There is a lot to be said for having the comfort of sleeping in one’s own bed the night before a big race. Not having to drive for four or five hours after work the night before a race is a massive bonus. On Saturday morning I awoke to my 5 a.m. alarm. After force feeding myself porridge, almost gagging in the process, I hit the road for Glendalough. I’d seen the start list a week earlier and knew that the field was strong. There were ten names that could be contenders for the female Expert podium.
The one piece of advice I’d been given from anyone who’d completed the Expert Route in Glendalough before was not to go out too hard and try to save something for the final stages. After the usual safety briefing from event organizer Ollie, we were off. I set out swiftly to avoid the inevitable chaos off the start line but as soon as the road kicked up on the Shay Elliott climb I moved over to the left and settled into an easy rhythm. I watched as bike after bike passed me. It’s hard to let people go by but I told myself that those who can’t resist premature acceleration are likely suffer later in the day. I’d bet my house I’d see some of these lads on the final run around Glendalough, moaning about cramps in a couple of hours.
At the top of the Shay Elliott, I dropped my bike and set forth on the run. I was 5th female at this point. It was on the first run that I really noticed how overheated I felt. I began the task of removing my arm warmers, gloves and headband. Feeling sluggish, I allowed a stream of athletes to sail past me on the first run. When you are on stage two and already feeling drained, it’s hard even to look ahead to the next slog. Heat makes me feel cranky and saps all my energy. I hate running in hot weather. Family members joke that they know when temperatures have reached scorchio because I stop talking. As I cycled up Slieve Mann I thought about bailing out and just cycling back to Laragh. Then I realised I’d no legitimate excuse to drop out of the race and a mediocre performance is better than a DNF. I concluded that if I DNFed once, I’d be tempted to do it in every race! There was no option but to plough on. I surprised myself by catching and passing some of those that had passed me on the run. I was back in 5th place. The second run stage takes you up to the summit of Croaghanmoira mountain. As I dragged myself up the steep incline I noticed Rosy Temple on my tail again. We stayed together for the climb and the descent and it was nice to have company even though I didn’t feel the inclination to chat. I’ve been the headless chicken in transition a few too many times but experience has taught me to be very strategic about where I leave my bike. I’ve also started clipping my bright green helmet on top of my bike. Now I’ve taken to scanning the racks for my helmet instead my bike and it works a treat!
I took off on the final 18k bike section towards Greenane, knowing that the hardest climbs were over and that this would be the easiest stage of the race. In the final 5K, I was lucky to spot a very strong rider from the Sport Route overtake me. As he did so, I jumped on his wheel. He brought me up to Ger Kelly and right past her into 4th position. I dumped my bike at transition and started out on the run. At first I felt reasonably lively but then as my body temperature rose I started to feel very uncomfortable again. Ger kept pace with me but I could tell she was feeling much stronger. Any time I encounter Ger, she is always so pleasant offering me her water and words of encouragement.
I was relieved to finally get to the kayak section and gladly embraced the cold spring waters of Glendalough Lake as I waded in thigh-deep. This short but certainly most pleasurable part of the race was over too quickly, I had to get moving. I always panic a little when I get to the kayak, not because I don’t feel competent but more because it’s the one point of the day where I feel that I am no longer in control of my race. It’s a lottery! Today I got paired up with an inexperienced kayaker who was a very quick and eager learner. By the time we were on the return leg we were kayaking in a straight line in perfect rhythm. At this stage I’d resigned myself to 5th place. I didn’t have the energy to chase Ger Kelly down in the final 2km run.
The atmosphere coming into the finish line was electric. There were crowds of supporters milling around the finish area screaming encouragement and the sun was beating down! I was grateful and relieved to have managed to complete the event although I couldn’t help feeling disappointed despite the euphoric atmosphere around me. I hung around the finish line chatting to fellow competitors. I decided I needed to be more resilient and just look forward to the next race. I should probably appreciate that I live in a country where I almost never have to race in temperatures over 15 degrees. Furthermore, any day you finish a race with your body and bike intact is a day worth celebrating. Sometimes it’s not the race itself but the process that gets you there that is more important. Earlier this year, I was looking for some adventure racing enthusiasts in the Dublin area to train with for Quest Glendalough. A multi-sport WhatsApp group that started with just a handful of participants has grown and multiplied and I’ve become acquainted with some really lovely people. We had two thoroughly enjoyable training days recceing the routes around Glendalough together.
This was my first time doing Quest Glendalough and I thought the event organisation from the Quest team was impeccable. I’m already looking forward to giving this another shot next year although I’ll probably be the only competitor praying for a cool, overcast day!