The Wild Atlantic Adventure Race had been on my radar since it was set up in 2015 but with work commitments and the Coast2Coast last year I hadn’t been able to do it until this year. Even so I wasn’t 100% sure that I would race as I am still recovering from the High Peaks Challenge and didn’t know if I’d have the high-end speed to compete for the win!
But with a great event on my doorstep, I thought why not and signed up on the morning of the race. Dropping off my bike at the transition area I met several local competitors and bumped into Aidan McMoreland, an experienced adventure racer from Sligo who is always knocking about the podium on a national level. I’ve raced Aidan before and he is a strong runner and is a goat on the mountains so he was definitely going to be in the mix. Aidan had actually met up with myself and Lonan O’Farrell during our High Peaks Challenge to help guide us up Truskmore in Sligo, his knowledge of the trig points was brilliant considering there was zero visibility on top that night!
The WAAR course is relatively short at 55km, but it covers some hard roads around west Donegal, an area I’m fairly familiar with and have raced around several times before. It was raining softly on the start line but that didn’t hinder the enthusiasm of the competitors in the first wave waiting to get stuck into the first leg, a 10km run on mixed terrain. From the gun the pace was set by local athletes Noel Diver and Edward Harkin and the group soon whittled down and eventually there was four of us running together. The pace on the road was uncomfortably fast for me and my heart rate was in the 180’s which was worrying me a bit as the others are strong runners but I knew that if I could get onto the bike it would settle down! A cool addition to this years race saw us run the length of the runway and back up towards the control tower of Donegal Airport before turning onto the sand dunes and the beautiful Mullaghdearg beach.
The four of us entered transition within 20 seconds of each other; a quick transition and I was out the gate in first place. Once on the road I seen Aidan was about 200m behind so I didn’t push and rode steady til he joined me. Aidan is a good cyclist and we decided to work together going “up and over” and kept the pace high to the climb up Thor.
By now we had opened a sizable gap on the chasers, as we arrived at T2 I knew that I had to make a move at some stage. Once I racked my bike I set off quickly for the hill and opened up a gap on Aidan, keeping a high tempo on the climb and running across the bog to the summit before I dropped pretty fast back to bike. By now I knew I had pulled out another handful of seconds and once on the bike I went “all out” to make sure I wasn’t going to be caught. About 6km from the final transition a car passed and shouted out that I had pulled out a gap of over one minute. As I peddled towards the final transition, I was thinking of the pain and torture that my old buddy Sean McFadden and the riders in the An Post Rás will be going through in just over a week’s time when they are racing the same roads to the end of stage 5, a 181km trek from Buncrana to Dungloe!
The final transition was smooth and into the kayak for a quick 1km paddle. Due to the recent dry spell the water level was quiet low and the first 100m was shallow, meaning I had to paddle at a low angle until I was clear of the reeds and into open water. I kept the pressure on as I still wasn’t sure if I had secured enough of a lead, however at the turn point I could see Aidan was at least a minute behind so I was able to enjoy the final run into the finish, even if I was frozen from the damp conditions!
Credit must be given to the organisers and all the volunteers who ran this race, its really well marshaled and there’s a great atmosphere around the whole event. Its great to have another high level multi-sport event in Donegal and one that caters for all levels of ability.
Overall I was delighted to get the victory, especially since most of my training has been around longer, slower endurance sessions. For now my focus will turn mainly towards the CCC 100km trail race on September 1st in Chamonix, France. With 16 weeks of training ahead, I will be putting in long hours on my feet and this will mean sacrificing the bike for 5-6 days of running per week.
- Full results here