Going Green at Gaelforce West Adventure Race 2014

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.

On arriving at Connemara’s Glassilaun beach, the dawn had come and the weather had brightened up. A total of 1,400 other competitors were to depart from this beach at 30 minute intervals that day, with ourselves first off at 6.30am.

The form guide had pitched me against Emma Donlon for the podium spots. Emma had won the Dingle Adventure Race back in June, where I came in second. But now we were on her territory, at a race she had won twice before, whilst this was my first time on the course. And we were no sooner started on the opening 13km run than Emma made her mark and sprinted off ahead. I knew my race plan and my pace, and decided to let her go.

Emma Donlon - winner of Gaelforce West in 2011 and 2012.
Emma Donlon – winner of Gaelforce West in 2011 and 2012.

I arrived at the kayak stage across Killary Harbour after 66 minutes, with Emma nowhere in sight. And during that 1km kayak section, my stomach decided to go south. I got off the boat feeling nauseous and immediately abandoned my race plan. My aim now was to go at a speed where I felt okay and where I could finish the race.

On the bike, 20 minutes later, I drunk heavily from my water bottles, my first drink whilst on the course. The liquid provided some relief. That, and drafting the occasional male who whizzed past me on their bike. I tried to keep up with these male cyclists for longer, but every time I pushed, my stomach immediately rebelled. So I resolved to keep pedaling at my own pace, finally reaching the bottom of Croagh Patrick after 90 minutes.

The final bike section of Gaelforce West, heading towards Westport.
The final bike section of Gaelforce West, heading towards Westport.

“She’s 10 minutes ahead of you”, a spectator called out at the start of this mountain run section. Given the 4.5km distance, I knew it was too much time to make up over such a short space. So I decided just to plod on, hiking quickly up the bog and on to the steep rocky path. Nearing the summit, I saw my friend Paul hurtling down the mountainside. “Emma’s just ahead of you. Probably a 3 minute gap”, he shouted. I looked up and couldn’t believe it. Emma’s back was coming into sight.

The steep rocky slope of Croagh Patrick, the mountain run section of Gaelforce West.
The steep rocky slope of Croagh Patrick, the mountain run section of Gaelforce West.

We hit the summit together. We were both looking worse for wear. But with so little left in the race, I knew I had to high tail it out of there. I dibbed in and jumped down the descent, getting to the base in just over 13 minutes, with Emma yet to make it down. I scrambled for my wheels, knowing there was only a 10.5km bike and a 1.5km run left in the race. The bike section was over steep rough ground, known to have punctured many a leader in this race. I carried my bike carefully over this part, then pushed as hard as I could on the road all the way back to Westport.

Dumping my bike on the quays, I ran the last section of the course through Westport House woods, dying to see the finishing strait. Finally I heard the announcer on his microphone, saw the crowds, and knew I was safely home. I crossed the line in 4 hours 22 minutes, with Emma arriving in 5 minutes later.

It was definitely a good decision to get out of bed that morning.

Results can be found here.

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