Speechles and exhausted I was pushing my body over the finish line. There were not a lot of situations when I had to cry. This was one of them. When I was calling my wife right after the finish I wasn’t able to talk, just happy to hear her voice. It was by far the most emotional finish ever after unpredictable 22 hours 36 minutes and 46 seconds. The overall transition time was 2 hours and 27 minutes – good invested time. Here is the story.
It all started very early in the morning having breakfast together with all these great people coming mainly from Ireland and the UK. Most of us were not aware of what is going to happen the next 24 hours. And a bit more than 50% finished.
The race is a multisport run (22K) – kaiak (15K) – cycle (100K) – run (5K) – cycle (75K) – run (43K) event taking place leading the athletes through the most norther part of Ireland. The race director is David Burnes, a young guy who did a 16’000 km treck from Istanbul to Shanghai by cycling, running and rafting. „Those who compete in and complete The Race will be those who refuse to give up“ he was saying on the website and his statement at the race briefing was clear: „we’ve tried to make it really tough for you“.
Don’t expect me to give you an exact description of what happened. Instead of writing a race review I’d like to tell you some stories about that special day.
First of all, finding someone to join and follow through the course was very important that day. Some of those who didn’t got lost somewhere out there. They had lost their motivation or suffered for too long alone.
„This was my hardest 100K ride ever“ said Canadian Bill Wells who won this race in 15:22. To qualify this statement and to give a picture about his capability: he did the first 22K on the run in 1:36. And this run was the only „normal“ thing we were faced with that day: flat and rolling. By the way, the word „flat“ only exists in UK and US english, not in Irish English. So keep in mind, once an Irish person is describing something as being flat, it will be an ongoing up and down with short and hard ascends of 10% or more. One of these highlights was that steep hill going up for 3K to Lough Salt. Most of the competitors were walking the last part it.
This is one of Paul Doherty professional pics. Hope we can get or buy some pics. Lough Salt, the long line up the mountain with a wind machine on top saying: “stay down stranger, i don’t want you to come up here”. And yes, it was much steeper than it looks like here.
The organization was just great. I am still deeply impressed by the motivation and positiveness of all those volunteers being outside all the day, some of them 24 hours. They were cheering us in a way I’ve never seen. Most of them even knew our names by heart! I remember stepping off from the bike at Muckish Mountain a guy gave me a pat on the should saying: „You’re a good man“. About 45 minutes later I knew why he was saying that (see the movie below). There was that guy standing up on on top of Muckish Mountain hiding something like a piece of paper from wind and water and asking me – i didn’t understand a word up there – for the bib number. By the way, some of these guys were talking in a dialect you can’t understand when you didn’t grow up there.
The picture below is showing you how the mountain was looking like about from 7K and how it felt like up there. Having on my glasses I was not able to walk down on my own, I had to wait for an other runner to follow as I couldn’t see anything.
After that my race changed for two reasons. First of all I had enough time to finish it and even more important, the situation at Muckish Mountain changed my feeling of what is hard. There was nothing I was in fear of after that.
As my clothes were completely wet I was putting on everything dry I could find: two solid fish net merino base layers, my running rain jacket and my cycling rain jacket. Starting into a mild night I was pushing my bike highly motivated and I got stronger and stronger … ending up with a broken shifter right before the last stage. Good luck they say up here. Yes it was.
Coming in to the checkpoint a volunteer took my bike and another one was giving me my dropbox and leading me to the tent. At this moment the situation inside reminded me of those military hospital tents. All were more serious about the situation than all stages before, some suffering from fatigue and sleep, some had cold or even almost frozen fingers. But those who left were willing to get it done. The president of Self Help Africa – a volunteer himself – told us at the price giving ceremony about one of those good man saying when he left the tent: „Now it’s only a marathon“. Meaning it’s almost done. Maybe it was that spirit of all us athletes which made the volunteers and inhabitants of Donegal respecting so much what we did. Imagine, there was an older couple cheering us in front of their house with two boards saying „well done“ close to midnight out in the cold.
I left the tent 5 minutes past 10pm with the aim to walk the 43 „down“ with an average of 10 minutes per kilometer. After about 1 hour I realized that I didn’t change my socks and was walking in my too soft but warm hiking merino wool socks. Too late. I ended up with a total of 7 big blisters and 4 small ones hurting like hell for the next 5 1/2 hours. Then I joined Arthur and we were pushing our empty bodies towards the finish line. When we joined after about 14K after the first long climb of something like 10K we talked a lot and the longer we walked together the less we were talking but focussing on our task. To finish this incredible race. There was one remark I made to Arthur at the and of this „walk“ under a sky full of stars which I remember precisely: „I am happy we could walk this stage rather than doing it with the bike“. It was an ongoing up and down. Like the whole course and all the feelings we had that long day.
My heart rate was dropping, working at 70% and more the whole day it was now falling towards 55%. I didn’t eat a lot on the hard walk and the energy was leaving my body. At least the second half of this last stage was purely mental. Yes, we were good men. And good women. And all the volunteers too. Thank you all for this great experience.
Whenever you’re out to find a challenge that is unpredictable and just about yourself and the finish, the race is what you are looking for. But note, we were lucky people as the weather was more or less good. It could have been even worse. Maybe next year.