As thousands prepare for this year’s Gaelforce West, HARRY McGEE catches up with former winner, Pádraig Marrey, for a few winning tips
WETSUIT technology brought Atlantic surfing from obscurity to massive popularity in Ireland. Well, they say the recession provided the same adrenaline shot for adventure racing in the country’s wilder places.
Ten years ago, adventure-type events drew only diehard participants. Now, during August and September, there is virtually a race every week – including some of the biggies: Gaelforce West; Achill Roar, WAR in Wicklow, and the Killarney Adventure Race.
Over the next two months many thousands will put their bodies through hours of hell in hostile conditions, getting a perverse enjoyment that will make them come back for more.
Adventure racing is a catch-all term that covers three or four disciplines over long distances. Typically, they involve trail and fell running; cycling; kayaking; and mountain running/walking.
This hybrid formula that worked best at attracting large numbers of participants was pioneered by Gaelforce West. An easily navigable route was chosen (that still took in the peak of Croagh Patrick); most of the cycling was done on road (rather than on more specialist mountain bike terrain); and the kayaking leg was kept short. The formula worked and the race, run by the Young family from Killary Adventure Centre, remains the biggest of them all, with between 3,000 and 5,000 competitors each year.
The fact that they are more accessible doesn’t mean they are easy. Competitors still do a 60km course that can take anything between 3.5 hours to seven hours-plus. And during that purgatorial period, a host of problems can arise, including cramping, dehydration, over-hydration, fatigue, bad gear choice and the effects of poor nutrition choices. Some people jumping into a kayak for the first time find themselves struggling to keep themselves upright as they discover their core isn’t as strong as it should be.
The Mayo cyclist Pádraig Marrey has been a podium finisher at Gaelforce races over the past couple of years and he has many practical pointers for those training and taking part. Like the marathon, you have to clock in the miles on all disciplines, though you might just get away with doing minimal kayak training.
Building up endurance is the name of the game. Marrey recommends circuit training and core classes for building core strength and not breaking down (this will help with kayaking).
Coming up to the race, there are other important must-dos. “You need to start hydrating in the days coming up the event. A lot of people just drink on the day but you need to build up, take electrolytes in. But then, don’t overdrink. I tend to sip and put some cordial through it to make it more palatable.”
On equipment choice, Marrey says, a racer trumps a mountain bike every time because of the long road element, but he has experimented with tyre widths. He also recommends trail runners – his own favourite is the Salomon Speed Cross Two.
Cramp is almost inevitable as you are using so many different muscles over a long period of time. Proper hydration, putting an electrolyte tab in the water bottle, and eating properly can counteract cramp.
He says that the race day is not the day to experiment with gels or foodstuffs that you haven’t tried before. Gels are very hard on the stomach and he recommends using them only when you really need them.
“There are different gels for carbs, electrolyte and energy. You need to know your type. Caffeine is the only one that gives a boost,” he says.
Dates: Gaelforce West, Aug 18; Achill Roar, Sept 8, WAR Wicklow, Sept 22, Killarney AR Oct 6