Quest Lough Derg 2019: Race Report

The emotion felt the day after Quest Lough Derg is relief more than anything else. This was the ‘A race’ of the season for me and with that comes a lot of pressure. Add to the mix the ‘local race’ angle and I am just glad to get away with a victory. The manner of the victory was an added bonus – I pretty much went solo from start to finish. The race went exactly as planned for the brother and I but we had an added bonus of seeing Nenagh CC teammate Eoin Buckley breaking into the top 5 on his first adventure race. 3 Nenagh CC competitors in the top 5 shows we have a very competitive club that can achieve big things.

The night before the big race the Kayathlon form guide was published (read it here). It’s always great to read these, partly out of vanity but also I love seeing how others predict races will go and the thought process behind those decisions. I have won 4 out of 4 National Series races this year and all by a sizeable distance but I wasn’t down as favourite for 3 out of the 4 races including yesterday’s race. I understood the reasoning behind the first 3 events but for yesterday’s race I felt the smart money should have gone on me. Why…..

1. Too much was read into the Trim BAR result. That was a short course with no hills, I didn’t know the route, I had a tough physio session the day before and the running legs were dead which didn’t help as the race started with a flat 5km run.
2. Lough Derg is a hilly bike route. I weigh 8 stone 5 pounds and probably hold the Strava KOMs on every climb we did. There is barely a flat fast section on the route. It suited the smaller rider.
3. I know every nook and cranny of the Lough Derg route. It’s a technical bike and knowing where and when to push and what gear to be in, is a big advantage.
4. The 3 hour + distance would suit me. I train typically 20 hours per week. When it goes into the 3rd hour I can stay going at the same pace.
5. The route was very technical with lots of twists and turns. This meant if you got out in a break you would be out of sight pretty quickly. This would make a chase from behind tougher. Plus the tricky roads meant it was tougher to work as a chase group anyway. In another big plus, there was the perfect opportunity to get away early with a brutally tough hill in the first 5km of the race. Me getting away solo then sets up the perfect race scenario for us, with Gary acting as an anchor in the chase group and causing doubts as those working hard are leaving themselves open to being beaten by a fresh Gary on the run now. If I could get away solo the likelihood of a 1 – 2 would have been at least 90% in my head.
6. The pre-race favourite Mark Nolan was a bit of an unknown quantity at this stage of the season. I know Mark well from the triathlon scene many years ago where we had plenty of battles. He is a genuine top level athlete. Even though the two of us are in our twilight years now in terms of top level racing I do know he would still be a formidable opponent when on top form. Having won the first two Quest races of the season it was right to expect a good performance but those races were a long time ago. Since then there was nothing more to go on, bar a Lost Sheep Half Ironman performance, which would have been nowhere near what Mark was capable of producing in the past.

Nobody would have been surprised if Mark had won the Lough Derg Adventure Race, least of all me, but on this occasion I felt the smart money should have gone on me. Thankfully, it wasn’t and that took the pressure off and made me a little bit more determined at the start of the race. Again that is just how I read the situation in the run up to the race. It’s all just a bit of fun. When I used to make predictions on the triathlon scene years ago I used to always get things completely wrong so who am I to judge?! Not mentioning Gary for a podium finish was also a strange decision for me but I will leave the full reasoning for that for another day, suffice to say Gary is a better athlete than me. If we stayed at this sport for another year then he would be the lad to watch out for and not me.

That’s a lot written and I haven’t even started the race commentary yet!

This was my first Quest event and my initial impression was that it was a big deal. Big crowds, big buzz, big everything, but often times big doesn’t mean better. Only when the race was over and done could you comment on how it all went. But from the start it felt like a big race. Gary and I were probably the first two to arrive in the morning as we always like to get to race venues early, but we arsed about so much with little things we ended up almost late to the start line and caused a bit of a commotion (sorry!). After being squeezed into the front line we could relax and get ready for the race. The weather was superb so that made it a little less tense at the start. The usual big hitters were at the front and before long we were up and cycling behind the car through the neutralised zone. The car pulled aside after 1km and the race began.

It was a slow tentative start with Mark on the front and me sitting in behind. I had already picked my breakaway point before the race and was just waiting till we got there. Another rider picked up the pace and brought us all the way to the first slight uphill where I was going to try to get away. The plan was if I got caught (which I thought likely) then Gary would break over the top and get a gap into the first big hill of the day – then I would try to break up to him and the two of us would be away. It didn’t quite work out like this because when I broke another rider came with me and we had a small gap coming into the big climb, with Killian leading the chase behind. My breakaway partner fell back on the tough climb up to T1 and I pushed on ahead. By T1 I had put 40 seconds into the chase bunch containing Killian, Gary , Mark and Barry.

My biggest gripe about this otherwise excellent race was the marshaling. This was the first year of the event so there will always be teething problems and I am sure there will be big improvements next year. But it felt that the marshals just weren’t ready for the race at that time in the morning. Between equipment not there on time and marshals not at their stations yet it wasn’t long before the first big problem of the day occurred. There was no marshal on the first run turn off. Luckily for me, I knew the route but I was still questioning if I had gone the right way myself as there was no sign or marshal there to tell me to take the first left down the hill. Unfortunately for the 4 chasing lads they all went the wrong way and lost up to 1 minute. Gary knew the route but followed the others like a lemming before getting the lads to turn back and go down the unmarshalled lane way (which was now being marshalled when they returned). This was all to my advantage but nobody wants to gain time like that.

The first run was very tricky and I was reduced to walking a couple of times. I focused on keeping the heart rate high but under control. I thought some of the stronger runners might get up to me by the end of the run, but I managed to run the uphill section well and probably put a little time into the others before losing a little bit on the descent back down to transition. Getting on my bike for the longest cycle of the day, I was in a pretty good position. I could see I had a decent gap to Killian in 2nd and Mark seemed to have struggled a little and was a good bit back. Gary was in 3rd with Barry in 4th and Mark Pinfield in 5th so I would still have to work hard on the bike to stay ahead, especially if the 3 lads knuckled down and worked hard together.


On the bike, I took it handy down the first half of the first descent as I knew the loose chippings on it hadn’t bedded in yet and they would be lethal if not respected. Chipping a quiet road so close to the race wasn’t the best idea ever. The chippings never had a chance to bed down in time. The rest of the cycle was up and down and twisty as hell on energy sapping roads. Again, the focus was just to keep the heart rate between 160 and 170 and not to peak or drop off at any stage be it tough hill or fast descent. The road from Garrykennedy back to Ballina was all into a headwind so that made it tough but I managed to get back with a decent 3 minute lead.

The chase behind never really got going. There were 4 in the group – Killian, Mark, Barry and Gary. Gary was never going to work to chase me down so had a free ride. There is no point getting thick about this, it’s perfect tactics for us. If you don’t like him hanging on then breakaway. Killian took up the lion’s share of the chasing as he refused to give up on first place. Barry didn’t help him as he felt first was gone and it was in his interest to focus on 2nd and stay fresh for the big run battle with Gary on Moylussa. Mark was interested in staying away from all the chasers behind so he chipped in with some work at the front. This was tough on Killian and he understandably got frustrated but that is racing for you.

Running over the pontoon was a unique experience and greatly added to the race. There was a long run with your bike section but my legs were feeling good and the crowds cheering on always give you a good boost. There was still plenty of racing left so it was back on the bike and pedaling as fast as I could out to Two Mile Gate. Back behind, Gary ran into bother at the pontoon as only 2 were allowed on it to halfway at a time. This meant he lost 20 seconds to the lads ahead and also missed being on their wheels when they remounted. He chased hard but only got up to him towards the end of the cycle as they came to the kayak section. In terms of time lost and extra energy used this probably cost him 40 seconds or so. The extra effort also meant he was more tired than he needed to be getting into the kayak and that led to almost immediate disaster. He felt his hips about to lock up (they locked up in Gaelforce West and that cost him huge time). Thankfully the hips settled down and he got through the kayak without losing much time to Killian and Barry ahead.

The kayak section was the first time I could get an idea of the gap between me and the rest. I didn’t know what was going on behind so for all I knew the chase pack were hot on my heels. I kayaked hard for 2/3s of the kayak but after heading around the last buoy I could see there was still nobody else in the water. I had a big lead and so could ease off a little and conserve energy for the big run of the day. Exiting the kayak, the lads still hadn’t arrived so I knew that barring disaster the race was over.

My legs felt reasonably fresh but there were little twinges on the inside of my quads that reminded me that possible cramps were on their way and not to over exert myself. The final Moylussa run seemed to have been changed from the one that was on the website and that I had practiced on. Gone were some of the trails, replaced by fire roads. This suited me even better so I had no complaints. I held a steady pace all the way up the climb but had to walk small sections near the top. I was surprised to see that I recorded the fastest climb of the day. At the top you ran back down the same road we came up so I would see exactly who was chasing me and how far back they were. I was delighted to see Gary first on my way down and he had a nice lead on Killian in 3rd who had a nice lead on Barry in 4th. I saw Eoin Buckley too and he was having a great race and was inside the top 10 at this point.

With a big lead, I was able to take my time going down the mountain. I still felt strong so bar a twisted ankle or a muscle cramp I would be fine. I took no risks at all descending and was able to enjoy the rest of the race. I did lose quite a bit of time on that final descent but I feel if I was being pushed I would have been able to up my pace a lot. Eoin actually recorded the fastest descent of the day to move through the field and into 5th. The big hours he has put into training all year were bearing fruit.

The final short bike and run section went by quickly and before I knew it I was crossing the finishing line feeling quite fresh still. Plenty of lads from Nenagh CC had come down to watch the finish so I chatted with them for a while as we waited to see if Gary would come home in 2nd. 4.5 minutes later Gary crossed the line for a Scully 1 – 2. There was then a big battle for 3rd with Barry and Killian seemingly neck and neck coming out of transition. In the final 1km run Barry got a small lead and secured the final place on the podium. No doubt Killian was cursing how the race panned out. There wasn’t much chat in the tent afterwards (things felt a little frosty), but straight after a race emotions can be high and we are all hyper competitive so it is what it is.

The happiest man in the finisher’s tent immediately after was Eoin who took to the sport like a duck to water. I am sure this won’t be his last race and he is one to watch for in the future. David Power managed to come through the field to take 6th with Mark Pinfield 7th and falling back a little towards the end due to a twisted ankle. 8th was a cut and bruised John Magner who had come a cropper on the first descent. 9th was another local athlete Paul Tierney followed by Scott Tormey in 10th. Mark Nolan wouldn’t have been happy with his 11th place finish but sometimes there is nothing better than a poor result to get the motivation back. I am sure we can expect a big response from him some time in the future. Hopefully I am not the one that has to suffer the backlash!

Overall I thought it was an excellent event and I would definitely do it again in the future. There were a few small teething problems but it was a fine first attempt and a pleasure to take part in. Thanks to everyone who gave up their time to bring an event like this to Ballina.

Up Next: I was half planning on making this my last race of the season as the mind was running out of steam, and the body was breaking down a little. After this 1 / 2 finish, the two of us have now done a complete 180 turn on this and hope to keep doing as many adventure races as possible between now and November. Might as well finish off the National Series and perhaps get a 1 / 2 finish on the top of that. But next up is Gaelforce North and the hills of Donegal next week. I hear Mt. Errigal is pretty high and scary so, as someone that is scared of heights, I won’t be looking forward to that. I might have to wear the blinkers for that.

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