I have just returned from a great weekend in Ireland, where I raced in the Beast of Ballyhoora 36hour adventure race with my long time team-mate Nicola MacLeod and some of her Army colleagues.
I’d never been to the Republic of Ireland before, and had it all set up to go for my first time in another 3weeks for the Gaelforce West event in Westport, but just over a week ago Nicola rang my up and asked if I could join them as they had a last minute drop out. It sounded like fun, and luckily I was free, so I headed on over.
We arrived on Thursday night, and were made instantly very welcome by Ivan Park, the organiser, and the other marshalls, it was a great wee place we were staying, Blackwater Castle, about an hour north of Cork. Arriving early meant we could get plenty of sleep in, and get our kit sorted without any stress. Mark and Billy, the other 2 team members arrived around friday afternoon, and we set about getting everything ready for our adventurous weekend.
The race maps were given out at 6pm, and as we got marking up and trying to get our heads around the bonus sections we were working out where we might be at what time. It was looking like we wouldn’t be able to get all the bonus cp’s, and as it turned out, that is what Ivan had planned.
3am came round too fast, and we were up and onto a bus up to the start, a gorgeous wee lake, Lough Gur. Here we were to do a short kayak, then a run, then off on the mountain bikes for 26km following an arrowed route. The start was a little chaotic and we managed to lose a paddle in the mud, and had to head off with the one paddle on the sit on tops! A bit of a killer, but we didn’t lose too much, and took this as our only mistake in the race.
We caught up with the lead teams by the end of the run, and headed off a few minutes behind them on the bike. This section was strange, we didn’t know where we were, or where we were going, a bit different for an adventure race. Half way along we stopped at a wee shooting range, and had to shoot an air rifle and do some archery for a time bonus, along with some puzzles. It was then back onto the bike to the start of the trek.
We arrived in 3rd place for the trek, we had been given the cp locations at the shooting, but didn’t know where we would be starting, and this was revealed when we got there following the arrows. It was a 22km trek, up and over a few hills, it was a good trek, and the legs took a bit of a beating on the hard tracks and road sections.
We overtook one team on this section, as their team captain was being rather sick at the side of the track, he’d begun feeling unwell on friday, and this was rock bottom for him. He carried on and was towing team members by the end of the race!!
We were off on a bike leg next, riding around the fantastic trails on Ballyhoora Mountain, 35km of amazing singletrack with stunning views. It was great fun riding, a shame I wasn’t in normal spd’s as I was using flats with toe loops as you are on and off the bike all the time, and it saved having to carry your shoes. During the 35km+ of riding we had a few runs, 1 orienteering loop and a lot of hooping and hollering as we flew along the trail. Billy suffered some very bad cramps on this leg though, which cost us a lot of time, but he battled on till he could see a physio at the end of the leg.
Another short road bike leg took us the foot of Temple Hill, a steep mountain now shrouded in cloud and being battered by high winds and rain, it wasn’t too nice up there, but it ensured we went nice and fast. As the night descended, and we’d been racing for 18hours we had to hand in 2 bikes to get transported to the next transition. This left us with 4 people and 2 bikes. We ran/cycled to the next transition, with the people on the bikes carrying 2 packs each, cycling for1km and dropping the bikes, then the runners picking them up, overtaking the others and again dropping the bikes, all the way to the transition. This worked well, and kept us moving smoothly.
More cycling took us to Ballyhass Lakes, an old quarry now flooded and used as an adventure centre. I had almost fallen alseep on the bike leg getting here at 4am, but now had to swim 1km in the quarry, which did the trick of perking me up and also giving me a good clean! Half way through the swim we had some more archery before heading back. A short high ropes challenge was completed and then we were off to the kayak leg.
It had been quite dry recently in the area, which made the running and riding less muddy, but it meant there was very little flow in the river, and all the rapids were very shallow, ensuring a lot of grounding, especially for my boat, as I was a little heavier than the others! 4 1/2hrs later we dragged our selves and boats up a steep slope to get back on our bikes again. We had a cut off of 12pm here, and we’d only just made it.
We then had some good climbing on the bikes to complete a mountain bike orienteering loop in a nearby forest. This was tough, and there had been a lot of motorbike and quad vehicles driving everywhere throwing loose stones all over the place which made riding very hard at times. After getting all the bonus cp’s and thinking we had banked a good lot of time we had an amazing decent on the road which went on for ages. Another short climb to the penultimate cp which had a potential bonus control which we felt wasn’t worth the effort as we were pretty tired, before heading back towards the finish.
Billy, who was competing in his first ever adventure race was really starting to struggle here, so I threw him on the tow, knowing it was only 8km to the finish, and we drafted behind Mark as we pushed as hard as we could to the line via a ruined Abbey.
Riding over the finish line to a trumpet fanfare in front of Blackwater Castle was a fitting end to a fantastic race. We’d raced hard, really enjoyed the course and the sections Ivan had thrown into it, and the decisions he’d made us make regarding the bonus controls.
After sorting out wet kit we chatted away to the other teams, and tried to work out who had won. With all the bonus controls and other time out sections it was difficult to know, but we felt we had done very well. As it turned out we had finished in 2nd place, a very respectable position considering our team and the opposition, but we were still disappointed not to win. We had fallen foul of not fully understanding some rules, thinking we would get a bonus on some controls, but that wasn’t actually the case, but when you have been racing for 30hours these things are easy to mess up on!
It had been a great weekend, a fitting introduction to Ireland and the amazing opportunities available, and the fantastic hospitality we’d received throughout the weekend. The only thing we’d not had was much sleep, and the drive home on Monday was tough, and involved sleeping for the entire ferry journey and lots of coffee!
I’m now back in a wet soggy Lake District, but am heading to Scotland this afternoon for 2 weeks to do some training and go to a few weddings, which should be great fun. The plan is to have a bit of a road trip, head to Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Pitlochry and then do some more training around Loch Tay before my next race in a few weeks time again back in Ireland.
I met the chap who won Gaelforce West last year at the weekend, and had a good long chat with him about the race, i’m pretty daunted by it, well by the speed I’m going to have to move at, but hopefully I can be right up there. I think local knowledge will be a big factor, but I’ll certainly be doing all I can to get amongst the top guys.
Hopefully the next 2 weeks training will give me some good speed in my legs! I’ll let you know how it goes. Then after Ireland I have the adidasTERREX Coast to Coast over the August Bank holiday weekend, a 4 day stage race which this year I am racing in a team with Nicola again, and also James Cracknell, so that should be a great race, and with some good competition we are certainly going to have to be on form for that.
Enjoy your summer, if you don’t get totally washed out!