Monday, September 30, 2013

Rough Diamond Connemara...A Real Gem

This weekend I went with Kevin for a weekend away in fantastic Connemara and to compete in the Rough Diamond adventure race. Its fair to say that I hadn't had much in the way of proper training and after the tummy bug of a few days earlier I was a wee bit apprehensive at the prospect of a race that stretches out to 72 kilometers. On the other hand I was really looking forward to another weekend away with Kevin in Clifden and once again it didn't disappoint.

Friday September 27th;

We set off from Mallow in the afternoon and straight away the banter was good and lasted right through the 250 kilometer  drive. The traffic was bad but the weather was fine and it looked set fair to last through the weekend. The race itself was based in the little village of Letterfrack about 15 kilometers north of Clifden and we were booked into a hostel there for the first night. After a very nice feed we retired early to bed. Sleep was interrupted by some drunken oafs arriving at almost 2am and another dolt roaring obsenities at 4 am so all in all a less than perfect sleep was enjoyed but we both rose in good spirits to a warm humid and dry morning. All was set for a great day.

Saturday September 28th;
The Race;

We finally met up with two of Kevin's friends, (Terrance Hoare and Anthony Holmes who had arrived late the previous evening) who were taking part in the sport version 45 K of the event. I was surprised by how few people were about. I had expected this event to be heavily supported and the numbers that were competing in the "expert" course appeared to be less than 100. Still the day was lovely and only the midges were a problem. Soon the allotted time of 09.30 arrived and we were off.
Stage one is an 8.5 kilometer run from the village to the summit of Diamond Hill, a stunningly beautiful little mountain of around 450 meters. We wound our way up past the visitor center and out onto the wild open mountainside on fine wide well built paths of stone and timber. Unfortunately it was evident pretty quickly that I was struggling. even after only a couple of kilometers I had to break out of my run and I was reduced to walking. The gradient wasn't that steep but I was feeling terribly leaden and even a bit queasy. Thankfully Kevin (who had promised to stay with me for the entire course) decided to take off and run at his own pace. If he stuck with me he just wouldn't get the kind of workout he deserved after all the effort of driving up to the west. I kept going and eventually reached the top. On the descent I was in more comfortable terrain and while I still felt like pish  at least the going was easier. I was really unsure just how I would manage to keep going for the entire route, I was after all only just at the beginning. Down down we went and eventually I reached the visitor center again and the run continued on a lovely winding trail through woodland back into the village. Even here I had to walk some of the short little uphill sections, oh dear. My spirits were buoyed  however by the wonderful welcome back into the transition area and to my delight and dismay there was Kevin waiting for me. Delight because his enthusiasm and good humour are always a joy and dismay that he had thrown away the chance to really compete in the event, especially since, even after hanging back with me for some of the run, he still came fifth in that section.Still there was nothing for it but to grab the bike and hit the road.

I had been really looking forward to this cycle before the event as the route travels one of the most beautiful sections of road in the country, now I was dreading it. While it is comparatively flat there was a surprisingly strong headwind that made for tough going. The route travels on good roads for almost all its length before eventually winding it was along a little lane to the next hill run at Maumeen thirty kilometers away. First it went along past Kylemore with its beautiful abbey before turning right and travelling through the stunning Inagh valley where the Twelve Bens are on your right and the Maumturks are on the left. The great weather (wind notwithstanding) and glorious views helped somewhat to alleviate the agony of the cycle. I wasn't too bad on the flat but when it came to any bit of a hill I struggled mightily. My mood wasn't helped by being passed out by so many others who seemed to fly by at their ease. Kevin flattered, coaxed and cajoled but it was no use, I just didn't have it in me to maintain a decent pace. He was in mighty form and every so often he would leave me and catch up with the people who had passed me and then slow right down to let me catch up. I felt so frustrated both for him and myself and eventually, three quarter way through I had to tell him in the most direct language possible to leave me behind and have some fun for himself. Perhaps it was the way I shook my fist at him or the hysterical timber of my voice as I roared FUCK OFF at him (which I'm sure startled birds off the water from the lake a kilometer away) but it worked and he set off alone into the distance. I was never so glad to see the end of a cycle and at the transition I unceremoniously dumped the bike and set off in the direction of the pass in the Maumturks called Maumeen.

This eight kilometer run is on a rough trail track and rises relatively gently for about 100 meters to the pass. This is a place of pilgrimage and there is a tiny little church and stations of the cross but aside from religion there is much to draw you to this lovely spot. I hadn't a hope of running up hill so I walked the majority of the route to the pass. I was still struggling and the legs were a bit rubbery but at least I was off the bike and using muscles that were more frequently in service. I suppose I shouldn't expect any different as it had been over seven weeks since I had been on the bike at all and I hadn't done a lot on it previously either. Up and over the pass and then down fairly steeply along the western way for another two kilometers. I met Kevin coming back against me and was relieved to see he still had a smile for me and was still rooting for me. I don't think I have ever been on this side of the pass before and it was lovely. Spectacular craggy bluffs soared over 300 meters on either side and since my competitive streak has long since fizzled out and I was now intent on just getting to the finish line I relaxed a bit and tried to enjoy the majesty of my surroundings. Down and turn about and up and over and I jogged the final couple of K to the bike. A stop for a good drink and some of the tastiest orange segments I have ever had and I was off again. I had been dreading getting back on the bike but now the wind was to my back and progress was somewhat easier. I didn't exactly fly along but I was only passed by two on this 18 K section. Eventually Kylemore arrived again and I dismounted and braced myself for the assault course.
Kevin doin the business

This proved to be a delight. Not difficult, occasionally a bit challenging and always interesting, it twisted its way through scrubby woodland, out onto open moorland and back into the woods again. All along the way there were problems to overcome, from walking across stacks of wobbly tyres to crawling through blacked out muddy tunnels to crossing swinging rails to rope bridges. One of the highlights was the pair of "Sumo Wrestlers" replete with giant padded suits that you had to try and run past. Cresting a rise there they were about fifty meters in front of you. I stopped and gave them as deep a bow as my crocked body allowed which they reciprocated with surprising grace and off I set. I didn't have a plan but my shimmy worked and I got by unscathed and beaming. Twas great fun. Eventually I was through the course and back to my bike for the final eight kilometers to the finish. Now I was buoyed by the knowledge that the end was near and I pedaled as well as I could to the finish. Eventually the full 72 kilometers were done and I crossed the finish line pretty much whacked. Here I was reunited with the others and after congratulations all round and a short rest we left and headed to a nearby beach for a dip in the sea. Man the water was cold and it took me several attempts before the pain in my feet subsided enough to allow me to wade in as far as my hips. The cold water did however work its magic and when I re-emerged the ache in the legs was much better. Terrence and Anthony were much braver and went the whole hog and "enjoyed" a swim in the freezing water. We decamped to Clifden for a rest...after all the day was only half done.
Terrence venturing in

Beautiful beach

Anthony and Terrence looking   refreshed

Clifden is one of my favorite places and it is always a delight to visit. Once we were once again ensconced in the excellent Hostel we settled down for a lazy snoozy rest for a couple of hours. This worked well and by seven pm we were ready to head out and have a bite to eat. The town was buzzing as our arrival coincided with the culmination of the week-long arts festival in the town. A beautiful balmy late summer weather day only added to the good vibe about town. All the pubs were packed but we managed to find a space by the bar where we ate the last time and enjoyed excellent pizza. Re-hydration was  really important after the exertions of the morning and we set about that task with some relish. I had only very briefly met with Terrence and Anthony in the past but they are great guys and so easy to get along with. The stories and banter were great and time flew by. There was a delightful parade of colour and spectacle that evening and the sense of "Carnival" pervaded the night. After a few beers we decided to take a break and we went to see what else was happening. A considerable crowd had gathered in the square to see a band rocking the night. It was great to see the mix of revelers milling about with tourists of all ages mixing with families of young and old and everybody smiling and enjoying themselves. The band were great and with just a base and lead guitar and a drummer the sound was loud and tight. It took me a while but I eventually recognized the singer and it was none other than Rob Strong, a veteran of the Irish scene for many years whose powerful vocals made him rightly famous. Man these guys could rock it and soon the lure of the music proved too much and...well lets just say that the next two hours passed in a haze of groove and dance that meant me dusting off moves I hadn't tried in years and perhaps should have been left in the recess' of the past..but maybe not.
Re-hydrating....tiz vital

More re- hydrating

American movers

Two American ladies of a certain vintage (lets just say they could probably tell you where they were when Kennedy was shot) still had the moves and I bet they will regale their friends at home about the night they rocked Clifden. One in particular fell prey to the Kevin Ring "lasso"  and her shimmy as he drew on the rope was such a delight. Music of the highest quality was abundantly accompanied by dancing that completely counterbalanced it but nobody cared. Great fun was had by all. At around midnight after the band were done I hit something of a wall and I decided to call it a day. The boys continued the revelry into the early hours while I enjoyed a good sleep. I was wide awake by 7 am so I got up and had a wander around the sleeping town. All traces of the previous night were gone and it was a perfect time to reflect on the previous day and feel grateful that I was able to be here in such a great spot and have such a good time. I picked up a few bits for breakfast and as I retreated to the hostel a woman of similar age to myself was looking directly at me as we approached. When I got near she smiled and in a French accent told me I had danced very well last night. I too had a smile as I passed. We ate and left early for home, another little adventure over and more great memories in the store. Lots of laughter filled the car as the tale of my F U moment was relived and the drive passed quickly.Despite the strain of the race I can't wait to go back.

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