Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mmm, Mmm, Mmm!

Mourne Mountain MarathonTango & Cash will reunite in September 2008 for their first Mourne Mountain Marathon (MMM) together since 2005, when we finished hellish late and practically on stumps, so poor was our choice of footwear. No more experimenting with cheap shoes from Junction One! (We might try The Outlet in Banbridge instead).

The weekend of the MMM is one of the only times in the year when one can consume 10,000 calories a day without feeling guilty - the only problem is carrying all the required grub.
If (and it’s a big if) we get into camp ahead of ANYONE else after Day 1, it is our intention to lurk on the edge of camp to spit-roast another straggler.
Stragglers, please form an orderly queue.

The Slieve League Lunger

A joint venture between Tango and Cash, Trailbadger.com and Trump Enterprises Inc. enabled the staging of the first ever “Slieve League Lunger” in County Donegal on Saturday 16 August, despite the terrible flooding that wreaked havoc all over Ireland.

The Lunger (pronounced Lun-jer) begins in Ardara, striking west for the ancient enclave of Glencolmbkille via Maghera and Port, before the downing of hot whiskies in Teelin and tackling of Slieve League (Europe’s 2nd highest sea cliffs, supposedly), returning to Ardara via Glengesh. A total of 80km and over 2300 metres of vertical climbing.

Davy was regrettably unable to attend the event of which he is patron, but Mark, Enda, Ian and Rick all received Finisher’s medals. Conor, having had to stop early to go and do some tiling, pledged to complete unfinished business in 2009.

The success of this year’s Lunger has kick-started planning for the 2009 event, which will be staged again in August and will follow the same route, with the spice of an added kicker at Slieve League.

For anyone interested in the precise route, contact info@trailbadger.com.

Slieve League, Donegal Slieve League, Donegal
(The 4 successful Lungers enjoy a hot one before the big climb up Slieve League. Conor's blushes at not making it all the way were far outweighed by his embarrassment at being caught on camera arriving in a VW Jetta)

The route map:

Slieve League, Donegal

WARNING: Boring unless you were there, or are planning to take it on (possibly boring anyway).

The 2008 Slieve League Lunger participants gathered in a sodden Ardara at 9:30am on Saturday 16 August. Ian, Conor and Rick were already in County Donegal on other business, but Enda made the trip from Sligo, and Mark from Antrim town!

The five bikes left Ardara at 10:00am heading west towards Maghera in torrential rain, and in a couple of minutes we were completely drenched and thinking our target a pipe-dream. The waterfall on the coast road, normally a trickle, was simply awesome, chucking more water than probably at any time in the last 50 years, and we stopped to enjoy the power and the noise. We didn’t stop at Maghera, and soon we were pounding up the steep valley known as Granny. The heavy rain stopped and we had superb views behind us.

Conor, more used to Dublin City cycling than crossing mountain passes, quickly came to the conclusion that proceeding would surely end in his untimely death, but we managed to cajole him to the top. We were stopping for lunch in Glencolmbkille, but had another big climb to do, and Conor elected to take the short-cut down with no more climbing. Rick, navigator for the day, sent the poor chap the wrong way and, after being assured a free-wheel to the village, he had a 120 metre climb thrown in just to keep him from getting bored!

Oblivious to Conor’s troubles, we had a fantastic descent down to the dead end of Port, with a great view and dry skies on the way down. Arriving at the road end, the river was crashing in torrent down over the rocky beach, and we noticed a sheep-dog just standing stock-still in the middle of the river. On watching for a moment, we realised the poor thing had attempted to cross, had fallen badly, and was now stuck and terrified. Given the water level and the foul weather, the shaking hound (who had clearly been there for some time), was now in some danger of dying of exposure!

Rick decided to be hero, and waded out to the dog in a strong current with uncertain footing, but the worst that could happen was being swept 30 yards down the beach and into the tide to the enjoyment of the rest of the lads. Ultimately with Ian’s assistance as chief catcher, we rescued the beast, which had badly cut its leg in its attempted crossing. Satisfied we were now in positive karma, we left the dog in the care of a passer-by as we started our last big climb before lunch, Ian soon pitching over the bars in classic O’Seibhlinn style.

The grassy path up the mountain afforded fantastic views of the bay behind us, but the rain was soon torrential once more and the mist closed in. We could hear the dog barking frantically down in the bay, at which point it struck us that we should have perhaps thought to look for the dog’s owner in the river too! Whoops!

On summiting the hill, our stomachs were pining for lunch and, Mark leading the way with total disregard for life and limb, we made short work of the high-speed tarmac descent. Down into Glencolmbkille, we made our scheduled stop and met up again with Conor at the Tea Room of the Folk Village, cold drowned rats.

Hot soup, bread, doughnuts and coffee soon had our spirits up once again, but Conor had elected to phone for a lift to make his escape, knowing that even tiling for his brother-in-law John was preferable to climbing any more hills in the rain. We could see in Enda’s cold, dead eyes that the only thing that would stop him summiting Slieve League today was the Second Coming, so the rest of us got ready to battle the elements once more. We didn’t hang around for long in the cafe, as it was pretty cold in there – even the folks preparing and serving the food were wearing duffle-coats!

Back out into the rain and feeling very cold, we started for Carrick up the walking route, safe in the knowledge that we had a 200 metre climb to warm us up again. We took ten minutes just to watch the river at Carrick Bridge, as it was in awesome flood, and then pushed on for Teelin. At Ian’s suggestion, we stopped in a pub for a hot whiskey before our climb up Slieve League and, just as we drained our glasses, it stopped raining for the rest of the day.

It took us a good 90 minutes to summit League, which was in a blanket of fog above about 400 metres, but the views were superb below that. We decided to dump the bikes rather than take them over One Man’s Pass, which turned out to be a good idea as it was very slippery and windy up there. We didn’t hang about at the top, as there was nothing to see or do, so we somehow found our bikes again in the mist and were down at the bottom in about 40 minutes from the summit, stopping on the way to fix Mark’s puncture and break Rick’s pump.

Following a quick pit-stop in Carrick, we headed south-east towards Kilcar, and then turned north-east for the long tough climb up the Ballaghdoo River valley in glorious sunshine, and the coats were off. The top sections of this beyond the road were extremely boggy and hard going, particularly through the forest at the very top, but it was good for the fitness, I suppose! We were by this time ready for home. There was no marked path as such once we got over the top, but we picked our way down open ground, loosely following the way-marked posts down to the river, which had been torn to shreds by a huge mudslide a couple of acres in size about half a mile up the mountain. A farmer at the road told us the mud-slide had come down the mountain like thunder.

Now back on the road, all we had to do by way of work was climb to Glengesh Pass, and we were bathed in early evening sunshine as we took the switch-backs and tucked for the long high-speed descent, recording a top speed of 49 miles per hour before the final 2km back into Ardara along the main road.

A long day, made longer by the amount of rain we endured, but a superb route and highly enjoyable. Definitely one for 2009.

For anyone interested in the precise route of the Slieve League Lunger, contact info@trailbadger.com.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Scurry to Victory! Rat Race Belfast 2008


Trying to avoid the pigeon shit from above before the race.

Local knowledge, some good luck, not too much running, great navigating from Davy, and a few cock-ups by some other teams, were all contributory factors to a surprise win for Tango & Cash at the inaugural Belfast Rat Race on 9 August 2008.

Rat Race Belfast 2008 Results (XLS, 120K)

Rat Race Official Website

Davy’s nutritional regime of six Chinese meals in the week before the event may have been the cause of the cramps that made his life a misery from early in the race, but hanging a doughnut on a string 2 metres in front of him, combined with judicious use of a riding crop, kept us both moving well to the finish.

Rat Race, BelfastPaul Mahon, fresh from recent victories at both the Carlingford Lough Endurance Challenge and the Beast of Ballyhoura, led a team from Dublin, including Shane the marathon runner and our dear friend and sometimes team member Karen Duggan. We guessed based on their strong event record and physiological advantages (i.e. their combined weight was the same as ours, but there were only two of us!), that ‘Sponsor-Free Boys and Babe’ would pose a significant threat. Thankfully, they read the race instructions incorrectly and wore their buffs over their eyes for the entire race!! :-D

Regardless of final position, the most visible challenge for us came from old adversaries Billy Reed and Gerry Kingston from Passing Wind - they were snapping at our heels all day, keeping the pressure on. We knew that they were right on top of us in the Epilogue final dash around the city on foot, so the fear of seeing them nip in just ahead of us meant we kept concentrating and pushing on. Gerry scrambling up a linoleum slope covered in margarine in broad daylight is something no person should have to see from behind.

It had been some years since Davy and I had been smeared all over with margarine simultaneously, but on reaching City Hall for the last time we took the final challenge without too many diffs, and were just relieved to be finally over the line and getting stuck into our champ!

What a great day out!!

WARNING - RACE REPORT - DO NOT PROCEED UNLESS YOU DID THIS RACE!!!!

We all gathered at the City Hall, it was a woeful morning, it tipped from the heavens, there was great excitement amongst the competitors, the rain stopped then for the entire race, we got our instructions, marked up our maps, the Lord Mayor said his piece, and we were off! Intro over!

The start was hilarious, as we were champing to hit the streets, but we ended up lapping the yard and scrabbling around the City Hall for 15 minutes with the initial quiz, before getting our Prologue checkpoints and marking them up, taking a bit longer than we were comfy with.

Striking out confidently round to the back of the City Hall, glad to be on the move at last, we had a minute or so of hesitation and animated debate halfway up Adelaide Street, where we suspected we were doing something gravely wrong in our route choice, but we finally got over it and scooted round the points in pretty good time. Everyone headed off in totally different directions, so there was no way to compare progress until we got back. We managed to grab the Leprechaun by his lucky charms on our way back to City Hall, and we were the first team onto the bikes and up Royal Avenue, a position we somehow managed to defend to the end of the race.

We struck for Cave Hill at a decent enough pace, but seemed to get every red light on the way, which was very frustrating, law-abiding citizens that we are. Arriving at the gates of Cave Hill to the smiling face of Ivan Millar, we tipped the bikes and headed off on the trek, Davy taking far too much time looking at the map and choosing the best route and all sorts of other really boring stuff, despite my protestations.

When we picked up the checkpoint above the quarry, we decided to head straight up the hill to the gravel walkers’ path, rather than head on round the dirt trail, as we knew from biking Cave Hill that it would be as slippery as an eel after all the rain, and we were wearing road runners with no grip. As we neared the top, we could see a few other teams clambering up the hill down round the quarry, about ten minutes away, so we battered on as best we could to keep a bit of distance.

Back onto the bikes and down into town, we were feeling pretty good until Davy tried to jump back on his bike at a green light outside the Odyssey and collapsed with cramp, a depressing enough scenario so early in the race. He chucked a gel down and drank plenty and we were off again pretty gingerly (no pun intended on Davy’s “strawberry blonde” locks). After we mastered the knots task, we filled up on water and headed round for the bike time trial. We made great time on the way out, but on the way back, cramp struck Davy again, and we ended up tootling along for the second half while he screamed and drank loads and ate two gels. That then seemed to shut him up for a while, and we belted back into town, passing loads of teams, including many familiar faces from other races, going the other way to do all the stuff we had just done.

Back at City Hall, we rattled through the Blind Man’s Buff, with me meekly following Davy’s aggressively-shouted orders as usual, and we hopped back on the bikes for Adventure Loop 2 just as Passing Wind were coming in to the City Hall again.

We knew from previous experience that the Passing Wind lads were fast on foot, damn their eyes, and the biking was our best chance to get well ahead, so we pushed hard out to Ormeau Park, jumped off the bikes and ran for the kayaks, where we were practically assaulted by the ominous but refreshingly enthusiastic Red Bull unit.

After getting a quick hit of ‘wings’ we got onto the water, and cussed and complained as usual about how uncomfortable we were, and how slow the boats are, and they only go at one speed, and let’s dig in for the next 100, etc, etc, same old guff every time. The river was absolutely gorgeous, it was as pure as a Norwegian fjord, so lovely that we wanted to swim in it and let it fill our mouths, but we had business to attend to.

On turning at the buoy, we could not for the life of us understand why there was nobody else on the water, and we got the feeling we had cocked up the order of events. We checked our instructions (which by now were soaked and had turned to a mushy pulp), and they definitely said to tip the bikes and head for the boats, so we reckoned everyone would be disqualified, except us in our righteousness! Nobody had hit the water by the time we had our boat back on land, so we rightly assumed they had gone to do the other stuff in Ormeau Park. Not that it mattered, as it turned out.

The sight of the Space-Hoppers made our hearts sink, as we had both taken twisted knees from the damn things in a similar task at the Causeway Coast Adventure Racing (CCAR) race at Belvoir last year, but we shuffled our way round as best we could, and completed the other challenges without incident.

We were fairly belting along Lagan towpath and enjoying ourselves when my front wheel suddenly left me completely in a drying-up mucky puddle, and I went over the bars hard, just managed to avert a swim by a matter of inches. The dad pushing the pram right beside me was pretty alarmed by the violence and, after ascertaining that I was alright, he offered to wipe me down and clean me with wet nappy-wipes. I thanked him for his concern but politely declined the offer! I then realised I had broken my brake lever, so no back brake for the rest of the race.

We arrived at the high ropes section and clocked out, snug in our harnesses - the folks running the ropes course were great craic and clearly knew what they were at, which was comforting! The ropes were brilliant fun, but hard work on the arms to get up the net in the first place – we could tell there was going to be a grim bottleneck of folks later on, and so it turned out. We finished our abseil and got moving again, just as Passing Wind were arriving.

We headed on past Shaw’s Bridge and up to the roundabout, sorely tempted to nip through the trees, but we stuck to the route as specified and tipped our bikes on the river bank, ready for the set of tasks.

It took us a couple of goes to make it down the slippery slope properly, upon which Davy took cramp again in both calves simultaneously, so we had some rehab to perform. Back on our feet and round the other side, the rubber ring was great craic until we both got a big rock up the arse on the second rapid. The canoe polo was somewhat short of a full-scale match, and we were back and out on the orienteering loop in a matter of seconds.

Some great navigating from Davy more than compensated for the fact that we were travelling at a snail’s pace at the start of the loop, but we eventually got into our regular shuffle, and got back to the bikes having made good time.

One of the clear highlights of the day was meeting the Titanic Trio, lying on the side of the main road, Mark deep in the pain of cramp, Rachel aggressively kneading his legs to stave the contractions, and Jonny looking like the bank had just called his mortgage. Quite funny, really! We of course offered our support, but thankfully the folks did not put us through the embarrassment of us having to withdraw our offer, and they sent us on our way.

Back at the City Hall, the bungee run and truck pull were completed without too much bother, whereupon we received our instructions for the Epilogue dash round the streets for the last set of checkpoints. We took a few minutes to plan our route, and headed out on foot just as Passing Wind were coming in off the bikes.

We hammered round these as hard as we could, as we knew we still had the lead but that Passing Wind were faster runners. Our paths crossed a couple of times during the dash, but we were very glad to get through the gates of City Hall with them not yet in sight.

On studying the linoleum and margarine slope that blocked our path to the finish, it was immediately obvious that you were simply not getting up the thing on your own. Indeed, it was clear that the very purpose of the obstacle was to remove any shred of dignity you had left after the full day of racing. With that in mind, we managed to get Davy up first through what we imagined was a rather unorthodox head-up-the-arse technique, but it made quite a few appearances from others later on. Davy dragged me up the slope, I was nearly killed by climbing off the platform by putting my foot BETWEEN the two stepladders provided, and we took the checkpoint to finish.

Passing Wind went through their indignity about 15 minutes later – a great neck-and-neck tussle with the lads, but it turned out that they had missed a couple of points in the Prologue, allowing the gallant Titanic Trio to just nip in for second place.

It was great to have the opportunity to see so many teams attempt the slippery slope at the end, and there seemed to be no universally successful technique.

After a hot chocolate, the excellent supplied champ, and a bit of banter from some of the other teams, we got ourselves cleaned up in the toilets of the Radisson at Gasworks, where hotel patrons were a tad shocked to see 2 naked men scrubbing themselves in the sinks! We then went on to enjoy the glittering awards ceremony at McHugh’s bar, where everybody got a prize, except us!!

A great way to spend a Saturday, a superbly organised event, and lots of folks giving of their free time to marshal and help it all run smoothly.

One DEFINITELY for the diary again next year – our target is not to successfully defend our title – it’s just to get a prize!!

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