Running 4:41:22  29.42 km (9:34 / km) +2836m 6:27 / km
Reeks Skyline - 1st
Brutal, brutal race.
Hadn't really figured what exactly to expect of the race, knew the route quite well and was optimistic I would be able to take advantage of that knowledge when the time came.
The race briefing started and Robbie told us he didn't mind what way we went up Beenkerragh, we could skip skeggmore if we wanted. Got on the bus and took out the map with James to do some last minute planning, and the Harvey map showed a nice trail heading up the side of the hill skipping Skeggmore, so this seemed like the most sensible option. Glad we purchased that map cos I would probably still have gone straight otherwise!
The race got going and we kept it nice and relaxed along the road (mostly because I don't think many knew the turn-off for Struicín, myself included). But we got the shout from behind at the turn and up we went. One of the lads (Naoise) went by myself and Conor in GAA shorts, and we didn't really know what to make of that, so we I just settled in at my own pace. Legs were feeling a bit more tired than ideal early on (maybe the recce on thursday was a tad too close to the race but oh well). I saw Conor and Naoise keep heading up the track, but there was a lady coming down off Struicín so I turned up earlier on what looked like a little trod and ended up gaining a bit to go in between Conor & Naoise.
Off the top I settled into a nice run down through the bog and across the terrain. Went straight for the fence, and once there the going looked better on the right so hopped over and slowly made my way back to Naoise. When I caught him he swapped sides too and Conor had caught back on too, so we were a nice pack of 3. Starting to climb Cnoc na Bhráca we ran through some brief introductions and stopped for a quick handshake and off we went again. We followed the trail up but once we hit the fence I crossed it and the other lads joined me as I was fairly confident there was a straighter line than I'd taken in my recce, and it worked out quite well and we hit the top nicely.
Off the top of Cnoc na Bhráca Naoise and I pulled away a bit from Conor, but as soon as we started climbing again sure enough Conor was back with us in no time. Time for my first Nakd bar, didn't go down to easily, but it was something at least. As we got closer to the top of Cruach Mhór Naoise pulled away a little, and Conor and I summitted together maybe 30sec back.
Across the ridge to Big Gun I was hoping to make up some time so didn't hang around and went after Naoise, about halfway across I climbed back onto the top of the ridge and slipped between two nice rock pillars onto the left handside - this was a nice line I'd picked up from Thursday and Naoise having gotten stuck on a bit of rock came in behind me, with Conor having fallen back a little.
Naoise and I climbed up to the top of Big Gun and having gotten across fairly smoothly I knew it was likely we'd have opened up a bit of a gap.
I was tucked in behind as we came down to the col, and Naoise picked some nice lines up Cnoc na Péiste that were better than my recce so I settled in happily. He opened up a little bit of a gap to the summit, but from here the running got better and I was able to close it down a little over the next couple of descents. As we climbed up Cnoc na Toinne we were back together and both had a bit of water and I took a gel on too. A few glances back gave the impression it was a pretty big gap, this was surprising as I was expecting Conor to be tearing after us on the runnable stuff (turns out his achilles was niggling).
I got a little ahead just before the Carrauntoohil climb but we were back together early enough and working pretty strongly up. Got a cliff bar into me and nearly finished my water, I was saving a little for Caher, but knew it wouldn't need much and I could fill up at the lake after.
I had a small gap summitting, and as I turned off towards Caher it had gotten a tad misty and I had to confirm with a walker I had gone for the Caher trail and not the Beenkerragh route. Ploughed on though and moved well enough across to Caher with Naoise in tow.
We were still moving fairly well and despite being quite rocky, we were still descending pretty well together off Caher and down to the lake. I took a few glances across to try find the path up Beenkerragh and spotted the wall it was probably on. I got down alright but the quads a little beaten from the descent. Naoise was still only 20s behind maybe, and I took a little time to get a full drink of water and fill it again. As I was leaving Naoise arrived and I set off on my right-hand routechoice.
Found the wall upwards and a bit of a trail and a few glances back implied Naoise had gone a different way, probably straight over the other hills. This was where the race would finally be decided I thought as I struggled up Beenkerragh. I was pretty confident my route would be nicer, but I had told myself at least if I popped out behind I could resign myself to 2nd and enjoy it. But sure enough halfway up I realised Naoise was behind me on the same route and had probably just taken a bit longer at the lake than me. Oh well.
We kept ploughing away up to Beenkerragh, I probably had 1-2mins but it looked like Naoise was slowly closing this so I tried to make a bit of an effort to the top so I could maybe gain time across the beenkerragh ridge.
Off the top my line went well and felt good. I was halfway across and really starting to tire now. Desperate to make this tricky section count I pushed on only to see Naoise still rather close.
The last bit is the trickiest and hitting this route nicely I could climb back up to carrauntoohil and could see my gap had increased a little.
Eventually I caught sight of the marshals and knew the worst of the race was over. Touched the cross, and through the crowds and off we go. I was running scared and tried to push down the descent. I was moving well enough but my legs were fading and there were 3 or 4 close calls where my legs just about kept me up.
Up over the col and back up the wretched climb to the zig zags. Oh lord. The energy was sapped out of me. I could tell I'd gained a bit more time looking back, but I was really not moving up the hill, however short it was. I'd finished my water up Beenkerragh too and my gels, and my mouth was too dry to take in anymore food. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for him) another racer had had to call it a day early, but he saved the day as he supplied me with some much needed water.
Once the trail flattened I was able to piece together some sort of movement and got jogging again. I tried not to look over to see how far away Cronin's yard was and just put one foot in front of the other down the zig zags which didn't last as long as I'd feared.
I'd planned on taking a short cut at the end of the zig zags but I was too tired to do so and just followed the trail around the longer way until I hit the main path and could fill up my bottle with some much needed water in the river. This didn't last long though and I finished it fast.
So, here we were, I knew it was still 4-5km along annoyingly rocky trail to the finish. I was quite keen to try and win, and hence rather scared about what was behind me, but also quite worried about how wobbly my legs were.
I promised myself I would stay on the path, but as soon as it turned right I went straight for the comfort of the grassy bog on a straighter line and inevitably got stuck in some turf cursing myself. The wobbles continued and 2 or 3 falls later both my knees had been cut open, but we were still running somehow and with every few hundred metres the reality that I might somehow finish and may even keep the lead began to set in and spurred me on somewhat.
Shortly after the stepping stones my Mum appeared walking towards me on the trail. After a brief water stop, a few words of encouragement and a couple of glances behind everything seemed a bit more manageable.
There's not much more to write about the last 2km or so, it just kind of passed by as I tried to tell myself to keep running, and I eventually did make it to the finish line. I tried to muster up some sort of awkward celebration, I actually tried to do this twice, but I didn't have the energy and wound up just going for the door to finish.
There were offers of tea and coffee but all I really wanted was some sugar and Robbie quickly obliged with a can of coke (thank you!). After some lying down, and some sandwiches I eventually began to feel human again and had a really pleasurable afternoon soaking up the sun and watching others suffer a little bit less than me across the finish line. Though not Naoise - I think he may have suffered just as much.
A great day out on a brutal course. Hard to figure out why we enjoy these things when you re-read the last few paragraps but somehow it is still a very positive memory. Can't really think of a better race really. Right up there with Jura.
Performance was pretty good too, was still going strong probably until after the final Carrauntoohil descent (albeit with some suffering before that). But there's certainly time to be gained out there, especially in that last half hour. I look forward to trying again.