2am and I’m standing on the start line with my good friend Thure, about to run 53km from the centre of Dublin to a distant valley on the far side of the Wicklow mountains, why does this seem a little daft??
The last few weeks have been non stop. After a running heavy New Year I got out in my white water kayak a few times with my good friends, and also amazing paddlers, down some of the rivers nearby.
I feel like their play thing really, i’ll have a go at stuff, and when it goes wrong, which scares the **** out of me to be honest with you, they pluck me out of the water, plonk me back in the boat and we head off again. I do love it, but there are times when I do question what I’m really doing.
The buzz you get when you nail a rapid though is awesome, getting the right line all the way down, not going upside down, or rescuing yourself when you almost do go over makes you feel brilliant. It is such a social thing too, when you hit the gentle sections you can float along chatting away, and then get your head back on for the next rapid.
Sitting at the end of the river though I generally feel exhausted, both physically and mentally as I don’t seem to be able to switch off with my healthy fear of the water and what could happen if I don’t pay attention. It really is something I’d love to do more, but with the fickleness of the UK rivers it is hard to plan it, and of course you need skilled people to be out with you, so making sure there are folk around can sometimes scupper any plans.
I have been out on foot a fair bit too. I am training quite hard for the World series adventure race in Ecuador that I am racing with Danish team Skandia:. It is a 4 day non stop race, taking in some of Ecuadors most stunning scenery and terrain, and with the added fact that a lot of it will be above 3000masl it could be very tough indeed.
The race is on at almost the same time as the Patagonian Expedition Race, but I felt having completed it the last 3 years that it was time for a change, there are so many amazing places around the world that I want to see, and with the chance of going to Ecuador instead it was an easy decision. That said I’m sure when I see the pictures and read the reports I’ll be a little jealous, but I’m sure Ecuador will be equally stunning and challenging.
Last weekend my girlfriend came up from London. We went out for a bike ride on the Saturday, the first time I’d been on my mountain bike for almost a month! Maz had some new shoes and pedals to try, so we went round the Kentmere loop in all the wet and mud that the recent weather has provided. There were the usual issues of riding with new cleats and shoes, but Maz did brilliantly, and to celebrate we had to pop to Wilfs cafe for lunch.
On the sunday the first of the Winter League Fell Races was on Scout Scar, just out the back of Kendal. I went up alone, Maz declining to join in, not sure why?!?. It was fast and furious, I’m not actually sure of the time, but somewhere around 30minutes I think. It was very muddy at the start, and I had little grip, so lost a number of places, but with a sprint to get past people before he first gate I then seemed to pass people, and then really went for it on the decent from the ‘mushroom’ to the racecourse finish, I couldn’t quite get 3rd place, and my team mate Tom was just ahead in 2nd. I was very happy with how I went though.
After the non stop action of the Lakes, it was down to London for a week to get out onto the North Downs to plan the Spring season of the Tri Adventure races. I love doing these, running around a new area that is very different to the Lake District I’m used to, but still very physically challenging, and gives some tricky navigation with all the many footpaths and bridleways that cross the area.
Adam Marcinowicz came out to join me on Tuesday, and we enjoyed a great 4hr run checking various checkpoints, before finding a great, if a little pricey, pub to have some food, the kitchen had stopped serving, so we had to make do with puddings only, what a shame! Another full day of running around followed, this time in shorts, as the mild weather was too hot for my normal winter attire, when will we get any form of winter?
On the 13th (a friday of all days) I flew out to Dublin to meet up with friend and upcoming team mate Thure Kjaer. We were out there to race in the Art O’Neil Challenge, a 53km run from Dublin Castle to the Glenmalure Valley, on the far side of the Wicklow mountains. The race is tough, but compounded by the fact that it starts at 2am!
Friday felt like a very long day, wondering around Dublin, fueling up and getting kit ready. Thure and I got to the start at 10pm, in plenty of time so we could register, then chill out and get some sleep before the start.
It was pretty fresh at 2am, but we soon warmed up running out of Dublin at a fair old pace under a crystal clear sky. Thure and I planned to run together, to practice for Ecuador, but found ourselves just behind the leaders, who were egging each other on to go faster and faster. We settled into a nice pace, and soon we were over the ring road on the edge of the city, and climbing steadily. Only on turning around at one point did we realise how much, as behind us was a stunning view of Dublin.
After 90minutes or so we began to overtake the walkers, which gave us a boost, and soon enough we were dropping down the road to the first check point. A quick bite of food, fill up of the bags and shoe change for Thure and we were off. There was yet more road on the next leg, and we were both desperate to get onto the open mountains.
After more climb on the roads we could see lights heading up the hill to the left, that was it, tarmac done. Running on road is fine, but its relentless, there is no let up, and we were both starting to suffer with it a bit.
As we began up Black Hill we got very wet feet, and every step from here on was practically in a bog. The wet weather we had had in the UK had been to Ireland too. With the cold clear skies there was a thin film of ice on top, but it hadn’t been cold enough to really firm up the ground. It was a magical scene on the dark mountain, with lights flickering ahead the navigation was relatively simple, and I was glad I didn’t need to get my head too stuck into the map, and under foot it was very uneven
We had been given some tips by past winner and record holder Eoin Keith on which route to take, and I was pretty chuffed when we nailed it, and sped into checkpoint 2 having just overtaken a couple of guys who had sped past us on the road a few hours before. A quick bowl of tasty porridge and re filled water bottles courtesy of Andy Burton.
The porridge really worked, as we flew along the last section, nailing the tricky nav over the bleak moor as the clouds rolled in a little. and then on the last downhill run to the finish we caught and passed 2 guys, one of which was only 500m from the finish!
We had raced for 6hrs 5minutes and finished in joint 4th place, it had been a top night out with Thure, running a great course with fantastic organisation. At the finish hot tea/coffee/hot chocolate was ready and waiting, and a short bus journey to the pub before a bus back to Dublin. What a way to spend a night. The criac had been great with all the other competitors we’d run with or passed, and I’d highly reccomend it as a race to do.
Saturday day was a bit of a struggle though. I had a shower and a quick sleep before finding some great coffee at the Clement and Pekoe Tea and Coffee shop, the filter coffee did the trick to keep me awake before stumbling into the Brick Alley Cafe in Temple Bar for some great food, and importantly more great coffee.
After being pretty fueled on food I met up with 2 guys I had met while doing the Gael Force West race, and we headed out for some beers, Guinness obviously as we were a stones throw from the brewery. Thure and Mette joined us, and we had a great evening, till tiredness really crept in, and I headed back with Anthony to his house in Monkstown where he let me sleep with his prize possessions, his bikes in his spare room!
It had been a top weekend, very easy to do as well, running is so simple, I only took a small rucksack and that was me for the weekend.
I must say a huge thank you to Gearoid Towey for letting us take part in his fantastic race. To my friends Ant and Nail for the beers, and to Thure for a top training weekend.
Now its back to the Lakes for more training before a few small fell races, the Open 5 at Warcop and then Ecuador in a months time.