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.
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.
The Race Form Guide was released 48 hours before the race. The defending 2013 champion Fiona Meade, was the firm race favourite. An experienced cyclist, she had already claimed an easy victory at the Waterford Adventure Race that I had earlier missed through illness. Former Dingle race and overall series winner, Emma Donlon, was also mentioned, but recent illness meant that she would probably miss the race. I was also mentioned as a potential podium placer.
I saw Fiona lining up on the start, right up with the male contenders. My only hope was that I could hang on to some other male cyclists and not lose too much ground on the opening bike section. My hopes were quickly dashed, as Fiona and my fellow competitors sprinted away through the streets of Dingle, up towards the mountain pass. I pushed hard, but before I knew it, I was in no man’s land. Soon another girl came on my shoulder. “I’m Emma”, she said as she cycled past. “I’m Moire”, I gasped. So Emma had found a miraculous cure and had made it to the start.
Summiting the pass, I stuck my head down and descended the best I could, bearing in mind the 300 metre cliff drops on my left. Levelling off, I started to overtake a guy pedaling furiously. Knowing full well that drafting is allowed, I suggested that we worked together. So we took turns to draft each other right up to Cloghane village. After 52 minutes, I thankfully dismounted the bike, and was on to a discipline I know and love – mountain running.
As I dibbed in, I was told I was in second place, with the first lady only 20 seconds ahead of me. I knew this was plainly wrong. Both Fiona and Emma were way out of sight on the cycle, so must have been minutes ahead. But then I turned and saw Fiona, standing calmly by T1 gate. She was chatting with some people. She definitely wasn’t running or racing. So maybe I was in second place after all. And then I looked ahead and saw Emma’s T-shirt. She was only a few metres ahead. Later I found out that her chain came off on the descent, allowing me to catch up with her.
But my closeness to Emma was short lived. I had pushed hard on the bike and my legs took some time to enter running mode. And as I waited for them to recover, Emma quickly disappeared up the mountainside. Everyone had warned me though of the 10.5km section back into Dingle. Pushing too hard on the mountain could leave me with no energy for the road run back. So I kept an eye on my heart rate, and went at a pace that I knew I could maintain.
The hike up Mountain Brandon was narrow and rocky, with the last section steep and strewn with boulders. I reached T2 at the top just as an old adventure racing friend, Brian Keogh passed me. “Good to see ye back racing”, he said. Despite the pain, it was good to be back alright.
I relaxed as I ran down the mountain, enjoying the fast grassy descent. Emma was nowhere to be seen as I entered T3 at Bally Braic. My husband, child and dog were waiting for me at the transition with news that I didn’t expect. I was 4 minutes behind Emma, who according to them was looking a little worse for wear. I set off on the road, pushing hard to see if I could make up time. Soon I could just make out Emma’s blue t-shirt in the distance, but it still seemed so far away.
After 50 minutes of running, I rocked up to the kayak section. Emma had just set sail and I was surprisingly 1 minute 20 seconds behind. I jumped into a boat and immediately felt a wobble. The sea was a little choppy, causing the course organisers to cut the kayak section in half to a mere 1km. I paddled hard, reaching the shore with Emma now 40 seconds in front. She must have seen me coming, as she bolted out of her boat and sprinted down the road. I couldn’t close the gap and came over the line in 3 hours 33 minutes 7 seconds, in second place by 34 seconds.
Emma was there to congratulate me on a race well run. She’s a great sport and a worthy winner. And with free entries for 2015 for the first three ladies, I’m sure we’ll be back next year to slog it out again on this spectacular Dingle course.
Full race results can be found here.
Want to hear more adventure race tales? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears” with stories from the World Adventure Racing Championships.