Sea 2 Summit Adventure Race – Race Report (Kind Of)
I recently completed the Westport Sea 2 Summit Adventure Race. This was a big milestone event for me, as it was the first long adventure race I had ever done the previous year, and so this was to be the first race where I could check on my progress.
As these races go, it’s fairly straightforward – a 4k road run, 8k road cycle, up and down Croagh Patrick (5k), 35k road cycle, and 4k road run to finish back at the start in Westport – total 56k. In previous years, the final 4k run had a short obstacle course, but this was not part of the race this year, otherwise the course was unchanged. The race has no Kayak element, and this might be a help in attracting such numbers – with 1,700 participants, it is one of the biggest of the season, and had sold out about a month before the event. Over 1,000 do the spirit course, which has a much shorter cycle, and does not bring people to the top of Croagh Patrick, but it’s still a hard challenge, and a good first foray into adventure racing.
Last year (2013), my objective was just to complete the course, but this time I was going with a little more ambition, and when the horn went at 8:40am on Saturday the 8th November, I took off as fast as I could. That decision was made based on months of training, and a chance chat with an expert coach, which brings me back to the start of my relationship with the multi-award winning GoTri.
In June of this year, after much encouragement and prompting from Susan Goodwin, I fired off a quick e-mail to GoTri, enquiring about membership, advising that I had a specific interest in Adventure Racing. Within an hour, Stephan Teeling-Lynch was welcoming me aboard as a member of the club, and introducing me to Paul ‘Adventure Racing’ Tierney, and that was that, I was in.
My ambitious plan at that stage was to do Gaelforce West, the Killarney Adventure Race, and the aforementioned Sea 2 Summit, and I contacted GoTri in the hope of meeting some people that could perhaps help with my training, and who shared an interest in running up mountains etc., so I went along to some of the Monday Night Murder sessions, which at that time of the year are in the UL Activity Centre. I had been advised that the whole group had been ‘persuaded’ to take on the Killarney Adventure Race Expert course, so I signed up straight away!
In the early days, I clung to poor Paul, and he was kind enough to teach me to Kayak properly, to run up and down steep hills and generally introduce me to the wider world of adventure racing as a competitive sport, as opposed to something just to be happy to finish!
My first event was Gaelforce in August, and there was a good few of us heading to that. I got my first sense of how seriously things are prepared for, when Paul suggested that just seven days before running up Croagh Patrick in the race, that we, well, run up Croagh Patrick in preparation for the race. The event itself went fine, and I was happy with my performance. As anyone that has done it will know, it’s a tough event, which rewards knowledge of the course – it really does cover all terrain both on foot and on the bike and the advance visit was a huge help, particularly in descending Croagh Patrick. It had been my main goal this year just to complete the event, and I was delighted when I crossed the finish line in one piece.
Following from Gaelforce, I decided to add the Achill ROAR Adventure Race onto the race list. This is held in early September, and it has three different distances, to cater for the new entrants (18k), those that want a good challenge (33k) and of course one for the lunatics (63k). Each has a bit of Swim or Kayak, Mountain running and Cycle, and buoyed from my recent Gaelforce, I signed on for the full one. I knew that the numbers in this event for the full race are not as high as others; therefore my main concern here was that I could finish last! Anyway, a respectable finish was achieved, and it was a great challenge, with cracking scenery, and a great course. If it wasn’t so far away, I’d do it every year.
Of course, the next race was in Killarney, and I don’t think I need to go into too much detail about the makeup of the event itself! The thing to mention about this one, is that we prepared as a group for it, with many hill runs in various locations, including the Silvermines, and whatever about the event itself, I think we all had a great time training for it towards the end of the summer. At the finale itself down in Kerry, a great weekend was had by everyone, and I saw first-hand, the spirit of the club, as one by one, we all floated across the line to cheers and applause from our team.
And so, that’s how I came to arrive this year at the start line in Westport for Sea 2 Summit, on a chilly but otherwise fine autumn morning, with a large group of participants all lined out for the last adventure race of the season.
My personal target for the race was to complete it in less than four hours, and I was determined to use everything I had learned to see if I could get it done. My previous effort the year before saw me over the line in 4hours 35 minutes, so ‘twas a bit of an ask, but I had a plan. It was going to be a few minutes here and there, and everything had to go right for me, but it was worth a try.
I’d recently finished reading (well, listening to) a book by Chris McCormack, where he talks of discovering coca cola by accident in the latter stages of one of his Kona races, so I had decided to give that a try – I had a small can (an STL idea) in my bike to take before the final run. Another idea stolen directly from STL was to not be afraid to go out hard early, so I decided to throw that in the mix too, and give it a go – some unexpected benefits of the chat during the pre-race rub down! Paul Tierney had given encouragement to do a fast descent of CP, and Liam Kennedy had previously given great tips for the bike which I had stored up, so with a brain full of tips and tricks, and a stomach full of porridge (yet another GoTri lesson), I was good to go!
When the aforementioned horn went, I decided to go for it. I knew I needed to make up some time on the first run, and found myself passing people, which is always a great feeling. A previous coach once said to get energy from passing people, and that’s what I tried to do. If people passed me, I said to myself that I would be having them on the bike, or on Croagh Patrick – fuzzy logic indeed. I arrived at my bike gasping for air, but on schedule. I ran with my bike (holding the saddle, like the triathletes do) to the mount point, then realised I had not put on my helmet – so much for looking slick. I quickly put on the helmet before anyone noticed that I had broken a golden rule, and I was off. I decided to use the power grip pedals for the race, to save changing shoes four times, so hopefully saved some time there too, but could live to regret that decision.
The first cycle is a short one, but you want to get it done as quickly as possible, and I was delighted to start to catch people that went out in the first wave, ten minutes ahead of us. Again, another small win in the psychological battle!
After the short cycle, the race begins in earnest. Looming large from the Murrisk car park is the beast of Croagh Patrick. This is of course where sensible people don sturdy hiking boots, pick up some walking sticks, pack a lunch and a flask and slowly tackle the trek to the top of the reek. For the rest of us, the clock was ticking, and I knew that if I was to remain on schedule, I needed to be back in the car park in about 80 minutes, so no time for too much thought, just crack on. It was slippery due to the wet days in the lead up to the race, so a little extra care was needed, and there were a few scary moments, but the seemingly endless journey to the top was over after about 50 minutes of feeling sorry for myself. Then, I took a leaf out of the Tierney book of descents, and flaked down the direct route, over the stones, which cuts out some of the winding path. That was very wet and dangerous, and I was lucky to only slip 5 or 6 times – the backside took a battering but no ripped tri-pants fortunately! It only occurred to me afterwards what shame that could have brought. Anyway, downwards I went. Arriving to the car park to get back on the bike, I was 2 minutes behind schedule. I had felt I needed to be on the bike after 2 hours, and it was 2:02, so I had some time to make up. I was not concerned though, and was happy that my 4 hour race was still on target.
The bike leg has three climbs – a steep one, a fairly steep one, and a very steep one. Long drags are one thing, but the Maum hill is extremely challenging, and my target this year was to stay on the bike – if you come off, you’re not getting back on until the top of the hill. I thought that the power grip pedals might be a disadvantage here, but I was able to stay on, and was thrilled, exhausted and in pain, not necessarily in that order, when I hit the top. After the descent, I did a time check, and I knew at that point, that as long as I put the pedal down, and pushed on, I could make it back in time, so I gave myself a good talking to, and forced myself to keep pushing. At this point (as often happens in adventure races), I was on my own with no one I could see either in front of, or behind me, so I challenged myself to try to catch up to someone if I could, and try to avoid being caught. I knew this would be difficult though. Sea 2 Summit is a real race for the cyclists. It is very difficult to make up enough time on CP, so that the really fast guys don’t catch you on the cycle, and I still have a long way to go to improve on my bike legs. There is a left turn before the final bike section, which I know is reasonably flat after that, so when I turned, and after I had thanked the marshal for stopping the traffic for me, I decided to try really hard to not let anyone else pass me, and if they did, I would force myself to try to stay with them. No one passed, and I made it into transition with a little less than a half hour to go, sipping my little can of cola, trying to avoid spilling it everywhere.
In 2013, after I got off the bike, I bonked. I had no food or drink with me, and I completely ran out of energy. I ended up walking, and it took me 33 minutes to complete the final 4k road run. This year, over all the races I have done, I have been hopefully improving my nutrition strategy, and I had been trying to pop energy gel sweets every 15 minutes, or as often as I thought to pop them, which was of course, not every 15 minutes. I had them loaded directly into my pants pockets (a Tierney idea) as well as on the bike, and I still had some for the final run. At that stage, the thought of eating yet another one almost made me sick, but I forced myself to eat one, and then I forced myself to have another one. I was running, but my brain was telling me to take a short break of a walk for a few seconds. I knew I had the time, that I could afford a short walk, but my other brain was telling me that if I stopped to walk, I might not be able to re-start, and to cop myself on. Again, I passed people, albeit they doing the shorter race I suspect, and just kept a rhythm going along the walkway, where a few spectators had gathered, and the applause and encouragement was very welcome.
There’s a point on the path where you turn left, and go down a steep hill towards the finish. You have to climb it at the start of the race, and you know that when you see it again, that your race is almost over. It is about 200 meters to the finish at that point, and when I hit there, I took off like I had robbed a bank. Adrenalin, the crowd, the power gels, the cola and the sub-four target all tripped a switch. My legs came back, my lungs were fresh, various miscellaneous aches and pains vanished, and as I ran towards the line, I looked out for Jean, my wife, to see if I could see her cheering me in, 7 minutes under my target time. Alas, my faster than expected time caught her out, and when she arrived at the finish, I was in having soup.
It started with a quick e-mail back in June, and ended in a small personal victory – still well down the field, but great progress made. Thanks so much to everyone that helped, and to all the GoTri team.