On the face of it the 59km Expert course doesn’t seem overly daunting, there are longer courses out there on the Adventure Racing calendar, but don’t be fooled, this is one of the toughest course you will take on…8 cramp inducing stages, 1,000m of climbing over 40k cycling, 800m elevation gain on 4 quad burning lung bursting runs! So tough in fact they we believe that it takes more than 1 person to have a look back on the day and capture the course in all its leg burning, lung busting, hands freezing never ending goodness! So we rounded up 9 regular Adventure Racers to talk us through the course and how the day went for them. So do you want to hear how Nigel McCord, Kieran O Sullivan, Kieran OByrne, Natalia Pocelujko, Andy Reilly, Claire Morrissey, Jim Durham, Ger Kelly, Stephen Roe and Dave Gowan got on…then take a look here!!!

Stage 1: Bike – Nigel McCord

Stage 1 – Nigel McCord – The Shea Elliot – 6km (280m)
The rolling start is dodgy, you need to be aware of your surroundings as it’s at these slow speeds that accidents can happen as people struggle to balance and clip in. Once out of the GAA grounds you turn right on to the main road and here the madness really happens here as some people not used to the course see the red mist and start pounding the gears and gathering speed only to find themselves at the bottom of the Shea Elliott climb only a few hundred meters later…which results in an unreal amount of crunching and banging of gears and chains as people struggle to change down gears, I stay to the right here as it’s a cleaner line and safer too, the stronger climbers will do this section with ease, the surface is good with nothing to watch out for. After the initial shock to the system a few hundred meters along the road it levels and then drops slightly before heading back up another climb, this one is much longer but again well doable, take your time and pick your line, keep looking forward focusing on some thing or someone in the distance and use your gears. Important to control your speed and power output as its way too early in the race to be laying down too many watts. The route zig-zags up the Mountain and gets steeper just at the top, but there is no rest for us and no part of it for recovery as it climbs and climbs and the first time we get a break is rolling in to transition 1 – time to get off and head for the run.

Stage 2: Run – Kieran O’Sullivan

Stage 2 – Kieran O’Sullivan – Braigue Mountain – 6.5km (245m)
Glad of giving the legs a break, I dropped the bike at T1 and headed for the dibber at the start of stage 2. This first run starts on a gravel trail for a kilometer or 2. It’s easy going with only slight inclines and declines, easy to set a pace for yourself or chat with your running partner. You will then soon after round a corner and see the first hill, which made me smile because I remembered it from last year. It’s a straight run up a steep and rough hill. Some work had been done on this section and I was prepared for loose rocks under my feet. Once you get to the top of this steep section you hop a fence, turn left and then it’s a bit of relief as it’s a nice soft incline run on grass to the top of Braigue mountain. Hop another fence, dib, and there you start a fast run, an easy decline which quickly turns into a short steep run to the top of Cullentra hill. At the top, you get an amazing view of the area (which I recommend you stop for, take a moment for the view & to soak it all in). After that it’s all downhill as fast as your legs will allow you and back to your bike.

Stage 3: Bike – Kieran O’Byrne

Stage 3 – Kieran O’Byrne – Slieve Mann / Drumgoff Gap / Brown Mountain 16km (540m)
Coming out of the traps like a greyhound, the mountain run had ended and the legs still felt fresh so this was a prime opportunity to work up some speed and catch up with the people ahead of me. 20 seconds into the cycle and I felt like Lance himself on the downhill as the speeds on my watch hit over 70k per hour. “This is great, I’m going to catch loads of people and make up some time” only to have my soul crushed and heart broken like when your favorite movie character dies once I noticed the long slow dragging hill in front of me. Legs started to get heavy pretty quickly on the steepest part of the climb so standing on the pedals was not an option at the stage….a right slog. There was another bit of momentum picked up on the slight descent off Drumgoof Gap heading towards the transition stage for the second mountain run. I had never imagined myself to be so grateful to have the opportunity to run through a bog in my life, and getting off a bike was only the most appreciating feeling in my life. Lovely roads, lovely climbs and spectacular views were all things I would say about this stage… If I were driving in my car.

Stage 4: Run – Natalia Pocelujko

Stage 4 – Natalia Pocelujko – Croaghanmoira – 5km (300m)
Definitively the hardest of three running stages during the entire expert course. Sharp and short 5 km but really challenging. Over 300m elevation in short 5000 meters distance can give your calves some extreme sensations. The first few km is rolling trail through the forest before hitting the wall, well it looked like a wall…a sharp steep climb up to Croaghanmoira, the highest part on the course. Snow on the ground up here and freezing but glad to be heading back downhill. Difficult 2k of descent from here, two paths to follow, 1st is rocky and very unstable and 2nd is a high line to the right of this rocky path but this is hard to run down as it’s so steep and slippery grass and full of surprises (you have to be really focused to not sprain your ankle). Positive fact about that stage that once you reach the top you know there is only a downhill afterwards. Heart rate all over the place on this stage, hot in the woods but chilly and very windy on the top.

Stage 5: Bike – Andy Reilly

Stage 5 – Andy Reilly –  Rolling Road 18km (220m)
In the ebb and flow of an adventure race you have to hang in there when you are feeling the pace. This is so true in Quest Glendalough because you will feel it on this real tester of a route. Within a couple minutes of race start my heart-rate was through the roof and I sounded like a Dyson trying to suck in air. My body in a state of flux after six months away from racing. I felt a ‘long day’ lay ahead.

By the time I was coming off Croaghanmoira and beginning stage 5, the final cycle, I had got my second wind and was feeling good. I had remembered that the tough bits do pass.

I hopped on the bike at the same time as Ann Horan and Dave Gowan and began the descent at a nice clip. Picking up Padraig O’Connor shortly after we would work through the 18k in roughly the same time. This section of road is quite twisty and the surface is conducive to giving your undercarriage a good battering.
I was feeling strong turning onto the last climb up by Glenmalure Golf Club, but once I got stuck into the hill the pace dropped right down. I tried to stand up to change my position and my quad muscles started wobbling like jelly under the skin. Sitting down again I got as much fluid on board as possible and kept pushing. The quads didn’t go into full cramp, but I’d hear from them again after the kayak…I tagged on to the group again toward the top and descended hard, then kept it steady back to Laragh.

Completing what on paper is the easiest of the three cycles in 40.36 I racked the bike back at Laragh Gaa, grabbed a banana and shuffled off onto the trail run.

Stage 6: Run – Claire Morrissey

Stage 6  – Claire Morrissey – Derrybawn to the lake 5.5km (180m)
As I was heading up the first climb after finally dropping the bike at the last transition I could hear the MC welcoming home Ellen Vitting and Laura O’Driscoll home, first and second ladies on the Expert Route. As always, I was in awe of the speed at which the leading ladies cover the course. At the first barrier I was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar face marshaling. The climb up was pretty much a walk but I knew there was a long downhill ahead. At the top of the climb, as you just start to descend, there is a small gap in the trees from which there is a beautiful view of the lake. Usually I am concentrating on making sure I don’t trip over a rock but I just happened to look up/out at the right time to catch the view of the lake below – stunning! Once on the downhill, I let gravity do the work and felt like a runner rather than my usual Quest “survivor” mode. Keeping pace with another runner and high fiving cub scouts on the way down to the kayak brought stage 6 to an end. Only 2 stages to go to the finish…

Stage 7: Kayak – Jim Durham

Stage 7 – Jim Durham – Paddling 1km (0m)
With the cruel slog up Derrybawn behind me I could see that the end was within reach and my boat was finally coming in.Cheered on by the enthusiastic volunteers and puzzled tourists, I quickly reached the kayak beaching area. Immediately, my running vest was replaced with a life jacket, and I was attached to a paddle. Mistaken for a canoeist I was ushered to the water’s edge. A brief discussion with my new shipmate installed me on the back seat and we were on our way.Though neither of us claimed to be expert paddlers, we made reasonably fast and reasonably straight progress. That wasn’t enough, however, to stop us being rammed by other kayaks not doing so well in the straightness test. Coincidentally, or maybe not, one of these was crewed by my wife, Lynne, struggling to round a mark with a very novice steersman installed behind her. At least, that was her story! Soon I was back at the beach and shocked by the water which always feels so much colder at the end of the kayaking stage. However, the “why” must remain a topic for the after-race pint, for now I just suffer on. But, hey, that’s another stage in the bag!

Paddle ditched, life jacket unpeeled, running vest laced up, feet in ice buckets, and I’m all set for this year’s extended finishing run down the delightful Green Road. Now it’s time to savour the rewards for all the hard work.

And to capture the newly added 2km on the last run in all its goodness we get this final stage 8 from 3 different viewpoints

Stage 8: Run – Stephen Roe

Stage 8 – Stephen Roe – The Green Road 4km (51m)
The last time I competed in Quest Glendalough was 2 years ago, so didn’t even give a though to the fact that it was an extra 2 km bringing it up to 59km.
The body was able to rest a bit at Stage 7, Kayak.  It wasn’t until I transitioned into Stage 8, I realised the familiar 2 km run back to The Glendalough Hotel was now 4 km back to the finish line & the brain couldn’t compute this fact. I was some 1.5 km into the final stage & I found myself tiring very quickly. I hydrated well during the race with Tailwind on the bike & runs, but left myself short of solid food to keep myself going.  I was quickly loosing energy even to keep a credible pace with fellow racers.
There is no doubt, the last Run to Finish, albeit 4 km is going to test you, I hadn’t prepared enough from the Kayak transition & didn’t eat enough to maintain pace.
The trail itself was actually ok, little bit hilly at times, this was only compounded more as the energy levels were dropping fast.  I was extremely relieved to reach the pontoon, but thought the stretch to the finish line was never going to end…..

Stage 8: Run – Ger Kelly

Stage 8 – Ger Kelly – The Green Road 4km (51m)
Due to a change in venue for the finish line, this year the course was 2kms longer than previous years, and it was added on to the last run home for all the courses.

When I read this information I groaned, as this was the only easy part, a flat 2km sprint to the finish line, into a hot tub with a free cool Erdinger. Now however, there was 4kms to contend with, and I wasn’t at all looking forward to the extra distance.

Luckily I got a decent partner in the kayak, (thank you), and having passed a few people on the lake, I was feeling in good form hitting the track for the last run home. We followed the lower track along the river bed from the Upper Glendalough lake back to Laragh GAA,so it was still a flat run. Most of this route is a stoney track, with a small section of tarmac when passing the visitor centre, but good underfoot all the way. Several marshals were spaced out along the track, all giving support, and advising what distance was left to the finish, I heard ‘1.5km left to go’ at one stage, and thought that can’t be right, a quick glance at my watch told me I still had a little over 2km to go, so I held my pace and kept going. The track is shared with visitors and other competitors, it’s not particularly wide, so it’s a case of dodging pedestrians and runners all the way, including the Challenge competitors who were running in the opposite direction towards the Kayak, this certainly took my mind off the distance, and before I knew it, I was back at the end of the trail, and heading for the GAA pitch. A clever placing of the pontoon across the river, (which was very sturdy despite several runners being on it at the same time) with a gap cut  in the bank allowed for easy flow of competitors exiting the transition area, and those coming back into the field, so no hiccups there. A lap around the edge of the field brought me towards the goalposts and finish line. Finally I was done, and despite the misgivings of the extra distance on the final run, I didn’t mind it at all, perhaps the sunshine had something to do with that.

Stage 6: Run – Dave & Padraig

Stage 8 – Dave Gowan – The Green Road 4km (51m)
Myself and fellow Kayathlon team mate Padraig O’Connor clamber out of the kayak, the cold water of Glendalough Upper Lake offers some short-lived relieve to my feet and calves, and we head off onto the last run. The course changes this year mean that this section is twice as long a previous years… only 4k in total but still twice as long as before! At this stage we’re very much on the home stretch and soaking in the atmosphere of those last few Ks. My legs are suffering but the sound of the finish line draws ever closer. As we cross the pontoon towards Laragh GAA ground the finish line is a welcome sight but we’re directed away from it! There’s still the best part of a lap of the field to go! We cross the finish line together and in high spirits. I have to admit, it was great to complete the course just soaking in the atmosphere and just for fun. I need to do this more often!