Adventure racing in Killarney takes it to another level
Born competitors not willing to do the dying part
Five days feeling total body Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Four days rolling IT band syndrome. Three days massaging patellar tendonitis. Two days scrubbing dirty black bog water from between the toes. One day nursing mild hangover. No concussion, but still that was getting off lightly.
There are lots of relaxing ways to spend a weekend in Killarney, and taking part in the Helly Hansen Adventure Race is not one of them. It helps when 2,000 others willingly share in the 69km run-cycle-kayak-cycle-run (although some, sensibly, opt for shorter distances), and there’s no denying that every view along the route is set for stun. But when “whose f***ing bright idea was this?” is the curse of the day then somebody, somewhere has some explaining to do.
Even when blessed with the final blast of our great Indian summer, what unfolded in Killarney last Saturday was not for the faint-hearted – in every meaning of that term. Five hours, 16 minutes, and 52 seconds after setting off from Kate Kearney’s Cottage – without one single pause for breath – I made it to the finish line, over a full hour behind the first man home, Sligo’s Aidan McMoreland, and with no clue what exactly had inspired it all, beyond the old idea that he not busy born is busy dying.
There is always a fresh claim on “the fastest growing sport in the world”, but what is certain is that adventure racing on this mass participation scale hardly existed five years ago. Fáilte Ireland reckons there will be 352 “adventure” events staged here in 2013, two-thirds on the west coast, and most of which attract overseas entries. No wonder Scandinavian brand specialists Helly Hansen are happy to be on board, and among the nine headline adventure races in Ireland (Gaelforce, Achill Roar, Westport Sea-2-Summit, etc), Killarney is now rated as the best.
We begin shortly after dawn with a quick bus trip, in nervous silence, out to Kate Kearney’s Cottage. Out of the starting chute, we run straight up Strickeen mountain, then straight back down, a mere 7.5km, yet more rocky river bed than running trail, freshly watered too after several days of rain. Down at the first transition, the magic blood sugar mix already running low, I take the first snapshot of my fellow adventure racers: mostly male, average age 40, probably working in Web development, and not afraid to spend money on quick-drying adventure gear and expensive carbon-framed bicycles.
Anyway, it’s straight onto the bike for the 35km spin through the Gap of Dunloe and into the Black Valley, the last place in Ireland to get electricity. With damp horse droppings spraying into my face, I pursue a group of five riders, cruising along, when one of them turns around and roars at me for not taking my turn at the front: so much for adventure racing not being a competitive pursuit.
So I drop back and meet Ian Harrington, a Roscommon man, living in Killarney, and 27 years in the Irish Army. In the old days, he and some fellow recruits would run mountain marathons for fun, and finish up with a cycle or swim. “This is certainly an amazing location for an event like this,” he tells me. “You just wonder where it’s all going, or what they’ll come up with next.”