Gaelforce West 2014 Adventure Race Preview, Race Tips And Advice

I'm breaking away from golf for just one post as I embark on Gaelforce West 2014 again tomorrow. I'm dedicating the race to Kingori,...

I'm breaking away from golf for just one post as I embark on Gaelforce West 2014 again tomorrow. I'm dedicating the race to Kingori, who sadly passed away yesterday. RIP 

Best of luck to all taking part in the mother of all adventure races.

Here's my preview.

Gaelforce West 2014 Preview

You’ve put the training in and now it’s time for one of the ultimate adventure racing challenges; Gaelforce West.  As you make your way by bus from Westport back to the start line at Glassilaun Beach at an ungodly hour of the morning, the realization dawns that “they want me to get all the way from here back to Westport on my own steam?”

Once you board the bus in Westport, you should be togged out and ready to go.  It’s usually colder early in the morning, so it’s best to wear an old top to keep warm.  Organizers have an old clothes donation receptacle at the start line which is a really great idea.  Make sure to remember your mandatory kit (first aid, foil blanket etc) as laid out in the race briefing notes and it’s good to have some food or gels to nibble during the long first run.  Some people go without a bag, but most carry a small back pack with the essentials in it.  If you do opt to bring a bag, adopt a Ryanair approach; only bring the essentials! Remember you have to carry that bag over two runs, so every little bit of weight that can be saved counts.
Unless you’re in the very first wave, once you hop off the bus near the start at Glassilaun Beach, you’ll be asked to wait while the wave before you jog by.  It’s quite a nervy time for everyone, and its early morning, so don’t worry if you feel a little jittery.  Minutes later a mass of faces will swarm past, some serious, most happy, others carrying the kitchen sink on their backs! The butterflies will be doing twirls in your stomach with the realization that “I’m next!”
Make sure your socks are pulled up for the start as it’s on the sand on the beach.  If sand gets into your runners, it’s going to make for an uncomfortable first run.  The run can tend to start at a fast pace as everyone is excited, so it’s really important to let the speed merchants off and find your own pace as soon as possible, resisting the tendency to go harder than you go normally; trust me you will regret it later if you gun it out of the blocks like Usain Bolt!  Gaelforce is long, and it’s all about managing your effort.

Race Day Tip: Are you carrying a backpack? Adopt a Ryanair approach and go through its contents taking out anything that's not absolutely essential. You really don't need to be carrying extra weight. 

After emerging from the beach at the start of the run, you head left over a hill.  Don’t worry too much here, the hill may seem steep but it’s all over in a couple of minutes and it’s the steepest bit you will encounter.  From there you sweep down to little Killary Harbour where you feel like you skip through some guy’s back yard to join The Famine Trail.

The trail itself is a joy to run, but it’s very rocky and uneven.  The scenery on the run is absolutely stunning as you progress alongside the water but to negotiate it successfully, you have to concentrate hard on where your feet are landing.  One wrong step could result in a trip or ankle twist.  Depending on the weather there are some muddy patches too; a good rule of thumb is to stay to the right on the trail in muddy areas, but it’s a bit of a lottery so do be prepared to get dirty!  The trail ends and you pop out on the main road to Leenaune for a bit, before sweeping down left to the kayak station opposite Killary Adventure Centre for stage two.

Race Day Tip: Do you suffer from cramp in adventure races? Taking a 500mg magnesium tablet a couple of hours before the race will help greatly.

If you’re in the elite first group at the kayak station you don’t get ‘timed out’; meaning the clock keeps running and so must you!  You have to jump in the kayak and get going immediately.  For everyone else, you WILL be timed out at the kayak station, meaning you can take a break, have a drink, have a stretch, wait for your mates if you like, and your overall time won’t be affected.  You dib back in just as you jump in the kayak and your clock starts ticking again.
However, my advice is not to wait long at the kayak station.  Take a drink and get going as soon as you can.  It’s easy to cool down and fool your body into thinking its work is done while you wait; this can lead to cramp later on in the day.  Have in your head maybe a five minute window at the kayak station after which you need to get going again.

Kayaking across Killary Fjord is a wonderful experience.  Most people travel long distances just to get a look at it; you’ll be on it!  You will need to cooperate with your partner (as it’s a two person boat) to avoid wavering off line.  If you have not kayaked before it’s best to go in the front as the person in the rear is more responsible for steering.  Just ask your partner at the start.  It’s a straight dash directly across the fjord but it’s tough on the arms, core and insides of the legs!
Having traversed the Fjord, it’s now a boggy run across to Delphi Adventure Centre where your bike is racked from the previous day.  This run is short compared to the first and passes pretty quickly but it’s surprisingly energy sapping on the legs.  Don’t forget to take off your life preserver before you start the run; the sight of one lying about two kilometres deep into the bog brought a smile to even the most exhausted racers last year!
At the bike transition you’ll get a chance to fuel up with your own food and drink before taking on the cycle to The Reek.  After all the running, you’ll greet your bike like an old friend.  Once on your bike, try and get into a nice steady rhythm; there are plenty of challenges ahead.

Race Day Tip: Use strong tyres on your bike like Gatorkins or Armadillos. Pump tyres to approx 100 psi, a little bit less than for normal road cycling.  The terrain before and Croagh Patrick is extremely rocky and uneven. 

Most people will use a racing bike for Gaelforce West. But you will get by with a mountain or city bike though you might not be as quick.  There are sections however, that a mountain bike will gobble up and cruise through but overall the standard racing bike is best.

Some people will change into their cycling shoes for the cycle; remember if you do this, you are going to have to also transfer your running shoes in a bag or tuck them under your shirt or attach them ingeniously to your bike.  My advice for Gaelforce West is to keep your runners on and use toe clips instead of clip in pedals on the cycle.
The cycle towards the reek needs to be paced well as its quite long and hilly and often against the prevailing wind.  Try to maintain a high cadence in whatever gear does not push pressure on your legs; pushing too hard on the pedals this deep into the race can cause cramp in the calf muscles and quads.  If you have an electrolyte drink with salts you should take it at the start of the cycle.  So many people push too hard on their bike, only to come a cropper suffering from cramp on Croagh Patrick.

On the bike the main climb is relatively short but sharp over the Sheaffry Pass and sees you descend sharply on a dead straight narrow road with a very uneven surface down the mountain.  At the bottom is a 90 degree turn right towards Drummin village.  Take great care and keep your fingers on the brakes on the descent here; a couple of seconds slower and being careful will not result in you missing out on any world records.
From there it’s on through Drummin and around to the back of Croagh Patrick, or ‘The Reek’ as it’s known locally.  Don’t get too comfortable once you see the mountain though; the cycle route takes a very lumpy and bumpy extra twist through bog and forest before you finish this cycling section.  If you are using a normal racing bike I highly recommend using armadillo tyres (or similar) in Gaelforce especially because of this section; they might be a little slower than racing tyres, but they’re virtually bombproof and this part (and the part after The Reek) are a puncture minefield!

Once you reach the bike racking area at the back of The Reek, you stow your bike and head off past the Mayo Mountain Rescue cabin and up the mountain.  The first part is heathery boggy grass and there’s a pretty obvious trail ahead of you.  The path may appear at first glance to be taking you right when the top is to the left, but this is the trail of easiest incline and it’s arguably quicker.  You will see some people make a bee line for the top to shave a minute or two, but I’m not convinced they are any better off.  After the initial scramble you emerge on the ridge which is relatively flat and runnable and allows you gather yourself before embarking on the cone.  The cone itself is a ‘one foot in front of the other’ trek to the top.  Take great care on the cone as the rock consists of sharp slabs of shale that tend to move with you.  Having trail shoes and at least ankle high socks really make a difference here because you’re virtually guaranteed to have an ankle tap with some rock or other!

Once you hit the top of the mountain, you have the back of the race broken and you can allow yourself a little sigh of relief.  It’s all downhill from here!  Well almost.
Having descended along the same path you went up, it’s back on your bike for the journey back towards the finish in Westport.  However the first part of this cycle over The Scelp is not easy; it’s a virtual no man’s land that has a particular distaste for road bikes!  The brave attempt to cycle it, others carry their bikes over it, and yet more run along with their bikes until the surface evens and cycling becomes possible again.  I cannot recommend one way over the other here, it’s basically a free for all and ‘just get past it’ zone.

Once over The Scelp, it’s a cycle down towards the Quay in Westport.  You will feel the adrenaline like never before welling up inside you as the finish draws ever closer.  Use that extra power to help you jog the last section to the new finish at Westport Leisure Centre after the bike drop to the finish line and soak in the support, the applause, the excitement, the sense of accomplishment as you enter the finish.
You’ve just completed Gaelforce West.  There’s very little else in the adventure racing world to match it and you’ve done it!

The finish is a hive of activity with plenty of food and drink to help you recover.  There’s always loads of chat between racers, friends and family and the atmosphere is electric.  There will be lots of physio types on hand too to give your weary muscles a quick rub down.  My final bit of advice is this; eat drink and avail of anything at the finish that will help you recover quicker.  Gaelforce may be completed but your body has been through a lot of things today that it will recognize as being very out of the ordinary and it needs rest and refuelling as soon as possible after finishing to ensure a quick and full recovery.

Hope to see you all at the finish and enjoy Gaelforce West.  As Baz said in his song, “The race is long and at the end of the day it’s only with yourself!”

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GolfCentralDaily | Golf Parody Fun Gossip Jokes Betting Tips: Gaelforce West 2014 Adventure Race Preview, Race Tips And Advice
Gaelforce West 2014 Adventure Race Preview, Race Tips And Advice
GolfCentralDaily | Golf Parody Fun Gossip Jokes Betting Tips
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