Monday, August 23, 2010

Gael Force West Adventure Race 2010

Last years Gael Force race was my first attempt at adventure events and I had a blast so I had some idea of what to expect.

As usual for these events I travelled with my good mate Kevin. We arrived to Westport on Friday afternoon, booked into the campsite at Westport House and also booked a motorhome bay for Damo, Joyce and Susan, who were arriving later that evening. We were told we could pitch our tent (the new huge 8 man one) beside the campervan bay, which worked out well for the rest of the weekend.
Myself and Kev then headed off to Lenane to register and then on to the Delphi centre to drop off our bikes, It was all well organised and went without a hiccup.

I wanted to have a look at the new part of the cycle route, I had heard on that the surface was rough. As we drove along the cycle route memories were flooding back from last years event, I had thoroughly enjoyed this bike stage and was eagerly awaiting a repeat the following day.

I was totally dumbfounded when I saw the new section, who in their right mind would ride a road bike over this rubble, it was an unsurfaced bog road with nothing but loose gravel and rocks. I was lost for words and kept repeating "this is nuts, they can't be serious". I was so looking forward to the bike stage and then they go and pull this stunt, WTF. I must admit that I considered pulling out after seeing this "road", anyway it put me in bad form for a while.
The guys arrived later that evening and I brought them and out to the Delpi to drop their bikes. It was dark by the time we arrived and it was weird seeing thousands of bikes packed into two fields, I've never seen so many bikes in one place before. Then back to the campsite for a massive 4 hours sleep.

Kevin, Damo and myself were on the 5.00am bus, yes, you read correctly 5.00am. Fair play to Joyce who got up early to drop us to the bus, this saved a 30 minute walk.

Unlike last year the journey to the starting point was in total darkness. It was still dark as we left the bus to walk to the starting point.

There was a bit of craic as we waited for the off, the usual nervous pre-race tension was evident but it wasn't long before we were given a safety briefing and made our way to the starting point on the beach.

The start was a mad scramble from the beach through the dunes and onto the road, the first section was uphill so some heavy breathing can be expected, usually that settles down after a short while.
I wasn't feeling very comfortable on the run and noted that my heart rate was very high for the pace we were doing. I ran alongside Kevin on a couple of occasions, we exchanged a few words but we both had our own race to run.

The route had been changed from last year, this meant an extra 2k on the run but we didn't have to run cross-country over a hill/mountain. I hoped that the new route would be reasonably even but it was muddy and rocky, difficult to negotiate, the type of terrain that I really struggle on. I was passed by plenty of runners along here. Once I reached a stile - where last years track joins the famine path - the ground evened out somewhat, I started to get into some sort of rhythm.

I don't know why I felt so bad on the run, maybe it was the dry ham & cheese sandwich I had on the bus or the dirty big burger and chips I had for a late dinner the evening before, whatever the reason I seriously doubted that I would be able to finish the race, hours still to go and feeling like crap.
Along Killary fjord on the Famine path I began to feel somewhat better and settled in behind 2 lads at a pace that felt comfortable, I stayed with them until the kayak transition.
Stage 1 Run completed in 1.16.25

Because I started in the first wave the kayak stage was not timed out so it was grab a buoyancy aid and straight into a boat. A guy asked me to partner him, I asked him if he paddled, he said he did so I told him to take the back seat - something of a mistake I think, we zig zagged across the fjord. I was getting some mild cramp at the top of my thighs, I was praying that I wouldn't go into spasm. Despite our erratic course we made the kayak stage in reasonable time.
Stage 2 Kayak completed 9.23.

The run from the fjord to the bike transition was uneventful, with the exception of stopping when I realised my garmin watch was only displaying the actual time and not any of the other functions, this freaked me, no stop watch, no heart rate, no pace, no distance, anyway I couldn't fix it.I fell in behind the same two lads for the run into Delphi
Stage 3 Run completed 19.54

I took my time at the bike transition, getting a drink and some food while sorting my gloves, helmet etc. passed a few words with Kevin as he was heading off.

I took a steady pace, using the bike for recovery, I passed some competitors along the way, I was passed by 2 guys in a short space of time but kept in touch with them, eventually passing both again. We swapped places several times, I dropped them before the main road, I did see one of them later on Croagh Patrick, the poor chap was having trouble with cramp.

I bumped into my 2 running companions on the way and it turns out that one of them knew me from a previous job in Dublin years ago, small world.

I enjoyed the cycle until I hit the new "off road" section. I had been dreading this, I dropped into the lowest gear a peddled steadily uphill trying to pick a line through the stones, feeling the back wheel slip and slide while roughly bumping along the track was pure abuse of a road bike. The strong head wind didn't help me feel any better. Uphill was bad but the downhill was worse, how I didn't have a spill is still something of a mystery to me. There was a short surfaced section then back to the rocky stuff, this time with a gusting cross wind, that made for some bum clenching moments. To say that I was happy to reach the Croagh Patrick transition is probably the understatement of the year.
Stage 4 Bike completed 1.37.26

The options at the start of the Croagh Patrick climb are the zig zag path which is longer but less steep or head directly up the mountain to the pilgrims path which is a lung buster of a climb. This year I chose the zig zag, I managed to get to the Pilgrims path without too much heartache but then the fun started.

The path consists of various sized rocks, stones and pebbles. At times I was taking 1 step forward and sliding 1/2 step back. I was really tired, it felt like I was getting nowhere. I'd love to know how all those little old dears manage to get to the top of the mountain to say prayers. I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath but did my best to keep moving. I spotted Kevin bouncing down and got some video of his goat like descent.
At last the summit, I checked my watch and noted that it was only 6 minutes since I'd passed Kevin - not bad, certainly better than last year. I asked some bloke to take my photo then set off on the descent.
Stage 5 Run/walk/climb completed 46.28

This is the part that I'm really, really bad at. I had decided to try to get down the mountain at a reasonable speed so off I set at a slipping, sliding, hopping type of jog. That lasted all of about 100 yards before I realised that I was very likely to face plant into the rocks so I tip toed along the path until I cut off to take the shorter route back through the heather.

I had been thinking that if I saw Damo soon he would very likely overtake me on the downhill as he's a bit of a downhill junkie. Next thing I hear "Hay Casso" and there was Damo pushing up the mountain - more video here, soon to be on youtube.

The heather/bog part is like a series of steps with hidden leg eating holes again it's not exactly a favourite of mine. I angled down and across the mountainside all the while heading for the flat(ish) ground near the transition area. I was leading with my right leg, on several occasions I went over on my ankle, nothing too serious but annoying all the same, once I took a full on tumble and rolled a couple of times down the hill, before I came to a stop I was wondering if mountain rescue would be able to find me if I got the dreaded lower leg injury, anyway all was well and I made it to the road in one piece.
Stage 6 Run/slide/fall completed 31.46

On the run across the road to where my bike was parked had me feeling like my legs belonged to someone else, a really strange feeling that lasted until I got on my bike.

At last the final stage. I cycled downhill enjoying the speed but soon had to take a left turn onto the final off road section. Like the previous off road section it was a case of selecting a low gear and picking a route through the rocks and mud. At one point I was cycling along a narrow strip of grass and mud at the edge of the track just inches from a large ditch, I remember thinking to myself that if I fell to my right it would not be a pleasant experience. With some wobbling and plenty of luck I reached the top of the hill. The track was in a slightly better condition than last year and I was hoping that I may be able to cycle the remaining part but there were 2 or 3 sections on the downhill that would have been nuts to cycle on a road bike - I found out later that Damo had cycled the whole track at speed ... nutter! - I dismounted and ran these parts. Heading downhill to the last bad section I noticed a cyclist receiving medical treatment at the edge of the path, I was so in my own head that I only spared a passing glance at this poor competitor. Because the cyclist was surrounded by medical personal I only glimpsed them fitting a neck brace but I hadn't noticed any other details.
I was some yards past the accident just about to remount my bike when I had a horrible thought "could that have been Kevin" I started back up the path to try to find out, I saw a white bike - same colour as Kevin's - Jesus, that's not good. I couldn't make any details of the competitor because of the medics, then I got a glimpse of a jersey, different colour to Kevins, thank jaysus for that. Back on the bike.
Just as the track joins the road there was a group of supporters, mostly kids. I shouted as I approached them "Am I winning ? ". I had a good chuckle when one of them shouted back "Yeah, you're doing great"
Although I was now on "proper" road the surface was wet with plenty of loose gravel so I was on the brakes for most of the downhill. I was so happy to get onto the main road, nearly there now, like last year I totally enjoyed the cycle to Westport Quay.
The route change at the finish involved hopping onto a footpath, cycling along a grass/mud path and rejoining the road via a timber ramp. Just after I left the ramp another cyclist came alongside me. Oh no you don't, I stood on the peddles, got out of the saddle and did my best Sean Kelly impression, I opened a gap on the guy and pushed on to the final transition area. This was a field where I dropped my bike and headed through a gate for the final run to the finish.
What a sting in the tail. After over 5 hours of running and cycling the last thing the poor legs needed was a 800 meter run on a rough track. The finish line looked miles away. Getting closer, getting closer. At last over the line, no idea of my time since my watch had stopped working. I was pleasantly surprised to be handed a printout with my finish time and splits.
Stage 7 Cycle/short run completed 38.56

Overall time 5.20.18
Finishing position 383

I was highly annoyed that there were no sports drinks available at the finish. The entry fee is steep enough just to receive a T-shirt and water from a 1000 ltr industrial container, I even had to argue with some woman who was dispensing soup to get a cup for a drink of water. That's another thing, I don't know about other people but the last thing I want after a long race is soup.

Kevin and myself were waiting to cheer Damo on when he arrived behind us already finished. We headed off for some food and a well earned few pints, we even managed to get some sleep before we went back down to the finish line to meet Joyce and Susan. The girls had started in one of the later waves and finished together in a very impressive time.
We went into one of the local pubs for food and drink. We had a good bit of craic swapping stories from the days events and finished the night with a few beers back at the motorhome.

Decision time for me now. I can train hard for running and cycling but I'll always lose huge chunks of time on the cross-country/downhill sections. Should I practice for these and risk injury to gain some minutes or should I skip the adventure races and concentrate fully on road running with some cycling. I'll defer that decision for now but I'll have to decide soon.

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Unknown said...

Hi Chris

Came across you by chance via Boards. We chatted on the Sunday for a before you helped pack up the tent. I was in caravan opp you with mate's van beside you. Anyways, fancy seeing you here! Enjoying the blog. That's a whole lotta events you've been doing. Inspired to do the Dublin marathon upon reading it. I've been fence sitting on that particular notion for a wee while. Would like a sub 4 hr before turning 40. Would be a certain ring to it from where I'm standing.

All the best with your decision and thanks for the words and pics.

Chris Cassidy said...

Hi JP, Thanks for the comments.
I guess you were the chap with the cute baby in a buggy.
If you can complete Gael Force you can do a sub 4 marathon with the right training. Dublin is a fantastic marathon with loads of supporters along the route. You'll love it.
Best of luck.

Paul Kelly said...

Hi Chris
I enjoyed your report - it's very comprehensive and entertaining. Thanks for your comment on my blog too. Looking at your splits, I can see wher I could easily have made up time - maybe not quite to your level, but definitely to 5.30 or thereabouts, with better information/experience of what the course was like. Good luck with the rest of your events!