“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.
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.
And Fiona meant business. We were no sooner started than I saw Fiona sprinting off ahead of me up the tarmac towards Strickeen mountain. I pushed hard to overtake her to get to the mountain section first. Up the zigzags, I kept a handy pace, bouncing up the bog and stones to get into a nice rhythm. I reached the summit first, but as sooner as I turned I saw Fiona running straight towards me, with Avril Copeland not far behind her. I hightailed it out of there, feeling good with my descent until a Channel 4 cameraman caught sight of me. He sprinted off down the hill with his huge camera in hand, easily picking up speed as I struggled to keep up with him.
I reluctantly grabbed my bike after 33 minutes of running and prayed my rear wheel would behave. Little did I know that a bit of dirt would be the least of my worries. Friday’s rain had made the tarmac slippery smooth. That, combined with the course’s steep descents, hairpin bends, and a glaring autumnal rising sun made cycling totally treacherous. They warned us at the safety briefing to be careful. I got a stark reminder as I crested the Gap of Dunloe and saw an ambulance all ready and waiting. I kept my fingers on my brakes until I was safely down in Black Valley. Then it was a case of catching and drafting as many lads as possible. These lads all got away again from me after Moll’s Gap as we hit the main road to Killarney, only for me to find one of the guys flat on the floor minutes later at Ladies View. I found out after the race that his water bottle got stuck when he tried to drink whilst descending. He looked down at the cage, then looked up only to see himself heading at speed towards a ditch on the roadside. He got away with a broken collarbone, but not before spending a couple of hours in hospital.
Pedalling towards the bike transition, I kept waiting for Fiona to pass me. In the end, she gained 30 seconds on me on the bike, arriving in to the transition two and a half minutes behind me.
I ran to the lake and, being the leading lady, I was placed in a single kayak with a go-pro camera focused on me. For the entire journey, I had to stop myself from swearing or doing anything stupid in case it got caught on camera. That included not grimacing too much as my abductors began cramping. There was little difference in the top 4 ladies kayak times, all finishing their paddles around the 15 minute mark.
I knew that the real race would begin after the kayak, 2 hours into the course. The 18km run up and down Mangerton was where it would be won or lost. With that in mind, I ran towards the mountain, happy to have finished with the bike and boat. The forest section was longer than I expected, with many stretches where I ran alone. At times I forgot I was racing as I chugged along in the pretty woods daydreaming as if on a training run. I was rudely awakened however when I emerged from the trees and saw Mangerton, looming large above me. The ascent was boggy and rocky, and too steep to run in places. But I knew this is where I was to make up time if I was to break clear of the opposition.
I realised I was reaching the summit when I saw the lads running towards me. Dessie was booting down the hill with Eric in hot pursuit. Then Aidan sped past with Jerry not far behind. Next came my fellow Outfront adventure racing teammates Peter Crommie and Adrian Hennessy. They shouted words of encouragement interspersed with abuse as they rocketed down the heather. Dibbing in at the summit, I checked my watch to see how much time I had gained. By the time I met Fiona coming up the mountain, I figured I was around 10 minutes ahead. Triathlete Ellen Vitting and Multi-day Adventure Racer Avril Copeland were in turn chasing after her.
I hopped and jumped down the mountain, coming back to my bike after 1 hour 52 minutes of running. In the meantime, Ellen had thrown herself down the mountain to sneak into second place just ahead of Fiona. On the final 5km bike to the finish I was accompanied by a motorbike and cameraman Tour de France style, which I was sorely tempted to draft. Then it was the cruellest ascent of 3 flights of stairs over the tarmac before descending into the finish.
I came home in 4:22:23, 1st lady and 21st overall over the 70km course. Ellen arrived over the line 22 minutes later, with Fiona a close 3rd less than a minute after that. I was really pleased with the race, and apologised to my bike afterwards for even daring to doubt that it would make it.
Race results can be found here.