Galeforce West, on Saturday August 22nd 2009, was for Maura Egan and myself, an amazing experience. When you have such an amazing experience like this, it is difficult to articulate it in words, below is my attempt. What is Galeforce West? Galeforce West is the biggest adventure race of its kind in the world. The race is in six stages, all done carrying mandatory kit which included full body cover, first aid kit, cycle repair kit, survival bag or blanket, whistle, food and drink. I entered the race I suppose ‘as a bit of fun’ or something different to running marathons.
Fun was not a word that was in the forefront of my mind on the Friday night before the event. Some last minute kit headache, a frantic drive west to the Delphi Adventure centre, to register and drop the bike, then the drive to the B&B arriving there at 12.40am, with a wake up call booked for 4.30am. The word insane was more in my mind. We were on a bus in the first wave (of 200-300 people) to depart Westport House at 5.30am. I definitely had pre-race jitters and doubts over my ability to complete the course. We were driven to Connemera, to Glassilaun beach and the starting line
Stage I – Beach, Trail, & Road Run total of 12.5km.
The start briefing was given and we made our way onto the sand. Here I met Kevin (sorry I did not get your last name) a fellow athlete from Craughwell AC. Hope all went well for you Kevin. Running on the sand was heavy, and on rising from Glassillaun beach onto tarmac roads, I thought, “ok we are going up hill, but at least it is on road”. As we continued along the road and commenced our descent to Little Killary, I turned to Maura and said “sure aren’t we grand now’ doing what we do best – road running” Well the road did not last much longer, a little further up and we were taking a sharp right turn on to the rough stuff to begin our ascent up the rocky path of Mallanalach (a baby mountain). I was anxiously trying to keep my trainers dry and muck free when one fellow competitor told me to give it up, by the end of the day I was going to be up to my armpits in mud. I took him at his word (and boy was he right) and took joy in the freedom of splashing through the mud. On reaching the top we descended back down to the water and ran along a trail that followed the shore of Killary. It was here that I had one of those “Awe” moments as the whole of Killary harbour opened up in front of us and I thought that life does not get much better than this. We eventually get back to road again, but in Galeforce style we had to duck into a hedgerow to reach the finish of this stage. The stage was 12.5 kilometres and took us 82 minutes, there would be no PB’s today.
Stage II – Kayak 1.6km across Killary harbour
The clear day and calm weather made this stage very straight forward. This stage was exciting as kayaking was so different a sport to both us we did not know what we could do. Maua and I hopped into a double kayak and in 10 minutes we were on the other side of Killary Fjord. Stage II was complete. That was not too bad I thought.
Stage III – Trail & Road Run 3.5 km
After the kayaks we made our way up the slippery banks from the Killary shoreline to start our next stage. I thought that this would be an easy enough stage, because it was running and it was short. Wrong! The terrain was grassy, and very slippery and a lot more mud. It was far from easy. It took some time but we eventually rejoined the road and made our way to Delphi Adventure centre, the transition area for the bikes. By the time we got to Delphi we had been 2 hours on our feet, and I was looking forward to getting on the bike for what I thought would be rest
Stage IV – Cycling 35 km
We sloshed thought the mud into the bike compound to pluck our bikes from the amassed rows of shiny bikes. It was time to crank up the speed now as the 35 km road cycle beckoned. My plan had always been to begin to fuel up on the bike. I had wanted to have the two runs behind me first. But in the first few kilometres on the bike I realised that I had left it too late. I was feeling totally spent and I still had a long way to go. Maura on the other hand was incredible on the bike. We were on the R335, the Drummin Rd., the scenery was amazing, if I had a mind and time to appreciate it. At one stage we hit a hill that started gradually, but lasted forever, as I climbed I thought this hill is never going to end. At one stage I had to get off and push my bike, very unlike me. I was furiously trying to fuel up with a huge protein bar but it was not hitting me fast enough. I told Maura to keep going, I wanted suffer on by myself and I was very conscious that I was holding Maura back. Maura ploughed on and cycled up every hill that came our way. I was in total awe of her. I was really disappointed this stage was not going well because cycling was something I had done a lot more of during the summer to prepare for Galeforce. Of course, what goes up must come down and the descent into Drummin was a real treat, and not just because it was downhill, the scenery is stunning. The downhill was fast, I was pulling tight on the brakes for a dear life, My cautious descent brought me to Drummin. I had been so low on the bike that I felt the whole of the competitors in Galeforce (2,500) had passed me. From here the road wound its way to Licarney where it joined the main N59 Leenane – Westport road. A couple of kilometres on the main road and the Reek (Croach Patrick) came into sight. My God, I thought, how am I going to get up and down that feeling like I do? A fellow cyclist said to me “Now the fun begins!” As I turned off the N59 it soon became clear that I still had some work to do to get to the base of the mountain, as once again the road climbed steadily upwards towards the transition area at the back side of the Reek. I know I was surrounded by beautiful scenery all day, but to see Maura waiting for me in the transition area at the base of Croagh Patrick was for me the best sight of the whole day. Thank you my friend,
Stage V – Croagh Patrick Mountain Run / hike 4.5 kms
Today it was to be the full 764 metres to the summit to collect a purple wrist band to prove our accomplishment. In my preparation for the event I had climbed the back side of Croagh Patrick with my friend Chris Burke two weeks previously. We had chosen a route to the right of the summit that was more gradual. The vast majority of the people were going left, straight up the steepest part of the Reek. After a quick consultation Maura and I decided to go left. This proved to be one of our better decisions of the day. We got into a great rhythm, and working together we burned that mountain up, collected our prize at the summit and even managed to run back down, to the transition area. Croagh Patrick turned out to be our easiest stage so far. (I think it must have been all that hill work we had been doing out in Ballymanna). It took us 46 minutes to get to the top and 20 minutes to get down. That was great going if I do say so myself!
Stage VI – Cycling 12.5 kms
Back onto the bikes, I hadn’t been looking forward to it but we were both buzzing having come off Croagh Patrick. In true Galeforce style this stage was not straight forward. The course led us onto the Western Way, or the ‘Scalp’ as locals call it, a rough and rocky road. Our racing bikes were no match for this type of off road cycling, so we ended up pushing and even at times lifting the bikes. I remember asking Maura at this point, is it too soon to ask you would you do this again? The reply was, way too soon! Popping out on the northern side of the Scalp, Clew Bay is in front of us and Westport can be seen to the north east. I can hardly believe it, the end was in sight. A descent on smooth and narrow roads brought us on to the Louisburgh road. From here, it was flat all the way to Westport House. My God is this actually going to end! Our spirits were lifted with the finish in sight and the cheers from well wishers on the roadside. Maura and I powered that final straight, down a cordoned section of the drive of Westport House, round the final sharp right corner of the driveway before hanging a left back on ourselves, and into the final stretch, the Quarry car park. We dropped our bikes for the final run to the line together. There it was, the finish line, 66 km of Mayo and Galway, on beach, bog, water, mountains, and some road, yes a fantastic day out. It took us 6 hours 23 minutes. Would we do it all again? Absolutely!