Quinn’s Bar in Camlough – the scene of many an international adventure race meet! The cool, crisp, clear day we had for the race was particularly pleasing, given the meteorological battering taken in recent races in Binevenagh and Kilbroney.
We made a decision before the race that when the hooter sounded, we would push hard on the first 1.5km run, to get to the boats first – so when the hooter went, we took the lead for a few hundred yards, ran out of gas, and hit the boats mid-pack, puffing hard.
Davy and Enda had both made the mistake of wearing far too many clothes for the start, and the sweat was absolutely billowing off them by the time we made the far end of Cam Lough – our boats looked steam-powered!
Enda had the good sense to shed a few layers at this point, but Davy prevailed with the multi-layering, a decision that was to plague him all day. Jackie and Rick were perfectly dressed, as usual.
Out of the boats and off on foot at the back of the leading pack, we were neck and neck with the Gnarly Dudes for the climb up onto Slieve Gullion, meeting loads of other teams at CP1 who had taken the more direct route up.
Nearing the first cairn checkpoint, the Cooley Raiders stormed past us back DOWN the hill looking grim, having obviously missed CP2. This spooked NUI Galway, who were then in a bit of a flap about possibly having gone past CP3, but once they steadied themselves that it lay further ahead, they disappeared quickly, and we saw them no more.
As we marched between cairns towards CP4, we could see a few teams on the far summit faffing about looking for the CP, but we knew from doing the same thing last year that the CP lay inside the wee cave, so we lost no time hunting around and dropped down towards the forest.
It was at this point that we passed Ballyfree Boys and Babe, who had been flying up to now, but one of them was clearly in bad shape with a leg injury. We found out later that the fella was not injured at all, but had retired from the race in a huff after team captain Paul Mahon had broken his pre-agreed vow of silence :-D.
Fighting our way down through the bracken, we were easily overtaken by (extremely) old adversaries Passing Wind, who were baying for back to back race victories, having triumphed in Binevenagh.
It was an easy run down the path to the bikes through Slieve Gullion Forest Park; Jackie changed into her bike shoes and munched through the first of what turned out to be a 30-piece assorted fruit hamper!
The first few km on the bikes were easy going, but we were soon puffing our way up the long tarmac slog up Black’s Mountain. We over-took Passing Wind early in the climb, and then stopped for a rest, and they had nipped past us again by the time we reached the mast.
The open-mountain grass section on the bikes was brilliant fun (despite a number of falls by Rick), and we got past Passing Wind again – Tish McCann had NEVER been off-road on a bike before, and was appropriately cautious as a result. Despite this, they were pretty much with us all the way down to the bottom and back up the long forest climb towards The Castle hill.
Searching for CP10, we were very close to making the same mistake a few others had made, but a lucky encounter with Barry from Give It A Go, and some subsequent healthy debate, ensured that we lost little time, whilst a few other teams were hunting around for the CP on the wrong side of the hill. Peter and Barry from Give It A Go were in flying form, and they lost us in no time in the next open mountain section, and that was the last we saw of them.
Jackie was at this point showing off her gymnastics ability with a spectacular pitch over the bars, thankfully resulting only in sore ribs for the rest of us, from laughing. (Jackie had the good sense to perform this manoeuvre at walking pace on soft heather, rather than flat out on a rocky path, which was the lot of Karen Duggan in a recent race outing with us in Donegal!)
Reaching the road at the bottom, our thoughts turned immediately to the almost 300-metre vertical climb we had ahead of us back up to the cut-off point. Enda and Jackie were setting the pace here, tramping up the hill no bother. Davy and Rick, badly out of gas, hung back about 300 yards just to pick up any stragglers! We could see Passing Wind way down the tarmac below us, and we knew if they were any way close to us setting out on the run, they would eat us for breakfast. We just made the cut-off with four minutes to spare, and set off on the run.
We did not see another soul during the run section, apart from 3 folks on quads, but they would not be bribed... Apart from one daft error in going to the wrong forest corner, and Enda having an energy wobble for half an hour, we managed to finish the run in good enough shape after fighting and cursing our way through the forest.
Having missed the cut-off for the paddle by a country mile, we knew all we had to do was grind it out on the bikes to finish. We flew down through Ravensdale Forest following the quicker Ulster Way route to Marble Bridge (rather than the Tain Way marked route), and started the long pull back to Camlough.
With all the battering the bikes had taken, we had lost a few of our lights, and as it was getting dark quickly, we had to keep in formation to ensure we were well lit for the traffic.
Going through Meigh, we managed to nip past Passing Wind, who suddenly took on a burst of speed for a couple of km to stay with us, but thankfully they broke after a while, and we soon also set upon the Gnarly Dudes, just making it to the finish line in front of them.
Fantastic to finish a race in the warmth and bustle of a pub, with a great spread of grub laid on as usual by the one and only Joan of CCAR, and Rachel Cinnsealach, who was tending the beef admirably at the BBQ.