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We are in an age where limits no longer apply. Runners are going further, faster, for longer, in colder and darker conditions. Races are run over days and weeks, not hours and minutes. Athletes are enduring physical and emotional torment beyond what was ever thought feasible.

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Steve Birkinshaw on his way to breaking the 214 Wainwright Peaks Fastest Known Time (FKT) in 2014.

Steve Birkinshaw is one of those remarkable runners who know no limits. No longer content to ‘just’ win the Original Marathon Mountain and the relentless Dragon’s Back Race the length of Wales, in 2014 he set out to break Joss Naylor’s ‘unbreakable’ record of traversing the 214 Wainwright peaks in the Lake District in just over seven days.

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Great little video of Achill Roar Adventure Race from this year. Brilliant event, definitely recommended for anyone thinking of adventure racing in 2015!

“Oh shit”, I thought. The grating noise just didn’t sound good. I looked down. My back wheel was making a really unhealthy sound each time I turned the pedal. This was not what I planned as I left my bike at Kate Kearney’s Cottage the night before the 70km Killarney Adventure Race. I poked and prodded at different metal bits for several minutes before concluding there was nothing I could do. “It could be just a bit of mud stuck from the day’s ceaseless rain”, I thought. “Or something much more serious”. I would just have to wait until the race to see.

Setting off on the 35km bike from Kate Kearney's Cottage to Muckross Lake. Photo courtesy of Marek Hajdasz.

Setting off on the 35km bike from Kate Kearney’s Cottage to Muckross Lake. Photo courtesy of Marek Hajdasz.

My rear wheel dilemma was made all the more stressful knowing who I was up against. Fiona Meade had entered the race, the 2014 National Road Racing Champion who had beaten me by over 20 minutes in last year’s Sea to Summit Adventure Race. Though Killarney’s course is well known to favour mountain runners, I couldn’t lose too much time on the second stage, a 35km cycle from Kate Kearney’s to Muckross Lake. A banjaxed wheel would be enough to hand Fiona the race.

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I was on the hunt for points last weekend at Outfront’s Achill Roar Adventure Race. It was race number five out of the nine race National Adventure Race Series, with four races in total to count. I already had two wins and a second place in the bag from three races this year, so I needed just one more race to complete my tally.

The descent off 15k Mweelin mountain run on Achill Roar adventure race. Photo courtesy of Juju Jay.

The descent off 15k Mweelin mountain run on Achill Roar adventure race. Photo courtesy of Juju Jay.

It was a simple race format compared to the others I had done. There was a 2.5km kayak (or 1.5km swim if you preferred), followed by a 15km mountain run, with a 45km bike to finish. Nothing as complicated as the run – kayak – run – bike – run – bike – run format of Gaelforce West just three weeks ago. Also Achill Roar’s kayak section was substantially longer than other adventure races, which suited me down to the ground. I even hired a single sea kayak off Total Experience to make sure I went extra fast.

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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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