“Want to do an adventure race while you’re out here?” - Andy, Columbia Sportswear
“Sure, I’ve never done one before.” - me
“Want to do the sprint, then?” - Andy
“Nah, nah. The full should be fine.”
That conversation was on a loop in my head as I cramped my way up Mount Errigal a few weeks later.
Late last June, a group of journalists and I went to Ireland with Columbia Sportswear to try out some of their new gear in the field. A few days into the trip, we stood at the boggy starting line of Ireland’s GaelForce North Adventure Race in County Donegal. Put on by the Killary Adventure Company, the 40-mile course offers an up-close-and-personal look at Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
After hearing GearJunkie.com’s Stephen Regenold mutter something about trying finish the 10 mile trail run in about an hour, another journalist, Ryan Stuart and I resigned ourselves to seeing him at the end of the race and settled into a mellower sub-8-minute pace. The trail ran north down a hill and passed a scenic lake and went through the castle grounds at Glenveagh National Park before finishing at a short kayak course at a park lake.
We sprinted around the buoys, while I relished the cold water and some time off my feet, then we ditched the kayak for a 15-mile bike ride to the next stage, climbing 2,464-foot Mt. Errigal, the tallest peak in Donegal. Ryan quickly rode out of sight, and I settled into an easy pace and enjoyed the rolling green hills and sheep-dotted landscape.
About 10 miles into the ride, I saw a looming peak with a faint trail heading up the ridge - Errigal. I spent the next five miles eyeballing the ever-growing mountain as the energy drained from my legs into the pedals, then out onto the road.
Upon reaching the mountain transition, I ditched the bike and started my trudge up the hill. My quads started cramping almost immediately, and didn’t let up until I reached the summit. If I wasn’t such a sucker for punishment, I might have been upset.
At just past the halfway point, I saw the turnaround point for the sprint distance. I loathed myself for choosing the full race. I met Kieranna, a local marine biologist who was running the sprint and complained with me up the hill - just another example of how friendly and fun the locals are.
After saying goodbye to my race buddy at the sprint turnaround and grinding my way up to the summit, the cramping in my legs subsided as I made my way down the muddy, springy terrain.
At the bottom, I hopped back on my trusty steed (a cruiser bike that I borrowed for the race), and rode 12 more miles to the beach, where my travel buddies who’d already finished were waiting to cheer me on to the final run to the finish line.
As I came in for my final approach, high fives and a warm sun welcomed me and the happy suffering of the past five hours settled into an exhausted stoke.
We piled into the van and bar-hopped our way back to our castle. I crawled into the back and crashed on the bags between stops