This is Kate’s race report from #BeastofBallyhoura. Enjoy…
Wednesday: The calm before the storm …
I was the first TriHarder to arrive in Limerick on Tuesday so I picked up our summary books and house keys and while I was waiting for the others to arrive, I bumped into Sinead from Team ARSE. It was good to have a little chat and I think we were both eager to get started. I didn’t feel nervous but when I saw the outline plan of the stages my brain went into overdrive planning what food I’d need and when and when I’d need a change of clothes and how would I keep my feet as dry as possible.
Outline of the route stages
With all these thoughts and plans zooming around my head, I didn’t sleep very well on Tuesday night and in the early hours of the morning I decided it would be a good idea to start dividing my food and clothes into dry bags for different stages. Sean swears he heard a mouse but I think he was just hallucinating. Pre-race anxiety and all that! Mike was going for a swim at 7a.m. and when Sean decided to go, I went too. It was fun swimming in the 50m pool with the swim group. Mike put us in the slow lane but after the warm up we were downgraded to the snail lane, where we fitted right in. Sean was leading and I went second. It was funny to watch Sean’s kick go into overdrive when I ‘accidentally’ tipped his toes several times! We had to leave before the set finished though in order to get to registration at 9a.m. and get our team photos taken by Valerie O’ Sullivan.
Team Photo (Valerie O’ Sullivan)
After we had eaten breakfast we did our rope skills test with the army guys and the rest of the morning was spent packing boxes and getting our stuff organised and labelled and brought down to the PESS hall in UL. The excitement was raised a notch in the afternoon when we all gathered to get the maps and hear the race briefing from Ivan. Last year we only got one map at the start and we had to mark up the others in transition. It was a bit rushed and it was nice this year to head back to our house with the 16/17 maps and pore over them at our leisure so that we all had a good idea of the planned route.
Mike and Sean plotting the route
After a yummy dinner in the Sports Pavillion with the other teams we finished off the last of our packing and then headed to our comfy beds for the last big sleep!
Thursday: Sometimes the river sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere ….
At 4:30 a.m. the alarm went off. I got a good night’s sleep and although I felt refreshed and ready to go, my head was a bit fuzzy so I took 2 paracetamol. We had to get the sportident dibbers secured around our wrists before we got on the buses. The gps tracker was attached to my bag because Mike was going to have to swim with it in the coasteering sections and my bag was the smallest and lightest. The tracker was lunchbox sized and sat on the strap just below my left shoulder but it was quite comfortable. At 5:30 the buses were filled and we set off in a convoy of 4 buses to Curraghmore house in Portlaw, Co. Waterford.
Photo curraghmorehouse.ie, the courtyard
This great house was built in 1205 and has seen its fair share of trials and tribulations so the courtyard front was a suitable starting point for the Beast! At 8:35, Ivan the race director sent 50 teams containing some of the best adventure racers in Europe on their merry way, with the simple proviso that we were to be back in Kilfinane by 8:35 on Sunday!
Stage 1: 20k trek (2:18 hr)
As is normal even in 72hr races there was a mad rush out of the courtyard. I wasn’t feeling brilliant and I had no intention of going any faster than a slow jog. I could have done with a leash around the lads for the first couple of miles but after a bit it all settled down and we kept to our strategy of walking the uphills and jogging on the flats and downs. We had to run along an old railway at one stage and it was hard going because the stones weren’t very nice to run on and the wooden slats were too close for an ordinary stride. I was really happy to finish this stage and jump into the kayaks. Unfortunately before we got into the kayaks they had to be dragged down a deep muddy bank. I was up to my waist in mud near the river and it was hard to wash off although Sean and Shane had no problems because in what can only be described as a ‘deja-vu’ they capsized their boat. Is this a TriHarder initiation ceremony?? I think it might be!
Stage 2: 9k river kayak (1:16hr)
It seemed longer than 75 minutes at the time. I think we were kayaking well though and we passed a couple of teams. We tried to keep the two boats together as much as possible and it seemed to work well. Mike was having a bit of trouble with his glute cramping and I forgot to put sun cream on so we were both glad to reach the quayside in Waterford. We pulled the boats up the quays and after I had changed back into my runners from the neoprene booties we set off on foot into the city
Stage 3: 5k orienteering (0:31hr)
Boy was this fun. We all looked like tramps but I looked like I’d been rolling around in a mud bath and the looks we got from people! Sean was on nav and we flew through the 3 controls taking an amusing short cut back through the shopping centre on the return leg to the boats. I changed my shoes again and we filled up our water bottles from the tap on the quays and then it was back into the boats for the next kayak
Stage 4: 32k kayak (shortened) (6:17)
This was a brute. Once we left the quays the tide picked up and the waves were carrying us in a different direction to the one we wanted. I was drinking electrolytes and eating and I got a good chunk of protein into me with some protein bar I picked up in the supermarket. It actually tasted ok too which was a bonus. We were working really hard to keep the boats balanced and moving forwards but in spite of this I was getting cold from being constantly hit by waves. Mike was still having problems with his glute cramping so after what felt like an eternity but was maybe only 4 hours, a team decision was made to pull over on to one of the small beaches to rest, refuel and get the waterproofs on. I felt so much better after this and Mike and I hugged the coastline until we got to the next control point. It was great to pull in and trot up to the control and even better to hear that the kayak had been shortened due to the bad weather conditions. This meant that instead of travelling further down the coast we could cut across and while it was still hard work it was a hell of a lot easier. We swopped pairs and I teamed up with Sean for the paddle back to Tramore. We then had an 8k run to do to get back to the transition area before we started the coasteering section.
Stage 5: Coasteering + swim
We got into our wetsuits, grabbed our goggles and our helmets and put my rucksack into a dry bag so that Mike could swim with it. The water was beautifully clear but it was a bit cold. The swimming was nice at first but after a while it got more difficult what with the pfd’s and the helmets and the runners. We got the first check point and then climbed up to jump off the cliff. I had a quick look down and it was a long way!! Shane was in front of me and he jumped immediately and without hesitation and then before I had time to consider my options I was jumping too.
Photo Valerie O’Sullivan: Teams lined up to jump
I should have kept my arms crossed because my right hand got smacked off the water a bit. A few more rocky sections followed. On one of these Mike started to cramp really badly. I missed it because I had swum ahead to the next beach where the control point was. The French team who were behind us at this point told me that Mike had cramped and while I was waiting for them I got chatting to one of a local woman who had brought her grandchild down to the beach and was intrigued by all the action. When the others arrived, Mike seemed ok. He didn’t look great but he was ready to swim to the next beach to finish the coasteering section. We headed up to transition then where we were told that the next coasteering section was cancelled so no need to wear our wetsuits on the bikes. We got changed into dry clothes and started to assemble the bikes and get some more food in. Conor made a surprise appearance here. It was lovely to see him and as official TriHarder photographer he got some nice shots of us before we headed out on the long overnight bike.
Photo Conor Brady: TriHarder at the end of Day 1
Stages 6 – 9: 80k bike + transition + abseil (10:20hr)
We had decided to skip the orienteering section in the middle of this and the coasteering section had been cancelled as it was too dangerous. That meant we had to cycle down to the coast to get one of the checkpoints that we should have got while coasteering and it turned into quite a long night bike. I can’t remember much else about it to be honest. Mike was on the nav and was doing an excellent job and I think this is where we stopped for a 15 minute nap underneath somebodies hedge. It must have been dry because we just lay down on the bothy and I put my safety blanket over us. It took 2 minutes out of our sleeping time to unwrap the blanket much to the annoyance of Shane!!! At the next transition point in Kilmacthomas we dropped our bikes and put on our climbing gear and then we headed up to the top of the railway viaduct to abseil down. We were one of the last teams to do this and the army guys who were supervising us had been there for the last 18 hours waiting for teams to arrive. It must have been between 5 and 5:30a.m when we did this because it was still dark but the dawn was breaking and it was a lot of fun!
Photo: geography.org.uk Kilmacthomas railway viaduct
Friday: Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory
Friday morning was the massive hike a bike. Bleugh is all I have to say. It was so difficult and endless and soul destroying dragging the bike up over huge rocks. Up up and up. Shane took my bike for a while to give me a break but even still not too far from the top I started to feel really faint and we had to stop for a couple of minutes while I took an emergency gel. I think it was more a combination of the massive exertion, fatigue and the altitude rather than hypoglycaemia and I felt much better after the gel and the drink and the rest. When we got to the top we weren’t even rewarded with a nice long, fast descent. Instead we had to thread our way down through tufts of long grass and gorse and another hike a bike up a steep road before we were finally on our way to transition. Transition was in a community hall and there was a separate astro turf pitch available for us to sleep on. Best of all was the hot water which meant we could make tea and coffee and I made up the ration pack of beef shepherd’s pie that I had. I couldn’t get it to blend together very well but it was hot and filling and it filled a hole. The lads had gone for a sleep as soon as they were fed and I joined them soon after. I had a big jacket in my kit bag that I put on but the astro hall was still very cold and while the boys slept for an hour or so, I’d say I only slept for about half an hour. I started filling all the bladders and the bottles with water while I was waiting and once the lads were ready we set off with our bike helmets for the next section in the Comeragh mountains.
Stage 10: 50k? Hike + Transition (14:45 hr)
All mountains are lovely places when the weather is nice and I’m sure the Comeragh Mountains are no exception but last Friday if there was a hell on earth, the Comeraghs were it. We got the first 3 checkpoints in 3 and a half hours which was good enough progress but then the mist descended and the visibility was crap. Mike had a small magnetic clasp on his rucksack which demagnetised one compass and reversed the poles on the other and unfortunately we didn’t realise this until we were well lost. The underfoot conditions were hard going and it was difficult to pick up much speed. My only consolation at the time was that it wasn’t as bad as the Wicklow Rogaine. At least we weren’t going over on our ankles and falling into bog holes! As the mist descended and the night wore on it started to get very cold. Shane gave me his extra jacket because I was starting to shiver violently. We had to stop frequently to check the nav and progress was slow. Eventually we made it over to where the checkpoint should have been. We were in the right area but we couldn’t find it and the decision was made to just get down off the mountain. With the compasses out of action we had to employ some savvy team work to ensure we were going in the right direction. It was slow and tedious and I think if we could have just curled up in a hole we would have but finally we started to make progress and although we still had a bit of a trek ahead of us at least we were going in the right direction. We had been wandering around for the bones of eight hours and by the time we made it back to transition we were cold, tired, hungry and despondent. The Beast had almost broken us! Mike decided that we needed a good sleep (~3hrs!) so once we were fed (hot chocolate and porridge for me) we lay down on the astro turf for some well needed rest. We used the safety blankets to keep us a bit warmer and we had a good sleep. It would be a lie to say we woke feeling energetic and refreshed but we were feeling a hell of a lot better than we did on the Comeraghs anyway. We had a chat and the consensus was that we’d see how the next bike went but that we’d probably be as well off skipping the Galtees.
Saturday: It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves
Stage 12: 75k Bike + Transition (10:25hr)
At around 3a.m on Saturday morning we got back on the bikes to head towards the next controls. We had decided to skip Stage 11, an 8/25/40km bike/kayak/bike to give us enough time to collect the bigger value points 0n the bike and maybe one or two controls in the Galtees. This stage went very well for us. The sun was out again and Mike was rocking it on the nav (ably assisted by Sean and Shane). I really enjoyed this. We spent a lot of time in the forestry around the East Munster Way, there was a small bit of hike a bike and a bit of trails, we were flying through the controls and having a lot of fun. The best part of this bike was stopping in Newcastle for ham and cheese and crisp sandwiches with coffee and a sit down on some benches. I stocked up on chocolate bars as well!! We arrived back in transition maybe not quite full of the joys of life, but definitely in a way better place than we had been leaving it.
Stage 13: 5k Bike + 30k? Trek (6:54 hr)
The next transition was in Kingsbarn at the foot of the Galtees. We dropped the bikes next to a large bale of straw and had a look at the maps. Initially we were just going to get one of the controls, maybe two but it was an absolutely beautiful day and we decided to head for the first one and take it from there. Sean was on nav and with the visibility being excellent he assured us that a straight line approach up the mountains was the way to go. He gave Mike and I, his trekking poles and I am now a trekking pole convert. They make life so much easier when you’re tired!! We climbed up Galtymore from the South side taking a direct line. It was pretty steep in places but no way as difficult as the Comeraghs and the views more than made up for any hardship that we suffered and Sean took my bag to make it easier for me.
Photo Valerie O Sullivan, View over the Galtees
Once we reached the top of Galtymore in good time and without too much hardship, the spirits of the whole team lifted and we decided to get the other 3 x 1000 point controls on the Galtees. On the way down from Galtymore I think was where we bumped into Rob Howard from Sleepmonsters and his photographer. He was asking us about out plans and teasing us because we were in such good form. We climbed up and down another 2 peaks but I’m not sure of their names, collecting control points on each one and then we contoured around to collect the CP on the big tree. The ground was lovely to walk on even with blistered feet and I think we’d all agree that this was one of the best stages by far. When we came down off the Galtees it was about 8PM and although we had originally planned to have a little break, we decided to just keep going
Photo Rob Howard, TriHarder on the Galtees
Sunday: Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.
Stages 13 – 16: Bike Kilbehenny -> Ardpatrick (5:10 hr)
It was getting dark as we started out for this. Mike was on nav and it was tricky as we were only allowed to use local roads or we would be penalised. After a couple of hours it started to rain and it kept raining till the end. We had to keep the pace slow and stop at juctions to make sure we were on the right track. We were all tired and after a while Mike handed over the nav to Sean to get a break. We were nearly in Ardpatrick now and we just had to figure out how to get onto the trails using the local roads. We went north and came round in a circle and ended up heading up the Blackrock, where we used to gallop the horses. This brought us out onto the trails and down into the car park where we dibbed in. We changed the batteries in our head lights and I got my chocolate fix from the vending machine and then it was off to the trails. We had decided just to do the green trail loop as we were all tired and we still had a long hike to get back to Kilfinane. We got the loop done in under an hour with no major incidents apart from Sean nearly falling down a gully, then it was back to the car park where the boys packed away the bikes and I tried and failed to get some compeed to stick to my blisters.
Stage 17: 12k trek to finish (2:29 hr)
I was so, so happy to be setting off on this trek. It follows the same route as the mountain marathon. Happy memories. We did a slow jog for the first couple of k which slowed to a walk as we went through some deep mucky ground. Mike was sleepy and I’d say probably fit to throttle me with something because I never shut up the whole way home. He picked up a bit after we force fed a couple of gels into him. I thought we’d be cutting down onto the Mitchelstown road like we did for the marathon but instead we had to continue straight through a couple of fields. Mike and I were trying to scramble out through a ditch until Shane gave a yell to say we should be on the other side of the field. We came out into a passageway at the back of Forest View, very near to where our old house used to be and then it was down the hill, past the Presbyterian Church and under the finish. We ran the last bit!!!
Photo Rob Howard: TriHarder at the Finish!!
Four very happy racers! We finished 29/50. 6th Irish team. Next up Itera 2016!!!
Massive thanks to Ivan and his team of volunteers for a superbly run event, to Ivan’s sister for the wondrous and delicious Beast cake, to all my friends and family for the well wishes and for listening to constant Beast chatter for the last six months, to Claire and Ian for my supply of base layers, to Conor for meeting us in transition, to Paul for teaching me how to swim properly and getting me swim fit, to Valerie and Rob for the photos and the laughs and most of all thanks to my team mates Mike, Sean and Shane. Three of the soundest guys you will ever meet. They pushed me up hills, they pushed me down hills, they carried my bag and my bike, they fed me and force fed me and they made me laugh until my sides ached. Thanks guys!