Raring to go at Achill Roar Adventure Race

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.

The all important form guide was released on Friday morning, the day before the race. Paul had put me down as favourite, heaping a bit of pressure on my head. Admittedly, I didn’t recognise many of the girls in the race, the familiar names not taking the long trip to remote Achill Island all the way over on Ireland’s west coast. The same couldn’t be said about the men’s race. A long list of previous winners from other adventure races were lining up and chomping at the bit at the start line.

The weather was looking good when I arrived in Keel, race HQ. Though the wind had picked up, there was no sign of rain. There was even a tantalising tinge of blue sky promising some sun later on in the day. Last year the weather was so bad they had to cancel the kayak section. There was even a year with hailstones.

Kayaking on the lake beside Keel at the start of the Achill Roar.
Kayaking on the lake beside Keel at the start of the Achill Roar.

We set off at 10am for a gallop across the fields to the lake water. I jumped into my boat and pushed off, surprised that I could keep up with some of the leading men. I got back to the transition in less than half an hour, with someone shouting that I was the leading lady and in the overall top ten. From there we ran out to the dunes and across the sweeping sands of Keel beach. It’s a dream of a beach to run on, the sand compact and hard, with a stunning view of the sea and mountains all around.

Running along Keel beach on the 15k run section. Photo courtesy of Mark Chaddock.
Running along Keel beach on the 15k run section.

On to Mweelin mountain and it was your typical bog and rock affair. I kept moving, passing and being passed by other guys, but still safely the first female as I reached the summit. From there we had to run to the masts to avoid descending straight down some cliffs. In the process, my shoe got stuck in the bog and I had to make a quick dash back to rescue it from the mud. It took two or three attempts before I could unstick it and place it firmly back on my foot. I made up time on the descent on steep heather. Then it was a gallop back along the beach to the start and our bikes, meeting the Sport class runners as they ran towards us for their own mountain run.

Off on our 45k bike around Achill Island.
Off on our 45k bike around Achill Island.

I got on to the bike quickly and looked for someone to draft. The guy ahead I couldn’t catch, and there was no one behind to wait for. So I pedalled on, up the hill to the end of the island, and then around its undulating coastline. I was 20km into the cycle when two guys burst past me so fast I didn’t have time to hang on. So I was on my own again, up the hill to the bike check-in, then down towards Ashleam Bay. It was only when I was 15 minutes from the finish that a lad caught up with me and I asked if I could tail gate him for a while. He pleasantly obliged, allowing me to rest, and I returned the favour allowing him to draft on the home strait.

Collecting my cool pottery prize from Hillary of Crannmor Pottery and Outfront.
Collecting my cool pottery prize from Hillary of Crannmor Pottery and Outfront.

I was home in 3 hours 26 minutes, first lady home by 36 minutes, and in 14th place overall. Crucially I had 100 points in the bag to count towards the National Series. But more importantly, I had finished the race and was in a fit enough state to attend the after party fancy dress that evening.

Race organisers, Paul and Hil, getting into the swing of the fancy dress after race party.
Race organisers, Paul and Hil, getting into the swing of the fancy dress after race party.

Of all the adventure races I’ve done this year, Achill Roar is a dream. There is no complicated registration or bike drops. There are no buses to catch at 5am to get you to the race start. You can rock up on Saturday morning, register, hang your bike at the start/finish transition area, drop your own kayak 500m away from your bike, and be ready for the 10am start. The route is challenging yet simple logistically. And it’s in a part of Ireland that is stunning and unspoilt, so a definite recommend if you’re thinking of competing next year.

Expert results can be found here.

And a great range of photos here courtesy of Action Photography.

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Want to hear more adventure race tales? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears” with stories from the World Adventure Racing Championships.

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