We woke up at 6.20am on Saturday morning, fingers crossed the bad weather was staying south. Emma quickly informed me it was dry out and the morning was suddenly more inviting. With an 8.15 race start I decided a little porridge and a banana was loads to fuel up and with a light 1.5km warm up around the block I would be good to go. Emma wasn’t starting until 9.20 but came along to support as well as my parents who had travelled up from Galway early in the morning. It was Emma’s first ever adventure race and first ever time racing on a bike. The buzz around the start line in the Castlecourt Hotel in Westport was fantastic with the first wave in the Supreme race ready to go. I met my fellow competitors briefly, we all shook hands and before I knew it we were flying off down the street to begin the first section, a 4.5km run to our bikes.
As a background to this race I would like to mention that I never really challenged in Sea to Summit before, however recent form and formguides suggested I was in with an outside chance. No pressure at all.
I suddenly found myself out on front, running quite slowly I might mention, and not really understanding why the rest stayed behind. After the first kilometer the pace had picked up and we were in a group of about 10 runners. It was starting to feel like a race. Sometimes these long multi discipline races can be tactically tricky with some deciding to go out fast. At this point I realised everyone had their own tactics in mind and I was determined to stick to mine. In a nutshell, I would run a steady pace with the front runners to the bike, reach the mountain in the top ten, come off the mountain in top three, hang on for dear life on the cycle and try to finish stronger than recent years in the hope of a top three finish. All this in less than three hours . What would happen, well I will try and tell my story.
We reached the bikes at the quay in Westport in about 15 minutes and I left transition in second. We were quickly gobbled up by a gang of bikers. Thanks lads, this was good. I stayed at the front,swapping and changing with the top three bikes as far as the mountain. The first four on the mountain can be seen in the photo above, with me sitting in third. The rain started to fall at this point and it got really nasty for a while. It was cooling in a good way though as the mountain started to take its toll. No matter how often you go up Croagh
Patrick it is one hell of a hike. The four of us ascended in 34 minutes and I descended a bit quicker than the rest to come off the mountain in 1st place. 51.40 up and down, my own adventure race record. Now things were getting a little scary, decision time! Would I tear off and hope for the best or was Shaun Stewart only seconds behind. I looked back and there he was, this could really help us both. I knew that the Cavan club duo of Dessie and Killian were not far behind and our only chance was to work together as they would be doing the same. Adventure racing like any sort of sport includes tactics and now was a chance for me to learn from mistakes in the past.
Just off the reek.
I cruised and fueled up until Shaun caught up and we quickly decided to work 30 seconds on and off together and try keep pace on the lads behind. Both of us had aerobars fitted and would be of similar strength on the bike so this could just work. A passer by informed us that the others were 45 seconds back as the cycle started. Our heads bowed low, arms tucked in, our teeth gritted and off we went. We would make them work for this race, if nothing else.
The Maum hills were next and we knew if we could hold the lads off as far as the top the race was really on from there on. All hell would break loose on the descent and the final 15km would be a sprint. I thought about my watt bike training, my hours on the hills in Castlehackett and the months of training over the last year and decided it was all or nothing to the finish. The hills are the make or break part of the course. My heart rate was up but my legs were feeling good and we reached the top in about 34 minutes. No sign of the lads behind us and our interested follower informed us that Killian in third was 1.15 minutes behind with Dessie in fourth joining him.
On the final 5km of the second bike stage.
We continued to work together until about 6km from home when Shaun said he was hanging on. He tucked in behind my wheel. I knew this wasn’t a ploy to save energy for the run as he is an honest guy so I put the head down and ploughed on. We reached transition in Westport after 1.08 hours on the bike. A pretty fast bike leg when it included the Maum hills. Things were now getting very interesting. as I racked my bike I saw Dessie enter transition only seconds behind and I left transition with shaun on my heels. It was looking like a sprint finish but I was feeling as if this was a big chance. The final 4km run takes you along the seashore, up a grass track, through a car park and onto the Greenway path that leads to the finish in the town centre. 4 kilometres may sound short but for anyone that has completed this race you will understand the feeling over this section. My feet were almost frozen solid from the bike on wet roads and my legs were beginning to scream. I reached the car park and picked up the pace. There was little reaction from Shaun and I opened up a small gap. I reached the Greenway and Shaun was slipping back a little, with no sign of Dessie. Concentrate and don’t look back, you stupid idiot is all I could think. Obviuosly I used this lovely language. I opened up the gap a little more around the 2km mark and I was running under 4 minutes per kilometer. This soon fell to 4.10 per kilometer but the gap was still there. I will be honest I felt excited and scared but most of all emotional. I knew, bar a fall, I was closing in on something huge in my life. I could feel the emotion building inside me. I ignored it and said “posture, stride, quick feet, keep moving and concentrate until the line “.
At 3,5km a guy ran towards me and said I was in the last 500 metres and the rest was down hill. I stretched the legs one last time, flew down the hill, hopped a few foot paths and there was the finishing straight. There were so many people but I saw my parents straight away. I did a fist pump, followed by lots more as I crossed the line. I had done it, I had won my first adventure race. I had also broken the course record in 2.47 hours. I felt like crying but was quickly asked to do a tv interview.
I joined the folks, a proud pair, and we waited on Emma’s arrival. I was so happy for her taking part in her first race and at this stage was dying to tell her what just happened. Within a short time Emma cruised in, beating her expected time by 20 minutes and she was over the moon. A massive thanks has to go to Emma as part of my achievement. She has encouraged every training session and every race I take part in and is a real motivation.
I have worked hard this year and I have been improving over the past 5 years but I never saw myself winning. I hoped I could get there but the competition is so strong and my knowledge of the sport really only improving because of these competitors. The main reason I have reached this goal is by looking up to all these people around me and athletes I am learning from. I hope I can continue to learn from them and improve and maybe win again in the near future. It is a real eye opener to anyone out there that is willing to put in the work. So much is possible in a short time.
Crossing the line. What a feeling.
A cracking shot of transition and the mountain.
Here is the proof, a link to the results.
A massive thanks again to the crew at Sea to Summit for organising a classic event. The marshalling and support was top class the whole way around.
So what happens next? A question so many have asked me since. I say a little break and start thinking of the challenges ahead in 2016. Hopefully I can continue to improve. Things might be different now I have a win under my belt. As they say in the states, I got the W. How corny does that sound.