Jerome Bletterie is no stranger to long distance trail running and adventure racing.
In 2018 he signed up for Gaelforce West Ultra inaugural event and he didn’t mess around. Finishing in overall 3rd position here is his report of the very first Gaelforce West Ultra.
Its 4.30 am! My phone goes off and I am wondering why my phone went off that early. After 10 sec I just realised its D-day!! The Gaelforce West Ultra is on!
I have half an hour to prepare myself and get my favourite pre-race food into me (peanut butter jam toast and nice cup of coffee). While I am putting my gear on and sipping my coffee, I begin thinking “Have I put enough training in to tackle this beast, why am I doing it? What if I DNF again like a month ago in France”
I had signed up for the Salomon Maxi Race 120km in the Alps earlier this year but after 75km into the race I could not complete the distance – I didn’t want this to happen again and entering the Gaelforce West Ultra was my way to prove to myself that I can do this!!
So off I go. I get a lift to the start line in Glasslaun. The weather is amazing, 15 degree at the starting line and not a single cloud in the sky. The sea is so calm it look like a mirror. All competitors are here, ready, anxious, but can’t wait to start.
And off we go. The plan was not to start too strong, but surprisingly enough I end up in front of the pack for 2 km. We turned off to join the famine track along the south side off the Killary Fjord - what a view!! I am a local Connemara Man now (born and raised in France) and I live on the fjord, but you never get tired of this beauty. It is such a nice place to live and the landscape gives you something different every day.
The famine track is over and now it’s on to the N59 and across to the forest where the hills are waiting for us. My legs at that stage are feeling great! I have power, strength and music in ears (which is a first for me but won’t be the last). At this stage I power hike the hills, with a big smile on my face. It is the perfect time of the day to climb, not to hot and not too cold. The view is spectacular - I am more than familiar with what this place can be like when the weather turn bad, so that is why I am enjoying every minutes of this today. Up to the biggest hill of the first run, it’s tough and never ending. About 10 min in and I tell myself another 10 mins and its over (#SHUTUPLEGS) - I am on top of Leenane hill and the view is class!
I am starting the downhill which is a pleasure - the ground is nice and soft but thankfully not slippy at all. At the end of the downhill, I join back on to the N59 then up the western way. The legs are getting tired but no way I am going to walk this hill as it is my training ground! How would that look on Strava!! Then it’s back to the Killary Adventure Center where my Bike and food supplies are waiting for me.
The pause during the transition was very great. I had good food and a cheeky can of Red bull
Cycling shoes on and restart the watch for the cycle - because as you know what is not on Strava did not happen!! I am on way to Crough Patrick, via a few hill and 100 km.
Oh Boy!!! The first 5 km where hard, I was cramping very badly. I supposed I did not train my body for this kind of transition (note for the future). I ride the first half of the course on my own. Arriving at the bottom of Tourmakeady I check my tracker and it looks like I am fifth - this news came to a shock! I am top 5 and my legs are feeling good. At that stage I knew I had a chance (very small) to finish top 3.
Top of the Tourmakeady hill, I was tired but good tired. On my way up the hill a man (not part of the race) passed me and encourage me. How nice of him but I was actually raging because he passed me. The I realised he did not have a number therefore it was okay, no positions lost.
The downhill was great but because you are using the back roads and you need to focus as there are very sharp corners, gravel and to top it off, sheep and lambs everywhere.
At the bottom of the hill I passed my friend, the man who passed me on the way up. Unfortunately he was after taking a fall. I stopped and checked on him, he seems shocked but no major injuries thankfully. To be on the safe side I called the race director, gave him our location, and explained that he needed to dispatch medic and ambulance to assess the damage. At that stage 2 other racers had joined me when a lady who was walking the road, stop and kindly said “I will stay until the ambulance arrives, you go, you have a race to finish!!!!”
The three of us start again. At this stage I was glad to have some company to be able to carry on for another 60km. The next food stop was in Aasleagh Falls. It was badly needed! The legs were ok but a sandwich was so welcome. I checked the tracker again to see how far I was from the top 3 and it appears that we were in the top 3!! Some competitors left their tracker in theirs transition bag which travelled all the way to the bottom of Crough Patrick by van! This was amazing news but I had a battle to do with my fellow riders.
After the food stop one of the rider, I was with was struggling so he dropped from our train. We ended up two taking on the Shreeffry Pass and on our way to Crough Patrick.
At that stage I was struggling with my hands and feet. For some reason I get pins and needles in my extremities and it becomes very painful, but didn't have the time to stop therefore I loosen up my shoes and tried to move my feet as much as possible - it got better. Now Sean and myself are on the N59 taking the turn off to Crough Patrick. I am feeling tired, I don’t have the power in the legs anymore and I am finding hard to keep with Sean. He takes the opportunity and left me 1km before Crough Patrick. I am so disappointed with myself at this stage but the legs do not respond - I tried my best, but nothing. The only thing I know is that Sean is struggling too and he is not looking forward to Crough Patrick, I, on the other hand can’t wait to get off my bike and get my running shoes on.
I just arrived at the transition and my bag is there with my supplies. Sean is here, taking time to eat and put his shoes on. I do the same - take a good bite of my chicken avocado sandwich, another red bull and some sweets. My running shoes are on, my vest with water on my back and off I go.
I dib at the bottom and start the climb. My legs feel good, but I am not going to run – this is power hiking time. I look on my side and Sean has disappeared. He had to stop to fill up his bottles and I am glad that I done that on the first transition so this give me a lead of about 1-2 min. I climbed Crough Patrick very steadily. A lot of people were climbing and a lot of encouragement came from people which is a great boost when you are at that stage of a race.
I summited and start the downhill straight away. At that stage it a mental game! I knew my legs were good enough to “run down” so off I went - this is the moment where I can build up the time between Sean and myself. I was down Crough Patrick in 20 mins. I took my bike but this time I didn’t bother with my cycling shoes on - it was only 12 km and did not want to lose my third place!
The last 12 km went very fast, but I was really struggling with cramps. I had to push because one of my friends told me that Sean was 30sec behind me and was coming fast! I could not believe it after all my effort on the downhill was I losing time? No way!! I pushed as hard as possible - averaging 30km/h on the last 10km. I arrived in Westport near the leisure centre, dropped my bike, nobody behind me, and ran to that long waited for finish line.
I finished 3rd place overall. I fell onto my knee at the end, standing up again to walk through the tent and met with the second overall which finish 5 mins ahead of me. We exchanged our thoughts on the race and I was explaining that the 4th guy was just behind me, but it appears that my friend had lied to me to spur me on - Sean finished 10 mins after me, so I pushed on the last 10 km for nothing!! But sure it looks good on Strava.
To sum up I have to say that it was an amazing race - perfectly organised, perfectly time with the weather, and my plan worked very well. I am so happy to have finish 3rd and hopefully will be there next year to do it again.
Strava links for anyone who is interested
Crough Patrick https://www.strava.com/activities/1657095163
Last cycle and finish line https://www.strava.com/activities/1657096393
For more details on Gaelforce West Ultra click hereBack