Joyce County Challenge

Last weekend I took part in a local challenge. It is known as a gruelling 30km in the mountains bordering Galway and Mayo. As I made my way to the start at Finny on the banks of Lough Nafooey I realised a tough few hours were ahead. A heavy mist was hanging around in a strong south westerly wind. Conditions that rarely lift fast in the West! 

I was greeted at the community centre by race organisers or event organisers I should say as this really is a go at your own pace event. Miko and Theresa had tea and toast ready with a wake up coffee. Hikers and runners were arriving but at 6.30am Miko, Rachel, Betty, David and myself set off on the course. David Joyce is the local mountain speed merchant so I reckoned I could cling on to him and save too much navigational effort. 

We were soon on the ascent across bog and fern stricken ground towards our first checkpoint at Maamtrasna. The wind strengthened as we got higher. Myself and David headed off as a bit quicker than the others. We pushed hard, running as much as possible and fast hiking uphill. The terrain was tricky, but better than that on nearby mountains, that I am used to. It was mild, therefore we never felt cold and once we kept pushing we knew we would be fine. David has all the course records in the Joyce County and was flying towards another one. He knew the terrain well, even pointing out that we were on track as he recognized his neighbours sheep. He said he never timed himself as the conditions play too big a part. How right he was here! 

On reaching our second CP before the hike up the relentless Devilsmother mountain David’s shoe fell apart and he had to pull out. We had contoured around the last mountain and the sideways running motion had taken it’s toll.  It was a shame as I knew David would push me all day and probably finish ahead of me too. I would also have to navigate in crappy conditions. Out came the map and compass! There was no phone coverage up there and the rain was heavy at the summit’s meaning my fingers wouldn’t work on my wet phone. 

The third checkpoint would be at a van carrying some food and refreshments. I could see the van in the distance as I descended off the Devilsmother and I made a line straight for it. My adductor muscle cramped on the descent as I hopped across the bog. I stopped, stretched and drank lots of electrolytes. After a few minutes I was fine and carried on to CP3. There was a great view down the valley towards Lough Nafooey and I could imagine the final 10k as I looked back up into the clouds. I had half a ham sandwich, some tasty cake and water laden with salt before I set off again. I took a 15 minute break here knowing I was not on record breaking times or in a race situation. At the same time it was good training.

The next mountain was Bunicurreen, probably spelt wrong. It seemed like forever as I climbed up into the cloud, which soon turned to rain. The last 100m was steep and I was glad I had my poles! When I submitted I realised I was unsure of my next bearing. I knew the lake was running west to east so if I kept going east I would be fine. This worked out a treat in the end, however had I known all you had to do was follow the fence I probably would of been alot faster. As I flew along the ridgeline I came across the B walkers heading in the opposite direction. They were enjoying their day and clearly thought I was mad, running these hills alone. Their route was a shorter 20km but they all needed to be good hikers to take it on. The ridgeline took me all the way to the final descent which Miko had kindly marked out with tape.  I ran down, enjoying the descent. No matter when you take part it’s always nice to be first home of course. This always puts a spring in those tired legs. I came home in 5 hours and 15 minutes. Not my fastest moving but there was almost 2000metres of tricky ascent thrown in. 

Thanks to the organisers and well done raising money for the Galway and Mayo Hospice. 

I will be back next year for sure. I can add this to the list of all new events I have taken part in this year. I’m writing this on my way to the next adventure in Wales and hopefully a good report to come from Snowdonia. 

The course map. 

The last checkpoint, unmanned. 

I think this was the driest it got all day and my phone actually worked! 

Some welcome homemade soup and of course a medal to finish

I thought a little add on to this post would be nice, so here are some recent training photos. 

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