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