It was WAR alright. Driving up the boulevard to the Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, I could feel any confidence I had rapidly disappear. Everyone around me looked slick and lean and professional. They looked like they knew what they were doing – and I didn’t, but I also knew if I didn’t change the way I was thinking I could just forget about it and head home, finished before I started. Well that wasn’t gonna happen. I got myself into this, I was going through with it, not sneaking away with a whimper. I’d joined WAR sport as my first adventure race – in a bid to assess my fitness ahead of the Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race on October 5th.
Talking with Zoe from the organising team beforehand I admitted that the run was worrying me most, partly because it was up and down the Sugarloaf, partly because running isn’t my strong point, and partly because I’d cut a chunk out of my ankle a couple of days earlier, sea-swimming in Malahide. I mentioned that I was happy enough about the bike because I was doing an average of 30k a day regularly. I commented that my cycle route into work didn’t have very many hills and I hoped I’d be able to cope with Wicklow. Zoe reassured me that there weren’t that many hills on the course. In fairness, she was right. There weren’t that many hills – just one – heading all the way up to the top!
As we pushed off from Powerscourt, I swiftly realised that I had totally underestimated the bike. The first 6k was totally uphill without a break. As I pushed against the incline, the rest of the racers swept passed and my warring mind returned. I was feeling out of my depth and overwhelmed and there was still another 30k and more to go! I started doing a mental checklist, was I ok? yes, was I out of breath? no, did my arms and legs still work? yes. So stop whingeing and keep pushing. I realised I wasn’t going to be finishing with any sort of decent time, and was probably going to have the mortification of arriving in hours after everyone else, so I reminded myself why I was here. What a wonderful opportunity to run, climb, cycle and kayak through the beautiful Wicklow hills that I love. I’ve hiked these mountains, and I’ve paddled on these lakes, and here was a chance to tie all my favourite things together. I started looking forward to the Sugarloaf and how it would feel to dump the bike and flex my legs with a trot up to the top, and after my recent run on Ticknock with the IMRA gang, I was dying to have another bash at running headlong down a mountain – last time was fun. The paddling was the 4th element in the race, and I knew I’d do well at that point, because I’ve been training all summer for the Liffey Descent so that would be my strongest sport right now.
As the hill got higher and my legs got wearier I told myself I was briefly returned from Tir na nÓg like Oisin, and would grow old and die if I put my foot to the ground. I decided I now had a new race. I couldn’t be fast, and I couldn’t get a good time, but my new battle was to make it up this hill without walking. Every sort of whimsy rattled around my brain, I’ll just cycle to the next tree, and now to the next bend, and now to the next crack in the road. I broke down that interminable tarmacadam mountain into bite size pieces and slowly made headway, until I saw in the distance the iconic volcanic looking Sugarloaf and knew that the second stage was at hand. Racking the bike, I took off on foot. Such a lovely mountain with such gorgeous views and a lovely scramble, so close to Dublin. I’ve climbed it in winter conditions and all year around and felt I was back on home turf – although I’ve always been in full hiking gear with boots and backpack, so galloping down in a pair of trail shoes was a new experience and I loved it.
Back on the bike for a long, but fairly flat stretch to the lakes section where the paddling was a delight, and then back on the bike for the final 17k of hills back to the starting point at Powerscourt. The mental battle began, but this time I knew the drill, and just pushed on and on, taking in as much of the scenery around me as I could. I got a great look at a hedgehog. It was my first time to see one moving around in real life, and not either squashed by traffic, or rolled into a protective ball. This little fella was all relaxed and running around on his little paws under his spiny coat, shining a kind of chestnut red in the sunlight. I got a really good look – when I finally managed to catch up with him!
There were good downhill stretches on this last section, but I couldn’t enjoy them, because my back-brake had stopped working and I was afraid to gather too much speed in case I had to jam on the front and went flying. I just resigned myself to getting home. I’d already learned loads and was counting the benefits of having signed up for the event. I’d discovered that my mountain bike with big nobbly wheels and a shopping carrier was a totally unsuitable beast for the event – made worse by my not bothering to have it serviced before the race….. counting out plasters to lighten my pack was a bit pointless when I was carrying at least a litre too much water… and cutting my ankle two days before the race was a bit thick. Yes I’d learned loads. I’d also learned not to talk yourself out of the race before you begin, and in fairness, I’d proved to myself that even when it all feels lost, I still have the determination to at least finish the job as best I can. Four hours and 17 minutes it took me to finish. At last count, I came in 166th out of 167 finishers… but the important word there is finish.
PS.. tomorrow – I’m off to buy a proper road-bike!
Here she is … the little beauty.
The ‘LauraLynn’ is the tandem bike that kayak supremo Kipper Maguire and I will be cycling on September 28th as part of our massive challenge for the LauraLynn Foundation – Ireland’s only childrens’ hospice.
Our tandem bike only arrived tonight and tomorrow we get our first chance to try her out, then on Friday we have a 40k ‘training’ cycle arranged. We’ve no idea how long it will take, and how the two of us will hold our balance on this amazing looking machine. I’ve never cycled a tandem before and it’s all new to me; so if anyone has any tips, let me know on Facebook or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s the final stages of training now. For months I’ve been cycling 15k in and out to work on my mountainbike ‘Thunder’ and now we’ve got ELEVEN days to tackle the tandem.
I’ve kayaked many kilometres over the summer too, and spent many hours in the gym – trying to get my core and upper body ready for the marathon paddle down the flooded Liffey. That’s 30 million tons of water released from the ESB-operated Poulaphouca Reservoir, creating a world-renowned 28km course with swift currents, ten weirs, and numerous rapids. I’ve kayaked a distance of 15k regularly now – but what 28k will feel like, remains to be seen – and the biggest challenge for me, will be the weirs – which scare me to death!
Lots of my friends will have become familiar with my training kayak Sásta Sage – kindly sponsored by Sásta Fitness who claim you can drop a dress size, and get fit, in 4 weeks. Fiona Egan, this brand new company’s inspiring female founder has been absolutely brilliant – standing behind us all the way as we prepare for our big challenge, and arranging a variety of fund-raisers around the country on LauraLynn’s behalf. Thank you so much to Fiona and all her Sásta Fitness members who chipped in over the past few weeks.
Thanks too, to Cycle Super Store in Tallaght who have sourced the tandem for us – and of course to www.rafting.ie for all their help.
Finally thanks to you, and all your friends, who have contributed … or are ABOUT to contribute to the cause 😉
Check out our donations page here: Pedals-2-Paddles – or by clicking on any of the photos on this page.
Wish us luck….
Well this evening was lovely. Bracing, but lovely. Very choppy, and the air was cold, but when you were swimming for a while the burning bands of ice around your chest relaxed a little and allowed you to breath… the slap of being dropped from the top of the waves to the sea below as you tried to breath under your armpit kind’ve helped to keep you warm too…. yes. Bracing.
I picked up the text from ‘Get Off The Couch’ swimming mentor and Eastern Bay swimming club Chanimal (for swimming channels) Fergal Somerville, just as I finished a 45 minute sweaty weight-lifting work-out with gym guru David Dunne. Feeling nice and warm, I headed over to Malahide in bright sunshine, and persuaded myself to ‘just get in for a dip’. I wanted to brave the sea without a wet-suit, just for the hell of it. As it turned out, the camaraderie from the other swimmers at High Rock was so encouraging that I ended up swimming for 30 minutes which is a bit of a record for me. I made it from High Rock to ‘The Wall’ (for those in the know).
Climbing up on the rocks afterwards and reaching hungrily for Mag’s famous Eastern Bay energy biscuits, I pondered that leaving the Irish Sea at sunset is getting to be a bit of a habit.
Last week I was getting an introduction to scuba diving at Sandycove with the dream team of Brendan Homan and Martin Durcan – diving instructors to the stars… 😉 I’m winding them up a bit, but if you heard the slagging they gave each other, you’d know I have to! Seriously though, Brendan literally took me by the hand and brought me fin over fin into the depths of Dublin Bay and as experiences go, this was really special.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved it – from bursting into giggles as the lads quite literally bounced me into the very heavy and awkward gear – (and thanks to the girls for the loan) – to the moment of inching into the water, when the clumsiness disappears, the sandy bottom falls away beneath you, and all of sudden you feel you’re flying. Pushing out from the shore, the depth of the water increases sharply and you find you’re floating over craters and rocks, and it looks like you’re sweeping over canyons and cliffs – like a somewhat ungainly heavy, rubber-suited bird. Perhaps a penguin, clumsy and heavy on land, but transformed into a graceful work of art in the right environment.
The sounds hit me first, my heart seemed to beat a noisy audible pulse; merging and moulding with the tide and the current swelling above and below. I could hear my breathing; short and fast at first, then longer, deeper and more regular as I began to relax. The light was muffled, softly dappling the shady sea around me, and piercing fingers through the forest of seaweed, no longer flat and brown, but reaching lazily upward, waving in the ebb and flow, with kaleidoscopic purples and greens, changing hues in the fading light. A moving, liquid, enchanted world where life looks so different and your own transient nature is so clearly felt with each pull on your air.
I’ve had lots of scary experiences in the past 3 years – some quite terrifying – but I’ve got through them, and even got to like some of the things that scared the pants off me at first. But here, 8 metres down, I felt no need for bravery. It might sound strange, but I wasn’t nervous here, I wasn’t scared, it felt calm and wonderful and absolutely natural. I can’t wait to go again. (hint hint).
So it’s September 10th now – and that’s just 18 days away from my big charity challenge for LauraLynn – the Liffey Descent and Cycle Challenge with Kipper Maguire. I’m strong, my kayak skills are improving, and I’ve spent hours in the water padding against the tide in my Sásta Fitness sponsored river boat. It’s looking good. Except I’ve let the running training slip a bit – (a lot actually) – and the realisation has just hit me this evening that I’ve got a forgotten challenge ahead this weekend. I’m signed up for WAR in Powerscourt. The cycle and kayak, I’m confident I can do – but how the heck do I clock a 6k run with the Sugar Loaf in the middle of it? Gulp! I’ll let you know how I get on….
Three years hoofing it around the horse-shoe at Spinc Mountain in Wicklow and looking down with a lump in my throat at the beautiful Upper Lake at Glendalough. My first sight of the lake from the observation point half way up the mountain, marked a turning point for me 3 years ago. I was 19 stone at that point and had already lost 4 stone, which had enabled me to go hiking for the first time. I knew then as I looked down from my mountain perch that I’d be climbing mountains for ever more.
The lake continued to intrigue me each time I’d go hiking to Spinc, but I largely obeyed the ‘no swimming’ signs keeping hot and sweaty hikers at bay. Then a couple of weeks ago, I spotted on the internet that there’s an annual swimming race in the lake. I had just two weeks to train and register, really not enough, but there was a 750m category and I knew I’d swum that distance a couple of years ago in the ‘lake’ stage of a triathlon at Lough Key Forest Park. At the time I had trained with Eastern Bay swimmer & English Channel and North Channel crosser, Fergal Somerville. This time I wouldn’t even have time for a quick swim with the gang at High Rock in Malahide before the lake. I pondered my options. I might be a bit rusty for the job, but I still couldn’t resist the temptation of swimming in that lake. I signed up.
I may have dreamed of cutting through the mirror-like glassy surface of Upper Lake – but those dreams never included rain and a gale blowing through the valley and whipping up choppy waves on the expanse of water that disappeared into the thick mist at the top of the valley. The picture on the website was more like the scenes of my imagination than the reality when Saturday morning broke and I felt like challenging the advert under the trade descriptions act! I could hardly see the road as I drove through the Sallygap on my way to Glendalough. Sheer misery. The organisers had warned that we may be asked to wear wetsuits if the water temperature dipped, and while I was happy to swim in just a suit, I’ve got to admit – when I saw the other swimmers getting wet-suited, it didn’t take me too long to follow their example. Shivering on the beach as the wind blew down the bouncy-castle style ‘starting gate’ – I wondered if anyone would notice if I slipped away. But it was only a passing whinge and shortly I was striding down to the water’s edge, listening to the briefing and hoping secretly that I wouldn’t be the one that single-handedly delayed the start of the second race, by having to be rescued from the middle of the lake. Stepping into the brown, peaty, water I was pleasantly surprised. It didn’t feel too cold at all, I’d guess about 15 or 16 degrees. I walked to my waist then pushed off, we all bounced about in the water a bit, getting used to the feel of it, before we got the count and we were off.
I learned a bit since my first outdoor swimming race, and hung to the back and side, letting the sharks fly off ahead. It saved me getting a toe in the face, or getting physically pushed down in the water as the speedy types swam over me. I struck out confidently, happy that I knew the job ahead. We had to swim out past 2 yellow marker buoys, then across the lake to a third and back to the fourth to finish. The lake was choppy and waves broke in my face, forcing me to time my breathing carefully and be ready to adjust my breathing rhythm. I could see a couple of the swimmers were finding it tough going but to be honest, I was in my element. Swimming with the Eastern Bay club off Malahide is perfect training for these rough, choppy conditions, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was never going to be fast, but I felt strong and felt like I was flying as I made my way down the lake, eating up the buoys. I turned to go across to marker 3, prepared to feel a different current with the cross, and it was fine. I turned for home and felt the familiar swell of a current coming behind me, picking me up and throwing me forward. I knew this feeling too, all good. I picked off the last buoy and turned for the finish. Suddenly I had a moment. Mentally something changed. In hindsight I think I had told myself the last buoy was the end of the race, and I suddenly got a bit of a shock when I sighted the finish and saw I still had a bit of work to do. My breathing got ragged and for the first time I lost my confidence. I swung over onto my back and took a couple of deep breaths. I rolled back over and had another look, just as one of the safety kayakers edged over to check if I was ok. I heard myself shouting back that I was fine, it was ‘my head, not my body’ that had the problem. I realised that was true and to my shame I started to doggy paddle, while I gave myself a swift, mental, kick in the ass. Then I had head down and was pushing forward again – all the way to the finish. Despite my little crisis, I made it back in less than half an hour, which was my target. So job done, and lessons learned. Next time I’ll train!
After Glendalough, it was on to Bray – to Brennanstown Riding Stables to go trekking with friends. It certainly was a great way to warm up after the lake swim. Brendan the instructor had me in stitches laughing as we rode out for a couple of hours through more of my gorgeous Wicklow. He has good taste, he listens to Dublin’s best radio station, my own 98FM! There was great irony going downhill on horseback. For the past year, Dave, my kayak instructor at Wild Water Kayak Club has been yelling at me to ‘lean forward’ in my kayak, as we fly down the weirs on the River Liffey. The opposite is true on horseback, and it amused me greatly to hear Brendan shouting at me to ‘lean back’ in my saddle, as we wound down the hills.
Saturday finished with a hog roast at the Garda Boat Club in Chapelizod to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wild Water Kayak Club. A brilliant night arranged by a great bunch of people, and really interesting to see the old film footage of Dalkey where the club was originally founded. The things they put to sea in! The film gave me extra confidence for the following day when I was taking my river kayak out into Dunlaoghaire Harbour to help with boat-cover for the Dunlaoghaire Harbour Swim. It was a long day but it was a great experience and it all goes towards my training for the LauraLynn Liffey Descent. The water was quite choppy out near the lighthouse, but Sásta Sage, my Sasta sponsored training kayak didn’t let me down and we cut through it really well. I was glad to be in a kayak and ON the water rather than IN it this time. That really is quite a swim and it was inspiring to be involved with these amazing people. My Eastern Bay swimming pals were strongly represented in the Harbour Swim, as well as some of my work colleagues. GOTC Swimming mentor and buddy, Fergal Somerville was back in action – coming 12th in the overall mens’ race, as well as 1st Vet and winner of the Kevin Darby Trophy.