This grueling adventure involved a number of sporting disciplines, including kayaking, mountain biking, hike-a-bike, trail running/trekking, coasteering and all of this is with full navigation, finding your own way from point to point.
Preparation is key
I’m a big believer in the famous phrase ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ but this year due to lack of time dedicated to training, I was certainly not well prepared for my 2016 three sporting goals; Coast to Coast, Wild Atlantic Way cycle and ITERA. On the positive note, I have banked up quite a bit of experience over the past few years in endurance events and the mental strength is as strong as ever- the body’s only choice is to follow!
I’m very fortunate to be part of an amazing team which includes; Peter Cromie AKA the machine, Adrian Hennessy, the multi-skilled gentleman and Greg Byrne who is new to the team and certainly a great asset. His knowledge of mountaineering and kayak experience really pushed the team on. It has to be said though, we missed our founding member and good friend Paul Mahon who couldn’t make the event because he was having a long spa weekend with the ladies.
Arriving at INEC in Killarney with the sun blazing, team 25 Rachel’s Irish Adventures joined forces and got all the gear set up as well as getting the maps in order and bags packed onto the trailer. I struggled to get the bike box under 30kg, it must have been all those packets of tuc biscuits, it couldn’t just have been the litres of chocolate milk.
That day, I ate and drank twice my body weight and a friend brought me a few packets of chocolate coated coffee beans (cheers Sinead!) that melted into bars, which I started munching, resulting in me being a bit wired! That evening was filled with excitement, anticipation and we were all ready to just get started.
Oh and before I start, I want to say a big thanks to the lovely and very talented Valerie O’Sullivan for the photos. I’ve only ever met Valerie out in the wild, hiding in a hole up a mountain capturing a moment or somehow perched somewhere on the oceans edge!
And we’re off!
The weather had changed, it was now cold, raining and looked like the perfect day to spend in the cinema or the pub. After the long drive up to the start line at the charming Westport house, the excitement was building but we had no idea what we were really going to face into. It was nice to start on home turf but this didn’t’t really matter, the distance and challenge was still the same and we were all going to suffer and test our limits. I ate 2 eggs sandwiches and a banana about 30 minutes before the starting whistle which was a bad idea as we blasted off on a 5km urban run around Westport town which turned out to be an 8km sprint session. Adrenaline was pumping and team Rachel’s Irish Adventures catapulted off and lead the other 38 teams, we were all laughing saying, “sure at least we lead for a bit”. I felt really strong for the first 5km and then got a terrible stitch, and this was only the first 20 minutes into a 5 day event- oh dear! Peter took my bag for the last kilometre so I could keep up the pace and we would be one of the first teams to get to the kayaks.
We were well warmed up after the run and I was tempted not to put on all the layers but we were now gearing up for 47 km, over 10 hours in the kayak, to finish sometime in the dark and there might not be an option to change later. I teamed up with Greg who is the most experienced kayaker on our team and for this reason he was in the back stirring the heavy sit-on-top floatable apparatus. My experience in a kayak is limited compared to the lads and I was relying on my overall endurance and the sing songs to get me through. We were now on a mission to kayak from the Quays in Westport past Ronnagh Pier and into Killary harbour. It was a misty, dull and dreary day and certainly not like one of those Failte Ireland advertisements, it was more like a scene from a horror film. I couldn’t get comfortable, the attachments on the portable seat were different lengths which meant that one knee was more bent than the other and my hips were not inline. The water was too choppy to turn around and fix them so I just sucked it up and got on with it. Adrian and Greg were in the kayak just in front of us and as together, they were physically stronger than myself and Greg, we tied on a bungee cord to attach the two kayaks and keep together. The weather got progressively worse and I took on a lot of full face splashes as the waves crashed in over us. The sing song started and as a team we just laughed and got on with the job. Everyone was going through the same pressures and I wondered how the people were getting on behind, those teams with less kayak experience and perhaps not so focused. We were told we needed to have a level two cert in kayaking but these conditions required more like a level four in sea kayaking.
Little did we know, but during this time, 16 kayaks got abandoned as people fell out and others opted for out. One of my friends on Team Arse had a serious accident, where when climbing up the side of a cliff in an effort to find help in a local farmland for her team mates who had capsized, she was stroke by a wave and concussed, finishing in hospital with stitches around her eye and a numbness on her left side. They had tried to ring the emergency number and pressed the SOS button but there was no answer from the number and there was only one coast guard on duty and they were with other serious causalities. Fortunately, Sinead is now OK and slowly getting back into training. I realise that we sign a waiver when we take on these adventures but in my opinion if you give and emergency number and the possibility to press an SOS button in serious emergencies, it should be operational!
Kayaking in these extreme conditions became too dangerous and as the race director realised that lives were now at risk, the coast guard boat was sent to inform us to dock up at Roonagh Pier and run 15km along the coastline before getting back on the kayak. We were absolutely thrilled, that 25km splashing around did not give us an appetite for more.
As we had not planned to do a 15km run, we were all wearing old runners that were now soaking and certainly not kitted out appropriately. The rain was pelting down as we pulled the kayaks up to the trailer and stuffed food into us. I went for a pee behind a tree and nearly got blown over, I also realised that it was not very private as there were a few people in a car with a front row view but what did I care, I gave them a wave and ran back to the boys.
We ran alongside Team Columbia for the first few kilometres and then pushed on ahead to catch Team Moxie. My adventure buddy Linda was on Team Moxie and she was running in a dry suit, it looked like she was in a space suit running on the moon. The lads are strong on foot and we held a nice pace running along the golden sandy beaches, dodging the rabbit holes and crossing a few fences till we arrived at the docking area. The kayaks had not yet arrived as we had run faster than the time it took the kayak transporter, I’m not sure if that was the reason but it sounds good anyway! They timed us out for 15 minutes, enough time to get freezing cold and loose the momentum. I was completely out of water and there were no streams in sight. There was one camper van parked up so I went over, knocked on the door and introduced myself. They were a German couple who were exploring Mayo’s Wild Atlantic Way. I was soaking wet and shivering with the cold, they let me sit on the ledge of their van and gave me water. The kayaks soon arrived and we had to carry them up a stream to get back into them and paddle the 5km to get to the old famine trail. It was now pitch dark, head torches were on full strength and we were heading into our first night of adventure. Arriving at the harbour, we now had to run 14km along the Great Western Famine trail to get to the Killary Adventure Centre, which was the first transition point. We all knew this trail very well as it is the first run section in the Gaelforce West event. I actually enjoyed the trail run; we had a good pace and passed another team on route. There is something spectacular about running off-road in the night, listening to the animal footsteps, hearing the water breath, seeing lights in the distance, watching every footstep, it’s almost peaceful!
Before we arrived at Killary, we had a plan in place and we were on a mission to get in, get changed, eat and get out onto the mountains. It was clear at this point that the lads had a target in mind and that was to keep up with or ahead of Team Columbia, our Irish friends/competition. I’m a big fan of the Killary Adventure Centre and promised myself that next time I go there; I will just do some nice relaxing activities and enjoy the French wine with their friendly staff from Connemara Adventure Tours!
It was so comforting to change into warm dry clothes and drink a bucket of coffee. I had all my food organised in 6 hour packs and then had supplies for each of the transitions. What I put into my body was nothing short of shocking! As I have previously suffered from Hyponatremia, I consume an unimaginable quantity of salt just to ensure I don’t end up in a coma again. I fill up on packets of tuc biscuits, mini blocks of cheese, tins of pasta tuna which I add salt too and large packets of nuts which I mix with chocolate M&M’s, dried fruit, chocolate coated raisins and coffee beans- what a concoction!
Adrian, our team captain was notified that the next stage was been cut slightly short due to the gaelforce wind warnings and the potential length of time that people would be in the mountains, making the course impossible to complete during the non-stop 5 days. To be honest it made no difference to me, whatever had to be done to stay in time and keep on the long course, we were doing it! We now had an additional and unplanned extra 30km done on foot, due to the shortening of the kayak section, this meant that our legs were well warmed up and soft feet was already something to think about. We took off through the night to hit the Twelve Pins, most commonly known as the Bens. I’m not very familiar with these mountains, only that they go up and down a lot and I can now confirm that yes, they go up and down a bit! We ending up catching up with Team Columbia in the mountains and joined forces with them for company and to it was for both teams to feel confirmed that we were going in the right direction as the navigation was tricky in the dark with the fog, heavy mist and strong wind. The company was refreshing and it was nice to have a chat with Richard, Ian, Taryn and Finbar and to realise that they too were having their highs and lows. On foot, I have done very little training this year so my plan was to take it at my own pace, say injury free and to be strong for the final two days, all the same I had to keep up with the boys. This event was not a sprint and it was clear that to finish it, you needed to have power in the tank for the final two days. It was about who could keep up the pace, sleep the least and stay unjured.
At one point we bumped into Team Moxie who were also scrambling around the hills to get the checkpoints. The top three Irish teams were now altogether and moving in the same direction. After a few hours Team Moxie slowed up and we continued on with Team Columbia along the Western Way to finish up in Maum, at transition point 2, with over 20 hours of hills. I struggled on the last 10km as we were back on the tarmac; my feet were soaking and had expanded. I could feel two of my two nails falling off but there was no time to stop.
Back on the kayak for what was due to be a 70km venture across Lough Corrib into Galway, a 1.5km hike-a-kayak through Galway and then a paddle across Galway Bay to Kinvarra. We knew we just had to get it done, yes it was raining, cold and were now going into our second night with no sleep, this was the challenge we signed up to and paid for so why would we complain?
It all started up with high spirits, I was now paired up in the boat with Adrian so he now had to listen to me and all my stories. These events are actually quite therapeutic, you share the most intimate of things and also talk a lot of crap, your team mates see you at your most fragile but also at your strongest!
Navigating around the islands on Lough Corrib is no joke and with blustering winds and rain blasting from all angles, it was no gentle cruise down the Shannon. Before darkness set in, we decided to dock up at a small island for a pee, to get the head torches on and put on any extra layer we might have. It was feicin Baltic! Darkness set in very fast and the pace dropped, it felt like we were in a whirlpool and not making any progress as we zig zagged trying to find our way around the dotted islands. It got progressively colder through the night and the waves smashing in on top of us were not helping the situation. I often closed my eyes and imagined myself on a beach, sun blazing down and enjoying a Whiskey sour but I was sharply awoken and splashed back into reality. I had no concept of the time but knew it must be around 3am, just a few more hours till dawn!
My joints started to stiffen and I started to have the shakes, I thought it was hyperthermia setting in. All I was thinking is, ‘where the hell we are, are we lost and when will get out of this bloody boat?’ Of course, these thoughts I kept to myself, we were all struggling and this was not a time for negativity. At one point, it felt like a scene from the bible where Moses rummaged through the rushes, we were trying to find an entrance to the canal entering the docks at NUIG which proved to be a serious challenge. We were moving at an agonizing speed of 1 km per hour for what seemed like an eternity to hell. But we did get there! Adrian did an amazing job navigating the Lough under these hardcore conditions and got us to the docks at dawn. We were all so happy to get out of the kayak and jumped for joy to find out that our bikes were now waiting for us and the next kayak section was cancelled due to the severity of the conditions. Teams really suffered on Lough Corrib and there were a lot of stories to come out of it, best heard over a few whiskey beside a big open fire!
We got changed out on the docks, ugly white asses high in the air; this was not a time to be precious! What was to be a 200km mountain stage had now turned into a 250km stage. This for me was pure bliss, I knew I have the physical and mental strength and the thoughts of 250km did not at all phase me after having done 2100km in 7 days just a month previous. We had a 40km spin to get to Kinavarra where the third transition point was and although we did take one wrong turn, we got there fast. It was clear that as a team, we were going to be very strong and content on the two wheels. When we got to transition points, we all go our separate ways, did what we had to do and met at a certain time. I think this is an area that as a team we can certainly improve on, the top international teams look at the transitions as a stage and they keep up the momentum and stay in the zone. At this transition point, we said we would stay one hour, giving us enough time to eat, toilet stop, change and have a power sleep. Here I bumped into Linda from Team Moxie and it was disappointing to hear that they were now out of the game due to a team member getting injured. This can come as a harsh reality of these endurance team events and that’s another reason to always be humble, take one stage at a time and just do your best to enjoy the moment.
I had signed up with a medical research group at the beginning of the event where they took my weight, bloods and a brief sporting and medical history, they were now here again at this half way point to take my bloods again. I forfeited a lot of my sleep time to take a baby wipe shower and I have to confess I even had a little squirt of Jo Malone perfume to feel fresh again! I fueled up on bananas, coke, John West tuna pasta tubs and lots of cheese and salted crackers and all washed down with a few coffees. In all, I got a good 15 minutes sleep, the lads possibly double that but we were feeling strong and ready to attack the bike section. We all drafted as much as possible and Peter led the way for a lot of it. We enjoyed the chat on the bike and the views in between the showers and grey skies. For one of the controls we had to bike into the Ailwee caves, then squeeze through a hole and scramble across rocks and water, it was a nice break from the rain and kept the scenery varied.
I also loved the section hugging the Wild Atlantic Way along the famous Cliffs of Moher, just inches from the cliffs edge, it got the heart pumping and we were in our element racing down past the tourists. We had a task at hand and that was to get to the ferry in time to cross over the Shannon Estuary or else we would have to wait until the 7am morning boat would leave.
During this section, we also had to carry our running gear as we were not going to see our kit bags for over 40 hours and we had to go up and down Mount Brandon in County Kerry somewhere during the 250km bike stage. On route we stopped off in the beach town of Lahinch at a fast food take away. Peter jumped the que and in his Limavady accent splurged out, “what is the fastest food you have for us, how about fish and chips?” The friendly lady, who was possibly overwhelmed by four drowned rats on bikes barging in, replied, “burger and chips, burger and chips is the fastest”. Peter responded, “Right, we’ll have four large chips and burgers and four cokes please”. Within seconds they were handed out the window to us, with ketchup and salt. Believe or not, this is the first time I have had a burger from a fast-food take away and I have to admit it felt good. Sprawled across the foot path and loading the chips into the salty burger, I devoured it while washing it down with a cold can of coke. Peter ended up finishing off the end of my chips, that boy does not eat often but when he eats- he eats! We pushed it and made it to the ferry in time and even got an extra coffee into us. It was bucketing rain and we were happy to meet two other teams on the ferry and to briefly hear their horror stories, both teams had been short coursed for one reason or another.
Back on the bike and freezing cold but we were getting closer and we were keeping positive and telling stories of previous adventures in the sun, foods we like, our favourite ice-creams and anything else we could thing of sharing. I learned that Greg loves Macaron bars, Adrian loves Star Bars and Peter will eat just about anything and would happily go to a restaurant and have a three course dessert and then go for chocolate brownies after.
The next task at hand was coasteering at Kerry point. We arrived in the dark, it was lashing rain and not very motivated to put on wet suits, jump off cliffs into the freezing cold water and navigate around cliffs. Peter was determined that this was not fun and that it was just ridiculous to make us get changed in these Baltic conditions and jump off cliffs, Peter is not a huge fan of heights so we all have a good laugh before he jumps over the edge. Adrian was the smart one and put on two wetsuits, to keep warm. For me this just seemed like extra effort needed but I regretted it once I hit the water. Exhaustion was setting in but not for long, we did 5 jumps, luckily we jumped into the deepest parts and there were no injuries. Getting out of the wet suits and back into wet gear, there was not a lot of pretty bodies to be seen as we striped off and Peter decided to show off his battered rare end- a sight that I have decided to forget about but we passed no heed as the rest of us had our own issues.
Following this, it was an uphill ride to continue on to drop our bikes at the bottom of Mount Brandon. Peter started a new fashion trend to keep warm during Irish summers. It involves cutting sections out of a black refuse bag for the head and arms and putting it on over your clothes. It actually works and kept me a little more insulated. This cycle through the night was, how should I call it, ‘memorable’ is perhaps the word, we all suffered from hallucinations and struggled to keep on the road. I looked behind numerous times to see Greg in the ditch and saying, “ya ya, I’m fine” and he balanced himself back on the bike. I tried singing, riding in the middle of road following the cat’s eyes and counting them, eating a packet of chocolate coffee beans, eating sugar every 15 minutes- just anything that would keep me between the ditches. Peter and Adrian were also swerving and at this stage, not one of us were in a safe state to be on a bike. We decided to stay on the lookout for possible sleeping places, it was not 5am and we were in the depth of the Irish countryside, so the options were limited. Finally we saw an open barn with no sign of mad bulls, we were somewhere outside Castlegregory. We flung the bikes in a corner and apparently I found a nice place for us to rest on top of a half tone of lime, sprawled my body across and fell asleep, leaving no room for the lads. I woke up inside a white coal bag with Peter snoring and crushing my leg. I gently kicked him on the helmet and he jumped up and said, “Right, let’s go”. He thought Greg kicked him and Greg was in a daze and couldn’t remember. Adrian had managed to curl himself into a brown paper calf feed bag and actually found it very comfortable.
Dawn was breaking and we didn’t know if we were asleep for 2 minutes or 20 minutes were. We were still all soaking wet but motivated by the fact that we would be off the bikes on 40km to have a stroll up Mount Brandon. Arriving in the picturesque village of An Clochan, at the foot of the mountain, we dibbed at the check point. While Peter went off counting bikes to know who was on front, I was checking out where we could source coffee. To my pure delight, I found out that the hostel was just opening now for breakfast. I told the lads that we needed coffee before we go any further and I was getting one. They were very against the idea until they stepped into the warm dining area and before we knew it we were wolfing down cereals, toast and mugs of hot coffee. They admitted after that this was a great idea as we were not fueled, warmed up and ready to start the new day which would now be the second last full day. The lady running the hostel was the star of Irish hospitality and I will definitely be going back there.
This was my first time to climb Mount Brandon so I was excited to experience it. Adrian has run it numerous time in races and no doubt won them too. We all felt strong and powered up until se hill the peak where we were stroke by what seemed like a cyclone. It was about 400 metres until we hit the peak to reach the check point. There was no chance of falling asleep here; it took our full concentration and strength to not fall over the edge. We ran down the mountain at a good steady pace, jumping over rocks and stampeding through the small streams. One quarter of the way down and we met Team Columbia on the way up and we could not understand how we were on front of they had finished the coasteering section before us and also the time we spend having breakfast and drinking coffee. They were even more surprised to see us and admitted to us after that they raced as fast as they could to make up time and catch us. This also motivated us to lift up the pace and keep the momentum strong, it was a bit of friendly competition but at the end of the day, we just wanted to get to the finish line in Killarney.
Cruising along the Wild Atlantic Way brought back memories as I remembered the route from the WAWA cycle in June, which was also a challenging wet Irish endurance experience to test the mind. The headwind was fierce along the coastal path coming into Blennerville near Tralee, we very almost blown off the bike on countless occasions. It was difficult to imagine what the views are like on a nice day. Due to the severity of the weather conditions and a yellow warning, the course was once again altered and we had a hike-a-bike section between Cloghane and Annascaul up a U-shaped valley called Glenhoo. Then we arrive at a wide fast flowing stream that was like something you might attempt to white water raft down. Before we had time to contemplate if it was a good idea, Greg was over the other side and Peter had started handing over the bikes. We were very lucky here not to have an accident or even worse for the bike to be taken down stream which nearly did happen. Adrian walked further upstream with me so I could get across safely, it was too much of a risk to fire me over. We crossed 3 more streams to get back which weren’t much better but we got there. We found out later that when Team Columbia hit this spot, they called the organisers and said it was just too dangerous so they then got an alternative route, we were the last team to cross this.
It was then hike-a-bike up the valley which is not the most fun in your cycling shoes in open mountain terrain as your ankles are continuously under pressure, which topped off with the fact that you are hiking up a mountain with a bike on your back. We were happy to arrive at transition 7 in Anascaul, the second last of our transition points. At this point I think I had slept about 35 minutes but this would be our final night out, we had set out on Wednesday morning and it was not Saturday at 7pm. We ate everything that would fit into us and kitted out for a night in the mountains. The rain stopped and it was actually a glorious evening and night fall as we climbed up the Muckgillycuddy Reeks. We jogged the first 5km until we hit the hills and this then developed into a fast hike. The sky was bright and for the first time, although it was dark, we could see the stars and the endless line of peaks at every angle. We were shattered but the spirits were high and we knew we would finish and to add to it, we now knew that we were in the current position of first Irish team. Hallucinations started to become an issue for me and I was imaging people were there that were not there. At one point, the lads were looking at the map and I told them that I would follow the girls on up cause they were training for the kilometre vertical. They had to stop me and bring me back to reality. Peter got some mad legal powder stuff from a pharmacy up north and said it was like having 20 red bulls. He tried to stuff it into me and put it into my water, it was rotten and I knew it would play havoc with my kidneys so I gave it to Adrian, which meant I had no water. Adrian seemed to take a lot of it and it sent him a bit wired with heart palliation’s. He said he felt like his heart was about to jump out of his skin. The lads take quite a few pain killers and caffeine tablets and were continuously trying to force them into me. I refuse to take any tablets as I’ve done so in the past and from my experience in long endurance events, this leads to serious kidney issues especially with females. This trek was tough; it was all open mountain climbs with no paths. We were often wadding through streams, pulling our legs out of bogs, falling down holes, it was just up and down, up and down. Greg and Adrian’s navigation was flawless and it was reassuring to know that we were going in the right direction. It was about 5am and we were now all hallucinating, talking absolute rubbish and occasionally shutting our eyes as they were glazed over running down the hills. We decided it would be unsafe to continue so we pulled out the safety shelter and wrapped it around us and slept for about 5 minutes. We were woken up by a mist but we were now refreshed, it was amazing what just 5 minutes did for us. We held a steady jog down the mountain until we met the road. We now had about 10km of a road run before heading up the famous Carrantoohil, Ireland’s highest peak. We were running at a slow pace on the road but it was steady and I think we were all impressed that at this stage we were still running. We passed by two teams and quickly shared a few tales; we all had so many stories and character building experiences over the past number of days and nights. I saw a hose in the garden of a country house that we passed so I alerted the lads and we filled up the bottles. We normally just filled the bottles in streams and rivers but when I saw a tap, I jumped at the opportunity because the chances were the water was clean. During the entire event, I actually drank very little, for fear of having to pee in the kayak and also I think that the rain was soaking through the skin and hydrating me by the process of osmosis. I was really lucky throughout the expedition; I spent 5 days and 5 nights wet and freezing cold and I didn’t pick up any injury or illness and my recovery after was fast.
I had been up Carrantoohil years ago and my memory was vague except that it was a big hill. The lads seemed to know it fairly well and had already estimated the time it would take us to get up and down. We had climbed about up about 200 metres and Peter looked down and thought he could see Team Columbia and told us to speed it up. I knew it couldn’t of been them, I think we all it but that didn’t matter, it was enough motivation for us to up the pace as we were starting to get sluggish. The more we climbed the more the wind and rain started to express its temper. About 400 metres in distance from the CP, we crossed paths with the international Team Godzone. It was like someone injected us with speed, we got a lease of energy and we were now leading Nick Gracie and his team to the control. The weather was wild and we all felt like wild animals let loose with a target in sight and that was the finish line in Killarney. It was an amazing feeling of adrenaline and motivation lead by the fact that we were keeping with one of the world’s strongest adventure racing teams. They’re a very friendly and humble team, made up of Nick Gracie, Warren, Kevin and the strongest warrior- Sarah. I discovered a new tactic to be faster than the guys running, it involved sliding down the hill on my ass. Gracie and Sarah did the same and we lead the pack, once a stone got in the way we jumped up. It was so slippy, it was like doing down a slide in a water park. This was definitely one of my highlights of the time we spent in the mountains. Once we got off the mountain, it was a 4km road run to get to the base where we would jump onto the Canadian canoes for the paddle back to Killarney. We were nearly there, we had started planning what we would eat, describing the feelings when we waddle into a hot shower, putting on dry clothes, it was all just 2 hours within our reach and what was left was a walk in the park- or so we thought! Team Rachel’s Irish Adventures lead the way and Team Godzone struggled to keep up but they were possibly just running there own race.
We arrived at the base and the Canadian canoes were not yet there so we got timed out, this was the second time during the event. We were freezing but it didn’t matter, the rain was lashing down on us but it didn’t matter, we were focused on just finishing. Shortly after the canoes arrived and we had to carry the them 400 metres to get onto the water. I teamed up with Greg and Adrian with Peter. It was difficult to get the balance but Greg knew what he was doing and took full control stirring us in a straight line. The other lads were zig zaging and we have a good laugh at them as they were concentrating to master the technique. We hit a few rapid and the wind started to pick up again. We were just 100 metres from the dock where we were due to load up the canoes and leave for the final 4km run to the finish line.
Myself and Greg sheltered in the inlet waiting for the lads while Team Godzone passed us. Once they caught up, Greg told them what angle to go in at to best catch the wind and said, ‘OK nearly there, lets go in all together’. Myself and Greg had only gone 10 metres and we see the lads drifting over the other side of the lake. We wondered what they were at and knew that something was wrong. We were so close, what is the problem, we could have swam from this distance. We have two choices, one was to carry on and dock the canoes and go and help them on the other side of the lake and the other was to just follow them and stick together. We decided to follow them as they may be in danger. Greg was just outstanding, his level of skills on the water made me feel so relaxed even thought the situation was far from relaxed. The cross wind had us almost capsize numerous times but we kept the balance. We spotted the lads washed in at a small isolated beach so we navigated towards them. We quickly learned that Peter had lost his paddle, it had fallen overboard as he tried to get some of the water out of the boat. We were now on the opposite side of the lake at Muckross park and the wind was so severe that it would have been impossible to paddle accross. It was so bad that after us, they cancelled this section. What could we do, we are only 4km to the finish line and doing really well. Peter was really frustrated at himself and was sure we were in Westport. We were all exhausted, had endured almost 5 days of rentless hardship and now with just 4km to go, we had the biggest challenge of all and this was more mental than physical.
We tried to call the organisiers number but even though the phone was in a waterproof bag, it was so damp that it would not even turn on. We were all contemplating what to do and this was just wasting time, I told Adrian to run and find out what we should do. About 20 minutes later, Brian + Chris rocked up and told us to just keep going. So with the gear on, paddle under the arm, we ran to the other side of the lake to the checkpoint where we met Adrian but not before doing one extra loop to find the place. That last 4km was a tough run with little talking. I had a lump in my throat and I think the boys did too, to be on such a high getting onto those canoes to now being at an all time low. It was a strange feeling, we were about 15 minutes from the finish and once again trying to push on the pace but we could not stop the mind from playing rewind, what if Peter didn’t drop the paddle, what if we saw them earlier, what if we reacted differently, it was difficult to come back to the moment and be ready to celebrate crossing the finish line.
But we did! Team Rachel’s Irish Adventures arrived, positioning 6th overall and 1st Irish team. We all congratulated each other and said both sorry and thank you. That was it, we arranged to meet up again later and stumbled off our separate ways, we needed to shower, power nap and eat ‘normal’ food. I went back to the lady that took my bloods, she weighted me and took my bloods again. I put on 2 kg during the 5 day and Adrian lost 2 kgs. It will be interesting to see what the outcome is with the test results.
Having a warm shower, putting on dry clothes, enjoying a hot chocolate and pizza was exactly as I thought it would be- a little piece of heaven.
The next few days were spent sharing stories with other teams, the highs the lows, the dramas and all that came with them and there were a lot of them.
What made this event for me was sharing it with my 3 amazing team mates and everyone else around us, battling their wars and surpassing their limits. Adventure racing is all about exploring new places and new limits and sharing the experience with like minded nutters.
ITERA was won by the young and very speedy French team FMR who I have previously had the pleasure of racing against in France. As we arrived in as the 1st Irish team, we qualified for a place in the Adventure Racing world championship in Australia this November but it’s a pity it can not be transferred to next year as to organise logistics and time off, 2 months is just not enough notice.
In all, ITERA was a character building challenge, both physically and mentally. We were very unlucky with the weather and if the sun had come out to play, it would have been a different game. I guess that is what adventure racing is all about, you never know what will get thrown at you and that is why we keep coming back for more!