I started this story in February, sharing with you my thoroughly average reasons for undertaking Gaelforce West. My original intention was merely to complete in a reasonable time, and utilise this audacious goal as a 'journey jump-start'. However, as habit would have it, my competitive streak once again got the better of me! A couple of smaller, local races showed that my inner athlete was not quite ready for pasture. Meanwhile, a first place in the Connemara Adventure Challenge took my Gaelforce West ambitions to a loftier plane. Gone was the satisfaction garnered from merely completing, replaced with a familiar desire to win.
My friends take great pleasure in reminding me that I am unable to keep sport as an easygoing hobby, instead approaching it with the gusto and application normally reserved for professionals. As beneficial as my 'all-in' approach is for my performance, it sometimes gets the better of me. I load the pressure onto myself; often forgetting that I am very much a newcomer to adventure racing; struggle to make peace with a poor training session, and at worst dissolve into a mess of tears at the prospect of not performing in a race.
Indeed, there was a Saturday afternoon in May where I considered withdrawing from Gaelforce West. At the time, I was struggling with an old racing bike; a familial hand-me down from a 6ft3 brother; and felt more akin to the captain of an oversized cargo ship than a proficient cyclist.
That particular afternoon's emotional short-circuiting was the result of a very innocuous encounter on the final mile of a cycle. As I was cresting the final hill towards home, a male cyclist appeared from the ether, and cruised past me, seemingly without moving his legs! All the while, I was pumping hard to even keep him within sight. Of course, this poor innocent does not realise his contribution to the subsequent emotional bloodbath. Nor should he assume any responsibility. After all, how was he to expect an encounter with a madwoman on the quiet roads of west Mayo?
But fall-out there was! Tears, self-doubt and berating characterised the remainder of the day. I doubted that I could even complete the cycling leg of Gaelforce West, let alone expect it to complement my performance.
Yet, here is where I also experienced the full force of the racing community's goodwill, and its unceasing readiness to share. A serendipitous encounter with Paul Feeney; Spin Instructor extraordinaire, and the walking/running/climbing definition of a 'good 'un'; during a training session on Croagh Patrick, led to his very generous loan of a more appropriately sized bike. Although an attempt at the Tour de Anything remained a long way off, at least I was mounted on a buggy rather than a tank. And so it was Game Back On!
Readers, if you have undertaken Gaelforce West; or even know someone who has; you don't need me to share the details of race day with you. Suffice to say, it's early; it's punishing, and it's a mental and physical challenge unlike any other. But most importantly, it's a feeling of accomplishment that will stay with you for a very long time. Gaelforce West, all 66 kilometres of it, will serve as a reminder of just how deep you are able to dig. Yup, you kicked ass!
On the 24th June, I lined up in Wave 1, beneath the familiar drizzle of The West, believing that I could win. I knew that I was surrounded by athletes for whom this race was an 'old friend'. Their race jerseys spoke of triathlon and cycling clubs, while I shivered in a rather plain, and recently purchased, tee-shirt. But I believed in my training, and I knew that I was ready to run. Strangely, I felt more confident at the starting line than I did at any other time during the previous six months of training.
And so I ran, kayaked, cycled and climbed my way to a fairly unbelievable 1st Place Finish amongst the ladies. I did not lead from the front, I did not perform amazingly across all phases of the race, and there were times that I cursed that day in January when I clicked 'Purchase' on the website. But I dug deep, kept my head down and self-belief up, and somehow won.
That's my story. I simply committed to a goal, believed I could do it, and got on with it (although, my unique brand of stubbornness and single-mindedness likely played a starring role!).
This began as the story of your average Joe/Josephine taking on Gaelforce West. While its ending continues to surprise me, the pages in-between merely tell a tale of hard-work. I hope you can take some inspiration from my story, get out there and give it a go!
You can read all of Deirdre's blogs below and see how she tackled the challenges she faced along the way.