The Race is a 250 km unsupported endurance event across the rugged landscape of North West Donegal. To finish competitors have to complete 15km of kayaking, 166km of cycling, 5km of mountain running and 64km of road and trail running. It is the ultimate 24 hour test of endurance.
Stage1 – Run (22km) Gartan Adventure Center to Lough Swilly
With perfect conditions we set off from Gartan Adventure Centre at 5am on the 22km road run to Rathmelton. The 75 starters soon settled into their own pace and I found myself running along side two of the pre-race favourites, my buddy Lonan O’Farrell and another local man Marty Lynch. With the pace being held at 4.05-4.10/km I felt reasonably comfortable and was happy to chat with Marty on the run into Rathmelton, as Lonan settled into a slightly more conservative pace (we still had over 200km to do!). The sun was rising and the weather was looking great, which was unusual for March in Donegal.
Stage 2 – Kayak (15km) Ramelton to Rathmullen
I had planned to keep my time in transitions to a minimum and I managed to transition into my kayak gear in 1minute 47seconds while munching on some oat bars! The kayak section is done in sit-on-top kayaks and follows an estuary which leads into Lough Swilly and to the seaside village of Rathmullan. The sea conditions were perfect with flat water and an out-going tide so I settled into a good rhythm counting out my strokes as I tried to maintain speed and not expend too much energy. My quick transition had allowed me to open a gap on the others and by the end of the kayak I had an advantage around 4-5 minutes.
Stage 3 – Cycle (96km) Rathmullen to Muckish Mountain
My background in cycling was supposed to be my advantage in this race although in hindsight it may also have been my downfall! I set off at a high tempo towards the rolling roads of Knockalla knowing I had a nice advantage over the chasers. While peddling towards Fanad light house I heard a time check from a passer by who said I had a 10 minute lead at the top of Knockalla, this if true, was a sizable lead and although I was pushing I knew that I could maintain the pace for the duration of the bike section. After crossing into Downings and completing the Atlantic Drive loop I was again given a time check and my advantage had increased to almost 15 minutes! I had at this stage settled into a good pace and was remaining calm and trying to eat and refuel, until disaster struck!
On the ascent to Lough Salt I began to puke violently about 200 metres into the climb, I continued peddling up the 20% gradient while emptying whatever food and liquid I had taken on board all morning onto the tarmac below. The immediate relief of puking felt good but by the time I crested Lough Salt I knew that I was in trouble. My legs were suddenly weak and my body was repelling anything I put in my mouth. With not even half the race completed I knew that I had to get fluids into me quick or else I was done for, so after about 15 minutes I was able to sip on water, yet food was out of the question. The puking I feel was brought on by overloading on my fluids, maybe I was overly conscious of staying hydrated in the unusually hot March day and a combination of energy drink, bars and a banana just flipped my stomach upside down!
Stage 4 – Run/Walk/Scramble (5km) 500 vertical metres gained up and down Muckish Mountain
By the time I reached Muckish I had steadied myself a bit but was still struggling to eat anything, I did however manage a handful of biscuits from my transition box and some more plain water. Muckish is my home mountain, I can see it from my house and train here at least once a week, usually summiting from the north side on the “Miners Path”. The Race route takes a longer and boggier route from the “back side” and I know every step with my eyes closed, but today I was suffering and I knew that Marty would be quickly following me up. I reached the summit and after about 1 minute of descending I met Marty, I dropped down towards transition pretty quick and had another fast transition to leave on the bike before Marty had gotten off the mountain.
Stage 5 – Cycle (68km) Muckish Mountain to Glenveigh National Park
The second cycle takes in some spectacular roads around Magheroarty and Bloody Foreland, being on the Atlantic Coast these roads are very exposed to winds and although we didn’t really have strong gust there was a head wind for the majority of the 68km to Doohary. I continued to sip on my bottles and slowly got some food into me, I knew that my lead was now hovering around 5 minutes and that Marty would put some serious pressure on me in the final run. It was frustrating not being able to put out my usual power on the bike but I knew that a marathon lay ahead so there was still a lot to happen.
Stage 6 – Run (42km) to Gartan Adventure Centre, a marathon along the paths and trails of Glenveagh
I again had a smooth and fast transition into my running gear for the final marathon. I made sure to take my required 1 litre of fluid in my Salomon running vest and I necked a bottle of lucozade to give me a pick me up! On exiting transition my running legs felt good and I thought maybe I had steadied myself and that a sensible pace would see me hold Marty and the chasers off until the line. With the weather being unusually hot I found myself beginning to cook after about 2km so I slowed down to take off a layer, when I tried to get going again I was completely sapped. The dehydration from puking was now taking a serious toll on my body, I was over heating as I had no fluids to sweat and I couldn’t replenish what I had lost and was expending all day (I weighted myself the morning after the race and I had lost over 5kg).
It was do or die time and I continued to suffer and shuffle along knowing that Marty was running at least 10-15 seconds/km quicker so inevitably he was going to catch me unless I miraculously found a stash of energy from somewhere!
I dug deep and began the descent down the Bridal Path into Glenveagh National Park, now holding a 4.10-4.20/km pace hoping that Marty may hit a bad patch and allow me to pull out a few crucial seconds…on the final climb towards Gartan with about 12km remaining I was caught. I tried to match Marty’s pace but that lasted about 10 seconds, I had already emptied myself and anything that I could give had already been laid out in the previous 30kms. From here on was a blur, I had just conceded the lead and with over an hour back to third place I entered auto pilot mode and hobbled towards the finish line, shattered and sickened!
Congrats to Marty, he had a great race, set a new course record and can be massively proud of his achievement.
The support from everyone on the course was immense and meant a lot to me, every corner I took there was someone out cheering and waving. The RACE is one hell of an event and it is great to have an endurance multi-sport race on my door step. I will be back to compete in the future for sure.
Wild eyed at the finish line, second overall in a time of 14:09:36.
Results and race details: The RACE Website