Sunday, 18 April 2010

Glorious Glendalough

The Race

This was WAR - Wicklow Adventure Race. The venue was Glendalough, and amazingly the first adventure race set in Wicklow. The SPORT version (which around 200 people entered) comprised a 9km run around the Upper Lake (575m. ascent); 15km bike ride on the road, to Lough Dan (165m. ascent); a short run to the lake followed by a 2 km. kayak, then back on the bike to reverse the 2nd leg and back to the start-finish line. If that was too easy (and for 400+ people, it was...) then you pretty much double up the run and cycle legs on a longer route.

This was an individual race, unlike CLEC - Conor, Cormac & Andy all signed up after little persuasion. Unfortunately, Conor had to pull out with a calf (muscle, that is) injury, and although Tony replaced him, he too pulled out sick in the days before. The jinx also struck Cormac, and he roped in his mate Conor Wall who I'd pedalled with a few times, including a Wicklow Way epic.

The Training

Race day was 17th April and the training began in earnest 5 weeks ago. I'm not a runner, so this was always going be my focus. In fact I hadn't run since CLEC in July 2008. A couple of runs on the flat to ease into it, then three mountain runs each a bit longer than last, culminating last Wednesday with a local run up Fairy Castle which I'd usually do on my bike. One hour to do much the same type of length and elevation as the race. Calves hurt.

With 100km per week commuting on the bike I figured a few longer spins and I'd be grand. Borrowed a cyclo-cross bike, basically a souped-up road bike used to race off-road. A 2 hour loop from home down to Wicklow was 20 minutes faster on this bike than on my mountain bike. Result.

Sprained an ankle in 5-a-side two weeks before the race which didn't help but with a bit of strapping on the day I figured I'd be fine.

The Night Before

Serious amount of packing assuming the worst weather, and some mandatory gear such as first-aid kit, whistle, survival blanket etc. (seriously). Registration and bike drop off was the night before in the Glendalough Hotel and I drove down in Wanda, first overnight trip of the year. All the kit had to be presented at check-in, and they rolled out some lad to put the fear of God in us: "You're on your own up there"; "It'll take us an hour to get to ye"; and my personal favourite "You can die of hypothermia up there this time of year, you know...". OK, message received & understood.

Hooked up with Conor Wall and Andy, everyone pretending of course they'd put in pretty much no training. Andy showed my how to hold the handlebars of a road bike - better late than never. It was a beautiful evening, Glendalough was looking magnificent - it really is a special place and I'd never been there this late and so quiet before.

The lads headed home, but I parked up in an empty Visitor Centre carpark for the night. They'd blocked up the entrance, so it looked like a quiet night and no doughnuts outside the van from the local hoons. Final prep for the morning, some reading and I was asleep before 11. Nice feeling of nervous anticipation of the next day.

The Morning

A great night's sleep once I nodded off and was awake with the birds at 6am. Next thing I know my phone is ringing - Andy's arrived in Laragh - and it is already 7:30. Oh f*ck. Race start is 9:15 and I need to get some fuel into me. The night had been cold and it was still frosty, another beautiful clear day, blue sky - perfect. Breakfast: muesli, yoghurt, fruit, bagel + peanut butter, energy bar, litre of water & cawfee. Ready for anything now. Met Andy who headed off to race start ahead of me, and then walked up to the start with Conor. Getting close - who's idea was this anyway?

The Goal
Finishing in one piece is always a goal for me. Realistically I thought that 3:15 was an achievable time, and would have been delighted with less than 3:00. Broken down, a run under 1:15, a bike leg of 1:30 would give me a good shot at this.

The Run

First impressions, this was a serious setup - 700 or so entrants, so a lot of organisation needed. 700 bikes racked up for a start, that's probably a half-million euros worth of kit. A lot of fit people knocking about too - in both senses of the word. Nuff said.

9:15 and eighty or so of the Intermediate Sports entrants are off and running, climbing up the Wicklow Way, and then onto the steps to get onto Spink, too steep to run for most, just a steady step-step-step. Feeling good, and getting the impression that many people had trained for the distance, but not the elevation. Passed 15-20 people on the ascent, and in 30 minutes had topped out. Very warm up here now - so much for the survival blanket I was carrying.

Allowing myself time to take in the views, it's one of the most spectacular places in the country and always so easy to get away from the tourist hoards below by hiking up here to the Spink. Down now on boardwalk, crossed the Glendalough River to the old Miners' Village and onto much rougher ground - big boulders, very rocky. This was the hardest part of the day for me, with one ankle strapped and the other one twisted now on the descent. Passed a good few more runners, probably from an earlier start group (or 'wave') judging by their pace. Was only passed by 2 or 3 I'd say. Finished the run at 1:02 or so, very happy with that.

The Bike and Kayak

Change of shoes, some power-gel, chocolate and first water on board since the start - much needed - up on the bike and away. Through Laragh and Roundwood, climbing gently all the time, knocking off more punters along the way, passed by only one on the way to Lough Dan. Conor was somewhere behind, and I hadn't seen Andy at all during the start, presumably ahead. Dropped the bike, short run to the lake, and found a partner for the double-kayak. He was from Newry, in his first race. We got around in 20 minutes or so - average enough. Wet feet and ar*se now, back on the bike and a big climb to get back on the main road. 3 hours is looking very do-able now, so eased off a bit, taking it in and enjoying it.

Aroused from my day-dreaming by someone roaring my name from behind, WTF? Conor, back from the dead and flying. He reckoned he had chipped away and taken out about 55 racers, so I had to lift the pace to stay with him - he faded on the climbs, giving me a chance. But it was going to be close. 5km to go, so we made a pact to cross the line together (!). Someone might have died otherwise. We picked off a few more, really gunning, in fact Conor reckons he took his 60th "customer" just before the finish. He was cramping up now, so I waited for him on the run over the line, and we "dibbed" together. Finishing in 2:42, wow.

Andy (& Jill n Billie) there to greet us. He was looking fresh... having finished 20 minutes earlier - in fact he thought he might have been 3rd, holy f*ck!!! A scorching day now, and we enjoyed the next hour chatting, getting some sun, food and drink laid on.

The Post Mortem

Andy missed the awards ceremony, which was a bit of a pity because it turns out he actually won the Sport event!!! It seems everyone around when he finished knew this, except for him. Conor and I were most pleased with 25th (out of 200) - final breakdown by category still unknown.

Massive respect to Andy for winning - not beating him was a blow of course, but knowing he beat everyone else too softens it somewhat. And huge kudos to Conor too, an incredible effort to knock off 60 racers and a very respectable placing, with only 2 weeks notice before the race.

The best organised race I've ever entered, certainly the most fun, the most amazing setting, and my best finish by a long way. The same lads are organising another similar race in Glenmalure in September next, they've set the bar high.

Drove home to the girls to spend a sunny afternoon hanging out at a neighbourhood BBQ. A perfect day. Print this post


Martino said...

Brilliant Dave, it sounds very like the First Monster up at Loch Ness, but harder! My 18th April, up at 5.30am,bikes packed up and on the road by 6.30, 4h20min riding and 1100 meters of ascent later we pulled into Boquete, beautiful mountain village in Panama. Going to hike up Volcan Baru tomorrow and sleep there overnight, catch the sunrise and hopefully see both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines :)

harty said...

Dave, all I can say is a huge well done to you and the lads. It sounds like it was a great event and the weather really held up for it. I'll sort out this leg and aim for September. Sorry I missed it.

board tc said...

I'm completely blown away Dave! Congratulations on coming in the top eighth of the field - really superb. Andy won it!! Wow. Well here's the results in black and white.

mcdaid said...

Incredible Dave - numbers show you paced it perfectly. Old head on young legs.

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