Huge congratulations to Shane Scully, who finished at 1st place at the Gaelforce West on June 22nd.
Here is how Gaelforce West went for him...
Having done Gaelforce West in 2017, we didn't feel the need to go and recce the course. That year, I came 3rd, but made so many mistakes on the course I felt I didn't perform at the level I should have. The route is quite long and testing, if you don't have the work done you will be found out somewhere. On our way up to Westport on Friday evening, we were quite relaxed. We knew we were in better all-round shape this year (even with Gary's injury), and we were expecting a decent result. The last time we were at this race we were very much unknown but this time we were tagged as being amongst the favourites for the race on kayathlon.ie. The pressure was on!
The race tactics were for the two of us to get to the bike section with the leaders and then to try to work them over if possible and get a lead going into Croagh Patrick. No matter what we would lose on the run-kayak-run section before the first bike, we were confident we could work together to reel the front lads back in on the bike. So, the start was always going to be relaxed with no need to panic.
Gaelforce West Start Line at Glassilaun Beach
Registration and Start at Gaelforce West
We arrived up in Westport pretty late on Friday evening and after registering and doing a slow 4km run around town to loosen out the legs (legs felt decent), we got an early enough night's sleep. We were up at 5:00 in the morning to catch a bus at 6:00 to bring us to the start line. I got down to the bus just in time and we were soon on our way to Glassilaun beach for the start. Thankfully, the weather was ok as we brought no old clothes to wear as we waited for the race to start. We bumped into fellow club member and Gaelforce vet James Skehan at the start, who gave us the usual lowdown on what to expect. James had little to no run training done for this so I don't know how he even takes to the line each year. He is a braver man than me.
Gaelforce West 1st Run along Famine Trail
1st Run along the Famine Trail
We were racing against some of the big names of the sport in Ireland for the first time here like Shaun Stewart and Dessie Duffy so it would be interesting to see what their strengths and weaknesses were. I asked Luke McMullan what Shaun's weaknesses were, to which he replied 'he has none, he is good at everything'. Well feck that anyway. The race started at a nice steady run pace. We were running into the wind so we were all lined out one behind the other with a group of about 8 of us getting a gap pretty quickly. In that group were me, Gary, Luke, Barry, Seb, Dessie, Shaun and Peter - pretty much all the lads mentioned in the pre-race form guide. We all stayed together until the off-road section where it all split to bits. I was having to try too hard too early to stay with Luke, Barry and Shaun at the front, so slowed and dropped the heart rate and ran with the brother for the rest of the first run.As the technical run on the old Famine road continued, the two of us continued to lose time. Once we got back on a better road surface we were able to pick up the pace again and close the gap on the front runners a little bit, passing out Seb and Dessie in the process. Gary's breathing sounded a little heavier than I would have liked so I wasn't sure if it was going to be his day. If I had a rib injury, I wouldn't even have been taking part. The first run was over after 56 minutes and we were just over 1 minute behind the gang of 3 out front. We were happy with this as it was a good deal faster than in 2017.
Kayak acrossthe Killary Fjord
Onto the kayaks and disaster strikes immediately for Gary as his hips lock up. He was going nowhere fast and couldn't sit down properly in the kayak. After multiple tries, he got going but again had to lie back in the kayak and try to paddle from there. That was his race for the top spots over as he lost 5 minutes to me on the 10 minute kayak crossing of Killary Fjord. I actually had a decent enough kayak, catching Luke and coming in not far behind Barry. This was lucky for me as my cycling partner was gone and with Shaun blitzing the kayak I would need to recruit new partners to help chase him down, Luke kindly obliged and we ran the 2nd run together picking up Barry just outside transition.
1st Cycle through Sheeffry Pass
The 3 of us set off after Shaun who had a decent gap. There was no panic though as we were cycling into a headwind so the longer we left Shaun out there by himself the more tired he would get while we got breaks as we worked together to reel him in. When we got close I asked the lads to leave Shaun out there by himself while we soft pedalled behind. The big climb of the day was coming up and it was probably the best place to try to jump the pre-race favourite. I told Luke I was planning to jump and to stick on my wheel. We caught Shaun at the foot of the climb and the race exploded from there, literally. Barry's tire blew out with a big bang and that was his race over.
Down to 3 and I pushed the pace on the climb. Shaun was on my wheel and Luke was on his but first Luke lost touch and then Shaun lost touch. I didn't want to push on as I didn't want to be out front alone with the two lads working together to reel me in so I encouraged Shaun to keep pushing and eased the pace up front. He was struggling a little on the climb so I told him I was pushing on and that I would meet him again after the descent. It was a tricky enough descent so having a small gap that would allow me to take it a little easier going down suited me fine. At the bottom, I had a quick look around for Shaun but there was no sign so I just put the head down and decided to go solo. This was a risky move as I was full sure the two boys (both good cyclists) would be saving energy by working together all the way to the foot of Croagh Patrick and come in only a few seconds down on me. Little did I know that Shaun had actually crashed (breaking his collarbone) on one of the tricky bends near the top of the climb and Luke had shown great sportsmanship by stopping to help. Luckily the ambulance was just nearby.
The rest of the cycle went well for me. I was keeping a good pace but every now and then my calves were looking to go into cramp. I was clearly dehydrated and I only had one small water bottle with me so there was little I could do about it. The cycle ended with a tricky off-road section. This wouldn't usually be my forte but when you think you are being chased by two top competitors behind, you forget about how risky what you are doing is. Coming into transition, at the end of the bike, I had a big lead, but again, I did not know this. Seb and Dessie had both passed Luke who was now in 4th place.
Climbing Croagh Patrick
On starting the run, I was given strict instructions to take the path up the mountain but the last time we did this race in 2017, they said the same thing but all the top lads ignored that and took the short cut up the mountain. I was sure the rest were going to ignore this advice and I would be the only fool doing the proper route. Cursing to myself I headed for the diagonal path and the slower way up the mountain. Thank God I did, as they had indeed cracked down on this rule and were DQing those who went off the path - how do I know this? - Gary got DQ'd by going off the path! He was obviously thinking the same thing as me. Luckily for me I stuck to the rules. Even still as I climbed the mountain, I was expecting to see Shaun and Luke now ahead of me. I had resigned in my head to having to chase after them on the final bike. I kept pushing on the run trying to close this imaginary gap that had developed only in my head.
As I reached the dib in place on the shoulder I was told I was in the lead and had a decent lead. Happy days! I could relax a little again, but not much. In 2017, I was well ahead at the top of the mountain but had a horrible descent and lost a bucket load of time. With experienced lads on my tail I was bound to be caught (or so I kept saying to myself). I got to the top and it was only when I turned around, I could see that the gap I had was very big. There was nobody in sight. I decided to try out descending on the loose shale as I had heard that was the thing to do. It was fun but it felt more like controlled falling. I certainly need a lot more practice at it. The good thing was it took a long while descending before I came across the lads chasing me. For the first time I started to think I could well have this thing won. The only problem was, I didn't see Shaun, where was he? I presumed I just missed him as I was focusing so much on my footing. Maybe he wasn't too far behind and with his descending skills he would surely catch me. If he did at least I would have a final shoot out with him on the bike.
I descended the mountain much better than I did two years ago. Having actual trail runners helped a lot instead of the flats I wore the last time. I met Gary on the downhill. He was well back and he informed me of his mishap on the kayak. At least he was still going and he had an outside chance of catching the lads ahead and moving up the top 10. On my way down the mountain the lads I was passing kept informing me that I had a big lead so I eased the pace a little and made sure I got down safely.
Shane Scully - 1st over the finish line at Gaelforce West 2019
Final Cycle into Westport
Now there was only the final bike left. This wouldn't usually be a problem but the cramps I was getting earlier on the bike came back with a vengeance on the way back to Westport. My quads, calves and hips were all trying to cramp up and with all my water now gone it was just a case of surviving the final cycle. I eased back enough so that I wouldn't go into full cramp but every 20 pedal revolutions or so I would feel a muscle looking to pop. There was a tail wind on the final bike leg so this helped me out a lot. It was over in just 20 minutes and I pulled into the final transition a lucky man. A full-on cramp on the bike could have been the disaster that finished my race. I guessed my time must have been pretty fast as nobody seemed to have expected me to be there. I just dibbed and finished. My final time was 3 hours 23 minutes; this was a very fast time but as it is a new course (the final technical cycle down the Skelp had been replaced), it is hard to compare with previous years.
Gaelforce West Finish in Westport
Standing around at the end. I was surprised to see that the minutes were going by and none of the lads had finished yet. I went for a rub and still the time ticked by with nobody finishing. Then I heard Seb being announced followed closely by Dessie. Where was Sean? Next home was Luke who proceeded to inform me about what had happened to them on the Sheffrey Pass. It was a shame to hear what had happened as nobody ever wants to win in those circumstances and it definitely took away from the sweetness of the victory. It's hard to say how the race would have gone if Shaun hadn't fallen and if Luke hadn't stopped for him. The finish to that story will be told at a different race in the future. For now, I am just happy to have gotten the win and not had any major mishaps on the way.
Gary finished the race in 5th place, just ahead of a legend of the sport Peter O'Farrell, but as I mentioned earlier he got DQ'd due to the Croagh Patrick incident. It is understandable why he took the short cut but it's also understandable why he was disqualified. No complaints from us. He will know better the next day. All in all it was another great experience. Thanks to all those who put the race together!
Well done again Shane and thanks for sharing this brilliant race report with us. If you are rearing to go after reading this, Gaelforce West 2020 is calling your name. Sign up for Gaelforce West 2020!