Third Time Lucky at Westport Sea2Summit

This was my third time entering Westport Sea2Summit’s Adventure Race. In 2014, I came third. In 2016, I placed second. This year I wondered if, third time around, I could do one better again.

Starting the climb of Croagh Patrick in 2017 Westport Sea2Summit Race. Photo courtesy of S2S.

My preparation for the race was less than ideal. Sea2Summit takes place in November, right at the very end of the racing season. To make things worse, I started racing way back in March, with the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Championship’s opener in County Antrim. It means that, for the last eight months, I’ve been doing more tapering and recovering than actual training. I wondered if my body could actually deliver when I asked of it again in Westport.

In addition to this poor planning, at the end of October, I finally succumbed to the bugs and bacteria that have been floating around since summer’s end. It started with a sore throat, which turned into a cough, and then a flood of annoying phlegm. It meant that my low level of training turned into just more and more rest as I tried to let my body heal before putting it to the Sea2Summit test.

Lining up at the start on Saturday morning, I resolved just to do my best. I couldn’t think about the fierce opposition that were by my side, the likes of Mary Daly, Siobhan Murtagh, and Emma McGee. I knew these ladies are all superb triathletes who would show their prowess particularly on the sections involving tarmac running and road bikes.

Lining up at 8am for the start of Westport Sea2Summit. It was fast from the very beginning. Photo courtesy of Kayathlon.

I also had another agenda that was more pressing on my mind: gaining points for the National Adventure Race Series. I needed to complete a fourth adventure race this year to qualify for the Series. Before Sea2Summit, Laura O’Driscoll was leading the women’s expert table. She had an impressive 397 points from a first at Quest Achill and three second places. I needed to finish at least fourth in Sea2Summit to retain the title for the year.

As expected, the start was fast and furious. The men sprinted off at high speed towards the greenway, their tight skinny attire betraying their triathlon and road cycling origins. I was desperate to keep up so that I could arrive at my bike at the same time as them. Getting into any one of their slipstreams would mean an easy passage out to Croagh Patrick on the eight kilometre bike section. However, my heart rate soon told me that I was going fast enough. My watch was showing dangerously high numbers, so I reluctantly slowed down. Fortunately, my slower pace was still enough to arrive at the transition as the leading lady. As I jumped on my bike I wondered, however, how long that would last.

The road out to Croagh Patrick was wet to say the least. Friday night’s torrential rain meant the road was covered in puddles of unknown depths. It meant that, when I did finally latch on to a fellow competitor’s back wheel, I got a shower of cold, grit-filled glacial water right in my face. Though it was unpleasant, it had to be done if I wanted to get to Croagh Patrick asap.

I threw my bike on to the rack, and took a deep breath. Looking up at Croagh Patrick from the car park is intimidating to say the least. This was not my first time, however, going up this mountain while racing. I drew deep down from my experience, lowered my head, and just put one foot in front of the other, knowing that by doing this I would eventually reach the top.

Killian Heery, the S2S men’s expert winner, showing us how to descend Croagh Patrick. Photo courtesy of S2S.

It took around forty-three minutes for the church to materialise on the summit. I had worked hard on the climb, but now I knew I had to work even harder going down. Last year I took a nasty tumble on the descent, denting my elbow and knee badly when I stupidly tripped over a random stone. My goal this year was to complete the downhill section while remaining on my feet. With this in mind, I skidded down the cone section, trying to stay upright. I heard fellow competitors encouraging me as our paths crossed on the Reek. I knew I was being terribly rude, but I resolved to stay quiet and to concentrate instead on where I was placing my shoes.

The Reek itself, especially on the lower sections, was really wet. I heard later that it was only at 6.30am on Saturday morning that the organisers even agreed for us to scale the full mountain. They feared the wet conditions might make the slopes too treacherous for the race. I think they made the right call as, though it was a bit soft and slippery, I didn’t think it was dangerous, especially if you just slowed down a wee bit.

I arrived at the statue and off the rough stuff, still in the lead, and without a single graze. I was so happy with myself for not falling that I couldn’t help smiling to myself. But my happiness was short-lived when I reminded myself how far I still had to go. Only an hour forty minutes had passed. The race was only half ways through.

Someone with a sense of humour on the very steep Maum Hill Bike Climb section. Photo courtesy of Kayathlon.

I got back on my bike and quickly refuelled from my bottles. Soon I was on my own as I started the steep set of climbs towards the top of the Maum Hills. Last year I made the mistake of having the wrong gear ratio. This time around, I had changed down to a 11-32 cassette, which made the climbs surprisingly manageable.

Once over the hills, I knew it was a case of finding one or two cyclists to ride back to Westport with on the long, flat lonely road. This was easier said than done seeing that the hills had strung us out considerably. I spotted a bike far in the distance, and realised that he was the one who I needed to catch up to. I put down my head and pushed harder than normal, taking at least ten minutes of consistent effort before I finally caught him.

Approaching the finish line in Westport. Photo courtesy of S2S.

Catching my breath, I immediately shouted, ‘Want to work together to Westport?’ He seemed happy with the plan, and soon enough we caught another cyclist who stayed with us a short while. For the next fifteen kilometres we swapped positions like metronomes. It not only meant we arrived to the transition faster, but it was nice to have a bit of company on the long ride home. Thanks David for the company!

I ditched my bike, knowing that just a short four kilometre run home separated me from the finish. I shuffled off to the beach section, only to realise that now I couldn’t feel my feet. The cold stagnant rainwater on the road had frozen my extremities whilst on the seventy-minute bike section. The only recourse was to get moving, and to shuffle a little faster.

Joy would be an insufficient word to describe how I felt coming down that finishing strait. The smile smeared across my face probably says more than words could ever do. But it wasn’t so much about winning Sea2Summit on my third attempt. It was the fact that I had finally finished my season and was still in one piece.

Too busy smiling at the end of Sea2Summit to speak to the compere. Photo courtesy of S2S.

It has been a very long year of racing, and now I am looking forward to doing other things. I’m going to drink red wine, go swimming with the kids, and have long lazy lie-ins. I am also going to try to get round to finishing my book, ‘Bump, Bike and Baby – Mummy’s Gone Adventure Racing’ that’s due out in March next year. And then, once I’m rested, I’ll start planning for 2018. I wonder what adventures next year will bring?

Exactly what I needed at the finish… a very big hug from the wonderful organisers of Sea2Summit.

Sea2Summit 2017 Results can be found here.

My route on Strava can be found here.

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