The magic of sunny Donegal

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Horn head near the start of our run

In the barron North West lies probably Ireland’s most fabulous county.  This may be debatable among plenty people but in my opinion on a good day it is very hard to beat Donegal. Last weekend I was lucky enough to spend two days training with my good friend Shaun. I know for many of you that read the blog you have seen my posts and heard me gloat about Donegal before, however last weekend really topped it off for me.

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Highest point on our coastal run near Horn Head

On Saturday we ran for two hours through forest, coastal trail, bog, beach, road, (covering 19km, 916 metres ascent, 229metres highest point) and stopping regularly for a photo along the way. It really was a completely epic run. Hugging the cliff tops most of the way we ran at a good clip, almost turning our run into intervals. The wind howled through the crevasses in the cliffs and funnelled through the gaps in the trail that led out across the North Atlantic. We saw waterfalls blowing back up in the air and got soaked while stopping to catch this on camera. I got soaked and Shaun failed to get a photo!

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Grunty the seal

As we ran we were suddenly spooked by movement on the beach. We saw a gorgeous seal cub, possible separated from it’s mother. It made it’s way to some rock pools and with a few grunts told us to leave it’s territory. I hope the little seal makes it through. These coastlines are a harsh climate for even the toughest of animals. We stopped beside a cliff face and watch the gulls as they performed acrobatics trying to land on the cliff. They swooped in, missed their landing and would continue to swoop using the wind and their skill until they could land safely on the cliff edge. Just to think people complain about traffic on the way home. I would take it over the possibility of death by smashing into a cliff face.

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One of many beautiful inlets we discovered

We made our way down off the cliffs and onto a beach. A cracking beach near Dunfanaghy with sanddunes spread along it’s entirety. We hopped across some rocks and as I went to land on the beach I lost my footing on both legs and ended up ass down in a stream. Hilarious considering all the nasty terrain we had just covered. I had fallen off a rock and onto the beach from about 6 inches high!! Shaun had a great laugh. There was a cave at the source of the stream I had fallen into. During our little excursion into the cave Shaun found a bone, possibly a dolphin or a whale. I tucked it in my pack and Shaun said a friend of his will ID it for him at some stage. Always nice to have a little find on a trail run.

Sunday was an even sunnier day, with the showers disappearing and a frosty night, the sky was blue and the bikes were calling. We went for a 55km spin out to Rosguil Point and back. This was part of ‘The race’ course last year and the memories flooded back. We had done this route on a training day last year when I had bonked and really hadn’t taken it in properly until this Sunday.

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Rosguil point views

The cycle was hilly and a great workout. We slowed up on a few possible icy patches where the road was still sheltered but most of the time we kept pushing on and finished the 55km in around 2 hours. It really is a meca for cycling, no doubt the hilliest cycling in Ireland. Every time I come back I realise I am not half the cyclist I could be. The hills will make sure to let me know.

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Decent views?

This trip, however short to Donegal, reminds me that wherever life takes me in the coming years I will no doubt come back to this great part of Ireland to train and enjoy myself. Hopefully this good feeling of enjoying training will lead me into the race in Donadea on Saturday in a good frame of mind. A 50km over 5km loops may not be as scenic as the cliffs at Horn Head but no doubt these images will be in my mind as the pain kicks in on race day.

Gaelforce North 2nd Place 2014

Race Report Gaelforce 2014

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Finally a chance to get to the blogging again. Sorry folks for the lack of updates over the past week. It’s been a busy one to say the least. Training went really well with two touch brick sessions early in week and then with work busy I had a break from training Wednesday to Friday before the race kicked off Saturday morning.

So the question is where do I start! A fourth place finish in tough wet and windy conditions in 2013 meant I knew I would be in with a shout of the top three this year if things went well and of course depending on the oposition in the field. Preparation is key and last week wasn’t the best, I have been working 12 and 13 hour shifts, some at night and some during the day and juggling a bit of sleep and training in. All in all however I was feeling strong and ready to give it everything.

On Friday evening, Emma and I made the long journey to Letterkenny to register , drop off bike at transition and find our B&B in a little village close to the bus pick up for the morning. A stunning part of the country and the B&B was really nice with fantastically helpful owners. It turns out it is only three weeks open. I’ll post a link later in case anyone fancies a trip North!

The race consists of a 15km trail run, 2km kayak, 25km bike, Mount Errigal climb,18km bike including off road section, and finishes with a 1km beach run. 64km in total.

At 7am I hopped on the bus to take us to the start line. After a quick toilet stop, a sprint/warmup to the start line and a few minutes of being served up as midge food the hooter sounded and we were off! The first 4km is a fast downhill section and I quickly slotted into 2nd place and tried to find my rythm. The pace was fast but I felt relatively comfortable and maintained about a 20-30 second gap on the man ahead for the entire 15k. We averaged 3.10 minutes per kilometer for the downhill section and later settled into 3.45’s and 3.50’s . An incredible run past lakes, mountains, a castle, and up over the hills through bog before descending to Garton Lake where the kayak stage took place. I completed the 15km bang on the hour mark and felt good as I splashed out into the lake to jump onto the kayak, hot on the heels of the man ahead. Shaun is a great adventure racer and I knew I had my work cut out to catch the local hero! After an easy kayak section I was closer and as I headed to the bike transition I felt in better condition than I had a year ago at this stage. I caught Shaun within a few minutes on the bike and we agreed to help eachother over the bike stage. This turned out a good tactic and even though I had to put up with constant cheers of “go Shaun go” it was the best decision for us both. We reached the foot of the mountain stage in 47mins. I hopped off the bike and to my embarrassment took a right instead of a left, tried to turn quickly and landed face first on the gravel. A nice start to the mountain run or what ! As always the mountain is energy zapping and tough as hell but we summitted together in 27minutes and the descent began. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind at this stage. I knew it but I couldn’t get it out of my head. My fall in the Dingle race 3 weeks ago was still fresh in my mind. I made the worst mistake of thinking too much and within a minute of the descent I fell again, landing on both knees. Another sore one and Shaun, after asking if I was ok, gained nearly 50 metres on me. I dusted myself down once more and decided it is now or never, stop thinking about things and get on with it. I completed the descent in 11 minutes and passed Shaun at the bottom of mountain. I later heard the views were amazing from the top! Back on the bike again and the final section awaited. Shaun was back with me at this stage and we attacked the off road section together. At this stage Shaun had a little more nerve and attacked the second half of the offroad with real gusto. I lost a few seconds on him which would prove the difference in a few minutes time. I kept him in my sights as we blew the last 10km of the race apart. I could see him cross the line 40 seconds ahead of me. I finished in 3.14 hours, 19 minutes faster than last year. Apart from extreme pain all over my body, I felt fantastic. All that training does pay off and there is no better feeling than crossing that line knowing you have beaten yourself once more !

http://www.gaelforceevents.com/north/en/event_info/2014_results.html

More photos to follow later and a few interesting links and plans for the next few weeks..

One of my friends Kevin and his mates, completed their first ever race yesterday all in aid of a charity for diabetes. Link here for anyone interested. Well done to ye all. https://www.facebook.com/4040diabetes?fref=ts

Garmin results for race ( on running mode so average pace off during bike sections ! )http://connect.garmin.com/dashboard?cid=10152689

A fantastic place to stay for Gaelforce North – https://www.facebook.com/pages/StMarys-BBAnagaireIreland/654683971235502