Team Moxie

Team Moxie Pre Race Photo The Beast 2017

After forgoing a wildcard entry to the AR world Championships in Wyoming Brian Keogh and Sarah Galligan assembled a team for the Beast, the latest incarnation of the Beast of Ballyhoura following a very successful association with Ballyhoura tourist board. The new location promised a refresh of the race, and a chance to explore a less often visited part of Ireland in North Donegal. Personally Donegal had been on my bucket list, and the iconic Errigal a mountain that had yet to be checked off the list. Expedition adventure racing always offers the chance to explore new locations, both places that you may have planned to visit but almost always more so places you never would have planned to explore on your own without a race director and planner gently(and sometimes not so gently) guiding you into. We were all looking forward to what Ivan Park, Eoghan Carton and the rest of The Beast team had in store for us in the massive playground of Donegal. Eoghan in particular had been espousing the potential of Donegal as a race location (while keeping all other race details close to his chest).

Pre Race Brief

The Tuesday before the race we had a team meet up, at the Brian Keogh Kayaking Academy weekly training paddle, to check all pre-race admin was in order and to perform a quick systems check in advance of the drive to Donegal. Paul Mahon just back from a month long training camp in Northern Europe was being cagey about the intensity of training he had been doing, while Sarah was just recovering from a nasty chest infection, the same infection that Brian was currently in the throes of. I was being cagey about the level of training I had done since the 24 hour DAR Dingle the month previous. We all agreed that a conservative start and first evening/night would be the ideal approach and then hopefully count on a bit of experience and doggedness to get through the second night and capitalise on any teams that might struggle at the crunch point of the race.

As the week went on and we received the race breakdown and schematic we saw that the race was going to be a fast punchy affair with transitions playing a key role but given the relatively short legs the pace was going to be fairly high throughout. It also meant a bit of thought needed to go into each of the kit bags as instead of one bag at each transition area (TA) we would have four separate bags, with almost singular access to each of those bags. Meaning that, for example, if you forgot to pack trekking gear into the wrong bag, you might end up doing a trek leg in bike shoes! Not a fun thought even for the most masochistic among us. Food prep began in earnest Thursday, the lessons learned from TEAR 24 hour in Jun, and DAR 24 in July giving an indication of what foods were working this year. I packed a large amount of fresh food (wraps sandwiches bagels) as an upside to the many transitions would be greater access to the heavier foods you might not carry as much of with longer legs. The usual mix of quick energy food was mixed in, snickers (the best energy bar on the market in my opinion) honey stinger bars, gels, and energy sweets, (in my highly subjective opinion the most palatable brand of that type of energy food out there) as well as flapjacks, energy balls, and a surprisingly palatable ‘chia charge’ flapjack bar with chia seeds and sea salt. Paul had spent the week previous hard at work in Glenmalure creating a plethora of bagels, wraps and Hilary Jenkinson’s renowned energy balls and flapjacks. Brian Keogh had packed a single jelly baby for each of the eleven stages with a ham sandwich for the half way point.

Thursday evening came and all the packing, faffing and food prep was done, Paul had volunteered to drive the two of us up and Brian and Sarah were heading up the Thursday evening as well. Mahon’s Mobile BnB proved perfect for the night in Letterkenny, and the next morning we met up with up the other half of Team Moxie in the Station House Hotel for breakfast. We headed across to the Radisson Blu/Race HQ where a hall had been put aside and the usual pre-race gear explosion had already begun with the full team spectrum of food and kit sprawled across every inch of floor. Paul marshalled our own bit of floor space and we set to work packing and arranging the kit we needed for the 40 hours and enough food that if we ate all of it during the race we’d put on about two stone, still better to have too much than too little!

Registration opened and we signed our medical forms, got issued race bibs, maps, and route books. It was the first time to see the full course and what Ivan and Co had in store for us. As we worked through the route we could see that, apart from a few interesting routes and points, the big trek across the Derryveagh Mountains, on what we predicted was going to be the second night, could be the crux of the race.
Almost all of us were fired up for the race start, myself Brian and Sarah went for a pre start lunch, looking at Brian I didn’t think he was going to make it through lunch not to mind the race itself, pushing some pasta around before kindly donating the remainder to Nigel McKiernan from Team Roe Valley, it was clear he was still suffering from the chest infection he had developed earlier in the week.
Another last minute faff of kit bags and it was in for the race brief, with no major changes and after a few words from Ivan and Eoghan, it was countdown to race start. It was a neutralised bike ride from the event HQ to the start line in a local park just outside Letterkenny and it made for a convivial start area as the teams trickled in and racked their bikes before chatting and chilling out in advance of the 1700 start time.
We made our way up to the top of the small hill where the race start banner was set up and we were given the instruction to run down to the marshals to collect a map to find and punch a checkpoint in the park, before heading back to the bikes and out onto the race course proper. Last bit of chit chat and Ivan gave the count down to the start. The usual mad dash of a start down the hill, grabbing a map along the way, and collective navigation had us headed for the far end of the park. The pace was hot as most teams wanted to get out on the road quickly, ourselves included. Brian, all trace of this morning’s ill-health replaced by head-down race mode pushed us on as we dibbed in and made our way back to the bikes. Myself and Brian had opted for running shoes for this short leg as opposed to Paul and Sarah in bike shoes, so we pushed a little ahead to offset the extra few seconds to change footwear. Paul grabbed my bike as I changed and we were quickly onto the road…In the lead.

CP and bike maintenance overlooking Portsalon and Ballymastocker beach

‘This wasn’t part of the plan’ stated Paul as we put the power down on the flat main road before turning off onto a regional road and the first climb of many. Ivan wasn’t messing when he said it was a tight one to get us warmed up, we were all cranking up but buoyed by a quick start and our current position. A longer than expected climb before hitting a fence on the track and with a bit of slick teamwork managed to cross quickly and avoid the bottleneck that was going to occur further down the field. Being out in front can be a double edged sword, on one hand the psychological boost is high but it also means that any mistakes made will result in whatever small advantage you have cut as teams can either catch up quickly or spot your mistake in advance and adjust accordingly. It happened a few times during the race, and it happened on the first checkpoint (CP) where we arrived up to the CP location at a forest barrier and failed to spot the dibber, faffed around searching for it and in the time we had searched around teams behind had caught up. Eventually an eagle eyed Paul Mahon spotted the control box at the bottom of the barrier and we were away again.

End of Kayak Leg

The pace we were setting out front, while fast, was not uncomfortable and getting away from the first CP the Swedish team 24Hour Adventure Meals were keeping pace with us. The foreign teams can be a bit of an unknown quantity and it was hard to gauge the Swedish team this early on in the race. We seemed fairly even on the bikes and it’s sometimes hard to break away from the assumption that any foreign team showing up are going to be complete chargers. We hit the next two checkpoints together on the roly-poly backroads heading to the kayak at Lough Fern. In the last few kilometres we pulled away from them and entered into transition clear from the chasing teams. Brian had been grumbling earlier on in the week about the shortness of the kayak legs but both myself and Sarah after the psychological trauma inflicted by the kayak legs on ITERA 2016, including a 23 hour crossing of Lough Corrib were perfectly happy with a nice short kayak. A quick transition and we were onto the water. Brian and Sarah in one kayak, and Paul and myself in the other.

End of Kayak Leg

Heading diagonally to the other end of the ~2.5KM long roughly rectangular lake to hit a river outlet where the CP was located a few hundred metres downstream. Our bearing was a bit off however and we ended up hitting the middle of the flat lake end which was covered in a thick bed of reeds. We entered a gap in the reeds into what we thought was the river outlet but which turned out to be a dead end. Again the double edged nature of leading the race came into play; If we were to head back out the same way the teams behind us would know we had hit it wrong and could adjust accordingly to their advantage, however if we took a chance stayed in and beat our way through the reeds to hit the river we might lure them in and still keep our advantage. As we beat and dragged our way and the kayaks through the reed bed I wondered whether it would pay off but luckily after around five minutes of hike-a-kayak we hit the river and headed up. 24Hour Adventure Meals were shortly behind us and we both hit the checkpoint at a lake boat pier at the same time. 24Hr Adv Meals were having trouble with one of their boats taking on water, after the race they would tell us that it got too bad to kayak it and ended up putting three team members on one boat towing the other with the remaining team member in it to steer.
Safely out of the river outlet we passed team Roe Valley on their way in and got an indication of how close teams were to us. Hugging the shore back up the lake we picked up the second kayak control with less messing about and headed straight back across to transition.

Coming back into transition after a quick kayak we knew we had the long 110km bike leg ahead of us so we took some time to make sure we had enough food, and that the bikes (and ourselves) were well lubricated, (having suffered pretty badly from saddle sores after DAR 24hr I had packed a small tub of chamois crème to take with me on the bike!). Sarah managed to avoid our team being hit by a substantial penalty by remembering to put our kit bags back onto the truck they had come from.

Kayak Transition Lough Fern

 

Onto the bikes then for one of the two longest legs of the race 110kms on the bike, the other long leg being the 25km trek across the Derryveagh Mountains. Heading away from the kayak transition we soon hit the small town of Millford where, due to a late summers evening road running race, we got diverted slightly around the town, back on track soon enough and it was out up into the wild hills of Northern Donegal. The first CP after a few kilometres out of Millford required us to drop the bikes and trek up the couple of hundred metres off the track to the CP at the summit. We dropped the bikes probably a bit too early and followed a track leading up to the high ground, before cutting in and up to hit the summit and CP. At the top we were rewarded by the most spectacular view of the race up to that point, it was a clear bright late summers evening and the view stretched all the way from lough Swilly, to Fanad Head and Mulroy, we got our first sense of what this beautiful part of the country had in store for us. Back down a far more direct line to the bikes where we met the chasing Swedes and the Donegal Voodoo Performance team so we knew there were only minutes between us. Downhill through an impressive wind farm before hitting the main road. Cruising along the coast road we were rewarded by beautiful sunset views across Lough Swilly picking out Dunree head and its fort before a long drag of a climb up to the viewpoint overlooking Ballymastocker beach. During the route marking Sarah had pointed out that this looked like it could be a nice beach and view, and she turned out to be right. The race media and local support were out in force here, the view providing a great distraction for racers and supporters alike. We stopped quickly so that I could fix a loose brake wire that was, while not affecting anything mechanically important, was definitely fraying the nerves of everyone on the team with its low level buzzing since the start of the race, cable tie supplied by Paul, and the tape to stop the cable tie making even more noise supplied by Brian! Senses calmed we enjoyed the fast hairpin descent down from the viewpoint towards Portsalon and onto the next CP.

Another 10km or so on we came off the track made our way up to the next control, however another mistake and missed control meant we had to double back on the track to pick up the control we had gone past, losing 10 minutes, and again meeting the Swedish team behind us and losing the advantage we had built up. Nothing to do but crack on again and try to rebuild the advantage. Up again the next CP was located on a transmitter mast with a hard sealed road leading up to it, it was an out and back from the track we were on so it would give us again a sense of which teams were behind us. Cranked up to the mast, dropped the bikes and it was a quick dash up to punch the control. Eoghan would tell us after the race that the checkpoint was meant to be a good bit further out from the track but that when he had gone to put the checkpoint out the previous day the weather and wind had been so bad he could only manage to get as far as the near mast on his hands and knees. Luckily the weather had held for us and conditions couldn’t have been better.

Back down to the bikes meeting the Swedish team right behind us and further down the road team Roe Valley with Peter and Nigel. We made it back onto the main track not meeting another team so we were happy enough in the company we were with at that point in the race. From here it was a quick spin up to Fanad Head lighthouse, darkness of the first night had fallen completely by this point and some of the pubs we were passing looked super inviting. As we arrived at the lighthouse, it was a real party atmosphere with marshals, media, and supporters all giving us an adrenaline shot of moral! A quick soft jog out to the lookout tower to collect the control and back again to the bikes, heading now for Murderhole beach and the 3.2km trek to break up the long cycle. Heading back out again we got an idea of our lead, we had put a bit more time on the descent into the chasing teams and the second place Swedish team.

We had a couple of fast flat kms after Fanad head and the bike leg was moving on pretty quickly across fast terrain, the next point of interest was the Harry Blaney Bridge that we needed to cross to get onto the Rosguill peninsula. From the map the bridge didn’t look particularly noteworthy but, for me anyway, it was far more impressive ‘in person’, a big modern hump backed bridge, with warning signs for cross winds and the lights of small villages off in the distance. Id imagine if someone was driving over in their car at the same time they might be somewhat underwhelmed by the whole setup and giving me a few odd looks for my gushy description but at the time I was pretty impressed!

 

 

Fanad Head Lighthouse

After crossing the bridge we had to make a quick stop in at the village of Carrickart and PC01 where the cut-off for the Murderhole loop was. Ivan and Eoghan were manning it and informed us the race was moving along faster than expected, but that either way we were free to head on to the peninsula and the short trek. No water resupply by the lads but a water butt spotted by Paul and Sarah allowed us to refill water bottles before heading on.

Fanad Head Lighthouse and lookout tower

Out on the peninsula passing a festival with amusements and what sounded like a heavy enough session in full flow, plenty of hills before arriving into transition at the very far end, where we were met by the transition manager who, in an odd turn of events, was my work boss. A quick hello and change of footwear for Brain and myself as Sarah and Paul stuck with their bike shoes and it was off on foot towards the imposing sand dunes. A small bit of manoeuvring got us onto the beach where the tall lone heroic figure of Eoghan Carton was awaiting us on the beach, a quick confirmation that the checkpoint on the rock outcrop was still in play and it was a fun scramble up over the rocks to one of the best checkpoints in the race, the moonlit night, beach, land, and sea and team moral all contributed to the atmosphere. Back down across the beach and up to the high ground, the first real bit of tricky navigation in the race so far, we hit CP17 first, dropped down to the saddle to pick up CP16 before doubling back on ourselves to get CP17. On the return back to the TA we took the direct line and dropped too low towards the lake below CP17. We had a tough time getting through some rough vegetation before going back up to the high ground and dropping down the far side to the TA. A few pleasantries with the TA marshals and it was off on the bikes again to complete the loop of the peninsula. As we were coming into Downings village at the base of the loop, we needed to refill our water bottles, so we picked the most likely pub and myself and Paul ventured in to a country pub nightclub in full swing, the bar staff were only too happy to oblige and we had our bottles filled in the time it took us to try and explain what exactly our story was to a couple of bemused locals. Paul coming out slightly crestfallen that he didn’t get asked to dance.

Back through Carrickart and a long section to the next CP at Doe Castle, a mighty looking gaff. A slippery walk around to the far side of the well-kept impressive looking castle earned us the control. Back out the way in and since we hadn’t seen many teams in the last while we figured we had a decent buffer, until we met Team Roe Valley coming up against us, at least the dog legging meant we were being kept on our toes and not being lulled into a false sense of security, the teams behind were all fit and experienced and wouldn’t, by any means, let us walk away with the race.

Murderhole Beach

Another 10km or so had us arrive into Ards Forest Park. As we turned into the park and followed the entry road in towards the car park and TA03 I stopped to consult the map to make sure we were on the right one as we were aware of Ivan’s warnings about the correct entry into the forest park. Unfortunately I forgot to let Brian behind me know about my impromptu abrupt navigation stop and he ploughed into the back of my bike and out over the handlebars, considering how he must have been feeling already without a teammate deciding to suddenly turn into a stop sign it can’t have improved how he was feeling. A quick dust off, check up and profuse apologies and we were off again. Arriving into TA03 another familiar face in the shape of Denis Carey greeted us. Not giving anything away the instructions were to follow the marked route up to CP20 where we would receive the orienteering map. Brian had been motoring along on the bike since the start and there had been no let up in pace, however as the night wore on he was starting to show the effects of the chest infection which until now had been kept at bay. We jogged along on foot much further than the 1km Denis had told us with a smile at the TA. We went deeper into the forest park until the familiar figure of Ivan intercepted us towards the far end of the park, he quickly informed us that because the race had moved faster along the course than anticipated the special ‘wetsuit’ task which had been kept a closely guarded secret up until this point had to be put back until daylight. It turned out to be a swim and the solution was a time out for all teams. We pegged it down to the transition area/beach shore where we met and got briefed by the transition manager Jon Hynes the legendary sea kayaker and a good mate of Brian.

Pre Swim Time-Out

We quickly got our warm gear on to capitalise on the time out/opportunity to get some sleep. I threw my PFD and race pack down as some insulation and threw the bothy over me and quickly lay down in the quick heavy breathing, mentally alert but physically wiped sleep of a mid-adventure race. I kept a loose eye on the time as teams drifted in to get an idea of our advantage and as I did I could hear harsh noisy worrying coughing coming from Brian. We had 30 minutes of a sleep before being roused for our early morning wash! The sleep had knocked Brian a bit and the full blown effects of the chest infection were starting to show, he was dizzy and nauseous waking up and needed a few minutes for it to pass, struggling into our wetsuits we walked down to the beach to receive instructions from Ivan and the safety kayaker.

Post Swim Puzzle

In an interesting take on a swim leg there were four outer buoys with two inner buoys between the shore and the second and third outer buoy. Each of the outer buoys had a number that needed to be memorised and the two inner buoys had the order the outer numbers should be in, one team member could turn back at each one of the outer buoys meaning weakest swimmer could turn around at the first buoy with the rest of the team turning at each subsequent outer buoy. The numbers and the order obtained from the buoys combined would open a combination lock on a box on the beach which contained maps and a bit of loot!

If you think the above sounds confusing try explaining it to a group of groggy, physical and mentally wiped adventure racers at six in the morning. We all walked out into a surprisingly mild Atlantic sea, Paul particularly delighted about the availability of goggles, Sarah turned back at the first buoy, Brian turned back at the second, myself at the third, and Paul being the strongest swimmer (much to his surprise and delight) headed onto the fourth before heading back into shore. Brian and I as well as memorising the numbers on the outer buoys had to memorise our two inner buoys to get the order of the numbers for the combination lock. With no massive pressure to keep the swim speed up due to Paul having to go further out it was altogether a really pleasant swim leg and a good chance to shake and refresh the legs, dulled after a good bit of cycling on the previous leg. Back on the beach and the seemingly minor task of opening the box had to be overcome. Much to the amusement of Ivan the swim had done little to sharpen our mental prowess and with all the mental aptitude of a group of toddlers trying to solve a mathematical equation we spent far longer than was needed to figure it out, hitting a particularly low moment when Paul realised Sarah hadn’t memorised her number and he might have to head back out for another dip! Luckily a bit of guesswork meant we were eventually able to crack open the treasure chest and get the pirate loot (A control point, map & Haribo sweets).

Back up to where we had had our sleep to struggle back out of our wetsuits. We asked the marshal what the story was with the orienteering and were told to go straight back to transition. We asked what the story was with the controls and were told the swim buoys were counting as the controls. We set off at a jog back to the transition area. Arriving back into transition it was a quick change into bike shoes and we headed back out the forest park entry road we had arrived in on a few hours earlier; Heading towards the dismantled railway turned greenway we were to follow to reach TA04 at Iain Millars cottage.

Ivan had warned that this section could prove tough rideability-wise as the terrain varied in quality. Given it was a dismantled railway at least meant it was going to be flat and overall, after we had collected the CP27 from Ivan (who was just putting it out!), we made decent time across the waymarked route. While it was definitely slower going than the road we had been on for the majority of the biking so far, it was a nice change to have a bit of off road and given the nice weather and scenery we tipped along happily. That was until after collecting CP28 at the end of the waymarked section we hit the road again and met Ivan in one of the support cars coming towards us.

 

He hailed us down and asked us what the story with the orienteering was, as the tracker guys had given him a call to ask why we had headed straight from the swim to transition without doing it. We explained that we had been instructed clearly to head straight back to transition and that the controls were replaced by the swim. We chatted for a few minutes about the best way to resolve the issue before we headed on with Ivan planning to let us know the outcome once he had talked to the organising team. We carried on towards the TA anxious about what the outcome might be.

Arriving into transition at Iain Millars cottage, we were welcomed by Joan and her crew manning the transition, we had the option of hot food now or after the trek and we decided that a quick transition would suit us better. Changing quickly into our trekking gear for the first long mountain trek of the race we headed off deciding to head directly south along the nearby section of the dismantled railway line we had travelled along on the previous leg, much less well maintained at this stage it was a bit of a fight through, nevertheless it was the most direct route to get to the first checkpoint CP29.

As we walked up the trail leading up to the CP Ivan was descending having put the CP out, he let us know that the organising team had settled on issuing out a time penalty of the time we would had gained by going straight to the transition. Relieved at this decision we headed up and grabbed the CP.

Team Moxie descending to CP30

From CP29 to CP30 there was a few choices of route, drop down to the nearby lake, taking a chance that the terrain would allow passage, or go high which was safer, but longer, with much more height gained and lost. Or you could do what we did and go higher again! Distracted by the good news from Ivan we climbed onto the wrong saddle and contoured around before dropping down to the lake only then realising our mistake. Annoyed at ourselves for the mistake, we quickly climbed back up before dropping down to the right lake this time. It was an unnecessary mistake and cost us the bones of an hour on the teams behind us. As we dropped down to the spectacular control location in the old ruins of a house overlooking the lake we spotted 24Hour Adventure Meals skirting the lake shore. They had gambled on the lower route (as would Colombia) it payed off and slashed our lead, after the race they said there was an animal trail leading right the way around the lake. We refilled our water bottles from the stream, collected the CP as began the climb up the far side of the lake towards CP31. Focused after the mistake of the previous control we climbed fast up the steep ground, gaining the saddle before dropping down to another lake and CP31.

 

Descent from high ground to CP 30

 

 

Lakeshore Route to CP30

 

The next checkpoint seemed fairly straightforward, drop height, following a stream downhill before turning off onto bog roads to collect the CP. We descended quickly, using the stream as a handrail and hit the bog roads. Unfortunately not the right one, we entered what seemed like a warren of marked and possibly unmarked tracks and roads, we searched along some of the tracks hoping to make sense of how the tracks on the ground related to what we were looking at on the map. As we retraced back to where we hit the tracks 24Hour Adv Meals went past us the direction we had come, obviously hitting the track at the same point we had. As we gradually figured out where we were we spotted Team Colombia hitting the Checkpoint a few hundred metres away. From looking at the trackers after the race they had aimed off to the west and dropped down to the track system. Quickly traversing across and picking up the control we headed back down to TA04.

 

CP30

As we arrived into transition Eoghan met us and informed us that we would be serving a 45 minute penalty due to the orienteering, we had to serve it after we had transitioned and before we departed the transition without any access to kit bags, or race packs. We wolfed down some baked potatoes and chilli before getting our gear sorted for the short 10km bike to the next transition at the Dunlewey and the big 25km trek. Sorted out we handed in our kit bags and race packs before serving the penalty. As we were leaving transition Team Roe Valley came trekking into transition meaning that despite the penalty we had only slipped down into third and were still on the podium moving into the crux stage of the race. We were back into race mode but with Brian digging deep it was going to be a fine balancing act to make sure we raced as well as we could but also cross the finish line as a team.

Lakeshore route to CP30

Back on the bikes following the Sli An Earagail waymarked route south for 10km along a beautiful section of road. We arrived into the small village of Money and the Dunlewey centre. We still had plenty of light but we knew the faster we transitioned here the more we would have towards the end of the trek and any bit of extra light on what was predicted to be a tricky navigation leg would be a massive advantage. With enough time given to get some decent food on and make sure our clothes were comfortable for a long trek we left the centre following the road for around 1 km before striking up onto the open mountain towards the first CP on this leg, CP33. As we left the centre having served our penalty and team Colombia had served their infamous 30minute ‘Pink’ penalty (Richard Nunan’s dubious wetsuit choice for the swim stage) we were all racing back in real time. We estimated Colombia had about an hour on us and 24hr Adv Meals were only 15 mins ahead. There was still a whole lot to race for in this crux stage. We handrailed the stream up the valley towards the CPs along the way spotting 24Hr Adv Meals. As we climbed the steep ground at the head of the valley we hit the spot height to the NW of the control and had to backtrack 500m to punch the control. 24hr Adv Meals had done the same and we caught up to them as we climbed the gradual summit where CP33 was located. It was a straightforward bearing to the next control CP34 made easier by plenty of features and the daylight. We all had a pleasant chat with the Swedish team all the way to CP34 which was a nice amicable breather in the midst of the flat out racing since the start. CP34 provided an interesting feature in the shape of a white sandy beach on the lake shore and we all remarked how much easier the entire leg would be on that flat easy terrain rather than beating our way across open mountain thick with summer growth. The next CP was over a saddle, down a valley and over another saddle before dropping down to a small heart shaped lake and the CP. We pulled away from the Swedes across the open ground and picked up the control easily, this moved us into second place behind Team Colombia. From here we took the direct line straight to the start of the marked section which would bring us up to the top of the abseil into The Poisoned Glen. We arrived at the start of the markers after a steep climb up and over. As we followed the tape up the side of the mountain a feeling of deja-vu came over us and sure enough at the top to greet us was the legendary Greg Clarke (who has a particular fondness for tape marked routes). He had a very cosy looking set up and it seemed like he was settling in for the long haul. He told us that due to the pace of the race the abseil couldn’t go ahead as planned and instead of rappelling down into The Poisoned Glen we were to follow the ridgeline across and then head for the next control. It was a pity as the abseil had promised to be pretty spectacular. It did mean, however, less climbing but slightly trickier navigation to get across to the next CP. We followed the ridge line around the head of a valley before dropping down and climbing back up again over a ridge to get the control on a small lake. Pretty simple in daylight but we wondered how much harder it was going to be for teams further back the field who would be hitting the entire or the majority of the trek in darkness (‘Way way harder’ was the answer after chatting to teams after the race who had done it in darkness). We followed the outlet stream down towards the road hitting a large lake on the way down and skirting around it before crossing the road towards the climb up and down the imposing Errigal Mountain. At the road crossing Chris Caulfield and his girlfriend Roisin who were following the race were there to give some moral support before we hit the next climb. We cut straight from our crossing point towards the gravel track visible half way up Errigal, Paul and Sarah keeping the pace up as we started the ascent. We picked up a faint track before hitting the main track and shortly after met the familiar figures of Eoin, Thure, Richard, and Taryn of team Colombia descending the mountain. Just as previously in the race for us these dog legs had served to keep us on our toes and focused, the same was probably true for Colombia, who, despite being out in front coming into the closing stages of the race, knew we were probably only an hour or so behind which in adventure racing terms was not a massive cushion. A mechanical, nav error, or any other calamity could mean a reverse in placings.

Errigal

As we ascended Errigal, Brian was using up the last of his reserves to get himself through the race. Paul, who had been strongest on the trek legs, was carrying his pack and towing him up the mountain, but the effort was really starting to show at this stage of the race. Darkness of the second night had started to fall as we had descended from the previous CP however, we still had some light as we were climbing up Errigal. We hit the first of the several false summits of Errigal and started to search for the control, it ended up being a good bit further on than we thought but the spectacular dusk views across the Donegal landscape we had just travelled across made up for it. As came to the summit proper the wind started to pick on the exposed ridge and we quickly punched the control and turned back down the track. We made much quicker work of the descent along the loose rocky track and having taken a note of where we had passed Team Colombia on the way up estimated that they had around an hour and a half lead on us. We cut off the track across the open mountain where we passed Team 24hr Adv Meals on their way up Errigal estimating that Team Colombia were out in front with a ~65 minute lead on us, Team Moxie, in second, with another ~75 minutes separating ourselves and Team 24hr Adv Meals in third place.

Team Moxie heading towards Errigal

We split up slightly crossing the particularly thick and slow going vegetation down from the track off Errigal to the road. As we hit the road I could hear Brian in trouble behind and turned back to see him vomiting on the road side. I went back to check up on him and shone my light to where he had thrown up to see a mass of jet-black gunk on the ground, freaking out internally I looked back up at Brian ”Nah nah ‘s only grapes” Phew! Calmed a bit myself Brian and Sarah walked on a few metres only to be ambushed by an obviously fresh feeling Paul who was hiding in a bush by the roadside and who only got a lukewarm reaction to his antics!

We could only manage a fast walk on this road section, while trekking on road is always initially pleasant after beating over rough open mountain terrain it always ends up in mashed up feet after only a couple of kilometres. It was fully dark at this stage, as we headed back the road towards the transition at the Dunlewey centre we saw the four lights of Team Colombia heading back on the bikes on the next leg towards the kayaking at Gartan Lough. Again another reminder to them that we weren’t all that far behind and they confided later on that once they saw us walking back towards transition at this stage they knew the race should be in the bag for them.

Passing the lads we bumped into a waiting Jon Hynes giving support to the teams heading back down to Dunlewey after the mountain stage. A few words of support and we were on the last few drawn out kms into the TA. There was an agreement within the team that we would be happy to hold onto second place and ensure all of us finished ok. With only two quick bike legs and a short kayak left there wasn’t enough time or opportunity to overtake Team Colombia by simply racing hard at this stage, We could only ensure we got across the line as a team without any major upsets in the last few legs and hold onto our second place position from 24hr Adv Meals. Nevertheless we needed to get through to the finish line as a team as the last trek stage had really taken it out of Brian. The next few hours were going to take plenty of grit, determination, and experience, luckily all of these Brian had in abundance.

Jon Hynes

A quick transition getting some food and water packed away to last the next few hours, down to the bikes, and again back out the same road we had come in on the final section of the trek. It was a long drag out of Dunlewey and back up towards Errigal. We passed 24hr Adv Meals around the same location as Jon Hynes was parked up but they were jogging this section and had closed the gap to about 60mins now. A timely reminder that while comfortable in second place we were in the same position that Colombia were with us, that any major mistake at this stage could cost a placing. The long drag continued well past Errigal, Chris had reminded us about the long(16km) descent once we crested this hill, Brian was on tow to take the sting out of the climbs and after grinding up in the darkness for a while we started to descend. Chris hadn’t been exaggerating, the descent went on, and on, and on, and it was a welcome reprieve at this stage of the race if a little bit chilly at this time of night. It definitely ate into the 29kms of a bike we had on this leg. Sarah who had up till this point had been the energizer bunny of the team started getting the nods, she had guessed by examining the race schematic before the race that this might happen and came prepared A quick pit stop for a couple of Pro-Plus did the trick. We came to the back gate of Garten and biked in the laneway to get the TA at the outdoor education centre.

Gartan Lough

We arrived into a well organised Transition Area, dropped the bikes and headed inside to get sorted for the longer of the two kayaking legs of the race. Given the time of night and the stage of the race we opted for taking the time to get into heavier kayaking gear including salopettes and cags. We quickly looked at the route for the leg and on the advice of Brian got a bearing to the first control. Kayak nav can be tricky during the day, but can be even trickier again at night when the visibility is completely cut. Into the kayaks with the same pairing as the first kayak, rounding the first small headland before following the bearing across the lake towards the first CP. A couple of features guided us in including a small island and two small headlands and we edged our way onto the CP. From there we had to head up the length of the lake to find a decent sized outlet river, we estimated the time and distance and kayaked into the black night and almost completely still lake with only ourselves and the leaders on the other side of the lake on their way back to transition to punctuate the stillness. After around half an hour we started to come into some reed beds and a quick sidestep around another small headland and we hit the outlet. Ivan in the race brief had warned us that this stretch of river could be tough to navigate due to low lying branches, bushes and fallen trees. From previous warning like this we had learned to over-estimate the difficulty and we fully expected a bushwhack through Vietnamese style jungles to get up as far as the control. Luckily for us however the over-estimation of difficulty had been on Ivan’s side and it turned out to be an enjoyable section. A few low lying and submerged branches required a little bit of manoeuvring but on the whole we had no major difficulty bar the slightly longer than estimated distance up to the control location, from a quick look at the river beforehand I had estimated around 1.5 kms for this stretch but with all the meanders in the river it was closer nearly to 2.5kms. I tried to keep track of each of the meanders but it proved unnecessary as all we had to do was plough on until we hit an obvious bridge across the river. After a half an hour or so we caught sight of the bridge and scrambled up the bankside onto the bridge itself to punch the control. On the way back with a better idea of how long the stretch would take it felt faster and we were soon back onto the open lake. Heading across to the opposite side we had come down we hit a large headland and hugged the coast until hitting a small gravel beach where the control was. A quick paddle back to transition area and we’d be ready to start the final leg, a short 17km bike back into Letterkenny and the finish at the Radisson Blu.

Gartan Lough Kayak

Back into transition for the final time. Sunday morning was beginning to break and by the time we left transition it was bright. The time differences between the top three teams had stayed the same if not increased so we knew bar a major incident we would not be able to challenge for first but at least be safe in second place. We left transition a bit before six and it was a bright morning but rain had been forecast for seven so we didn’t want to hang around too long and the promise of a post-race beer and legs up was spurring us on to the finish line. It wasn’t long before we hit the final CP and turned our bikes toward Letterkenny.

Brian was still suffering but at least we knew as a team he was going to make the final stretch to the finish line. I don’t think anyone else on our team and possibly any other team racing would have been able to dig as deep as he did, from before the race had even started right through the almost 40 hours of racing. It was a serious act of self-motivation, grit, and teamwork. For our team, especially Sarah, or for any team, it can be hard to watch another team mate struggling and expect them to hurt and push themselves past the limit for the sake of the team. It’s a balancing act of acknowledging the suffering they’re going through but not drawing too much attention to it, pushing them to go on but acknowledging that they may call it at any stage and that they can do so without any ill feeling from the team. When its broken down it’s a non-professional race done in our free time but that doesn’t take away from the importance we place on it, or the sense of self-worth we get from achieving something as committing as a multi-day adventure race. Often the sense of fulfilment, pride, and achievement is directly proportional to the amount of effort, grief and suffering during a race whether that’s coming in on a podium position or making up the back markers, that sense of fulfilment is the same for all teams. Racing nonstop for 24 hours, 40 hours, or five days is the best way to appreciate being still.

Punching the last control in the early morning light of Sunday morning on the back roads of Letterkenny, Donegal we had a few more kms to enjoy at an easy pace while heading for the line. We discussed the pros and cons of the different beast race format. I was glad that we could take the last section easy having done the hard work during the race, instead of pegging it home completely in the red to make the final race cut-off as in previous beasts. Paul missed the comraderie of all teams arriving into the finish around the same time to make the same cut-off. Some racers missed the mental and tactical game of not knowing what controls other teams had during the score format but I much preferred the straightforward race from A-B with the fastest team winning.

So much for a free spin back home as we grinded up the, at this point in the race, considerable hill before descending down into Letterkenny. We didn’t concentrate too much on getting the most efficient line to the finish but after quick tour of Letterkenny Town Centre we orientated ourselves towards the finish line at the Radisson. The rain had just started and we were all pretty thankful with how lucky we had been for the last 37 hours of mild to good weather. We racked our bikes and a hundred metre hobble got us across the finish line to a waiting beer and pizza.

 

Team Colombia Ireland 1st Place The Beast 2017

 

The race had finished up fairly we felt, with the faster and more clinical Team Colombia winning with style working their way up the field from mid pack from early on in the race. We made a few crucial navigation mistakes which, when racing at the sharp end, aren’t as forgiving. It definitely wouldn’t have been fair to win the race as a result of Richard Nunan’s aquatic fashion sense.

30 Minute Penalty!? Nunan should have been banned for life for this assault on the senses

Luckily the penalties didn’t have a deciding effect on the outcome (and a divisive effect on inter team relations!) and Colombia who were faster over the hills and towards the latter half of the race used their considerable experience to carve out a win. Credit to 24hr Adventure Meals from Sweden, as racing in a foreign country with unfamiliar maps and terrain is always challenging, they kept both ourselves and Colombia either looking ahead at them or over our shoulders at them but either way they were always in the mix and racing strong.

Team 24 Hour Adventure Meals, Sweden. 3rd Place The Beast 2017

Much like the rest of the race the after party was hugely enjoyable and a great chance to hear the parts of the race we missed. In particular Jason Black from team Voodoo performance grounded us with heartfelt words of thanks to the medical team, and Jon Hynes in particular for his excellent incident management following a potentially deadly in-race accident. While racing it can feel like a protective or neutral environment but in reality we’re pushing ourselves in a completely unforgiving environment and one mistake or lapse of concentration can potentially result in serious consequences. There’s nothing wrong with that as it’s often an antidote to our daily structured lives absent of the inherent objective risk of being in the outdoors. So long as we are aware of the danger and take the necessary mitigating steps of training, experience and common sense that exposure can be as rewarding as it is potentially dangerous.

Team Moxie 2nd Place The Beast 2017

Murderhole Beach

Massive credit is due to Ivan, Eoghan, Greg, Jon, and all the beast team for putting into practise all the lessons learned from the collection experience of organising expedition races to produce a fantastically organised and hugely enjoyable race experience. A standing ovation to Ivan was totally deserved, without him and others like him (including their support teams) organising these races we wouldn’t have the chance to race and all the experiences of these races would be missed.

Volunteer and organising crew The Beast 2017

Epilogue

Paul Mahon used all his experience, endurance, grit, and guile to be the last member of Team Moxie left partying after five in the morning. While I tapped out at 4 when the bar closed, Paul dug in and wouldn’t take no for an answer from the hotel staff, rallying a crowd of likeminded endurance…marshals /athletes/drinkers(??) around him and displaying leadership and teamwork when it was needed most. Ivan has to be thanked again for his production of the final stash of Kinnegar “Blue Label” to keep the party going as he snuck off for some well deserved shut-eye 🙂

 

Brian Keogh

Diarmaid Collins

Sarah Galligan

Paul Mahon