Do you learn anything the second time you're kicked by a horse?
An account of The Race 2016 by Paul Tierney
So I went back to The Race, despite all my claims that I’d never do it again. The start of it was the niggling regret of wasting 45 minutes sitting in a car before the final marathon section in The Race 2014 while I waited to regain the use of my hands from the freezing cold. So I definitely had regrets, nothing new there, and I felt that I could do better by preparing better. And then when so many of the lads in GoTri Adventure wanted to do The Race sure who was I to argue. I just signed up and went for it. But then the training load had to be weighed up versus other commitments. In the last year Barbara and I have welcomed our beautiful daughter Emma into the world so it’s been a really exciting and busy time for us. I’ve found that I no longer have any time for ‘nothing’, all of my time is now allocated somewhere so I constantly just move from one thing to the next, there is no lull and I’ve had to get absolutely ruthless with my time. Gone are the days when I could train whenever I wanted, now I have times that I can train and I have times that I can’t train and I have to make the most of the time available. Barbara said straight away that she would support me to try and make it work and Emma supported me too by being the best little baby ever. She loves her sleep almost as much as her Daddy . At work my 1 hour lunch break became a critical training slot for me but I was also very busy at work so trying to fit that in was often very difficult. Overall the challenge was to do better in The Race 2016 with less training than I did for The Race 2014. Not asking much really was I!
I won’t go into too much detail on the lead-up to the race and the preparations for it. Race reports from the rest of the group will give you a feel for that. But there was lots of gear prep etc - lots and lots of it! I kept an eye on the field from the competitor profiles on The Race website. I could see already that the field was very competitive, stronger than in 2014. In reality I had picked out the eventual winner as favourite, I knew he would be out front on his own. And I had identified 4 other competitors that I thought would feature near the top. Not to mention a few of our own lads that were going well and could perform very strongly on the day if things went their own way. On that basis I didn’t expect to finish any higher in the standings than my 5th place in 2014. What I did expect was to finish faster, so I set my target at 16 hours. That would be 1 hour and 23 minutes faster than last year. As I said to plenty of people that asked me about my ambitions for the race…. If anyone finished ahead of me at 16 hours then fair play to them. They’ll have earned it.
And so in the interest of keeping this at less than 100 pages I’ll skip directly to the start line... I had decided very strongly in my mind that I would run my own race 100% based on how I felt. I wanted to race and I knew once “Go” was called that I would automatically click into race mode so my plan was to race just below the effort that felt like I was ‘burning the candle’! So I did exactly that. I had expected to see 4 or 5 lads race off into the distance and I would keep my pace and maybe see one or two of them later in the race. What happened was the opposite. After about 20 metres I found myself out in front. I maintained my pace purely based on what my body felt like doing and after a few minutes I had settled into fairly steady 4 min 30 second kilometres. Mariusz and Mark Doyle both stayed with me, their pacing was very similar to mine, and Martin Carey was running strong alongside us, he loves to feel the wind in his hair at the start of the race! At times, on downhills especially, I would pull ahead for a short time and I think the other lads were probably wondering why I kept speeding up and then levelling off. It wasn’t any secret tactic of mine, like I said I had decided to run 100% on feel and that was my body doing what it wanted. As we approached the end
of the first run and descended into Ramelton for the kayak transition I decided to ignore my race plan for a minute or two. I knew that Mariusz and Mark were favourites for first and second so I decided to have my moment. I knew I wouldn’t win the race so I decided to win stage 1! I pushed the pace up and led the sprint into transition 1. I’d say the two lads probably thought I had eyes on the overall win. But all I wanted was a little moral victory
In transition 1 I had a bit of work to do as in my kit I had a proper pair of high waist dry pants, kayak shoes and a cag to get on before grabbing my own buoyancy aid and paddle. I didn’t use the ones provided by the race organisers. It meant I was out of transition 1 in second place, just a few seconds behind Mark Doyle in first. Into the kayak I hit my first slight snag of the day. The marshal that was getting the kayak ready for me didn’t have the seat tightened, maybe I arrived sooner than he was expecting me. So he tried to tighten it while I was sitting in the kayak. But one side of the seat wouldn’t tighten meaning I had to do the full kayak leg while slouched backwards at one side. I knew this was going to affect my back as the leg progressed but I had to give myself a stern talking to as I was starting to let my mind focus on it and when that happens your mind will use it as an excuse to reduce your performance. So I corrected myself and pointed out that I was on the water now and there was nothing to do but to ignore it and get to the other side as fast as I could. From that point forwards I didn’t break stroke for 1 hour and 37 minutes. Not even to scratch my nose!! My arms ached, my shoulders ached and my technique was absent for a lot of it but I kept paddling. I got out of the water back in first place. I hadn’t expected that result, first place after over 3 hours and at the end of two legs of The Race! And next up was the bike transition, I was confident that I could get through this quite quickly as I had planned it well and because I had the proper kit for the kayak I was also dry and warm! I may have been the only person that could say that after the kayak on the day!
Into transition 2 in first place was a weird feeling and no doubt I surprised a few people. A crowd gathered round me as I changed which added extra pressure. I even had someone ask me if I could pose for a photograph…. Hello I’m in the middle of a race here!! But I did . I was changed and out on the bike still in first place but I knew that the power horses were behind me so I was expecting to see Mariusz and Mark coming past me pretty early into the cycle. But I concentrated on pushing on as best I could to get as much ground covered before they caught me. In races like this a minute or two dropped at the start of the race can have a nasty habit of coming back to bite you in the ass hours later! After about 15 minutes on the bike the second small complication of the race arrived….. Amazingly enough I was too warm on the bike! All the training we had done we were trying to work out ways of keeping warm. We had spent long hours with frozen hands, frozen feet and cold cores. So to find out that I was too warm was a welcome change. Still it meant I had to stop for a minute and take off a layer from under my bike jacket. My layering plan worked well in that it allowed me to do that and from that point on I was 100% comfortable for the rest of the race. While I was changing Mariusz flew past me, as expected. I looked over my shoulder to see if there was any sign of Mark, no sign yet so I put the head down and ploughed on. Every kilometre I covered brought back more memories from 2014. I remembered the never ending hills, but for some reason they didn’t seem as bad this time. They were still incessant, you’d literally just come down off a hill and you’re straight up the next one. But I was still motoring up them and my mood was good. I had remembered Lough Salt, the last time I came across that hill I had walked a lot of it even though I didn’t need to. For some reason on the day I had decided it would be better to walk the hill and save myself for the rest of the race. Not realising how long the hill was I ended up walking for ages and couldn’t get back on
the bike because of the gradient. This year thankfully I didn’t make any such stupid decisions. Nor did I feel any need to, I just spun the legs up the hills and thought I was doing great. Until Rob McDonald went past me like he was on a downhill. He came out of nowhere. I hadn’t seen him on the run or on the kayak or even while in transition. But he sure powered through that bike and he had more in his bike legs than I had so I just let him fade off into the distance! I was approaching a group of cars halfway up Lough Salt and the supporters got out of their cars and came to the edge of the road to cheer me on. One of them shouted encouragement to me saying that I was at the top now. In my mind I thought “Would ya **** off I know it goes on for ages more!” But then I crested what I thought was a false summit and what do you know…… I was at the top! I don’t know what all the fuss was about or why I even considered getting off the bike in 2014. After that it wasn’t long before the long climb up to Muckish revealed itself but the little scattering of cars that you could see in the distance keeps the legs pumping as you know that the destination is in sight.
I got off the bike at Muckish and immediately switched into my transition mode, everything was planned out just like the rest of the transitions, and I was gaining time on people in transitions all day. Rob was still in transition and we ended up leaving and heading up the mountain at the same time. To be fair to Rob he fairly powered up the hill putting a bit of a gap in on me but that was fine with me because I had selected the hike as an opportunity to eat so I was munching on a nice ham salad bap on my way up the mountain. After a while though the hard slog through the steep and soft terrain started to take its toll and I wolfed down the food so I could concentrate on the job at hand. Even when we reached the flatter section across the top of Muckish it wasn’t much easier as there was deep snow for a lot of it and it was difficult to stay steady on your feet. I gradually picked my way over to the mound of stones that acted as a check-in point, gave my number and started the descent. I could make up some time here as it’s more familiar ground for me. I chose to ignore the route marked with flags and just belted down the side of the mountain seeking out the thicker heather where I knew I would have grip under foot and could run. I made it down in good time and again caught Rob in transition. As I was coming into transition I met Martin, Derek and Stephen getting off their bikes. They looked relieved to have the hills behind them at first, but I could see the determination in them as they got ready to take on Muckish and I knew as I headed out on the bike that they would be hot on my heels and I would see them before too long crossing the finish line. As I put my feet back on the pedals for round two I could see Rob heading off in the distance. That was to be the last time I saw him though, we were back on his speciality now and he was putting the power down.
So I found myself in 3rd position on the second cycle with just a marathon to go after this stage. It was a good position to be in and much better than I had hoped for. But I also knew that there was a lot of racing and a good chance that other competitors that were strong on the bike could come from behind me. I really tried to tear into this leg as best I could as I felt I could afford to spend a little more energy at this stage having the hardest cycle behind me. There were less hills on this section and I found I was able to get down onto the TT bars on my bike more and make good ground. My own support team also arrived as Barbara, Amy and Eimear were now out on the course and it was great to see them cheering me on and to take that boost. A van with two supporters kept passing me by and then pulling in and then some time later it would pass by again and this process kept repeating itself. The guys in the van were very supportive and always gave a wave or a word of encouragement. But after a while I started to notice that the time between me passing them and them passing me again was starting to get shorter. Then it dawned on me that they were there
specifically supporting someone else and what they were actually doing was relaying my position to the guy that was chasing me! Or at least that’s the conclusion I drew. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it did give me a bit of a kick in the arse to say that I wasn’t just going to coast to the line here, I was still in a race. So by the time I got to the end of the second bike I knew that the guy in fourth, Martin Lynch, was very close. I found out later that Mark Doyle, the guy I had expected to see coming from behind me, had to drop out. I had planned to do a full kit change in the last transition but that idea went out the window when Martin came into transition just behind me. I ended up just changing base layer top, throwing on my running jacket, adding 2 soft flasks of energy drink to my race vest along with some food and heading out the door. In my haste I had forgotten to swap out my bike shorts so I was starting into a marathon wearing a nice big pad. Boy did I regret that later! As soon as I took off on the run I realised I had other problems. The muscles on the soles of my feet had tightened while I was in the bike shoes, and they had stayed tight as I tried to run on them. Every step was agony but I knew if I just kept plodding that they would eventually loosen up. It felt like an eternity before the pain passed, about 25 minutes or so, and in the meantime Martin Lynch came past me moving steadily and most importantly moving faster than me. Next was my final complication of the day. I had decided to skip the chicken rice meal that I had planned to get a few mouthfuls of as part of my final transition in the interest of staying ahead of Martin and so now I was bonking and had already been passed by Martin… not a good state of affairs… but I had a race vest on and in that vest I had two bottles of energy drink, I had a banana, some jellies, some energy gels and also a chia seed gel that I made myself with blended pineapple. More than enough fuel to get me to the finish line and my body was telling me now that it needed some fuel. The problem was…. My body told me in no uncertain terms that it didn’t want any of that stuff. And I was starting to suffer now. I felt a little bit faint but I was trying to motor on as best I could. It was more of a waddle than a run in reality. I was hoping that my body would come around and I could get some of the fuel into me as soon as possible. I force fed myself a few jellies but I really had to struggle to keep them down. There were supporters’ cars passing me constantly with their windows down talking to me and encouraging me. For the most part I just said I was fine as I was struggling a bit so I wasn’t really in the form for conversation. Until one person asked me if I wanted a fizzy drink and a light went off in my brain. My body told me that it most definitely wanted a fizzy drink. So I had some fizzy banana drink that possibly exists only in Donegal, and then the next person had some Coke. And the person after that offered my some fizzy Cola bottles which my body thought were fantastic. I was perking back up nicely and starting to move much better. But unfortunately I had taken over an hour to come around and at that stage any chance of getting back into contention was more or less gone. At this point I was almost 15kms in and at the entrance to Glenveigh National Park and I would be leaving the road behind and going onto the trails where it would be just me on my own for the majority of the rest of the race. No mobile sweet shops to keep me fed! Just to be on the safe side I took a mouthful of Skittles from a marshal at the gate
This was more like it, I was on uneven terrain with rocks etc to avoid and it was slightly downhill. My body loosened up and I started to move with more fluidity. My progress from the start of the marathon to the gate had been somewhere between 6 minutes per km and 7 minutes…. so it was very slow. Now I was heading along the trails at 4 mins 30 per kilometre and maintaining it quite easily. I picked off the distance along the trails as far as the Castle in good time, I might even say I enjoyed them, and I even got most of the way to the Castle before I had to turn on my head torch so I got to enjoy the fantastic views along the side of the lake. At the Castle I took a moment to chat to
the marshals and to have some more Coke. I confirmed with them that the two lads ahead were beyond reach so I decided to just head on out and just keep on keeping on. After the Castle the run hits a long climb along some trail which I managed to run for the most part. I enjoyed the descent down the other side and at this stage I was actually starting to really enjoy myself because I knew that the race was run, my position was 4th and I just had to keep it solid to the line to pick up my medal. My mind was able to wander and I was thinking about the other lads and wondering how they were doing. I was looking forward to getting to the line so I could check out the tracker and see how everyone was doing. I knew there were two other guys about 20 mins to half an hour behind me but I felt fine and was moving consistently so it would have taken a super human effort for them to put me under pressure at this stage. I met the final group of marshals about 13kms from the finish. At this stage it was back out onto the roads and again I had to climb for some time along the road and wind around the lake towards Gartan. The enjoyment was gone again unfortunately as it was back on road and the progress just felt really slow, the variety of the trails was gone. At this point after about 240kms you can’t stop yourself counting down the kilometres and your eyes are drawn to your watch constantly. But the distance you’re covering and your expectations never align so every time you look at your watch you feel a bit more disappointed!! Plus I hadn’t started the watch on time so I was a little unsure what the actual distance ahead was. But luckily for me I did recognise the point where we come back onto the road that leads directly to the gate for Gartan and the finish. And I knew this section was only a few kilometres long. I felt good and my good mood returned so I tried to keep a good running motion going and avoid plodding for the last few kilometres. A car passed with Barbara, Amy and Eimear inside, supporters extraordinaire!! They asked me if I was ok, I said I was fine, which I was, so they went on ahead to meet me coming in over the line. Before long I was at the gate, a very welcome sight and making my way to the finish. As I approached I could hear the crowd and it was a great crescendo of appreciation to cross the line to. I took my medal, a very welcome hug from Barbara and I stopped moving! After 16 hours and 7 minutes it was great to stop moving for a little while
It was just after 9pm when I crossed the line and my race was done. The rest of the guys were still out there and would be out there hours more so the job from a team perspective was far from done. After checking on the tracker I was able to pick my way up to my bunk in Gartan for half an hour to help the body recover before taking a shower and changing and then it was down to the serious business of tracking the rest of the lads. I heard that Dean was forced to pull out after the kayak as the tide had turned and he wasn’t making the necessary ground. I was gutted for him but it was great to see him at the line ready to support the rest of his team-mates and that’s a measure of the quality of the man. Out on the course Stephen, Martin and Derek were still moving well and would cross the line before long, with Brian Meskell not far behind them. The 3 lads looked relieved to cross the line, but elated as well to have achieved their goal. It was especially great to see Martin Carey cross the line after having to pull out of the same race the previous year. He settled his account with interest. For the lads not having done it before makes it a very unique and emotional experience coming in over that line. Brian Meskell had seen it all before so he just loped over the line. He’s some beast of a man considering his battle with injuries leading up to the race. He would have had to fight through injury through the race as well, sure why now, it would be too easy otherwise . It was congratulations, handshakes and man-hugs all round before we turned our attention to the rest of the gang. Brendan was closest with Joe and Loren following and all were out on the final marathon. A few of us hopped into the car and went out on the road to meet the lads. I
knew from experience that at this stage some competitors would be really struggling so just in case we had some Lucozade and jellies etc in the car. Just in case any of the lads needed a boost. But to be fair to the lads all of them were in good spirits and fully focused on the job in hand. Brendan was motoring along the final 10kms when we met him. He looked like he was out for a 5km jog. You’d never think the man’s feet were in shreds with blisters. Look up the word tough in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Brendan. We also met Loren later on the final few kilometres and he barely had time to speak to us he was so focused on finishing the job. So not one of them needed our help to get to the line, they’re made of tough stuff! Before long Joe had his moment and crossed the line in style, when he recounted his story over the day he showed some serious grit and resolve to get his race back on track and finish with such an amazing result. Joe’s own race report will tell you the story of that one. And Loren was the last of the group to cross. He had his own challenges in the kayak and on the final run but he had put in the work above and beyond everyone else and no-one deserved it more than him. Again Loren’s race report tells his perspective on his amazing journey. From a guy who was terrified by the thought of a marathon less than a year previously to being able to knock one out after 210kms of racing. Phenomenal, inspiring, there aren’t enough words to describe the respect I have for his achievements.
It was great for all of us to be there together at the finish to congratulate each other. We all started out on the journey together many months ago and we brought it home. We lost one good man along the way with Dean running into difficulty after the kayak but he’ll learn from that and we’ll be there to support him in 2017 when he puts the record straight. The question will be how many of us will be supporting from the field and how many from the sidelines? And how many more will join us?
Finally I just wanted to thank some of the people who made the madness possible. To David Burns, Maghnus Collins and all the race organisers, thanks for yet another amazing experience. And sorry for cursing at you for a second time in two years after crossing the line David . To everyone who supported me in person, on Facebook or on text etc. We got amazing support from our clubmates in GoTri and from all of our friends and family, it’s incredibly uplifting to read through it. To the crew that came to Donegal with us and provided such amazing support - Daniel, Jim, Eleanor, Amy and Eimear. Ye were brilliant all weekend and it means so much to all of us to have you a part of what we do. Also to Martin Rogers in Killaloe for getting my creaking body moving like a young fella. He’s put a new lease of life into my muscles on his treatment table! And finally to my two biggest supporters Barbara and Emma, your support means the world to me and it’s the different between me doing what I love with a smile on my face and not wanting to do anything at all. I hope I can be as supportive to you some day - no doubt Emma will have a few challenges to throw my way over the years!! For me it’s time to focus on other challenges for a while, be it life commitments or athletic challenges, the next couple of years are going to be a busy time for our little family. I may not make it back to the start line in Donegal for 2017 but sure don’t ya know I’ll be up to something! Do you want to do it with me?? You should. You’d be well able for it. You’ll be grand