Monday 23 October 2017

My race to use a fine excuse

Laura Noonan

Laura Noonan

By the time you read this, I'll probably be halfway up Croagh Patrick. Or halfway down again, if it's going well. Or lying by the roadside after a collision with a sheep, if my last cycling experience is anything to go by.

For today, I'm braving the brutal November elements with a 27.5km adventure race in the back-end of Mayo. Put like that, it sounds like something only a sadist would subject themselves to.

Mix in a few other things -- such as the fact that I've spent the past month organising my sister's hen (last weekend) and buying my first apartment (two weeks ago) and doing almost no training -- and I sound downright insane.

At first, though, it seemed like a wonderful idea. Cooped up in the office, an email pinged through with tidings of something called the 'Sea2Summit', a mixed- discipline race from Westport to Croagh Patrick. Would I do it and write about it, my correspondent asked, espousing the famed beauty of the region, the great craic to be had on race weekend and the fact that it would be a doddle for someone like me who was already running half-marathons.

Carried away with a mixture of arrogance (I'm superfit, it'll be no bother) and oblivion (I'll have loads of time to train and buy a bike), I fired back a reply. I'll do it, I told her, and I'll bring my sister.

The sister was hesitant from the start. Not one of life's fitness enthusiasts, Tara looked at the race course online and began to protest her inability to do 27.5km of anything bar driving.

It's not really 27.5km, I coaxed, it's a 4k-ish run, an 8k cycle, a 3k hike, and then the same back home again. You can totally work up to running 4k, and sure didn't we used to cycle to school? And it'll get us in shape for the wedding.

She acquiesced, I confirmed we were both in, and put the race out of my head until it was time to decamp to the west for a "training camp" with race organiser Colm Staunton.

It started with a bang, as Colm pointed to the steepest hill I've ever seen and set us cycling up it from a standing start. Then came a terrifying dog who bounded up to us and sent me into girlie screeches, but who was also, incidentally, responsible for my fastest cycling of the day.

When we finally came to the end of our biking adventure, the spectre of Croagh Patrick loomed before us and we began to climb/walk. Colm was quick to tell us that "on the day, we run" and off he bounded, proving to his dubious charges that it is quite possible to run up a mountain, and down it too.

Then came a car trip around the 'Supreme' route for those hardcore enough to complete the 35k mountainous cycle around Croagh Patrick's perimeter, where competitors and sheep fight for dominance on the roadways. "You'd want to be training pretty hard for that now," said Colm, looking bemused when I told him I might give the supreme a lash, even though I didn't yet own a bike.

Back in Dublin and full of enthusiasm, I navigated the Cycle to Work scheme and bought myself my first bike since childhood, marvelling at the advances in technology.

With three weeks to race day, we went for our first cycle/run combo, and Tara's protests resumed.

Determined to avoid public humiliation, I set out on my first hardcore training cycle where I quickly fell off my bike while trying to mount a tricky cycle path, generating great mirth for passing drivers and ruling out any meaningful training for the next while.

That lack of training will no doubt be haunting me today as I pant and puff around Croagh Patrick, but, on the plus side, it'll come in handy when it's time to account for my finishing time -- as all us athletes say, "it could all have been so different if I hadn't been injured".

See Laura in action on 'Ireland Am' from 7am on TV3 this Tuesday

Irish Independent

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