. It is the largest island in Ireland and has an amazing range of terrain. It sports three seperate mountains and along with amazing coastal scenery it sports the highest sea cliffs in Europe. So off I went intending to make a weekend of it on Friday afternoon September 9th. Unfortunately the weather forecast was poor and we were expected to get the tail end of a hurricane over the weekend. Still I was looking forward to the experience. The drive was a bit of a chore and took all of 5 hours, so I was really glad to finally cross the bridge at Achill Sound at 6.30pm that evening. I was in two minds what to do about camping and after registration I drove up to Lough Acorrymore under Croachaun and found a grand spot to wild camp. This was my first time using the North Face VE25 tent I bought from a guy in London. As this is a super tough 4season tent I wasn't too worried about whatever the weather brought but it's waterproofness would surely be put to the test.

After I got the tent up (and it takes a bit of practice), I enjoyed a pleasent dinner and retired inside for the night. Shortly thereafter the promised bad weather arrived and the strengthening wind was accompanied by fierce showers. Thankfully the tent was well up to the task and only a few drips were in evidence which didn't threaten to get into the inner. So I relaxed and enjoyed a good read and I awoke refreshed and ready to go the next morning. There was a strong wind blowing but thankfully the showers were few. Unfortunately one of them chose to appear just when I had the flysheet removed and was dismantling the tent. Things got a bit wet then but hey ho. I had plenty of time and I slowly made my way down to the starting point. There were lots of other competitors about and to my eye they were nearly all younger than me and sported the physiques of finely tuned athletes. I on the other hand had been indulging in cream teas and much more over the previous week and sported the results you would expect from a self indulgent middle aged man. My confidence was low but I was determined to have a go. There was a choice of two courses, one long, (2K on a kayak, 15K hill run and 45K cycle) and another about 40% shorter. I of course was entered for the longer one. As I went in for the pre race briefing I learned that the Kayak stage had been cancelled due to the winds and the mountain run altered to remove one section that was along a cliff edge.

There was a festive athmosphere about and I was soon relaxing a little. When the first wave of a hundred competitors was sent away I watched as they ran along over two kilometers on the beach before reaching the high ground on Menawn mountain, Soon our time came about and after a big choreographed roar we were off. I set off at a nice steady pace and was thankful to find that the sand was firm and so was much easier to run over. Of course many took off like they were being chased by a pack of rabid dogs but most of these soon slowed and I found myself gradually overtaking a few. Then we hit the boggy mountainside and all running stopped and I just walked as quickly as I could. It was tough going but I fared at least as well as most and I was pleased with my progress as I rounded the summit checkpoint and turned downhill. I made a real effort to run fast downhill as the terrain was not rocky and was nearly all heather and bog. This I was very familiar with so I went for it. I was going great guns (for me) and I passed a fair few. The only problem was near the bottom I started to really cramp up in my bottom. This was a first for me and for a couple of hundred meters I wondered if I would have to stop. Mercifully things eased out and by the time I was on the beach again all was good. I was mighty relieved, as I wouldn't like to have to have given Butt cramps as the reason I had to stop. Eventually, after taking a tumble over the only stone to be found on the entire beach, I was leaving the sand and entering the transition area and setting off on the bike.

Soon I was out on the road and pedalling hard in the direction of Achill Sound. I thought I was going well until I was passed by several groups who quickly left me well behind. It was frustrating and I redoubled my efforts but soon sense prevailed when the route changed direction and we passed through open boggy expanses and found we were heading straight into the wind. I won't describe every torturous turn of the wheel but suffice to say it was tough. There was of course the wonderful section that was with the wind along the scenic Atlantic Drive but the sting in the tail when the last 5 kilometers was straight back into the wind made me ever so glad to reach the finish. Overall I finished in 77th place and I was well happy. As the weather was to disimprove further I made the decision the return home that afternoon. I am already looking forward to returning next year.
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