05 September, 2011The Dublin Peaks was a race I really wanted to do. I wanted to experience an â€œExtremeâ€œ race (Difficulty 10). The name also appealed to me; it had a nice ring about it. A few weeks ago, an opportunity arose whereby I was free of wife and kids for a couple of evenings and I decided to recce the course.
First, I read all the reports from last yearâ€™s race. What I got from these was that, through careful navigation, it was possible to reduce the advertised distance of 36k. Several people mentioned the shortcuts they had taken in their accounts and looking at the map I could roughly see what they meant. Suddenly, I saw that Kevin Oâ€™Riordan had posted the link to his Garmin GPS account of the race. â€œNow weâ€™re talkingâ€ I said to myself. Looking at the course with Google Earth I had enough detail to plot it on a map and analyse the lot critically. Yes, Kevin had seemingly cut every corner possible. Seeing a course plotted on a map is one thing but being able to follow it in the field is another. There was evidence of this all over the accounts of last yearâ€™s event; with the bad weather people got lost and ended all over the shop, some giving up and one even ending up with mild hypothermia.
I knew the main paths around Ticknock and Tibradden and had this year ran the Kippure race so I knew some of the main sections. The main thing I needed to explore was the middle section, from the Fairy Castle through Tibradden and Cruagh, all the way to the Military Road. Navigation was going to be required, so I digged out the compass I bought last year and never used, quite simply because I didnâ€™t know how to. The last time I had used some form of navigation skills was over 20 years ago when I was doing my undergraduate mapping in Connemara. As a geologist you would be slowly walking from one outcrop to the next, taking bearings and counting your steps as an indication of distance covered. In a race like the Dublin Peaks it would be a completely different ball game. The recce, although a bit of an adventure in itself, went well and, by the end of it, I was confident that I could use my map and compass.
Fast forward to the day of the race. I had looked at the weather forecast on the internet the day before and it looked like Sunday was going to be a cloudy but dry day in the East. Consequently, I had tied my mandatory rain jacket to the back of my Camelbak, having no intention of using it. By the time I got to Ticknock on Sunday, there were a number of people there already. The talk of the day was the weather and I was told that a front was moving in. We were going to get wet. It shouldnâ€™t be a patch on last yearâ€™s weather, but the rain was going to be unavoidable. There were about 10 people gathering up for the early start. Andreas Kusch was one of them and someone asked him â€œSurely you donâ€™t need to take the early start, Andreas?â€. His reply was that with this weather front coming in, heâ€™d rather go early and avoid some of the rain. So, people were taking the rain seriously. I untied my rain jacket and put it on.
Come 12 Oâ€™clock there were about 14-15 of us launching ourselves forward up the path towards the masts. I didnâ€™t have much of a strategy but I just wanted to stay close to the leaders in the initial kilometre, so that they would show me the shortest path through the Ticknock wood. As soon as I came out of wood onto the main road leading to the masts, I dropped down to my own rhythm. I followed a couple of guys through the first shortcut and up towards Fairy Castle where I shouted my number to the two marshals. I passed somebody up there and headed straight for the second shortcut through the woods. The other guy followed me and we arrived more or less together at the checkpoint on Tibradden. I donâ€™t know what happened to him then but I headed South-West straight down through the heathers and the ferns towards the cut forest and the main road at the bottom of the Glencullen valley. Just as I was about to go through the trees and enter the cut forest, Cormac Oâ€™Ceallaigh suddenly appeared to my left. I shouted â€œHiâ€ but Iâ€™m not sure he heard me as he was ploughing through tall ferns.
I crossed the river as soon as I could and headed up through the woods, following the Owendougher river, to my left. On the way up I grabbed a piece of wood and dropped it on the ground at a small junction which I thought I might miss on the way back down (I had missed this junction during my recce). From that point onwards, I didnâ€™t see any other IMRA people until I got to the Cruagh checkpoint. It started raining a bit more heavily at this point and I passed a couple of early starters half way between Cruagh and the military road.
When I got to the car parked near the entrance of the bog road I saw some guy coming down the trail on my left (from what is marked as â€œSite of hunting lodgeâ€ on my map). â€œCrapâ€ I said to myself, this guy obviously knew a shorter route, which I hadnâ€™t envisaged. No time to check it on the map though, and it was starting to rain quite heavily then. I grabbed a cup of water and a jelly and I was off again. The way up to Kippure was a long hard slog and I was getting pretty saturated. Visibility was quite low and you couldnâ€™t see the mast until you almost had your nose on it but I had taken a bearing lower down and faithfully followed the direction my compass indicated. My hands were getting very cold now. When I got to the top I paused for a moment. Where the hell am I supposed to go? There should be a cairn somewhere up here but I canâ€™t see any. I walked a bit further, looking left and right until I heard somebody shouting â€œHere, this way!â€, and I saw Mick Kellett sitting by the fence surrounding the mast. Fair play to him, I wouldnâ€™t envy his position. I gave Mick my number and headed straight back the way I came. There were several other runners around the top of Kippure, some heading up and 3 ahead of me going down. My hands were now stiff with the cold and I had to try and put my gloves on. Here I wasted over 5 minutes as I tried to unzip my pockets to extract my gloves and put them on. I had no strength in my fingers and the gloves were soaked. I ended up managing to put them on using my teeth. While I was doing this I had my map and compass squeezed under my armpit. The map fell and flew off. I caught it when it landed in a little stream. I was losing so much time there and I was raging. I felt I should also try to suck a gel in at that point and I wasted another couple of minutes trying to extract it from my soaked pocket, opening it, sucking it in, putting the wrapper in a plastic bag and zipping my pocket back up. First lesson of the day: put your gloves on before you get cold and store gels and gloves in an easily accessible place.
After my ordeal I felt a bit disorientated and although I had taken a bearing at the top, when I saw two guys heading down to my left on what seem to be relatively OK running ground, I gave chase. I quickly passed the 2 guys but then realised I didnâ€™t recognise anything around me. A quick look at the compass confirmed that I was way off. The F word came to mind and I thought â€œSecond lesson of the day, Johan; do your own thing. Donâ€™t assume that what others are doing is right!â€. Within minutes, and following a mighty fall into a bog hole, I was back on track. A guy just passed me then and I passed him back before reaching the bog road. The next time I looked behind me was when I reached the checkpoint at the start of the bog road and he was nowhere to be seen. In fact, from that point onwards, I didnâ€™t see any other runners until the finish.
Coming down from Cruagh on the board walk I wanted to open my third and last gel but with my soaked gloves, I was unable to unzip the little pocket at the back of my shorts where I had stored the damn thing. Just as I hit the main trail I saw a guy passing on his mountain bike and I ran after him. He kindly responded, stopped and did me the favour of opening my back pocket. I sucked the gel in and were off again straight down through the woods. I was getting a bit reckless there and paid the price. I slipped on a root, or wet branch, and landed very ungracefully on my backside, a bit shaken. I checked myself; no harm done. Further down, I spotted the stick I had carefully positioned on the way up. This allowed me to head straight through the vegetation at the right place and reach the river in no time at all.
As I was climbing up the flank of Tibradden through the heathers, and getting my shins ripped to shreds, the sun made an appearance and remained with me until the end of the race. I took the shortcut through the Tibradden wood again, making sure I kept to the right of the fence, not to go off course, the way I did during my recce. At one point, big surprise, I stepped into what seemed to be a small, innocuous puddle and ended up sinking in down to my knee. I just had to laugh.
The rest of the way was pretty uneventful. Going up the Fairy castle I kept looking back for possible followers but saw nobody, so I took it easy. As I was about to enter the Ticknock wood I just glanced at my watch and saw that it indicated 3h28â€™. I thought that it would be great to finish under three and a half hours so I took a deep breath and legged it all the way down to the finish, to complete the course in 3:29:50 (10 seconds short of the three and a half hours).
Looking at the results now, I can see that I was only 6 minutes behind the mighty Torben Dahl and canâ€™t help to think that, maybe, if it hadnâ€™t been for all the messing with my gloves and my gels, I could have come head to head with him. But there the reality check kicks in â€“ one can always dream.. I read from Zoranâ€™s report that he finished at about 28k. My Garmin places me closer to 29k so there are obviously still a few corners that could be cut here and there. Bring on next year!
A fantastic race and Iâ€™d like to thank Joe and all the volunteers who gave up their time to make this event a success. Well done guys, it wasnâ€™t plain sailing, especially for Mick, marshalling the top of Kippure in totally treacherous conditions.
04 September, 2011Sat 21:30, out walking the dog, the evening nice... just wondering how long we have until the next days front arrives. Knew it will be wet, but was hoping that it is not as misty as last year. My goal was to beat 3h. Last year took me ~3h13.
Sun 11:30, cloudy, but not raining yet. Cycled up to the start, and just missed the early starters. Joe saying "you are ok, you have not missed it". Had some time to do some more warm-up, stretches and eye-up the opposition :).
We were off on the 12:00. I decided to take the same route as last year, having only done one recce this spring. Also gave my map to Richard, as he had not recced the route and did not know the way after Tibradden (actually he even went slightly wrong heading to Fairy Castle!, as we found out later). I already had bearing marked on the compass (from board walk to Cruagh, from Cruagh to Military road and end of Bog road to Kippure).
I started out in the front, and wanted to open up a slight gap on Torben and anyone else who was following me closely. I knew Torben is fast on the flats/fire road so wanted to get some distance on him on the uphills and rough terrain.
To Fairy Castle, Rachel and Melanie were there, braving the weather. It was windy and raining slightly. Then off towards Tibradden, where Mike Gomm was sheltering from the wind and the rain. He asked me how many were in this group, I did not know, and shouted back 14 or so. Once leaving the boardwalk, turned left and straight down to the road, then across the river and up by the river until I reached the Cruagh board walk. Was feeling good. The weather was still ok, a bit windy and raining lightly. Met few hikers on the board walk and one of the early starters. Finding Cruagh cairn was easier this year as the visibility was ok. Brendan was there, he took my number and I was off toward the trail that leads to the Military road. Here I met another group of early starters with Tommy and Ken.
Once I could see that only the top quarter of Kippure was covered, I was happy and kept thinking that the conditions wont get as bad as last year. Got few jellies of Charlie at the Bog road junction. The rain was getting stronger so put on the jacket. This year it was easy to follow the path towards the summit, here I met few other early starters, Donal saying: "ah, Zoran, you s* of a* b*, what kept you...". Finished off a gel just before the top. Andreas was just ahead of me at the top. Mick Kellet was battling it out with the weather up there, fair play! I did not wish to be in his shoes, and without much delay was back running away... out of the cloud, rain and the wind behind me making the going easier.
Met Torben about half way down, was hoping that the gap would be sufficient. But regardless had to push on. Passed Andreas on the bog road. Checked in with Charlie and the time was ~13:50, was happy with that. If I could get back in less than and hour the record will be mine (if I win). I pushed on and passed Niamh on the trail towards Glendoo. After a while I noticed that the trail did not seem right, looked around and saw that the forest, which I should be heading towards was too far left! Oh, no! I was heading towards Glendoo! Damn, was cursing at myself, how could I miss the left turn towards Cruagh! Then I saw Niamh again, she missed the turn too. I did not want to go back, so looked around and (not having a map!) decided to head towards the forest and where I thought Curagh is. Then I saw Henny's orange bivvy. Relief.
Headed in a straight line to the cairn and met Andreas there again. He asked me, "did you get lost?". Once I checked in with Henny, 14:10... headed back the same way towards Tibradden. Rain and wind not stopping. Got to the river, slipped and grazed my hand... auch, one of my fingers felt numb. Looked at it, moved the hand and figers... not to sore, ok, not broken, carry on. Into the cut forest and towards Tibradden. No one there this time (14:29). Pushing on, wondering the whole time if I have lost any places because of the mistake at Cruagh. Still felt good, go to Fairy Castle at 14:41. I knew I will be within the record. Did not see anyone around.
Just before the finish, saw a guy in a blue top finishing! Damn, who is he? Is it Torben? Crossing the line I saw it was not! Delighted to be finished in 2h52. Beating my time by 20 mins. (I got about 28k, similar to last year...)
Big thanks to Joe and all the volunteers! Really good event. Hopefully next year the weather will be another bit better. I'd say on a good, dry day the record will fall again.
Alan, thanks for that cup of tea. It was great! I really needed it to warm up! An look at it now, it's sunny! Next year we'll have to time the start of this race better ;)