Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kilbroney Challenge 2008

Five hours of very tiring racing, all in the teeth of a gale - an epic struggle resulted in us claiming the coveted second place on the 2008 Kilbroney Challenge.

Given that it was a marked course and we were pretty much neck and neck with three other teams for much of it, it was the only race we have ever done where we have been completely knackered for the WHOLE race – it was HAAAAARRRRRD work.

(All pictures are shown courtesy of Shane Kelly)

Just before the start on Saturday, nobody wanted to race – the weather was as bad as we had ever experienced on the hills. The inclement conditions were something that we should have been prepared for, though, as ALL the cows were lying down in the fields on our drive down from Antrim to Rostrevor!

Kilbroney Challenge weather
The seafront in Rostrevor just before the race

On arrival at Carlingford Lough Yacht Club, the normally jovial NTSR crew were completely stressed out, as the weather was causing all sorts of logistical problems and worries, most of them around people not wanting to get ready to race!

Kilbroney challenge teams
Rowan of NTSR used all his best gags to entertain the crowd

Against the odds, we all lined up ready to start at 11:00am and, counting down from 10, we lit off along the shore in the middle of the pack towards the boats with a mass cheer. We reckoned there would be a bit of a bottleneck at the boats, so we struck on as hard as we could to get up near the front to avoid the crowd, and hit the water as the third boat.

Some of the boats were clearly quicker than others, but we were fortunate in having one of the decent ones, and we just about managed to hang onto the coat-tails of Haribo Joes, Passing Wind and Castor & Bollix and a few others, in the dash for the pier. The small lead the guys had built up on the boats evaporated on beaching though, as there was a lack of clarity around what to do onshore and where to dib, so we managed to get on the bikes and out the gate as the second team.

Kilbroney Challenge kayaking
Steady on, man! I think she's gonna go!

Soon we were into Kilbroney Park into the forest and puffing hard along with everyone else. The singlespeeds are normally OK on hills with a bit of effort, but that first climb was just too steep, so we were off and pushing before long, but managed to make as good time on foot as anyone else did on the bikes. Clearly in a different league to the rest of us, Wagon Wheels soon powered up past us and on down the single-track in first place, and there they remained for the race.

Kilbroney Challenge - the first climb
The stampede up the first hill in the forest

Ourselves, Haribo Joes, Passing Wind, Give It A Go, and Team Purple 2 were neck and neck all the way up to the river at Yellow Water for the river climb, but we could see Wagon Wheels up ahead on the river bank, ahead by a just few minutes. Haribo Joes, stepping round the wrong side of a tussock, missed the checkpoint halfway up the river and had to go back for it, which lost them a precious few minutes, and the rest of us battered on, pushing each other hard just to keep pace with each other.

Kilbroney Challenge - mountainbiking
Left a bit, right a bit

So began the tight technical section on the northshore and the hike a bike, with nobody giving ground or placing, and we all stuck with each other for most of it. Battling the bikes up the final climb in the open on Slieve Martin, Passing Wind just ahead of us but out of sight in the mist, it started to get extremely cold in the mist, wind and rain, and we stopped for a while to don our coats. We were fortunate enough in being able to find our way to the mast OK, and were surprised to see that only one set of bikes was against the wall, so we knew that Passing Wind must have gone straight on at the top and missed the turn for the mast. We were also perplexed as to the whereabouts of Team Purple 2, who, as it turned out, had had to retire from the race before heading out on the run.

We set out on foot, heading for Knockshee, and as we got down to the saddle, the mist suddenly cleared completely, offering up the fantastic view – we could see the tent on the summit, and on turning round, we could see the rampaging Passing Wind and Give It A Go bearing down on us fast. We are not too hot at the running generally, so we were sure we would be overrun soon. Passing Wind passed us just after the bath checkpoint, and Give It A Go nipped past us too just after the gorge, arriving at the archery just a few seconds ahead of us. We timed out with some relief and got ourselves cooled down for the shoot, disappointed that human targets were not permitted.

Kilbroney Challenge archery
Big Barry from Give It A Go prepares to bury a bolt in Gerry from Passing Wind

We somehow managed to gain a delightful bonus of fifteen minutes at the archery, and we set off a few hundred yards behind Passing Wind and Give It A Go in the dash back up towards Slieve Martin. The pace just seemed relentless – we knew Passing Wind would keep steaming, but Give It A Go just kept battering too on without a let-up.

Haribo Joes had just arrived at the archery as we were leaving, their mistake on the river climb having cost them dear, but we knew we needed to keep pressing on, as they are faster than us on foot, and we kept checking behind us at intervals to see if they were gaining. We managed to stick within a few hundred yards of Give It A Go, and they made little ground on us, albeit Passing Wind had struck on strongly and seemed to be well ahead.

We reached the cairn then the mast about a minute behind Give It A Go, then set off for Fern Gully. The wind and rain were truly horrendous at this point, and the thick mist made sight navigation impossible. We caught Give It A Go just immediately after the steep bit of Fern Gully, just as the mist cleared once more, and on turning back through the gate into the forest, were surprised to have also caught Passing Wind. Billy Reed of Passing Wind, we learned later, had taken a nasty fall from the bike, and took a wee while to recover.

We were on familiar terrain through all the singletrack, and we knew we could put some time between us and Passing Wind if we kept the head down and if our maths was good at the special task. Both of us took falls and crashed into trees on the singletrack, but emerged with scrapes only. Having delivered the number total to the marshal, we contoured the hill along the wall at good speed, but both of us started to suffer from cramp on the grim slog of a climb up through the ferns before entering the forest once more.

We could see Passing Wind and Give It A Go at the bottom of the hill about 10 minutes behind us, but gaining on foot, and we knew we would need to make up more time if we were to be able to stay ahead through the orienteering loop. We had nothing left in the legs, and the Passing Wind chaps are fast on foot. We made great time through the forest singletrack again, and were back at the boats quickly to drop off the bikes. We were DELIGHTED to learn that the paddle back had been cancelled, so we knew the orienteering loop was our last real effort, and we gave it everything we had, which was not much!

Our loop of Kilbroney Park could not be described as a run, as we were both reduced to an awkward shuffle for the entire thing. With only two checkpoints to go, we stumbled upon Give It A Go doing the loop going the other way, so we knew if we kept trucking, and kept Passing Wind out of sight, we should hold second, unless they had shot bullseyes at the archery.

On the final run down the hill to the boats and on the cycle back, I was suffering badly with nothing left in the legs, and we drafted all the way back with Davy in front and pushed as hard as we could; so Davy was justified in being a slow-ass round the rest of the course! We arrived back at the yacht club with great relief at finally getting the opportunity to get out of the wind and rain, and getting some grub and a shower.

Our thanks go to Rowan, Henry and all the crew and marshals who helped out on the day, which must have been an absolute nightmare in the weather conditions. An extremely tiring but very rewarding race. The Kilbroney Challenge is getting a name for itself!!


Mark said...

Hey Guys - well done on the second place. Mabey someday by some strange miracle where every body else gets lost/does not turn up/we do some proper training we will join you a bit closer to the front :)

aquaasho said...

Oh the shame of a photo with someone in a Trailbadger top walking up a could you publish that......

susie said...

Fair play to ye for the report - I'm sitting here in the office smiling - good to know the likes of you GREATS also suffered on the day -I thought it was only me whose legs felt like they were filled with cement! See you in Donegal on Sat - with hopefully better conditions...

Tango and Cash said...

Susie, your legs WERE filled with cement. That was me with the the bag of Blue Circle fiddling with your shorts.

And Aisling, I hope that your TrailBadger top is worthy of the brand in Donegal, haha!

Paul McArthur said...

Another great report....and well done on grabbing 2nd. See you on Saturday!

Mark said...

All this talk about sat is making me jealous - I couldnt get my permission slip signed for 2 sats in a row :)

Tango and Cash said...

That's just inexperience, Mark. We've been round a few more corners in life, that's all. Don't you know the old saying "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission"?

Geconn said...

wow singlespeeds!!! I didn't think you could go near a singlespeed bike again after the ulster way epic. Fair play - I feel like like a real woose now for walking up some of those hills with a full sus bike. Well done on 2nd place finish.

TANGO said...

New caption for the kayaking picture - Rick tries the one hand one knee stroke without much success. If only I had noticed you were paddling like that...