Monday, September 13, 2010

Achill Roar Adventure Race 2010

While tramping up a mountain on Saturday I realised I was reciting in my mind the words of the Nine Inch Nails song made famous by the late, great Johnny Cash, Hurt. "I hurt myself today to see if I still feel I focus on the pain the only thing that's real"
Although I wasn't actually in pain as such, I think it gives an indication of my mental state at that time.
I asked myself, not for the first time, why I was doing another adventure race, running, kayaking and cycling. It's not like I'm any good at them. When it comes to road running I'm a mid pack runner at best and I do OK for my age group but one of the things that I'm totally rubbish at is off road running. Going up hill is bad enough but I'm completely terrible at downhill off road running. As for kayaking, I'm more likely to swim than paddle so not exactly my strongest sport. I'm a fair cyclist, I wouldn't last 10 miles in a race, even a vets one but in these races I seem to do reasonably well in the cycling sections.
So here I was on the side of a windswept wondering what the hell I was doing, maybe I'll have an answer by the time I finish the race !

Achill Roar is the best adventure race that I've done, everything about it is incredible, the scenery, the course, the organisation, the whole setup just floats my boat. For those reasons I'd been looking forward to this event for some time.

I set off for Achill with my son on Friday afternoon, I was disappointed that my usual companion Kevin had to withdraw at the last minute. For the previous couple of weeks I would on occasions point at my back and tell Kevin that's what he would be seeing in Achill. We both knew this wasn't going to happen but I enjoyed the slagging.
We arrived at Keel on Achill after a six hour drive - the only major drawback about this event - we set up the huge 8 man tent, finishing the setup by torchlight and went to the Achill Head Hotel for race registration. We had a meal there and went back to hook up with Damo, Joyce and their kids who had just arrived in a campervan. In bed by 12 with the alarm set for 8.00 am, a much more civilised time than the 3.30 am of the Gael Force race 3 weeks previously.

The starting area was directly across from the entrance to the campsite, just a short stroll from our tent. Accompanied by Christopher,I dropped my bike over and still had time to go back to the tent to pick up a drink.
Following a briefing from one of the race organisers we were off.

A short run to the kayak stage was enough to tell me the legs were not at their best but it was early days and things change.
I was lucky to partner up with a French guy called Joe who was a strong paddler, he kept our kayak on course and if truth was told probably did the lions share of the work - thanks Joe.
Forgot to mention that when I hopped into the kayak first I was so intent on setting a good rhythm that I wasn't paying much attention to anything else until Joe said in his French accent "you 'ave your paddle backwards" DOH !!!
As we neared the finish I spotted Christopher taking photos, it was brilliant to have him there.
For some reason the kayak stage nearly killed me, as people were throwing their buoyancy aids in a pile and running off, I was leaning my hands on knees talking to Christopher. Eventually I set off at a gentle jog. I bumped into one of the Boardsies along here when I was recognised by GeoffOnTour. We exchanged a few words before he moved ahead to the next transition.

>>> Totally wrecked after kayak >>>>>

Stage 1: Kayak, run to lake and back
Time: 27.28
Stage position: 64
Overall position: 64

I went to my bike, started to put on my cycling helmet and for a moment wondered why there were so many people running out of the transition area without their bikes. It's bad enough trying to paddle a kayak with the paddle backwards but to try to get on my bike for the run stage was weird to say the least.
After a short distance the run turned onto Keel beach. My legs felt like lumps of lead, they just wouldn't move. I got pains down the outside of both shins (shin splints ?) and both calves were tight and painful. I was thinking this was going to be one long day.
I watched two people in front of me crossing a knee deep torrent flowing into the sea, wow, it looked mad, I whipped out my camera and waited for the two people behind me to pass so I could video their crossing.
A flat bog section led onto the mountain, a mixture of walking and jogging kept me going upwards. When looking at this mountain from Keel a spectacular steep cliff can be seen and if you look closely enough you can just make out the line of the track clinging above the cliffs. It was on this piece of track that I had my Johnny Cash moment. Just after this while trying to cross a small stream my left leg disappeared knee deep into a bog hole, the guy behind me called a warning to the people behind him, I was glad that there were actually people behind me.
The course went down hill for a distance and then leveled out somewhat along a short loop, this brought me to the final steep climb to the summit. I realised that my legs felt ok, although I wasn't going fast I wasn't losing as much ground to the competitors ahead.
There was a heavy shower of rain as I ascended towards the mountain top. The wind was so strong that the rain was driving horizontally. I remember looking at the rain bouncing off my left arm and thinking that short sleeves were probably not the best option but I couldn't be bothered to put a jacket on. At last I reached the checkpoint.

Stage 2: Run to summit
Time: 1.18.12
Stage position: 150
Overall position: 137

At the summit I asked a marshall to take some gels and bars from the back pocket of my bag, I just didn't want to take my bag off. I noticed the next competitor looking very hard in my direction. I caught up with him shortly afterwards and he nervously asked me if I had just had a kit inspection, I guess he wasn't carrying all his mandatory kit, bold boy.
The run to the mast access road was reasonably level if rocky and boggy, a short trot along the road then a sharp left down the mountainside. The surface was step like bog covered in short heather with the odd stony patch. I was almost enjoying myself running down this, a few slips and trips were all that happened on the descent. The ground levels off as you approach the beach.
There is a run over a section of large rounded pebbles. Last year the run over these pebbles was longer and somewhat torturous as your feet can't get a good purchase, it's a bit like running in deep, lumpy sand, totally energy sapping and after running up and down a mountain it's the last thing you would want to run on. Thank goodness it was shorter this year, just 20 or thirty yards and it was on to the beach.
There was a couple of fast running streams flowing across the beach but otherwise I found it quite pleasant. My legs were tired but moving, I actually closed the gap on some runners ahead.
I was horrified when I glanced at my watch to see that my heart rate was in the late 170's/ early 180's. This was way too high for the speed I was travelling at. I felt for the heart rate monitor strap and noticed that it had slipped a little from my chest. I wriggled it back into place and was relived to see my HR drop to a more sustainable rate 150ish.
I could see the line of runners further along the beach turning in through a gap in the dunes and towards the bike transition area. I was delighted that I didn't have run an extra out and back along the beach as we had to do last year.

Stage 3: Run from summit
Time: 35.44
Stage position: 143
Overall position: 133
I took an eternity in the bike transition. I drank what remained of the drink in my backpack, I swallowed down a nutri-grain bar, then did the strangest thing. I had run through bogs, I had been knee deep in water, my cross-trainers are Gortex lined so the hold water very efficiently so basically I was soaking wet up to my knees. While changing into my cycling shoes I struggled to maintain my balance on one leg so I wouldn't put my sock on the damp grass... I need help !!

The start of the bike stage is flatish and is followed by a few miles of up hill. I was spinning well, I took a gel and plenty of liquid, passed some other cyclists - I think most were from the shorter sports course - I was amazed to realise that I was still on the big ring as I crested the hill, at that point I should have realised that there was probably a reason for me speeding along so comfortably but I was actually enjoying myself so I didn't analyse it too intently.
I passed the turn for the sports course so if I managed to overtake anyone from this point on I would improve my overall placing. Heading for Achill Sound favoured downhill and I hit some nice speeds, I caught 3 or 4 people before the right turn off the main road. The cyclists were well strung out, I was happy to glimpse someone ahead of me, at least I was closing in on one more competitor. The road takes a sharp left and meanders along by the coast, a beautiful section, I even took some video cycling along this part of the course.
I knew that there were two steep hills ahead so I was trying to keep something in the tank. I had caught a few more bikes, one just as we turned right at a T junction. Bang, as soon as I made the turn I was hit with a wall of wind. Oh no ! There was absolutely no shelter to be found, the road twists along exposed to the Atlantic gales. Some ups and downs brought me to the base of the first of the larger climbs, some of the competitors were walking parts of this. Much to my relief it was way easier than I remembered it from last year.
A marshall was waiting at the top with a dibber receiver (electronic check point) in each hand. In a similar situation at the Sally Gap during the Wicklow Adventure Race I raised my hand with the dibber (chip worn on wrist) on it and the marshall moved to that side, when I reached him he ran alongside me, helped with the dibber and then, God bless him, gave me a big push up the hill.
The chap here wasn't as efficient so I had to stop to be sure of registering at this check point.
He told me that "there was a steep downhill coming up" For some reason I found his choice of word hilarious and with what I thought of, at the time, as rapier like wit I asked him if he meant "a steep up hill coming down". Told you my head was messed up !!

Stage 4: Bike
Time: 1.04.40
Stage position: 74
Overall position: 105

The sharp descent, with two hairpin bends, was exposed to the gusting wind. Situated in the valley between this hill and the next climb out is a narrow bridge, as I crossed this bridge the wind was blowing me sideways with such violence that I really thought I was going to be knocked off the bike, luckily I remained upright and attacked the next climb with relief. At the top of the hill the road take a very sharp left turn and once again I was into a full on gale force wind.
Pushing on as best as I could I managed to collect another couple of places. At the foot of a short, steep hill I dropped my chain while down gearing, I couldn't get it back on on the move and had to stop, loosing some momentum, otherwise, on this section I was only trying to close the gap to the next cyclists.
I came back out onto the main road just behind two cyclists both women as I soon found out. The wind was playing its part again, making every peddle stroke a grinding effort. I closed the gap to the bike ahead to a couple of yards but didn't make the final push get on the wheel. I'm not sure why, I really could have done with the shelter but in the back of my mind it smacked of cheating. I was going to finish by my own effort.
On what I knew was the final climb, the girl in front of me caught and passed the competitor in front of her, I followed soon afterwards and we exchanged a few words of encouragement.

I could see the crest of the hill, it was all downhill for the last miles to the finish. All around the bike stage I was looking forward to these last miles. Last year this was the most enjoyable section of the whole race, it was a big gear, head down hammerfest, I loved it, so this year as I crested the hill I changed to a big gear and started pushing.
I was gutted when I realised that I wasn't gathering speed, I was going downhill, pushing hard but struggling to keep going, my already tired legs were vigorously complaining about the work I was expecting of them. Damn wind !!!
It was with a sigh of relief that I swung off the main road, across a grass section and dismounted my bike at the transition area. After racking the bike I had a short run to the finish line, I didn't bother to take off my cycling shoes, I'm sure I made some sight waddling to the line. On the way I was delighted to be cheered on by Christopher and the kids.
I checked in at the finish line and wandered in to the marquee where I was given a printout with my time and splits.
I went outside to meet Christopher and the kids. Joyce joined us soon after having completed the sports course and we all waited to cheer Damo in (he had started in the wave after me).
I chatted with a few people at the finishing area and bumped into GeoffOnTour again.

Stage 5: Bike to finish
Time: 53.05
Stage position: 41
Overall position: 85

As for the question I asked myself at the start of this report.
Why do I do these things?
I still don't know, I'll leave the analysing 'till another day............

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