Achill Antics!

Published in Reports on 13th September 2014

Where’s Bernie? “Broke down in Castlebar” said Jannette.

Towing a caravan with a long road still ahead of them to Achill Island, we decided to go and register for the Achill Roar Adventure Race and get something to eat while we waited. Registration was in Geilty’s bar, Dooagh.

Waivers signed and numbers collected, we went to the bar and Des ordered a round of drinks while deciding on food. Anne and Pearse arrived so more drink was ordered while we were still undecided about the food. Halfway through the third pint we got a frantic call from Bernie wondering where the nearest pub was. They had just arrived at the caravan park after a long troublesome journey with an overheating jeep which had to be cooled and topped up with water at frequent intervals. We downed the rest of our pints and went to meet them at the Annexe bar in Keel. Not two words were spoken until Danny got to the bar. “DRINK”. “NOW!” Then after a swift double brandy and a deep breath he sat down and said he never wanted to see water again for as long as he lived!

We finally got round to deciding on food and a trip was made to the local greasy spoon where we loaded up on essential carbs and protein (burgers and chips) all washed down with beer. Mighty craic was had for the rest of the night until someone saw sense and called quitting time as we had a big race ahead of us the next day.

A beautiful sunny day greeted us the next morning. Pearse and Anne arrived at the caravan park after having the full/half Irish in their B&B. While the competitors busied about with numbers, pins, and mandatory kits, Pearse gave the bikes the once over. Bearing in mind some of the bikes hadn’t seen the light of day in quite some time!

We dropped the bikes off in the transition area and hung around with nervous chit chat and giggles waiting for the start of Wave 1 where Anne and myself were competing in the Sports Course. It consisted of 1200m kayak, 8k run and 22k cycle. Bernie and Jannette were taking part in the Mini course an hour later – 700m kayak, 5k run and 12k cycle.

At 11am the gun fired and even though it gave us a little fright we sprinted off across the sand and grass to the water section where the kayaks awaited us. Thank god for Pearse who helped get us into the double kayak and push us off the bank. What followed was chaotic…

What the hell? Why are we drifting to the left all the time?  Anne, paddle on your left. “But we’re drifting right?” OK, then paddle on the right. “But that’s your left?” We’re still drifting, left, LEFT. “Do you mean right or YOUR left?” Just follow me. “You there, number two, mirror the girl in front” shouted a steward. We’re drifting again. Left, left or I mean MY right. Jesus, Anne are you still paddling? “Oh yes, sorry, I forgot.” We’ll NEVER make it. The tide is against us, we’re drifting again, right, RIGHT. “You’re splashing me.” Sorry. Left, left, MY right. “Where’s Assumpta when you need her?” Left, right, we’re drifting again…. 30 minutes later, we arrived at the bank and got hauled out with Pearse to the rescue again. Glad that was over, with soggy bums, we ran back the way we came and timed in at the transition area for the run section.

Over the dunes and then on to the beach, we settled into a nice easy pace and decided to split up for the rest of the race. Nothing to do with the kayak disaster, just different fortes. The run was mine, so I stretched ahead of Anne slowly but surely until we got to the mountain climb. There she was climbing faster and faster and closing the gap as we got nearer to the peak. I couldn’t believe it, there wasn’t any more than 10ft between us at the turnaround point. Panicking I shouted “See ya later” and bombed down that mountain as fast as I could, jumping over rocks and sheep, and shouting at fellow runners to hurry up or get out of my way. Back on to the beach I knew she wouldn’t be far behind but I daren’t look back for fear of losing precious seconds. Anne picked up a straggler on the beach and encouraged him to run with her. Not sure if that was motivation for herself to keep going or an act of kindness to the first time racer, but 7 minutes after I had timed in she arrived at transition two for the cycle section, her forte.

After last year’s disastrous cycle on the same route in rain and sleet, I wasn’t looking forward to this section of the race at all. The wind was quite strong and the hills were never ending but I soldiered on knowing Anne was surely closing in on me. At one point there was no-one in front or behind and I thought I had gone wrong but then out of the middle of nowhere heading towards me came Pearse with an encouraging shout of “you’re flying Flora” so I put my head down and pedalled like mad as I knew he was on his way to greet Anne just behind me. A couple more hills and long lonely stretches I finally saw the finish line in the distance. With butterflies in my belly and disbelief that I hadn’t been caught I jumped off the bike, flung it in the transition area and sprinted for the line throwing my arms in the air and screams of delight to Des who was eagerly awaiting to take a photo of the winner. I put my arms down, turned around, and there she was…. just 2 minutes behind me. I hadn’t even caught my breath.

We hugged and slapped each other on the back, delighted to have finished a thoroughly enjoyable yet fiercely competitive race. Bernie and Jannette followed a little while later having completed their course. They mastered the kayaking I’m told, and stayed together for the run and the cycle to finish in style, both very proud as it was their first adventure race.

And the moral of the story? Two lefties will never make a right!

Flora McKnight with Anne Hunter.

Achill Roar, September 6th 2014.