Aidan Mc Moreland 1st Male GFN 2012 -Full course
Race preparations began the week before the big event. Bike and equipment checks, tapering of training, carb loading and checking the MSAI form guide to see which top racers would be competing. Of particular note would be 2011 winner Gary Crossan and Padraig Marrey, Adventure Series winner 2011.
Last year GFN was my first long adventure race. Getting through the race was my main aim, and eventually finishing 6th was a nice surprise. The event was hugely enjoyable and completion gives a great sense of achievement. This year GFN was the first race put down on my list for the year.
Having finished well in a few adventure races, and occasionally getting into the prizes in 2011, I felt my bike fitness needed addressing over the winter. Weekly 2 hour turbo training sessions in Wheelworx in Dublin under the guidance of experienced triathlete and ironman Rob Cummins, I soon remedied my weakest discipline. I felt confident and relaxed coming up to the event, having posted good times earlier in 2012 in WAR Glendalough and multiple sprint duathlons. Having considered the other top competitors in GFN 2012, my goal was to race hard and get into the top 3.
The race starts with registration and bike drop the day before. The organization of the GF crew, with added touches of free tea/coffee and biscuits at registration, makes the process easy and stress free, vital to calm the nerves before the big event. Following some race chat with other competitors at registration it’s onward to the B&B in Bunbeg. Driving the scenic route affords a glimpse at the pending challenge of Mt Errigal, which in just over 12 hours would be lined with competitors.
Race day begins with an early rise – 5.30 am, for the pre race porridge and banana! The bus to the start line is filled with nervous talk of the race ahead but gives a good opportunity to meet other competitors. At the start line, following a warm up and stretches I spot the main challengers. Gary Crossan is a strong runner and Padraig Marrey, haven recently competed in the Ras, would be strong on the bike. I felt my best approach would be to stay as close to Gary on the run while trying to put some distance between me and Padraig.
The run started at a fast pace, set by Gary. He was out of sight by the time I was passing Glenveagh Castle! I was familiar with the course from 2011, and tried to maintain a fast pace on the long uphill section after the castle, in anticipation of some recovery on the downhill that followed. At the kayak section he was 2 mins ahead, me in second with the next racer a few mins behind. The lake was choppy from the strong wind which made the kayaking difficult and I was glad to get my feet onto dry land.
I pushed hard on the bike to try and catch up before Errigal, but the strong headwind was making things difficult, and not leaving much in the legs for the mountain section. The cycle is dotted with some tricky hills, made all the more difficult by the (Gaelforce!) wind. I managed to catch Gary a few kms before the mountain. We worked together for about 2-3 kms which gave the legs a short break. I peeled away intending to get a headstart on the climb.
Running off the bike isn’t easy, and the first section of the climb was wet and boggy which further drained vital energy. The peak of Errigal was coated in clouds. A blessing in disguise as we couldn’t see the scale of the climb ahead! So it was just work hard and watch the markers pass by.
Turning at the top allowed me sight of my closest rivals. Gary and Padraig were close behind on the ascent and looking strong. The descent of Errigal is tricky. Sections of loose rock and heather mean watching the ground closely for foot placement as you try to control your momentum and maintain a good pace. The adrenaline of being in first place with a potential win in my grasp was kicking in. I descended quickly and bounded across the lower boggy section knowing a puncture free push to the end might just do it.
The final section of the race includes some off road coillte tracks with some tricky and bumpy downhills. I put my faith in my tyres and went as hard as I could, with an occasional glimpse over my shoulder as I felt Padraig would be coming strong on the bike. The sense of relief hitting the final tarmac section, and having a view clear of my nearest challengers behind me gave me an extra boost for the last 5km.
Dropping the bike at the beach finish in Bunbeg with a look up the road towards the turn off, I knew I had done it! Crossing the finish line in first place was an amazing feeling, and has definitely given me hunger for more! Finishing first in a Gaelforce event gives a particularly proud feeling.
Looking back as I recover from the dreaded DOMs, I can acknowledge that everything on race day clicked into place. It has been a brilliant race, one which I'll never forget. I hope I will have the same combination of good fortune and successful training for upcoming events. I’m already looking forward to the mighty challenge of Gaelforce West!