Friday October 4th;
Trevor Woodgate (a friend and workmate) and his brother Gavin joined me in Killarney on Friday evening to register for the race in the Gleneagle hotel and collect our goodie bags and to drop off our bikes at the race starting point at Kate Kearney's cottage. The registration went like clockwork and despite the huge numbers competing there were no hitches or delays. There was a real buzz about the exhibition centre as people milled about the various exhibits and stands. I met up with a few people I knew and chatted awhile and then after we drove the eight miles to the bike drop we returned to the town and had a nice meal followed by a couple of beers (tut tut) and settled down for the night.
Saturday October 5th;
Race day!!. I was up at 06.40 and had a light breakfast and made my way to the exhibition centre in good time to catch my bus to Kate Kearney's. Again the organisation was seamless and bang on time we were off to the race start. I was in the third wave to start and the two hundred people were broken into two groups who started ten minutes apart. I was a bit apprehensive after my experience of last week but also delighted that I actually felt quite good, a feeling that I didn't altogether trust. Anyway off I went in the second group and soon we were huffing and puffing up the narrow lane that wends into the Gap of Dunloe. The first section of the route is up Strickeen Mountain, an eight kilometre run on good tracks that zig zagged up the mountainside until you reach the broad boggy plateau of the spur that is the easternmost extreme of "The Reeks", Ireland's highest mountain range. The gradient is not too steep and I was able to run a fair bit of the way and walk strongly the rest. This year the route didn't go all the way to the 440 meter summit but stopped a couple of hundred meters short. This I think was a great idea as beyond this point the trail (such as it is) is across boggy ground and the damage that a thousand + people stomping up and back over it would have been too great. I was delighted to find that my feeling of well-being wasn't a false one and I was actually enjoying feeling reasonably strong. I turned back down and on the return passed a fair few as I suppose my previous experience of trail running gave me a bit of an advantage over some. I reached the transition area and quickly picked up my bike and set off for the next leg.
|One of the waves starting|
|A few bikes|
This leg is a thirty five kilometer cycle back through the Gap of Dunloe, onward through the Black Valley before climbing Molls Gap and then on to Torc for the next stage. This is a beautiful route with about half the route on narrow twisty bumpy roads and it has a couple of tough climbs thrown in as well. Right from the start there is a short hill that gets the blood pumping but soon enough you pass over a narrow bridge and a welcome flat section offers some respite and a chance to get the legs into bike mode. As per usual a fair few passed me at speed but I was somewhat heartened to see most were from cycling clubs and so would have more miles done on the bike than me. All too soon you are past the lakes and the first brutal climb begins. While it isn't very long it gains about eighty meters in a few very steep steps. Almost everyone struggles here and I was no exception. My biggest objective was getting to the crest without having to dismount and this I just about managed. Another flat kilometer in stunning, savage scenery passes in a flash before another forty meter climb to the head of the gap. Now comes the most exhilarating and dangerous section of the route. A steep descent on a potholed, twisty road requires complete attention. It was sobering but also inspiring to see the young Polish chap, who had been paralyzed in this very section just two years before act as the official starter for the race. He was cheerful and fit looking in his chair and it put my petty fears about my poor form into perspective. The descent passed in a flash and thankfully without incident and soon I was pedaling along through the wonderful Black Valley. I was going fairly well and feeling strong enough to enjoy myself a bit. Last year I was cramping quite badly by this section and it was a relief not to have to contend with that problem today. Next up comes the long climb from the valley floor to Molls Gap. Its fair to say that I wasn't looking forward to this bit but I managed it fairly well. I didn't push a big gear but again I managed to stay on the bike for the duration and eventually joined the main road at the Gap. Oh the relief to hit the downhill section on a good road surface. I love this stretch and it offers ample reward for the pain suffered during the climb. I was barreling along until the speed is interrupted by a short bump by Looscaunagh Lough before another fantastic downhill stretch at Derrycunihy all the way down to the Upper Lake. Any illusions that you have that its downhill all the way to Torc are quickly dispelled and some surprising little hills slow the speed right down. I was delighted however by how I was feeling and I pushed on all the way to the transition area in the Muckross Estate. A few hundred meters of rough narrow track is a bit of a shock to the system as were the big crowds of (lets just say not terribly quick) cyclists that were doing the 27 K route. I dropped my bike and set off on the kilometer run to Muckross Lake to do the kayak section.
|Grabbing my lifejacket|
|A steep hill|
|Lots on the water|
The day was now warm and sunny and there was a real sense of excitement in the air as people of all abilities mixed with tourists strolling through the grounds. I used the jog to try and find my running legs again and soon I arrived at the controlled chaos of the transition to the kayaks. I was paired with a lady who had never been in one before and it was something of a struggle to make progress. I was disappointed to see that the route had been shortened again this year due to choppy waters but with the progress we were making perhaps it was just as well. So ten minutes later I was back on dry land and setting off on what is perhaps the toughest leg of the race, the 18 kilometer run on Mangerton. I was mindful that I hadn't drank an awful lot so far in the race so I collected my little backpack and decided to run whiles't holding onto my camelback 3/4 liter bottle. This allowed me to nearly finish it by the time I reached the waterstation above the impressive Torc Waterfall where I refilled it,I also fueled up with plenty of jelly babies and all in all I wasn't doing too bad. The route winds it way through forrestry for a few kilometers before finally reaching the base of the mountain where the climb proper begins. I was able to run nearly all this section but now I was quite content to walk up the steep steady climb. I slogged steadily up to the 550 meter contour and passed a fair few who were struggling. From here a fairly flat traverse allowed me to jog all the way until you pass a stream where the the trail turns once again uphill towards the "Devils Punchbowl". I had to again walk a lot of this but it was a great relief toreach the lake and be able to turn around and face downhill.
If it is a long way up it certainly is a long way back down. The descent is quite steep and technical in places and requires full concentration despite the fatigue, if a painful slip or fall is to be avoided. Again I managed to pass a few on the way down but by the bottom cramp was beginning to raise its ugly head. Once back on the forestry trails the problem eased and I was delighted to reach the steps back to the base of the waterfall and then back to the transition area, the end was not too far away now. It took me a few minutes to find my bike among the hundreds there but eventually I got it and set off on the final five kilometer dash to the finish. I don't know whether it was adrenalin of excitement at knowing that I was actually going to finish the race, but I fair flew this leg. I was pumping those pedals hard and soon I could see the impressive footbridge that had been constructed across the busy road to enable competitors to safely reach the finish line in the hotel carpark. So on under the bridge and a couple of hundred meters later I dropped the bike and set of to jog the remainder to the finish, or at least that was the plan. As I have said cramp had begun to become an issue and as soon as I tried to run my left calf just seized. I bent down and pulled back my toes and watched in a kind of horrified fascination as the muscle twisted and contorted to an amazing extent as it spasmed. Eventually it loosened out and I was able to gingerly finish the race. Impressive the footbridge may have been but the three flights of steps up were a bit of a sting in the tail. I crossed the line in 5 hours 33 seconds and was delighted despite the obvious fatigue. I drank copiously from the water provided and ate a banana and once I was sufficiently recovered I went and enjoyed the great atmosphere in the "tented village".There was a super buzz about the place as hundreds milled about in the glorious warm sun and ate the food, listened to the DJ, had a massage or enjoyed the hot tubs. I changed and met with Trevor and Gavin and we congratulated each other on our efforts. We were all content with out achievement, ( Trevor finished in the top 20% in the 59 K race despite using a mountain bike which must have added nearly half an hour to his time) and once we had eaten the tasty beef stew and rice dish and sampled enough of the after-party the boys said goodbye and headed home. I had other plans and I went and booked myself into a B&B nearby as I was meeting Frank on Sunday for a hike. A long hot shower went some way to restoring my well-being and after a brief rest I returned to the venue for "the barbecue". I was disappointed with this as the DJ was done for the day and most of the people had left. Things were in wind down mode and after I ate the "burger" I left and returned to my room as there wasn't really any reason to hang about. I returned for the prize giving and party but perhaps I had been spoiled by Clifden the week before but this time the band didn't float my boat and I left for an early night. All in all though it had been a superb day.
|Trevor trying to look cool|
Sunday October 6th;
I didn't sleep very well in the stiflingly warm room and it was somewhat of a disappointment to look out the window and see the stellar weather of the day before had given way to low cloud and rain. I enjoyed a leisurely morning and a voluminous breakfast and set off into town to meet Frank. It had been a couple of months since we had been out together as Frank had an injury to his foot. He was a bit concerned that his hard won fitness might have suffered but nevertheless we opted to climb Carrauntoohil. It seemed only fitting to follow perhaps the best adventure race in Ireland with a climb of Ireland's highest mountain. With the weather being as pish as it was there wasn't any point in doing a nice ridge or anything so we opted for the "tourist route", the Devils Ladder. It had been a fair few years since I had climbed the mountain this way so it was something of a novelty route for me. Franks company is always a pleasure and the time flew by as we chatted and made plans for future days. The walk to the base of the Ladder is long but it enters deep into the rugged heart of the range. Waterfalls crashed down the moody east face of Carrauntoohil and the wide loose gully that is the Ladder resembled a stream. Still we set off up and made good progress. Once we crested the gully we were exposed to the stiff wind and rain so we got a proper drenching on the 300 meter slog to the summit. Frank needn't have worried about his fitness as we maintained a steady pace as we climbed and didn't stop once until we reached the cross. In these conditions there wasn't much point in staying so we about turned and headed back down via the Heavenly Gates. I was pleased with how I was feeling and while I could feel the effects of yesterday I wasn't too bad and there was still some strength left in the legs. It felt great to finally arrive back at the car 3 hours 45 mins after we set off and change into dry clothes and we sat in the car and enjoyed the delicious sandwiches which Frank had made earlier. So back into town and we said our goodbyes and I returned home. It had been another great weekend. I wonder what I'll do next.
|Grinning through the pain|
|Lovely evening in Killarney|
|Long way back|