The level of effort needed to get in under the 12 was going to be a mammoth task for someone of my level but hard work wasn’t going to be an issue as I didn’t or never have seen the long sessions as work but I relished the opportunity and excuse to get out on those stormy evenings, one man and his head torch up the Dublin mountains while everyone below would be settle to sleep.
Forward 11 months and having not put in quite the workload I would have liked due to a season dogged by injury and rehab, I would be under serious pressure now to break the illusive 12. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, for when I wasn’t injured I made the most of every spare moment I had, be it in the pool, bike or hills. It was all cardio and endurance building if I wanted to hit my target.
With thanks to class monitoring of my movements by Ciara ONeill, it was changed from quantity to quality. It was a balance of damage limitation and in the process build my base level up.
In the 3 weeks up to the race, my knee was flaring up, so much so, I had to rest so tapering wasn’t an issue. In fact it drove me up the poxy wall. I’m quite impatient and a total control freak and was cracking up not being able to do anything for weeks on end but had to try and stay focused.
I was standing in The Sneem Hotel prior to the race brief on the eve of the race and was chatting to a friend…how ya fixed lad? I replied, ask me after Carrauntohill, if the knee isn’t signing back to me, I’ll be able to give this a proper lash!
We had all been keeping a close eye on the weather during week leading up to the race and with daily updates from the Adventure racing world equivalent of Martin King, Barry Dempsey kept us well informed in the Facebook Quest 12/24 group. The weather was turning for the worst and there was a yellow rain warning for Friday night. And it turned biblical nearly to the second the briefing ended, the heavens opened up and it continued till close to 5am and then passed.
I had slept well that night which was unusual for me. I deployed some ‘sleepy’ lotion stuff. Its dynamite. My son struggles to sleep due to a lack of melatonin he produces, so we use it from time to time. It’s a brilliant natural solution that helps him get a nights sleep. So I used it myself and I was out cold within 20 mins.
I’m awoken by my alarm. I knocked it off. Next thing I do is listen. No wind. No rain beating of the roof. Jackpot. The storm had passed.
I looked out the window. It was 5am. It was dark. The puddles were glistening off the road with the odd disturbance of a rogue rain drop, as much to remind you not to get cocky, you were in Kerry.
Shower, last bit of prep. Forced the brekkie into me, bit of banter with fellow lodgers Padraig O’Connor, Paul Kehoe and Ed O’Farrell. In groups, we made our way down to the line. Kick off for the 4 of us was at 6.30am. It was still dark. It wasn’t cold. The rain had stopped. I felt good. Not nervous which again was unusual for me but possibly because my thinking was about my knee holding up rather than anything else.
So into bull pen I went. It was confirmed by Ollie that even with the weather over the previous few days, the course wasn’t going to change which I was delighted about as it would have changed the whole race dynamic if it was.
About 3 weeks prior to race day I was watching a program about mental health and it really got inside me. When I stopped to think and unfortunately count, in the space of 4 or so years, I have lost 6 friends, old friends, people I grew up or people had only recently met through suicide. I thought I needed to do something, no matter how big or small a gesture, so I put together a GoFundMe page to raise a few quid and a bit of awareness. I put my ass on the line to do a sub 12 hour race, if anyone wanted to bet on me or against me or whatever.
So we got the countdown and we were off. One by one we tagged out of the starting area. All the top brass were up front except Killian Heery(defending champion) who was back a bit and I took off with them but knew within a km I was way over my head so I settled down and got into a comfortable rhythm and felt good. It didn’t take long for Killian to absolutely power pass me. Different level altogether. Housemates Padraig and Ed were up with the top lads and Paul eventually caught up with me 5km in. We got in with a good group and tipped along nicely for about another 15km of the 47km cycle route till we reached the foot of the first climb, the very place that cost me about 15 mins last year due to a bike mechanical issue. You could still probably find the toes clips in the ditch from last year if u looked.
I got up the hill nicely. My cycling was in a much stronger place than last year as I really struggled then. Up and over and down the far side for a lovely few quick downhill twists and bends. Another group had joined us so we all got in and unofficially worked together to make as light work as we could. It wasn’t out and out drafting but it was effective enough. As we edged closer to Carrauntohill, about 10km or so out the others seem to pick up the pace. Paul and I made the decision to back off. We targeted 2 hours for the 47km and we were 7 mins ahead of schedule according to Paul’s Garmin Edge. We were both happy with that and knew it was going to be all long day that would be made a lot longer if we pushed too hard to early.
Prior to the race, I set targets for each stage and put a buffer in to finish in 11hr 30mins.
We regularly reminded each to keep on top of our nutrition. A massively important element of racing this distance. Both of us had very different nutritional plans but the same end result…calories.
A quick enough turnaround in transition 1, off up to the Ireland’s highest point. It was about 3km of rocky technical trail. I took it very handy along here, minding my ankle and knee. Up the mighty Devils Ladder where I was passed by the first 4 of the 24 hour race at an astonishing rate. Taking a right at the shoulder where I was high fived by race photographer Martin and into the misty clouds. The cross was another 300 meters or so up but visibility was poor. 50 meters at most. Padraig and Ed passed me on their way down in quick succession. I was soon joined by Linda Carroll and the laughing soon replaced the pain. A welcomed distraction.
Unlike last year I didn’t hang around at top. Quick picture to prove I was there, Prepped my knee for the decent. Paul headed on as he was definitely moving better so I took it very handy, across the shoulder and over to the infamous zig zags. This is where it could be won or lost for me. It was snails pace down and even at that I could feel my quads burning. Back on the trail, transition, eat and bike.
I lost 15 mins on my projected time on stage 2 but knew with 2 good bike stages ahead, I would be able to make up some of that lost ground. I was joined by the inspirational Ed Thompson on the cycle. A man who’s journey started 5 stone heavier only a few years back and here he was taking on the 12. I was delighted to have some company here as I did this stage last year on my own and it was a tough 48km to navigate alone. It wasn’t long but we doubled in numbers where Tom King and Peter Maher joined us. A great bit of craic along the way helped burn up the miles. But I was feeling strong and a gap developed between me and the lads up towards Ballagasheen pass. Hopped off the bike with 100 meters to the summit to save the legs. Over the top and back on the bike…I put the head down now and gave it welly to make up some time lost from Carrauntohill.
My watched died with about 20km left in the cycle. It was blue-toothing to a HR strap I was wearing and with 6.5 hours at it, the battery was eaten up, it was game over for my watch. This was a real game changer.
So into T2, quick bite, hobbled to the kayak section in my socks, having forgotten to pack a pair of runners in my box where I was greeted and cheered on by my Ballinskelligs cousins, banners and all supporting their ‘Uncle Grug’. Fantastic! Much needed. I was held up for 21 mins due to some complications in the water. It was choppy as hell and the course lap distance had to be shortened. Instead of 3 x 1.6km laps it was changed to 4 shorter laps. I hammered through this getting out second out of about 25 kayakers. The less experienced ones were not so lucky.
More food. Quick time check from a steward and off I hoped on the bike up Commakista. I just hammered through it. 13 mins quicker than last year.
This is where the mind games kicked in. I had no idea of times, distances to go.
Ed Thompson caught up with me at T3. I went into the tent for a quick change of fresh clothes. My stomach was now in knots so was struggling to keep anything down.
I hit the trail and the final stage of the race…the 18.5km. It was immediately noticeable that it was boggy. The weather of the previous 72 hours had really made it heavy. I had originally planned to leave t3 at 16:00. I was 7 mins behind and with no idea what was going to happen with the delays caused at Kayak or how long i officially was held up. I ran the flats and downs, hiked the ups. My legs were now fried by about 8km in I guess. No watch. No idea where or how long was done or left. And my stomach had now shut down too. I was running on absolute empty. I could take a sip of tailwind every few mins but that wasn’t enough. I was reduced to 75% walk as legs went to jelly. Racer after racer passed me. I tried to extract times and distances from them but the computations were giving me an aneurysm. I couldn’t fecking cope. I eventually managed to stomach a fulfill bar which took about 25 mins to eat and that gave me a lift.
Eventually, I caught up with Ed which surprised me, as I thought I was ahead of him and was waiting to be passed by him but he explained he had a quick T3 turnaround and headed off while I was getting changed and fair play to him, he gave me the kick up the arse I needed. There was 8.5km to go. I pushed on with Eds voice willing me on in the distance behind me but not knowing times and distances after that was a total mind fuck as I edged closer. I could make out the Hotel off in the distance but had no idea how long was left of the 12 hours. I knew it would be close. I asked a local farmer what time was it, to which he replied, ‘Era tis about 6 I suppose, the dinner will be ready for me soon’. About as useful as a bull with tits to me.
Eventually off the trail and into the town where the Cork rebels Ryan, Katie and Kieran roared me on. Much needed. I was in a bad place. With everything and the pressure also of the Beat the 12 charity challenge, it wasn’t long till my stomach was in knots again, legs jelly, mentally broken, dry retching. Down the lane, through the woods and fell over the line. I was greeted by some solemn congratulations for completing it. First words I managed to spit out…what is the bloody time…somebody tell me the time! they replied ‘6.45, you were 12hrs 15mins’. I was over the moon, I made it, I beat the 12. There had a confused look and probably thought I didn’t hear them properly. But when I explained the kayak delay, it all became clear.
21 mins were taken off and I finished in 11 hours 53mins 19 seconds. It was a tough tough day at the office. I’m stiff, sore and mentally battered to a pulp. I went deep deep into the pain cave and came out with the hidden treasure chest. I hit my sub 12. Beat the charity target, raised awareness and hobbled away a stronger person.
This race was everything I personally would look for. I wouldn’t do it every week but I’m glad I got that 12 hour monkey off my back. It’s not going to be run till 2021. Will I be back. Who knows. I’m just going to enjoy the moment for now but suspect that I’ll soon be thinking about bettering that time down the line.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who donated to the GoFundMe page and everyone who has supported me over the last 12 months. It’s been quite the journey..