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The alarm went off at 4am. I felt sick. Not just the normal “sick with nerves before a race”. It was a nauseous feeling, a feeling that something wasn’t completely right with the body.

I wondered if I should even get up and get the bus to the starting line. You shouldn’t race if you don’t feel well, should you? But then again, I had paid the 88 Euro entry fee. I had paid for a full tank of petrol and two nights’ accommodation down in Westport. Not to mention all the training I had put in over the months, as well as the new puncture proof tyres I had recently purchased.

The start of Gaelforce West.

The start of Gaelforce West Adventure Race on Glassilaun Beach.

So I hauled myself out from under the covers and put on my racing gear. I figured if I got moving I’d feel a lot better. By the time I had settled myself on the 5am bus for the hour’s journey to the start, things had definitely improved. The banana cake was settling in my stomach and my headache was nearly gone. So I lumped myself in together with the 200 other athletes that had signed up for the elite wave start of the 68km adventure race known as Gaelforce West.

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There’s nothing like a race on home turf. So when I saw that the next race in the Adventure Race Series was up in County Donegal, I definitely planned on entering.

The last bike section to Bunbeg, with Mt Errigal conquered already.

The last bike section to Bunbeg, with Mt Errigal conquered already.

Gaelforce North’s course goes through parts of the county I’d not been to in 20 years. It starts with a 15km run through Glenveagh National Park, taking in its castle and beautiful gardened grounds. Then there is a 2km kayak on the waters of Lake Gartan, followed by a bike to Mount Errigal. Despite having lived in the north of Ireland for over half my life, I still hadn’t managed to climb up that local mountain. And with a final bike west to the Atlantic coast and Bunbeg, it is a mouth-watering route that I knew I would relish.

Unfortunately I wasn’t going to be allowed to go sightseeing. The Form Guide released a few days before put me as firm favourite. I emailed Paul Mahon, its author and runner of the Series, to dampen his expectations. However my second place in Dingle apparently showed I was in “good form” and so “hard to beat”. I also had distance on my side. Donegal is the far end of the country, a four hour plus journey for Dublin residents. For me, it was an excuse for a trip home to see the parents and the bonus of a weekend adventure race thrown in.

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Saturday’s Dingle Adventure Race was the first test of my winter training regime. Last year, I decided I’d give the National Adventure Series a go this season. Four races need to be completed out of nine. Waterford Adventure Race in May was my original season opener. But a bad cough prevented me from reaching the starting line. Dingle, the second race in the series, was therefore where I’d find out if my training had really worked.

Testing out my biking skills on Dingle Adventure Race. Courtesy of Action Photography.

Testing out my biking skills on Dingle Adventure Race. Courtesy of Action Photography.

The Dingle Adventure Race is a 48km course around Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula. Starting on road bikes, the race route takes you up and over Conor Pass, ascending and descending 480 metres on narrow, windy roads until you reach Cloghane village after 25km of cycling. There the bikes are dumped and you set off for a 10km hike of Brandon Mountain. From sea level, you climb a steep rocky 950 metres to the top, descending via a gentle grass slope to Bally Braic. Then it’s a 10.5km road run back to Dingle, where boats await for a 2km kayak near the marina. And if you’ve not cramped or sunk by then, the race ends with a 1km road run back into Dingle village and the ultimate finish line.

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Long mountain races don’t attract many women. So I wasn’t surprised when I was the only lady registering for the noontime start of the Circuit of Brockagh race. The race promised 28 kilometres over three mountains with 1,372 metres of climb. Even the men were far and few between, put off by the apparent distances and navigational needs.

Myself and Niamh at the end of the Circuit of Brockagh - So who won the Ladies race? Courtesy of Juju Jay.

Myself and Niamh at the end of the Circuit of Brockagh – So who won the Ladies race? Courtesy of Juju Jay.

With five minutes to spare, a car speeds up to the start. A svelte and somewhat flustered Niamh O’Ceallaigh throws herself out of the passenger seat. “I’m so disorganised!” she mutters as she throws a map into her shorts and sprints past me towards registration.

It’s nice to have someone to pit yourself against. At the Glacial Lakes event two weeks ago, I had no other solo ladies to race me. But this time Niamh seemed happy enough to volunteer her services. I knew she had won the Wicklow Way Trail a few weeks before hand. And her ever decreasing size made her look like she might float up a mountain or two.

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I’ve always wanted to run the Glacial Lakes race since its inception in 2012. This year, I was finally in the right place at the right time, and was able to put in an entry.

Leaving Glendalough at 9am for the start of the 43km Glacial Lakes Race. Photo courtesy of Juju Jay.

Leaving Glendalough at 9am for the start of the 43km Glacial Lakes Race. Photo courtesy of Juju Jay.

IMRA’s Glacial Lake event is a 43km race with 1,783 metres of ups and downs. It is primarily designed for relay teams of four people, racing between lakes in four stages within the Wicklow Mountains. To add a bit more spice, individuals are given time bonuses if they are female or old. Elderly females are therefore graciously given the biggest and best bonuses.

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“Ah sure, it’ll be a bit of fun”. Fun? I never would have attached the word ‘fun’ to the term ‘duathlon’. But apparently that’s what my coach thought the duathlon would be. A bit of fun.

On the first 2 mile run leg of the Buncrana Duathlon. Photo courtesy of NWTC.

On the first 2 mile run leg of the Buncrana Duathlon. Photo courtesy of NWTC.

At his behest, I had entered the duathlon up north in Donegal’s Buncrana. It was a sprint event with a 2 mile run, then a 10 mile bike followed by a 2 mile run to finish off. It was seemed so short, so fast, and so painful. “Good training”, he said.

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It had been nearly 18 months since my last IMRA race. In the interim time, a baby and a move to Northern Ireland had put pay to my mountain racing days.

How to hurdle, mountain running style. Winner of Annacurra race showing it how it's done. Photo courtesy of Mick Hanney.

How to hurdle, mountain running style. Winner of Annacurra race showing it how it’s done. Photo courtesy of Mick Hanney.

But then Mick Hanney started posting pictures on Facebook. They were of rocks and mountains and muck and puddles. There were views from descents and trees to hurdle. It was too much to resist. I had to attend his mountain race.


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