Race Report: The Beast of Ballyhoura, AR European Championships Final 2015
#TriHarderAR Team #47
0-24 hours: The Game Plan and the Fun Bits
Ah back to my old stomping grounds, the University of Limerick. I have many happy memories here and a great place to host the HQ of the Beast of Ballyhoura, AR Euro Series final. There is a lot to be done the days before a multi-day race. Gear checks, bike checks, build bike boxes, prep kit bags and nutrition based on the route schematic for 72hrs, rope skills test, signing your life away etc… It was a busy but relaxed a fun day for the team. The excitement was palpable and the bike p0rn no less emphatic that a triathlon transition set up. It was interesting to see the types of towing rigs, tyre choices, paddle choices and how teams went about their business.
The 2 important meetings were
Ivan the RD
1) The Race briefing. It’s not like the 5-10 minute shout above the crowd before a triathlon. Its 1.5 full hours packed into the Jean Monnet Lecture theatre in front of a giant screen for all the competitors, marshals and RD. Ivan Park had the look of a man who had both worked tirelessly long days and months, yet still had the patience to handle the many questions from the throng of foreign teams. There was just one thing on everyone’s minds. The maps! When presented the team captains formed a mosh in front of the theatre table despite the maps and route book being packed neatly into an individual folder for each team. 16 maps total, plus one more we would receive during the race. The next few hours were all about planning our route and strategy, laminating the maps and getting dinner.
2) The Captains Q&A. Sean finished off the maps while Kate and Shane attended to kit bags and bike down in the PESS hall. I attended the 30 minute Q&A with 49 others plus Ivan and his assistant RD, Mark. I found myself sat beside Sinead from team Arse. She was concerned about the swimming section but I reminded her that she had 3 teammates and her smile returned. The questions were varied and the quick gabble of translating going on around the room constantly tested Ivan patience. A French lad behind me was having difficulty with his northern accent and asked me about the tides in Waterford, “when is a good time to paddle?”… Your choice buddy! I was aware of the penalties for not completing special tasks and for crossing farmland but I had a very specific question about crossing road that were off limits to travel.
Nick Gracie from Adidas Terrex beat me to the punch and asked about an offset (by maybe 100m) “crossroad” somewhere on the main Cork road E30. Could you travel for just 100m and join the road on the other side? No! I asked about a similar shorter junction at the Ballyhoura Mountains and the response was also, No! Ivan basically said that we would have to find another route at these points and crossing farm fields to avoid them was also out of the questions. Both of these roads were on our planned route so I made a note to mark them. Many teams would later fall to penalties on both of these junctions.
With the meetings done, bike and gear loaded onto trucks it was sleep time. Difficult, as the adrenalin was now on overdrive. Our strategy was simple. High Value mandatory checkpoints only and make sure we did all the fun special tasks. We had broken the 72 hours down to 6 sections with checkpoint times for the team. Our progress against that would determine more during the race. I was absolutely determined on this as I felt responsible for making some bad calls last year to go for tough bonuses that, along with Nav errors meant we missed all the fun stuff and were ultimately short coursed. In every way I wanted this to be better. I felt the team deserved better.
0430 race morning and we manage to swallow some coffee and eggs on toast. 4 Buses rocked up in a light mist and packed 200 excited Adventure Racers aboard for a trip to Curraghmore House Estate in Waterford. It was a simply stunning setting for the start of a race and the sun was shining. 0835, High fives, whoops and off we set on an 18km trail run around the grounds of the Estate. It would be easy to think it was just a trail run the way everyone took off “running!” up a hill. We dialled the effort back to a march on hills. Sean was filming with his Garmin VIRB and each of us was a TEN!!!* *We used this numbering system all through the race to guage the spirit of the team. If anyone was a 5/10 or worse, ultimate teamwork kicked in ☺ We started right at the back of the pack but had slowly picked off some teams. There was a section of the run on an old railway line and if you didn’t clear it by 11am you had to run on road. Running on road with a backpack and trail shoes is not fun for the Adventure Racer and it heats your feet up much quicker. It required a short choppy stride to run on the track sleepers but I enjoyed this bit. We passed the Munster Raiders Team, some of who whom I knew. Everyone was in great spirits. We cleared the railway and finished the run after 2hrs 14.
Transition was simply getting the backrest onto the boats and getting on the water, Kate and I in one, Sean and Shane in the other. We had to haul the kayaks down a steep muddy bank. Sean gave his a whoosh and it seems to aquaplane across the knee deep sticky mud and onto the water. Meanwhile I spent 5 minutes dragging ours inch by inch through the mud. We were caked in it stepping into the Kayak. Sean and Shane just decided to flip in and wash themselves to get it over with. This seems to be Sean’s initiation to partnering with him for a paddle ☺ The Munster Raiders had a better transition and were out on the water ahead of us.
The next 1.5 hours was a paddle down the middle of the river, avoiding some spinning eddies, passing a few teams. Personally I went from fat burning to glycogen burning. It just needed a bit more effort to keep up with the 2 boys. Kate was setting a good rhythm and we kept close for the most part. My right hip was a little sore after the trail run and it manifested to glute cramp and tight right hamstring. I had to stretch periodically and should really have eaten while stretching.
We arrived at Waterford to a hive of activity. The top teams had completed their urban orienteering and were flying down the ramp in a hurry to get back on the water. We stood on the pier holding our Kayak waiting for a half dozen teams to be given right of way. We dropped the Kayaks up the ramp and received our orienteering map. Sean took charge and we ran 5km+ around the streets collecting 3,000pts. It involved a run through a park and shopping centre much to the amusement of locals. Did I mention we were RUNNING! Again, in a 72 hour race we were running. This is something the top teams do right? I basically dragged my cramping glute around after the other 3. One of the controls on a Tower was fittingly for Ivan, located in the highest point in the town.
Less than 5 hours done and we were back on the water. People tracking us told we were back in 42nd place at this point. We thought we were moving along nicely! Just shows the pace that teams started out and the general level of competition in the European Championship Final. 67 more hours to go… when would this pace bite?
The next Kayak was the first of 3 ball breakers in the race for the team. It was a 32km paddle down the estuary to the sea and around the headland to Dunmore East. I knew the tide would turn at some point but not as soon as it did. We had about 13km done and had followed the river on to the wide open estuary and busy shipping lane and the going got tough. There was a Ferry crossing to negotiate at Passage East with the Ferry leaving every 15 minutes. You basically had to time it to clear the path as quickly as possible. Once beyond it was a further 6km or so to K4 on a beach. It was a slog, pure and simple.
The tide pulled us right toward the centre and the waves started to brake. A static wave of about 4feet stayed with us for a while and we also had the wake of big boats to negotiate. I saw a boat capsize further to our right (in the strongest flow). There was a coast guard on the river but the guys had flipped the Kayak back over and got back in by the time the CG got to them. Kate and I were shelved and the Boys were feeling it too. We pulled into a rocky beach about 2km shy of the Control to get some layers and gels on. We hugged the coast and took a better line to a tower that indicated the beach was next. Thankfully we pulled into the beach and flopped down. It was a brute of a paddle and we were still some 13km short of Dunmore East. We collected the 1,000pts at K4 before the Marshal told us that “Bad Weather Option B” was being put in place due to the conditions. Boats were now being directed straight across the Estuary to a beach where the remaining 8km to Dunmore East would be done on foot. Sean and I swapped boats and it was in better spirits we paddled the next hour across to the opposite beach.
Any boats behind us were being diverted across short of K4 and we were told only 2 of the leading boats actually got K5 further down the coast. A few other boats that got close to it would be credited with the points but also receive a time penalty. We were just happy to cut the paddling short and collectively went from about a 3 to a 7!
The Nav began once we were on terra firma. We bumped into the Munster Raiders again too. We had passed them on the river but they passed us again while we were on the rocky beach getting warmed up and fed. There were 2 distinct routes to Dunmore East. We opted for the slightly longer but straight forward route vs. the more off road hilly version the other team chose. We hit Dunmore East before them so that worked ☺
The next stage was a run down to a rocky beach entry and coasteering around the coastline. It was a short section with 3,000pts on offer. These were to be gained by clambering over wet rocks and swimming between beaches. We collected the first 2 points on lifebelts and it was fun. We wore wetsuits with PFDs and helmet along with our shoes and bib. Only the bag with the GPS tracker had to be carried so we had that in a dry bag to be attached to the waist and dragged behind the swimmer. Shane took it for the short swims and I was to take it for the second last longer and longest last swim.
C7 was a special task. We had to climb up onto some rocks and jump 25ft into the water below. If you thought about it you would freak out so best to just jump! I knew Enduro both didn’t like swimming and hated heights so I wondered how someone like him got through this. He later told me he simply closed his eyes and had one of his teammates push him! There was a significant point’s penalty for not doing it and his team, Get No Sleep were properly racing at the pointy end. I
managed to have my palms facing toward the water when I jumped so I got a right stinging slap on both hands.
It was nothing compared to the pain clambering over the rocks to C8. My calves locked in a vicious cramp. Normally that’s enough to stop you in your tracks but when I pointed my heel, the shins joined the party. It was excruciating and there was nothing I could do. Shane was in the water already and came over to help. He grabbed my calf to find the trigger point and squeezed as hard as he could. I don’t know if he was under water or what but I was very grateful. After a few painful minutes it eased and I swam very tentatively to C8 and the longer swim to the final beach. Cramps aside, I really enjoyed this stage. It was great fun. We had our first transition with our kit bags and bike boxes next. It involved climbing a hill to get to them of course!
It was in TA4 we learned that the second 6km coasteering section was cancelled. Mainly on account of the brute of a Kayak stage. Teams would now cycle through that stage instead. Brilliant! This had us in great form as darkness began to fall. We fed up, stocked up and put the bike together. We left TA for a long bike after 12 hours racing. Spirits were high and this would prove to be a lucrative and fun section for team #TriharderAR.
We biked down the coast road to collect more points. There were 9,000pts available on the mandatory course back to TA7. B9 and B10 were easy as would B13. We did take a wrong turn to TA5 which was the start of the coasteering section. We were not the only ones to do so. It was only 7 mins lost though so quickly rectified. We dibbed C13 next and my chain broke when I stood up to push straight back up the hill we had just come down. Shane came to the rescue and we fixed it efficiently. We dibbed B14 near Stradbally after a nice full moon lit pedal along the coast, all the while chatting and laughing. It crossed midnight along the way and we were still chirpy and happy after 16 hours racing.
B15 was trickier to find. We cycled past it initially and continued 2km down the coast before I realised we must have passed it. Double back and it was through a hole in a hedge! We hoisted the bikes through to find a sign pointing us to B15 in a tunnel along the tracks. We cycled down to an old tunnel and easily one of my favourite parts of the course so far. We dibbed the control and continued along the eerie solemn tunnel. It felt like something from a Harry Potter movie. B16 was waiting for us on a gate at the end of the tunnel and it was only a few minutes to find B20. We had thought about a bonus control here that would have basically been a 4km climb up a hill and descent straight back down but decided against it. We saw the Comeraghs as potentially our biggest Nav challenge and wanted to get out on them with as much daylight as possible.
From B20 it was a straight shot to Kilmacthomas but it presented the first real critical Nav decision. We were on the bike for the bones of 50km at night when we hit a junction to the main E30 road. It looked a lot like a crossroad on the map and you are allowed to cross over these main roads but not travel along them. When I looked closer it was an offset crossroad and I could see the turn off to Kilmacthomas about 80m down the road to my right. 2 more teams arrived at the scene; a French and Czech team and promptly travelled down the road and turned left onto the Kilmacthomas road. This was exactly the junction that Nick Gracie of Team Adidas Terrex (The winners) had asked at the Q&A briefing. We decided to turn back and reroute an extra 4km or so around to a clear crossroad. I hoped the teams would be penalised and they clearly broke the race rules for a short cut. It turned out that junction was indeed a penalty so we made the right call.
At TA5 we dibbed in to collect our climbing equipment and wondered happily down to the stairs up to the Railway Viaduct. It was a spectacular night. Some light clouds shrouding a massive full moon. The army were on hand to ensure we were strapped in before we threw ourselves off a 100ft height. The first 10ft were off a wall then a clear drop for the rest. It was relatively quick but I loved it and the brake from the biking. So far so good. It was about 0430, about 20 hours in and we were still on great form. After the abseil are spirits were back to a bunch of 8-10s ☺ this stage was also a good opportunity to get food on board. We were sticking with an “eat every 45-60 mins” plan and were constantly reminding each other to eat and drink. I was drinking water and had quadruple strength electrolytes in my bike bottle. Somewhere along this route we took a 15 minute power nap under a hedge outside someone’s front garden!
It was a mere 20+km to TA7 and it brought us around the Comeraghs. It meant lots of hills, the worst of which included a sadistic hike-a-bike. We had a full 3.5 hour off road mostly pushing our bikes uphill over rocks, heather and mud. It was truly energy sapping on tired bodies. It slowed things right up and if the 2nd coasteering had not been cancelled would have really messed with our plan. 3 more teams of different nationality joined in the fun of lifting, dragging, pushing and carrying bikes. We eventually reach B21 at the top of the hill. Even though this was a slog of the highest order, I usually relish the descent and forgive the mountain. It was not to be. The trail was too rocky to descent to we cut downhill through thick green lumpy landscape to find a road that took us the remaining few kms to TA7. We checked into TA roughly 24 hours into the race. We had cycled the bones of 81km over the previous 10 hours, including the abseil and the 3 hour hike-a-bike marathon. We collected our targeted 9,00opts and were tired and need food and sleep. We knew the sooner we got out onto the Comeraghs the better so we agreed on 2 hours transition including sleep.
24-48 hours: Green Witches and the Moment of Truth…
It brushed 11am Friday morning as we got ourselves together for the next stage, the Comeragh Mountains. I had slept particularly well. After a recovery shake and some tuna stuff I lay in my foil blanket but slept no more than 40 mins. I awoke shivering. I think it was here that Kate handed me a hot chocolate. It was watery but warm and hit the spot and its one of the moments you cherish your teammates, like Sean taking over bike Nav when I got too tires to focus or Shane taking my bag when I was flagging climbing a hill.
We kited up for trekking and set off with Shane and Sean on Nav. It was a long walk to C22 and on reflection it’s the one part of the 16 maps I could have planned better. There was a more direct route but we stayed safe on road and trail initially. Once off the track and on to open terrain Shane brought us to the next 2 CPs within 3 hours. We met team Beast Mode en route to C23. They were on their way back and perhaps had 10-15 minutes on us. We dibbed the control by the lake and doubled back. The track took two options, a high contouring one or a lower more definite trail. The other team went low and we went high. Within a half hour we converged on C24 together. No extra effort, just better choice ☺
We were now in a bowl in The Comeraghs at about 400m with cliffs surrounding us. It was both spectacular and daunting simultaneously. Beast Mode looked like they elected to get off the mountain and head back to TA8. It was about 4pm on Friday afternoon and we still had plenty of
daylight. We opted to climb one of the cliffs in a zig zag fashion to collect 3 more CPs on top. We had 3,000pts from this trek in the bag but there were 10,000 mandatory points on offer. We spent an hour beating our way to the top which was much more open and windy. The cliffs dropped off the sides of the plateau and peat hags hid the terrain from view at times.
The trouble started here. We took the wrong direction to C32 initially and it chewed time. I took out my compass to support the Nav but it seemed to be off with the orienteering compass and the ABC watches. We thought we were on the right Gully edge but seeing Mahon falls below which had C29 700m beneath us confirmed we were wrong. We hugged the cliff edges in search of the CP until we got to the right Gully. The wind had picked up now and it was scary to get close enough to look over the edge. We found footprints in the mud and knew we were on the right track. Sean dropped down onto a ledge which was covered in footprints. On the map we were right on C32 but it was not there. We searched for 20 minutes but no joy. The weather was closing in now and we decided to skip any more CPs and head back down from this height.
Over the next half hour a cloud quickly descended and visibility became more and more challenging. We no longer had anything to sight that was within 50m so I took a bearing and walked 50m then took it again and walked 40 etc… It was about 7pm and the Cloud now enveloped the top of the mountain and we were in the middle of it. Something was wrong. We should have been descending but we were not. We should have been heading northwest but we were going south. Stop to check and the wind is howling now and it’s getting cold and wet. My compass was the problem. I had a little magnetic clasp on my rucksack strap and it had demagnetised the compass! We were lost! Sh!te!
It quickly became apparent and there was concern. We could barely hear each other over the wind and visibility was down to no more than 30m. We entertained an idea of pitching the tents and waiting until morning or better visibility. Sean suggested we leapfrog on a bearing and He, Shane and I did just that while Kate just kept moving to try to stay warm. It was slow going. 40m at a time using two people in a line in front then looping over to traverse a dead straight line. It began to drop height slowly but not enough. We had run perhaps 30-40 reps of this relay when we reached a glimpsed a lake ever so briefly between some clouds. We were sure we matched the shape and size to one on the map and took another bearing. After 2 hours or so lost in the cloud we eventually found a stake, then another stake and followed down off the mountain under the cloud and to open terrain again. The relief was clear. Sean took out his video for a quick monologue as I fell over. We had found ourselves in a very tough spot but as a team, and only a team, did we get out of it. Again we went form 2s and 3s to 6 and 7s, ate for the first time in hours and pressed on back to the Community hall and TA8. Darkness fell as we got of the mountain and onto road. We still had 8km to go and in no form for running. It was therefore a 2 hour walk on road. Our spirits dropped back to 4s and 5s.
We had planned on sleeping when we got back from the trek no matter what happened. We collected 3,000pts so it was not entirely a waste of time but we did drop a few hours to tighten our schedule. We all hit a low walking along the road and I felt particularly sleep. The sleep monsters decided to visit. One minute I was talking to Sean, the next a little lime green witch on my right on the grass verge. I first thought it was Sean still talking to me but this witch was giving me a good scolding for endangering my team and jeopardising our race!
Shane asked how long we would be in TA for. I could hear the croak in his voice. It was 11pm Friday night. We had been racing for about 38 hours with a 1 hour sleep and had just been through hell. I called 3am for the start of the next stage. Up to each person what they wanted to do with the time. We usually had tighter role plans for TA but this was a case of the team needing a break. I think
Shane ate something, climbed into his sleeping bag and conked out for 3+ hours. Kate sleeps less than all of us anyway but still got some good kip despite taking a chunk of time to fill all the water bladders and bottles. I swapped a tin of creamed rice; yum and a recovery shake and went back to shivering for 2 hours in the hall. The real concern I had was my feet. I used cleaned and powdered them before sleep and again afterwards. It made a difference.
Around 0230-024 we all arose and it was immediately evident that we were in a stew. I felt rubbish. I didn’t want to get on my bike. Shane flat out said he is not trekking anymore. Kate (Our Queen Gru) looked wrecked but ready and Sean was wrapped in his sleeping bag until we were practically on the bikes. I brushed my teeth and snapped out of it, told Shane and Sean to get moving and quickly sorted maps for the next long bike stage.
While we got organised I noticed Ivan rise form a sleeping bag and tell a team on the way out the door that B39 was cancelled because of an angry farmer. Teams now had to take an alternative route through forest trails. I broke the new to the guys but they didn’t care much. Spirits were low. It was probably our lowest ebb actually and as such our moment of truth. Would we mentally throw in the towel and just bike back to the finish? I wasn’t sure. I felt very ropey myself.
We left TA at about 0310, more or less as planned. We were only across the road and I had to stop. I wasn’t fully awake yet and I wasn’t going to Nav my way into a maze of forest trails in the dark if I couldn’t even focus on the map. I pulled it together and set off. We were instantly uphill and my derailleur got caught leaving me on a big ring. The last thing I wanted right now was to mash up this hill and break the chain again so I stopped again for the second time in 10 minutes to sort it out. The others cycled on ahead to the next junction. I bolted up after them once sorted and realised it was another special moon out. There was some could cover but it was dry and calm.
We spent the next 1.5 hours slowly spinning up yet another mountain through forest trails. It involved some hike-a –bike but nothing like the previous night. We eventually ran out of trail and had to hop a fence to an open field. We first questioned if we were on farmland but there was no other way across and we were on top of a mountain. Another British team arrived on the scene and plugged on ahead through the filed toward the forest that fell down the opposite side to a river. We more or less followed suit and found the trails on the opposite side. It was some fun descending until we re-joined trails and Nav’d our way to the river. We crossed it and began to climb again as day began to break. The hills before came to view and we could pin point our target easily enough. Queue more hike-a-bike! We entered a field at one point that definitely felt like a farmer’s field and we were worried about penalties so we got out through a hedge as soon as we entered. We hit the top of a modest 300m ridge and followed a rocky trail. We were tired again. It was more the mental weight of not having punched a control in over 13 hours that was getting us down…
48-69 hours: Back in the Game! 48-69 hours
All of a sudden Sean shouted “Croosssss!” And the clouds parted to reveal a large cross overlooked an extensive view of south Tipperary. Our 5s became 6s and 7s as we dibbed B40, finally! We threaded our way down through forest trails again to find the Munster Way and B41 at a broken down castle. 2 controls within an hour and the spirit levels were rising. We were eating and drinking and laughing again. We met another Irish team at the castle and got a glimse of how teamwork does not happen. We had to cross to the other side of the river, through trees and up a steep bank. The other team worked as individuals and were going nowhere. Their Nav looked frustrated and had a look of “here we go again”. Sean rallied them to action and we joined in, creating an assembly line to get all 8 bikes across and onto the Munster way on the other side of the river. We promptly left them behind afterwards.
Teamwork was one of our core objectives. We do things together. We tackle gates, hills, streams, transitions and everything between, together. We have room to improve but the communication and laughter was the glue that bound us. The Munster way took us through the sleepy town of Newcastle in Clonmel and Queen Gru spotted an open shop. We pulled over and she raided the place for coffees, ham n’ cheese sambos and a pile of chocolate bars to fuel for the final stages. Aah, picnic in the sun, burned tongues on molten hot coffee, liberal roadside application of chamois and waving a couple of teams on by. Over 50 hours in and we were on the up. 7 and 8s became 8s and 9s ☺
Soon back on the bikes and we were cycling happily to our next CP. B42 was up another mountain in the Knockmealdowns on the Liam Lynch memorial. It involved some more hike-a-bike but on grass and much easier. The sun was out and it was a smashing view across Tipperary from the fire road up at 500m. The memorial was hard to miss and we dibbed our 3rd of 4 planned 1,000pt CPs. It was just so enjoyable at this stage. We felt great and were ever rewarded with a high speed switchback gravel descent down the mountain. Woohoo! TENS!!
At the bottom of the descent the Munster way met the Tipperary Heritage way and we needed to turn off onto the road to get off the mountain. Staying on the mountain meant entering Bonus point territory, forest trails and likely stiffer hike-a-bike. It was not the plan. The plan was to hit the roads and arc around a forbidden road to get to Clogheen and a good road we could follow to the end of this stage. We missed it. I saw it and just got distracted by the Tipperary Heritage way signpost and all of a sudden we were on single forest track threading more or less parallel to the forbidden road to our right beyond the trees. Crap, crap, crap. I thought I had made a grave error that would take us hours to get out of. I even entertained ideas of climbing back up steep hike-a-bike to to a viewing point to hit a bonus CP and a main road. Not the plan!
I focused so hard on the map an compass, the trails more or less all lead west. We just had to travel far enough to clear the 5-6km forbidden section of road. You were not even allowed to cross it so turning right too early would have meant a certain 500pt penalty. The day was going so well, I couldn’t bear to tarnish it. Shane was clocking the distance and Sean was backing up the Nav. We made shorter work of the single track than expected and spat out onto the road well clear of the forbidden road. It was even a fun trail so it worked out well. I figured it took roughly a similar time to the big road arc option and was infinitely more enjoyable MTBing ☺ Phew!
The rest of this long 76km bike was easy and we soon collected our last bike 1,000pt CP, B46 at Mitchelstown Caves. We arrived in Kilbeheny, 4,000pt richer, happy and ready to take on the Galtees. We had made good time and our schedule was still in play. Everyone was feeling motivated. We were further motived seeing some of the top teams in TA9 getting ready to head out on the Galtees. We felt like we were back in a race now. Shane had a steely look of determination and the whole team was switched on. I sat down to consider our plan carefully while the guys got stuff ready. I necked a tin of creamed rice, a shake and took care of the feet. They were in good nick. Just over 30 minutes later we were cycling up to Kinds Yard to begin the Galtees Trek.
We had come a long way mentally from 12 hours earlier at 0230 that morning when none of us wanted to even bike, let alone tackle another trek. At Kings Yard we tucked the bikes away and after a quick argument, set off. We were still a bit stung from the Comeraghs and set a careful plan of collecting the nearest CP and “seeing how we went” or rather “seeing how the weather went”.
While Shane and I debated whether to include Galtee Mor or not Sean grabbed the map and set of, man on a mission.
It was gorgeous day in the Galtees. I have never been up here in such fine conditions. We could see every peak clearly and it invited us. We set a time limit of getting back to Kind Yard inside 7 hours, so whatever we could accomplish in 6 was it. We crossed trails to the west and found a wall the curled up the side of a mountain. We followed it and bumped into the Sleepmonsters crew. We had great craic with them as they snapped pics. We knew they had to be on the route to we took stock that we were heading the right way and sure enough C47 on tree 50m south of a house just like the route book called it. 1,000pts on the Galtees inside an hour was sweet. Onwards to Galtee Mor then. It was a good hike away. Over a 500m ridge, back down and back up to a 700m ridge. Sean gave me one of his walking poles and it made such a difference to my hamstring. Until then my hip, glute and hamstring were stiffening up, sloing me down. With the support of the pole I found another gear.
2.5 hours later of very enjoyable trekking we were dibbing into C48 at the summit cross of Galtee Mor. It was an amaaaazing view and we were all buzzing now. We caught sight of 2 more teams in the distance to the next CP, B56 on a summit in a concrete building. It was basically a shed on a mountain top 3 peaks away. Less than an hour later we had descended to the right height, found the right trail and were dibbing in to another 1,000pts in the shed at B56. 3,000pts was as good a return as we had gained from the long Comeraghs trek and we wondered if that was it. We had made good time. We had 2 hours of our window left so to hell with it, go for the last mandatory control and get them all on the Galtees. It was on a massive Oak tree beyond another peak and down a valley. We quickly descended and crossed a river. I flagged a little contouring around the next peak and Shane took my bag. I was reluctant to hand it over but almost immediately I found another gear.
When we eventually caught sight of the huge Oak and 3 other teams running to it we were elated. Sean was nailing the Nav on this section and we were having such a laugh the whole time. Dibbing C57 under that tree was magic. We interacted with Beast Mode who we had met back on the Comeraghs and we had the maximum 4,000 mandatory points on the Galtees. We had pep in our step now and passed Beast mode and another French team on our way back to Kings Yard. En route we bumped into Sleepmonsters again and they caught pics of Shane carrying Seans bag and Kate carrying the map (Sean and I were taking a natural detour). We had some laugh with the Sleepmonster boys running down the hill with us and Sean trying to get his bag back. We wasted no time at Kings Yard, grabbed our bikes and flew back to the hall in Kilbeheney. It was not yet 9pm Saturday night; we were 60 hours in, had collected all of our planned CPs in the last 12 hours and were feeling great.
We had momentum and we were back in the game ☺
The original plan was a power nap back at TA 10 in the hall in Kilbeheney but we unanimously agreed to push on through to Ballyhouras. We were on the home stretch and barring disaster were going to make it home to finish ranked having collected CPs on all stages. Best case scenario!
We quickly transitioned to the Bike as it got dark. I was on Nav again but only for the first 22km. Sean had the other map on his mount to take over for the remaining 11-12km. As we set off with the well wishes of the marshals, it began to bucket rain. Shortly into the route we had to hike our bikes over a gate and following the map to avoid main roads we met a dead end at a hedge. We had a Belgian team with us for company. The route we had marked on the maqp looked like a clear cross road across the main road but we faced a stream and ditch. It was into a farmer’s field too so we had to reroute and Nav on the fly to avoid a penalty.
We took an alternate route up a climb with ever thickening grass in the middle of the road. It was raining heavily and visibility was poor. The map board could have done with a window wiper too. The Belgian team had bombed ahead but we reeled them in when the kept stopping to check their map. They jumped on our tail for the last km of the climb and even when I turned off to the left. I was careful too and the pace was slower as a result. We passed a left turn that the Belgian Team thought was the right way. I was looking for junction to turn left and continued on. The Belgian Team went left. I knew they had gone wrong but still for the briefest moment questioned my choice. We on the go for 19 hours since our last sleep and any mistake would cost us dearly.
It was slow going with occasional stops to check the route for the rest of my map. I handed over to Sean at Glenroe and we were close enough to Kates hometown for her to perk up and confirm that were on the right track. There was one tricky Nav choice left. The road crossing I had asked about at the Captain’s Q&A was coming up but Sean was on it. We missed a turn at Castle Oliver but quickly realised it and doubled back to climb up the south side of Ballyhoura. It was a steep relentless climb in the rain. We were cold and now awake 23 hours. It was over 63 hours into the race. We flew down the fire roads to the trail head centre and it was a hive of activity. There were head torches piercing through the trees all over the mountain trails.
Anything we gained now was a bonus. We chose the small Green trail loop to bag 100pts bonus for the cherry on top. We popped into the smelly steamy visitor centre initially to change batteries and raid the vending machine. There was gear everywhere, lights, nudity, snoring, you name it.
We soon hit the trail and completed the 6km green single track loop in under an hour. It included stopping for Sean to fix a mechanical, Sean falling off, me falling off and stopping to joyously dib the bonus control ☺ Back at the trail head centre the boys packed away the bikes into the boxes while Queen Gru attended to her feet ahead of the final trek/run. We dibbed out of transition at about 3am Sunday morning with bags of time to complete the 12km cross country to the finish.
Kate and Shane took off RUNNING for the first 2-3km on road and soft mud. Sean and I followed trying to keep up. We passed 3 teams in the first 3km at this pace. It felt insane to be RUNNING after 66 hours of racing. Nuts! The rain continued to pour but our spirits were high. Kate was reliving her mountain marathon win on the route and was positively bouncing. I faded after an hour and went into la la land. This route just meant following red arrows through mud, trail and fields but 25 hours on the go without sleep was taking hold of me. Sean had to force feed me with gels to perk me up.
With less than 2km to go we were still in danger of penalties. We entered a field with no apparent arrow. Kate and I were about to climb through a gap in a hedge when Shane spotted the arrow on the far corner. I just plodded in the direction of his voice. Having at one person lucid or semi lucid at all times had been crucial. If we had all hit a low point (like the march home on road after the Comeraghs), then a power nap was the least we had planned to do. No need this time, we ran most of the last km to the finish. It was an incredible feeling.
This was an awesome race. It’s a super challenging route no matter what level of team you are or how you approached it. Ivan Park and his team have not just put countless hours of planning an Adventure Race for the Adventure racers, but he is actively growing the sport in Ireland. Again it
was a special event. The volunteers getting sleepily out of their cars to greet teams, Ivan being disturbed from his sleeping bag in a smelly community hall every 10 minutes with questions, the marshals playing little jokes on sleepy racers. It’s all brilliant and what’s more is that I got to share it with Kate, Sean and Shane, 3 brilliant teammates. We finished strong in the last day to climb to 29th in the field and 6th Irish team home. It represented a step up in performance for team #TriHarder. It represents a new platform for us to build on to the next step. Stay tuned!
Watch some of what happened at the finish line in this video! Prize Giving is about to start!
Posted by The Beast of Ballyhoura on Sunday, 2 August 2015
#TriHarderAR finish video about 20sec into the clip..