Race Report: Killary Gaelforce North
by Shane Scully
Our 8th adventure race of the season brought us up to the Wilds of Donegal for the Killary Gaelforce North race. Signing up for this race was very much a last minute decision. It served as a stepping stone towards the final few National Series races of the year. September has always been our rest month so the fear is that if we relax for a week we might get too used to it and finish up. There is HUGE temptation to stop now and relax and we are fighting that all the time, especially now after finishing our A race at Quest Lough Derg. Training hours and intensity are falling rapidly. Bellies are expanding rapidly. On the flip side, there is also huge temptation to keep the season going and pick off one or two more victories and win the overall National Series title. With the A races over there will be no more peak performances but even at 95% we can still be reasonably competitive, so we will keep the show on the road for now.
It is the mind that will give up first for me and for the first time this year I felt a touch of that at a race. On the boggy foothills of Mt. Errigal I told myself that I had had enough of the hardship and it was time to take a break. Fast forward a few days and now that I have fully recovered, rehydrated and gotten rid of the cold I had, things are looking a little brighter and we march on towards Quest Killarney in 2 weeks time. We need to get the head back in the game though if we are to have big success there. I can see our scalps being taken soon.
Gaelforce North was appealing to us due to the fact that our family on the mother’s side are all from Buncrana in Donegal. We holiday’d up there every year and know the place well. Gary spent most of this summer up there, taking part in around 20 running races; so he knew a lot of the local athletes. We would have a place to stay so all we had to worry about was the long car journey up. Between Friday and Saturday we had been travelling for about 14 hours. I think I found that tougher than the race and I don’t think I would do that again. Coming into this race, the two of us had been sick all week and the final decision to travel was only made on Thursday. Between the travel and sickness we weren’t exactly in the most positive mood for a race but getting your ass to the start line of a race can often be the best medicine as the adrenalin rush snaps you out of the ‘feeling sorry for yourself’ mentality.
Seb Giraud was the main threat at this race. He is a strong all round athlete and very aggressive, always looking to push hard and win. He also won here last year so would have the advantage of knowing the course. We also met Declan Donnellan and Darren Quinn on the start line and knew they would push hard and test us if we weren’t going well. We had plenty of incentive to race hard but we both still went in with a mindset of doing as little as possible to get the win. It was just a training race where we were a bit under the weather so no point killing ourselves. If we could get a gap on the first run then we would be able to combine on the bike, open a gap and take it easy.
The first run saw Seb tear down the road at a blistering pace. He obviously wanted to make sure he wasn’t behind getting on the bike. Gary and I eased our way in to it and finally caught Seb after about 5km. The 3 of us ran together for a while but I was finding the pace too tough. My heart rate was very high for what seemed like a slow enough effort and breathing was too heavy so early into the race. I had no choice but to slow down. Seeing me drop back, Gary slowed the pace, but this wasn’t going to help much if the 3 of us came to the bike together. I told Gary to push on and drop Seb and that I would get up to him later on the bike. Gary pushed the pace and Seb went with him and I was distanced. Gary had to drop Seb or give up trying so he upped it again and forced a gap.
With 5km to go on the long first run there was roughly 30 seconds between, Gary and Seb and 30 seconds back to me. I was hoping Seb had used too much energy trying to stay with Gary and burnt a few matches. On the big hill near the end, Seb started coming back to me. I caught him at the top but stayed behind on the descent as we were running into a stiff headwind. With 1km to transition and with a change in wind direction I made my move. If I could drop Seb now I would have a free cycle up to Gary instead of having to play cat and mouse on the bike with someone who is a strong cyclist. I broke hard and got a gap of about 13 seconds coming into transition. I lost most of this time in T1 as my bike had been moved from the previous night. Not good but I still had 2 or 3 seconds on Seb exiting T1 and with a hill right at the start of the cycle I was able to get away from him.
Gary was 1 minute up the road so I set about reeling him in. I did this pretty quickly so now the two of us were able to work together. Gary was struggling a little on the bike and soon couldn’t roll through. His heart rate was way too high so I had to slow down and make sure that he got to the climb still able to move. It wasn’t much of an advantage being 2-up on this road anyway as the wind was either a very strong tail wind or cross wind. Gary would have to work almost as hard as me the whole way because of this. There was no intention in my mind of dropping Gary as we weren’t in any immediate danger and this wasn’t a very important race for us. If Seb got close we would just up the pace again. After 40 minutes of cycling we came to the toughest part of the day – the climbing of Mt. Errigal.
The run started off through boggy land and straight away Gary fell back a little with his legs close to cramping after the bike. I opened a small gap but he was never far behind. It wasn’t long into the run before we were both reduced to walking/scrambling. All the way up to the shoulder, there was far more walking than running. When I got to the shoulder I found out that they had shortened the run and we were to turn around here. I was happy at the time but in hindsight would have loved the challenge of going to the top. One look down the mountain and I could see the race was over. There was nobody close enough to put pressure on us. I descended the mountain very easily, trying to enjoy the end of the race. I kept about 20 – 30 seconds ahead of Gary as I wanted a little gap getting onto the kayak in case of any mishap. After the descent I jumped back on the bike and descended quickly to the turn off for the kayak, but soon learned that the kayak was cancelled (not a surprise with the gale force winds and the cresting waves on the lake). All that was left now was the cycle back to the finish line.
I waited for Gary at the kayak turn off point and we then cycled back to Bunbeg together. We knew we had a decent gap on Seb, perhaps up to 2 minutes, so there was no need to take any risks. I did nearly come a cropper at one of the final turns when a car decided to overtake me coming into a marshalled right turn. Having survived that Gary and I just took our time back to the finish line chatting most of the way. It turned out to be an easy enough victory in the end, but these things are always won at decisive moments. If Seb could have stayed with Gary on the opening run when Gary surged then it might have been different. If Seb had focused on me instead of trying to match Gary on the run then I might not have been able to drop him coming into T1. If he was 2 seconds quicker out of T1 then he would have had my wheel and who knows what would happen then. In the end, I crossed the line first with Gary 2nd and Seb 1 min 30 seconds back. A super descent from Declan set him up for 4th with Darren in 5th, both about 5 minutes or so back.
With that win I also won the overall Gaelforce Adventure racing title, with the win here combining with wins in Gaelforce West and Gaelforce Dublin earlier this year. That makes it 7 AR wins out of 8 this year and 7 AR runners up spots out of 8 for Gary. I wouldn’t fancy my chances of making it 9 in Killarney as it is a race too far into the off season for me. I would love to end my season now but will keep tipping along and see what happens. If you are looking for a scalp then this is the time of year to beat us!
Starting to get a little bit annoying……. no prize money again, no photos of the top 3 from the main race at the event, no mention of us winning the race in the Facebook/Twitter feed. This is the one big bugbear of mine with this ‘sport’. Is it competitive or not? Is it a Race or is it an Instagram Sport (all about the selfies, the medals, the finisher t-shirt). The entry fees are huge and in almost half the races this year there has been no prize money for the winners. You wouldn’t get this at a local 5km run race in the back end of nowhere. If you want a sport to be taken seriously then incentivise it. If it’s just ‘all about the experience’ then so be it. Adventure racing for me lies somewhere between mud runs and triathlons. One is a team building gimmick and the other is a proper Olympic sport. Which one does it want to be? This comes from someone who has organised many races over the years and yes I would still argue this if I wasn’t in the prizes at a race.