Last weekend’s Quest Wales Adventure Race was a great excuse for a quick holiday break away. All it took was a speedy ferry ride from Dublin to Holyhead and, in less than an hour, I was in Betws-y-Coed in the heart of Snowdonia, race HQ for the weekend.
Wales is a brilliant place for anyone adventurous to visit. Last year, Elite Events carried their Quest Adventure Series across the Irish Sea, introducing the concept of one-day adventure races to these British shores. Having competed in Quest Killarney, Achill and Glendalough back home in Ireland, I was curious to see how the Welsh version would fare.
Numerous other Irish adventure racers had similar thoughts and joined me on the starting line early on Saturday morning. With this race concept still quite new in Wales, participant numbers were low in comparison to the thousands that throng these sell-out events back home in Ireland. But even though our 53k wave only had less than a hundred, this did not stop the racing to be fast and furious from the get-go.
The likes of Dessie Duffy, Killian Heery, Barry Cronin and Luke McMullan sprinted off at the start. I ran off after them, out on to the main street before turning up into the first forest for the first 6km run. After a couple of minutes, Jill Horan strided comfortably past me. I was happy to sit behind her, knowing that we still had at least a couple of hours left out on the course. When the run started to hit a rutted descent, I spotted a chance to edge into the lead. I managed to put a minute’s worth of space between Jill and myself as I transitioned to the bike and headed northwards on the course.
After a scenic yet fast route through bluebelled forest, we hit tarmacked roads at ridiculous gradients, reaching 21% in parts. Off my bike, it was easier to push it than to blow up trying to pedal up these slopes. The half an hour, 13km bike section brought us to a lake for a ridiculously short 5 minute kayak. It was hardly worth the effort getting the feet wet!
Out of the boat, it was then a 50 minute, 11km run up, then down a forested fire-roaded hill before a canter along a neighbouring valley floor. I ran much of this alone, being caught up by a male competitor just as we started the climb back to our bikes. Once at the transition, I was glad to be off my feet and back on my trusty steed as the day was starting to heat up once out of the cool shade cool of the woods.
In the middle of the second bike section we were forced to dismount and run for 500 metres in case we sped down the hill and straight into incoming A5 traffic. At this point, I met Dessie Duffy running along sans bike. His chain had broken earlier he told me, so he decided to just ditch it and run straight back to the finish. Not exactly the race he would have liked, I guessed.
The rest of the 15km bike section was fast and downhill all the way back in Betws-y-Coed. Although the route brought us right past the finish line, we still had another 7km hill run to do before we could actually stop. At this point, I’d have gladly called it a day. I’d had enough of running up steep forested fire roads, but if I wanted to finish, then I had to do the loop. I distracted myself by watching the leading men fly down the hill in the opposite direction to me. I obediently completed the lap of the lake on top of the hill before descending the gravelled slopes. Never was I so glad to hear the booming voice of the megaphone announcing racers back home. And when I turned the corner, I sprinted to the dibber so I could finally sit down after 3 hours 25 minutes of racing.
This being my first race of the season meant I was more tired than usual. The weather too, though nice to look at, had also taken its toll. However, it wasn’t anything that a shower and a cold beer couldn’t quickly solve.
Before we headed back to Ireland, we headed up Mount Snowdon the day after the race. At 1,085 metres, it is the highest point on the British Isles outside the Scottish Highlands. Thanks to a railway that goes all the way to the summit, it is also the busiest mountain in the UK with 582,000 people visiting it annually.
The cheapest and easiest way to get my family and I up the mountain was by putting my husband and two children into the train (paying 49 GBP for the return journey) and me running up and down. On the way back, I timed my departure so that we could race each other to the mountain base. I just about managed the win.
Though I must admit I prefer the courses that Quest delivers on Irish soil, overall Quest Wales provides a great excuse to delve into the Snowdonia region for the weekend.
Race results can be found here.