Glendalough, like for so many others, it’s where it all began for me. It was here back in 2016 when an out of shape ex GAA player first cut his teeth into Adventure Racing not realizing what would happen next.
It had been 6 months to the day since I last raced and that was at Quest Killarney, but it seemed like a lot longer. Injury stricken, my rehab was slow, my running was short and my patience was shorter still but Glendalough was the target return. In the days leading up to the event, I had been suffering from sinuses and a sore throat but antibiotics and Sinutab were doing their best to keep me focused.
Gear Checked Again & Again & Again
In the evening before the race I was particularly restless at home, gear was checked, tyres pumped, gear checked again. It was 7 in the evening and I knew I had to occupy myself or I would have driven myself up the wall with the anticipation. So I hopped in the car and made the 40 minute drive to the registration in Lynhams of Laragh. I was met by familiar faces but it felt different. I was at Quest Kenmare, not competing and even though I planned to follow the route and film it, I felt like an outsider. Not this evening. The amount of well wishers and people delighted to hear I was making a comeback was heart warming. It really felt great. Some banter and then I decided to head off, absolutely buzzing, chuffed and a little emotional too.
So home, bed, 7 alarms set and sleep. Waking earlier than usual, for fear of not hearing the many alarms, as my wife and kids were away for the night, I was up at 5am. Showered, fed, car packed and off I headed. Music pumping…I’d say the neighbours love me… I arrived at around 7am. The field beside the starting line was filling up already. There was a real carnival buzz, besides the overcast morning with a mist gently blanketing the canopy above Glendalough in the distance. Temperatures were just right for racing. Not too hot, not too cold with little to no wind.
I met up with more familiar faces, well wishers and piss takers. Before I knew it, it was almost showtime. Wave 1 went out at 8am. I was 9am start in Wave 3 in the sport route. So I headed off to get my bits together, stopping along the way to chat to a few old friends.
I had a strategy in mind. Last year, I was 2 agonizing minutes over 3 hours due to cramping. This year, although the course was 2km longer, I wanted to make it to that turn off point of the old in under 3 hours. It was a big ask considering as I have done little to no running since October due to ankle injury so I needed everything to go right. My other plan, obviously was to make it around in one piece and ankle injury free.
All smiles at the start!
So I made my way into the starting area, and after a quick safety briefing from Ollie we were off. A slow rolling start for the first 1km and then it was hammer down. I knew if i was to try and eclipse the 3hour marker i set for myself, I had to make maximum gains on the bike sections. I made my up the 5km drag weaving between fellow competitors. I felt my quads beginning to burn nicely and kept the head down. Across the crossbar of my silver steed, I an excel of last years times and this years projected times, printed and Celotaped to it, to help keep me focused. I got in about 1 minute ahead of schedule so i was happy with that.
Dumped the bike, quick swig of the bottle and off I ambled through the forestry and a mist covered Shay Elliot climb. I was passed by Shauna Gowan who I joked to earlier, you will catch me on the run. Being a strong runner, like a gazelle she bounded off into the mist. I hiked up to the dibbing point as competitor after competitor seemed to be passing me. I wasn’t too bothered as I knew this section was going to be a slow one. Traversing across to the next peak through the warn muddy ground, remembering there had been a lot of rain the night before and we had about 2 and a half waves through the ground at this stage, it was pretty boggy in places, I went over slightly on my ankle. I limped for a minute or two and then slowly began to pick up the pace. Down the side of the forestry and back to transition.
That’s me…your man in the background
Helmet on, massive gulp of drink. Gloves on and my favorite descent of the year. Last year I clocked out about 85km/hr but it was a dry warm day and grip was good. This year as I hit about 65km I didn’t feel too confident as the roads were wet and I had a lot of slower bikes ahead so I didn’t push any harder. This is a lovely 20km cycle. Lots of nice rolling hills along the way with a nice climb thrown in about half way for good measure. I was making nice time here, passed a good along the way, but was blitzed by some of the big hitters on the expert route. Never the less, I got back into transition banking a couple of minutes from last years times.
Now it was time for the slog. Again quick drink and off over the bridge, under the arch and up the fire-road. I had forgotten how hilly this initial 4k was and it took me by surprise. It was only half way through, it dawned on me why I cramped so badly last year, so I knocked back a magnesium shot to hopefully pre-empt that. For what seamed an eternity, I was actually a minute ahead of schedule. Then as I began to amble back down towards the majestic lake, my quads began to burn up and turn to jelly. The lack of running really began to show but I didn’t really mind as I had about 10 minute leg break once i hit the water.
In I hopped in the kayak with Peadar Corbally from Orwell Cycling Club and around we went. It was stunning as ever on the lake but the water felt colder this year. I’d imagine due to the fact the race was 3 weeks earlier this year and the weather hasn’t been great in the week leading up, thus dropping temperature by a few degrees.
Life jack off, and so was I. At this stage, there was 4km to the finish line, 2Km to the old finish line and with a quick look at the watch it was in my grasp. But as the run progress, I ran out of juice. I was reduced to 100m on, 100m off. My eyes were transfixed on my watch. I couldn’t care less about the hoards streaming passed me. I finally made it to the turn where the old Finish line was. 2hr 55mins. I was over the moon. #FistPump. But that soon passed as I realized I had another 2km to go. To say it felt like an eternity is an understatement. I was seeing stars, had legs as wobbly as Bamby. I could here the PA and the music but I couldn’t find the line. It took me about 14 mins to do the last 2km. Under the arch over the bridge and into the field. Usually you get a bit of energy when the line is in site. Nothing. I had to walk it, holding onto the railings or whatever I could find. Around by the goals, and limped over the line at 3hr 11m 52sec. Wrecked! Elated! Nauseous! Over the Moon!
All for a piece of paper…
I had to lie down for a couple of minutes and try and take some water in and keep food down. 15 mins later i was back up and walking around. In hindsight, apart from the rigors of going all out and not being fully match fit, I got my calorie burn v consumption all wrong. I was so focused on getting that time, I never stopped to think. But I lived to tell the tale. And I will learn from it.
But how I enjoyed it. Beating that time and more importantly making it around with my ankle in one piece. I have a lot of work to do but am delighted with my progress.
The sun now began to come out and play and the carnival atmosphere kicked into overdrive as everyone sat back, enjoyed the atmosphere and soaked up the rays. One of my favorite parts about Adventure Racing is the community. They/You are amazing. It’s one of the main reasons I keep on coming back.
I have to tip my hat, once more to the guys at Quest for such a great event. And also, every one of them came over to me congratulating me, welcoming me back, which was the icing on the cake. Thank you.
It’s now onward and upwards from here. The season is going to be long, hard, but action packed and I wouldn’t have it any other way.