You’d think, after four years of doing events like Quest, that I would find adventure racing easy. Instead, it’s quite the opposite: It seems to get harder with each event. Just look at last weekend when, for the third time, I lined up at one of Ireland’s toughest adventure races, Quest Killarney. I don’t think I’ve been so petrified.
Quest Killarney has always been a long, hard race. At the start, there’s a quick and sharp seven-kilometre run up Strickeen mountain. This is followed by a long, twisty, and hilly thirty-seven-kilometre bike across to Muckross Lake. A short kayak section is a mere respite before the race throws a spanner in the works: a long, arduous ascent of Mangerton mountain that covers nineteen kilometres and eight-hundred metres of climb. This year, the race added on an extra fourteen kilometres, with an initial cycle out to Strikeen. In previous years, we had the luxury of being transported out to the start in warm, comfy buses.
I knew from the get-go who I had to watch. Laura O’Driscoll was fresh from a resounding win at Quest Achill, a race I opted out of this year so that I could run the Mourne Mountain Marathon instead. We had already battled it out earlier in the year in Glendalough and Dingle, with both being close run matches. Now, with the season drawing to close, I knew Laura would put everything out there and would be aiming for the win.
My predictions proved correct, as Laura threw down the gauntlet from the start. The flat and fast cycle out to Kate Kearney’s proved to a bunch sprint with the leading men. I hung on to her wheel, not letting her go before the first hour was even out. We dibbed within seconds at the transition, and then I watched Laura sprint up the road towards our first hill climb of the day.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the past four years is that I have to run my own race, especially for the first hour. It is painful to watch everyone blast away from me, but I know I have to let them all go. So with Laura, I watched her bounce on up the trail, as I struggled to match her pace. I knew, however, that Quest Killarney is long. There is plenty of time to overtake and be overtaken.
Reaching the summit of Strikeen, I eased slowly past Laura. I wanted to get a clear path to the dibber, then accelerate downhill. I picked my lines carefully going down the rutted path, waiting to hear Laura’s breath on my shoulder. A quick look back was chanced on a switchback corner, but there was no sign of her.
I grabbed my bike and started the long slow climb out of the valley, up to the Gap of Dunloe. Again, I took it steady, knowing that pushing too hard on the pedals now could mean cramps later on down the line. The later start time from Killarney this year meant the sun was up by now. The weather was much milder and drier than last year, making the roads slightly drier and easier to descend into the Black Valley.
I pedalled on, keeping a steady pace. By the time I reached Ladies View, a group of four other guys caught up with me, and I was able to work together with them up to Muckross Lake.
The waters were calm as I entered my single kayak and started the brief paddle on the lake. This was a chance to take a quick breather, and to think about what lay ahead. Getting to the kayak section in one piece is really just the warm-up for Quest Killarney. I might have already raced for two and a half hours, but the race in reality started here.
I got out of the kayak and was informed that one other girl was on the waters behind me. Guessing it must be Laura, I couldn’t hang around, and started the run towards Mangerton Mountain.
The trails were empty when I reached the forest climb. What with our wave being the first off, the other classes of sport, pro, and mini were yet to arrive. I continued on towards the base of the mountain, making sure I fuelled properly along the way. Emerging from the forest, I looked up and saw Mangerton in all its glory, not shrouded in mist and rain like it was last year.
I set about climbing Mangerton’s slopes, slowly but surely catching up with some men who were beginning to lag. A few later told me that they went off too fast at the beginning, and Mangerton was their breaking point. It took me just under an hour and a quarter to reach the pond turn-around point. I checked my watch; then started my descent, waiting until I met the next girl ascending. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until I met Laura coming up the trail. A quick calculation let me work out she was around three minutes behind me. I couldn’t afford to hang about.
I pushed hard, really hard, down the mountain and through the final forest section. I eventually got back to my bike after forty minutes, feeling slightly sick from the final running effort I had just made. A garda motorcycle soon pulled up alongside me, giving me a clear path for the final six-kilometre cycle to the finish. Despite the garda’s best efforts, however, an American tourist overtook me, then slowed down and turned left, right across my path. I am so used to being traffic fodder that I quickly braked and swerved around. The poor garda momentarily abandoned me whilst he went off to berate the tourist, leaving me alone to negotiate my way to the line at the INEC complex.
Never was I so glad to see a finish. I dropped my bike, sprinted to the dibber, and finally flopped over line. I finished in four hours forty-two, with Laura appearing not far behind in four hours forty-nine. We pushed ourselves and each other to the limit, and received ninth and eleventh place overall as a reward. The only downside is that I could barely stay awake for the after-party and had to go away for a brief nap. Maybe I should race a little less hard next time and have some energy left to socialise.
Final race results can be found here.
Details of the route can be found here.