Since moving back home, I’ve had a chance to explore the corner of Ireland where I grew up. I now live on the Inishowen Peninsula, which is lodged on the north-west tip of Ireland. It houses the island’s most northerly point, Malin Head, as well as harbouring some of Ireland’s most rugged, wild countryside.
So when there was a chance to race across the Peninsula last weekend with Extreme North Events, I couldn’t help but sign up. Starting on the east coast’s Redcastle, the plan was to spend the next 62 kilometres biking, running, and kayaking across to Buncrana on the western side.
37 of us turned up to the start line on Saturday morning, on a surprisingly dry, sunny, and mild day. It meant I could forgo my hat and gloves that I had brought along. The forecast had wrongly informed me that there would be showers throughout the race.
At 9am we were waved off by the race director, for a 13km run up and over Puckan Hill down towards the bike transition near Carndonagh. There were only two other girls in the line-up, one of whom was in a relay team. The first stage is always the most difficult to control, trying not to race even when you see others sprinting off. But I knew we were in for a long few hours, so held back so there’d be energy for what was to come.
I arrived at the bikes, convinced I was at the back of the pack. It was heartening to see quite a few bikes still there, meaning I was more in the middle that I thought. Bike choice was key for the race. Though there were rocky off-road sections, I still opted for my road bike fully equipped with puncture-proof Gatorskin tyres. The route still had too many road sections to transfer to a mountain bike with slick tyres.
It was a short 18km section to the base of Slieve Snaght, Inishowen’s highest mountain. Dumping the bikes on a layby, we had a 400 metre climb to get to the mountain’s summit. It was a boggy affair, with a glacially cold marsh traverse before a heathery, rocky ascent to the top. My feet were frozen from the bog waters that were impossible to avoid. And my lungs quickly reminded me that I’d not been on mountains for a while.
Back to the bikes, it was a short cycle towards Loch Fad for a quick paddle around. I skipped the section as my body’s not able to kayak at the moment. The race director kindly let me off and gave me penalty points instead.
From Loch Fad, it was a quick road descent to the main Clonmany to Buncrana road. But we weren’t on the tarmac for long before we were climbing again, this time on a dirt road to the wind turbines on top of Drumlough hill. It was a steep painful ascent after the climb up Slieve Snaght. And it was the fast, rocky descent back to the main road that made me sadly miss my mountain bike.
The worst was over now, and it was a quick road cycle to the Lifeboat Station at Ned’s Point where I dumped the bike and ran the final 2km coastal path into Buncrana town. We were welcomed at the finish by Harold, intrepid race organiser, who had laid on a tent filled with hot soup and food from where we could sit down and admire our impressive medals.
I was back home in time to watch the rugby and see Ireland get thrashed by Italy. But at least my mood couldn’t be wrecked after a good day’s racing on a great course in a part of Ireland that many have still to discover.
Results can be found here.
The next Extreme North Event is on 12 May 2013 on Inishowen – the Rocks and Rolling Ultra Marathon.