Monday, June 22, 2009

Kilbroney Challenge

With the exams finally over (just found out today, I scored a 2.1) it was time to think about having some fun - preferably outdoors. So with exactly 1 week of training in the legs, the obvious thing to do is enter a 5 hour race with the fastest female mountainbiker in Ireland, clearly...

The Kilbroney Challenge is a single-day adventure race set in the beautiful Mourne Mountains, comprising about 40km of biking and 12km of running, with a short paddle thrown in at the end to break tired minds and bodies.
A sleepless night and 6am start did not make for the best race prep, but we arrived on time and signed in to find that Mel was missing a rather crucial bolt from her bike, so a bit of gunthering and begging from friends was required before we got to the start line. The start was neutralised behind a truck before getting out onto the open mountain, with just a short trip over the bars for me to punctuate the beginning of racing proper. Lesson No 1 learned fairly quickly: in adventure racing, don't follow anyone's wheel except your trusted teammate - there was some seriously dodgy bike handling going on!

Once we got back out into the open it was time to put the heads down and make the most of our advantage on the bike - our plan all along was to hammer on the bike and hang on for dear life on the runs. Arriving into the first transition in 3rd place, we set off after the leading teams, on the short run we did not lose any time to them, but were caught by several teams chasing from behind. Not to worry though, no mixed-pairs teams in sight, and with the longest biking section to come, we once again reiterated the need to just keep our wits about us, be careful with the navigation (although the course was more or less completely marked, missing a checkpoint along the way would have been disastrous) and press on with the cycling. Flying along the return leg, we hit warp speed on the fireroad before adjusting to the slightly slower climb. This long, draggy climb was really suited to our strengths and we pulled back the 5 or so places lost on the previous running section. More importantly though, the sight of Mel passing them appeared to wound the pride of a lot of the men, and several teams seemed to really ramp up their effort to stick with us for a bit before falling away again. I was just happy to suffer in silence on her wheel - safe in the knowledge that the plan was working, and we were hurting other teams.

On the run

Again we arrived into transition in 3rd place, just behind the 2nd team, but with our Achilles Heel still to go. Mel was definitely the fresher of us, so she led out on the run, and having slightly misheard the wonderful marshals, we set off towards the wrong mast, on the wrong hill. Doh!
The run was slow but scenic, our eyes trained on the beautiful mountains and sea around us, and the plethora of teams catching us. A glance behind every couple of minutes to check for any other mixed teams and I was getting a bit nervous. I was also suffering big time, on a long sloggy climb back to the transition. I know when I'm asking myself why I am doing this, that I am pushing hard, and I asked that question a lot on that climb!
Once we were back on the bikes (having lost about 6 places) it was one more hike-a-bike section to the top of the hill before an amazing descent along sheep tracks and through some woods which made all the suffering worthwhile. We gained 2 more places on this, and caught another team and hit the finish together with them, to find out that due to inclement weather the kayak stage had been shortened to about 300m, which suited us just fine.
After 5 hours and 1 minute of racing, we tagged in for the last time, as the 1st mixed team, and 8th overall.

Finishing - Note: Mel smiling, me tired!

Thanks to Rowan McMahon and the Not The Sunday Run crew for putting on a great day, to Mel for being a wonderful partner and not cracking the whip on me too much, and to Ryan for letting Mel take time off her hectic training schedule to race...we even made it back in 1 piece!
All images used are by NTSR and results are available here

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

IMRA Crone Wood Race

Photo by Gerry Brady/IMRA

Yesterday was the final race of the IMRA Winter League. With 3 races from 5 to count, I had already notched up enough finishes to score in the league, but with my 35th place in Annacurragh dragging me down, I knew I could improve on my 17th place going into the race.
More importantly, however, this race was also the 2009 University Champs, and I was determined to do well. With this in mind, I had run the course 5 times over the last 2 weeks and was feeling good about it, it seemed well suited to my strengths, with a tough climb up Maulin and some steep descending. Only the final fireroad run in of 2km gave me any real cause for concern, so with that in mind I had done several sessions of 400m (1:20) and 800m (2:55) intervals to try up my leg speed a bit in preparation.

Race day started with a trip into town to pick up Ciara from Busaras, though having taken the bus from Belfast, her day had started considerably earlier than mine! Arriving in Crone I was greeted by what I didn't want to see - loads of IMRA speedsters who had come out of hibernation on this sunny day and I knew this was going to be a fast race. Felt good during warm-up, and positioned myself well on the startline, about 2 rows back, alongside some people I was hoping to do battle with.
Then the countdown began..10...blah...4...3..and then a cold feeling came over me and my body just felt empty. I was zonked before the race stared! No bueno. Usual tussling for position off the start and I found myself alongside Mick Hanney on the first climb, so started thinking this mightn't be too bad. Mick is a much faster runner than I (going for a sub-3 marathon in 2 weeks) so I thought if I could stick with him I'd have a chance, but the legs weren't there.
Up the very steep grassy bank, I made a few places but was suffering badly by now. After that the climb to the summit of Maulin was harder than it should have been, but I knew the descent was coming so wasn't worried about losing 2 places here, one of them to Ciara. I had told her earlier about the better line off Maulin, so was glad to see she strayed away from the obvious path and we dropped the 2 guys that were between us at the top, as well as catching 2 more. With some semblance of form returning, I eased ahead a little and got back up to Martin Francis, who was looking very strong. He dropped me again on the next bit though :-( The hairpins provided one last chance to draw a breath before the final climb up the grassy ride and the plunge back to the carpark. Again, I was pleased to make ground on the steep descent and was amazed to find that nobody passed me on the fireroad until Mags Greenan and Niamh O'Boyle shot past before the last corner, fighting for 3rd place.

Finished 32nd overall, @ 128% of the winning time, which is a big step back from my average leading into the race (119%) The faster field will have had something to do with it, but for my own part I must wonder what went wrong. I had harboured ambitions of a top 20 in this race, but couldn't pull it off on the day (my training times indicated that it may have been possible) Case of the jitters maybe? I know I need a lot more race experience to get used to the pace off the start line, and help get rid of the nerves.
6th in the colleges ranking, but 6mins down on the winning time. Also, somehow became a scoring runner for Clonliffe, in a very tight teams competition.

Ended up 21st in the winter league, would have needed to finish 26th or better to move up to 20th.

Not sure what I'll do next, maybe the Black Mountain race in Louth. At 14km, its a little longer then the winter league rounds, but should be ok.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Djouce Trail Challenge

Its mid March and I can count the number of times I've been cycling this year on 1 hand, so I needed little extra incentive to hit today's Djouce Trail Challenge hosted by Team WORC. Robin and the guys obviously put a heap of work into the trails, in what is already the best area in Ireland to ride and with the sun shining, about 160 riders of all shapes and sizes set off on a dusty dry 20km loop.
Wasn't really bothered about pushing myself or racing, but that's not to say I didn't :-)
After the chaos of the start, things settled down a bit after Bench Cut, but I was still getting stuck behind a few people on Off Camber and then made a silly mistake overtaking someone on the way into a really cool steep descent...only to find out later that we shouldn't have been on that descent at all. Nevermind, nearly everyone seemed to miss the markings anyway, so only lost out to the top few riders. After that, I met up with Gareth Gormley, Ian and Jordan Sutton and tootled around with them. The new singletrack is AMAZING! Having been off the bike for so long, it felt great to just get out and get the bike flowing through the woods again. Had 1 slide, lost the front wheel down a bank but nothing serious.
A day well spent!

My preparations for the next hillrun continued yesterday with another lap of the Crone course. Another sunny day, but a bit windy up top...despite the beautiful day and inspiring scenery, my legs were absolutely shot from the minute I left the car and I was really struggling. Don't know why, just spent the whole run hoping I'm not coming down with something (my brother has been very sick all week, so there's lots of germs floating about :-(
On the way back down, I had zoned out and was just plodding onwards, when - WHOOPS - I'm lying face-down on the ground after tripping. Lots of cuts on my hands (1 deep slit) and legs....and oh no! another shredded pair of tights. Need someone to sponsor me some running kit at this stage!

The aim for this week is some hard workouts early in the week (provided my legs are good - not pushing a body which doesn't want to be pushed) and rest at the end, in preparation for Saturday. Also plan on getting the bulk of my dissertation written up this week too, so busy times!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Running some more

I'm pretty bad at updating this, despite my best intentions. Not as if I'm doing really interesting stuff like our elite friends in Cyprus or have the impetus to write opinionated and argumentative columns like some other blogs I read.
So I'll try summarize the last 3 months in 1 post to get up to date and see if I can keep on top of it from now on...

In the main, my time has been occupied by college stuff and running (not cycling!)
College stuff has been tiring, sometimes boring, sometimes frustrating, sometimes enthralling but most of all, time-consuming. On top of all the usual study and learning bits, a good chunk of the final year marks go for a dissertation, so thats taken a lot of my time and energy. I'm thoroughly looking forward to taking a few days off in early April before cracking into exam preparation. Anyone want to go away for a few days???
One of the most frustrating things has been preparing and sending off job applications, mainly to companies who aren't hiring, are scrapping their grad programmes, or are just accepting CV's to burn and save on their office heating costs. There's a definite air of resignation around college, I've not yet heard of anyone even getting an interview anywhere. Last Friday was our last day of lectures and should have been a nice milestone on our way to becoming engineers. Instead, the class joke was that it was another milestone on our way to the dole queue. Certainly picked an awful time to graduate into the construction industry. The other option open to me is to use the time to pick up some more qualifications, so with this in mind I've applied to do a PhD in engineering, expanding the scope of my dissertation project to fill out a thesis and hopefully make some sort of contribution to my field (bridge maintenance stuff, if you're interested) That's all dependent on securing the funding, so fingers crossed that IRCSET comes up trumps in April.

To keep me somewhat sane during all that, I've taken to doing a bit of running. Not much, certainly nowhere near enough to call myself a committed "runner," but enough to make me feel like I'm getting some workout and satisfy my competitive urges. I've done 3 IMRA races so far, Ticknock (25th) Annacurragh (36th) and Trooperstown (26th) All of the races I've tried to take something from - positioning at the start, pacing, racing a bit smarter (ie letting a big road runner catch me on a flat section, tucking in behind to save energy, then gapping him again on the technical stuff) The races have reinforced what I already knew, that I'm a stronger runner on harder ground, and that fireroad descending absolutely kills me. The kind folks on have given me some help and I'm hoping to improve on this in the coming weeks, as its annihilating any chance I have of doing well.
Surprisingly, I think I've taken to running rather easily...much more easily than if I'd not been cycling in years anyway! Maybe there's some latent miles in my legs from all those rugby sessions (4 years ago now since I picked up a rugby ball in anger?) or maybe I'm a bit more suited to running after all...The other thing I love about mountain running is the opportunity you get to get out into the wilder hills which isn't possible on a bike, where we tend to stick to paths and trails. Few things are as nice as pouring over a map in the carpark, then following compass to wherever it leads you and taking in the stunning Wicklow views, away from anyone or anything.

My next race will be the Crone Woods finale of the Winter League, which also doubles as the University Champs. It's a race I'd love to do well in, so I met some IMRA stalwarts there last Saturday for a recce run and completed 2 laps for 14km. Again, the guys were most encouraging and I made an effort to really glean as much knowledge from them as I could, and also to try become acquainted with some regular runners. I absolutely loved the course, the climbs and descents (up and down Maulin) should really suit me, so I ran it again with Nigel on Tuesday and plan on getting another couple of laps in next week. It'll probably be a bit more competitive than previous races, but I'd be really delighted to break into the top 20 in this for a good finish to the winter league, and hopefully a scoring place for Trinity...