Quest 12 Beara 2021 Race Report by overall winner Shane Kenny
“As Gary pulled up his Kayak and passed me, my heart sunk … “That’s it, you blew it ,,,”
6:30am on a mild August morning as the sun starts to peak over the rugged mountain tops, one could very easily believe they were in a different country, but no, as I stand with my bike beside me checking that I have everything needed for my transition, I am standing in this picturesque golf course situated on the Beara peninsula in West Cork. Why? To take on a challenge of over 152km, starting by running across the beautiful Caha mountains and the Beara way, cycling through the Healy Pass along the Ring of Beara, and making our way back through Castletownbere, and to top it all off, a kayak to the stunning Bere Island and a run around its hilly trails and back to the mainland again. But I am not alone, as we are gathered into the start pen, and look around, you can see people of all abilities from the first timers and the seasoned racers, all with the same look of, ‘Have I done enough? Have I got everything in my transition boxes?’ Nervous jumping jacks getting the last bit of warming up into the muscles, 7:00am we are off……………
Off we go!
Starting at a nice and steady pace, passing the 18th hole on the golf course and down to the ferry terminal, we quickly made our way through the back roads and onto the Beara Way. From this point the group of runners quickly started to break up, and as the hills started to get steeper there were three of us left running together. There was not much conversation between us, just a comment or two about the muck and how tricky the downhill was going to be. As we got to the turnaround point at the top of the hill, I quickly found out how mucky the downhill was as I lost my runner in some deep muck. As I frantically routed to get my runner back, I could see the blue top of my competitor quickly flying down the mountain. I got back running again, managing to catch up with the front runner, lucky not to lose too much time. As the worst of the first run was over, we both got settled into a strong pace, we got to chatting and I learned that my new best friend and companion for the next 8 hours was a Cork man, Gary Lawlor. As we ran back towards the golf course, I knew by the pace we were running at, and still being able to have a full-blown conversation, that my work was cut out for me, and it was going to be a close battle throughout the day.
Both myself and Gary knew what was in front of us for the next 3 hours or so, with a roller coaster of ups, downs, and switch backs, all awaited us for the next 82km and 1442m of climbing. We both knew that this was not going to be easy to tackle on your own, so we worked tirelessly together, each taking our turn working hard at the front. As this made the cycle that bit easier, be under no illusion that it was one of the hardest bike stages I have done, with both of us getting the odd cramp or two, but trying not to let the other know how much pain both mentally and physically we were in. Climb after climb, up and down gears, going from 40 to 55 kph, back to 10 to 12kph, Garnish Pier could not come quick enough. Finally the right turn down to the pier was in front of us, and now the race was on. Knowing how strong Gary was going to be on the bike, I did not hesitate in transition and just got the runners on and legged it, even though my legs were feeling the brunt of the torturous bike stage that was now behind us, I pushed through, trying to block the pain of the cramps in my hamstrings and calves.
After my quick transition at Garnish Pier, I headed towards Crow Head, on a normal day a stunning trail run out to the end of the peninsula, but not today. Head down, one foot in front of the other trying to keep some sort of pace up, knowing Gary was hot on my heels, trying to take my mind off the pains in my legs, counting the green flag markers as I passed them. As I got to the turnaround point and started to make my way back to transition, I met Gary coming against me and he looked how I felt. As he passed: “I am fucked, I am cramping,” he said. I just shouted back to keep going, it will pass, trying not to give him an idea that I was in the same pain, struggling as well. Finally making it back to the transition and taking a moment to make sure I have enough water and a few gels, knowing I was going to need to fuel for the next 25km bike back to the golf course, I had one eye over my shoulder waiting to see where my competitor was. Sure enough I could hear the marshals at the top of the road shouting, “Well done, you’re not far behind”. Shite, I said in my own mind, this is going to be close. As I jumped on my bike and clipped in, I knew I had to push and try get back to the golf course first.
The last bike section was a blur and seemed to pass so quickly. In my mind I knew I was being chased hard and that I needed to keep a strong pace, but also to fuel the body taking on as much water and gels as possible. My legs seemed to be numb – no pain, no cramps. As I turned into the golf course and the last transition, I felt really good, but that was the calm before the storm. I grabbed my life vest and started on my kayak across the harbour, all the time knowing that Gary was still only a hand full of seconds behind me. As I landed on Bere Island, a glance over my shoulder and I could see that he was after making ground on me and I needed to get out of the kayak and move ASAP. Then it hit me, the pain in both of my legs hamstrings and knees just did not want to move. It was as if my mind and my legs where fighting against each other every time I tried to move, the shot of pain was just excruciating. As Gary pulled up his Kayak and passed me, my heart sunk. “Fuck,” I said in my mind, “that’s it, you blew it.”
But as soon as I said that, I shouted at the marshals that were standing beside me, “Help me up, I need to get moving.” Even though my body did not want me to move, I knew that all the preparation and the early morning sessions, the two sessions a day, were going to be for nothing if I don’t suck it up and move. As I started to get a bit of a jog going, slowly the pain subsided and my pace picked up. Heading up the first climb, there he was, at first a blue dot slowly getting closer and closer, finally, as I caught up with Gary, I discovered he had busted his water bottle in his kayak and he was going to have to do the last 8km in 20+ degrees heat without water. I offered a mouthful of my drink, and then I just started to push on, I needed to make some ground up just in case I had the same problem when I kayaked back to the mainland, I needed a bit of a cushion just in case I needed to crawl over the finish line if my legs stopped working again. Running through the amazing trails on the island, one thing that stood out was the local people who just seemed to be all over, cheering us on and giving us support.
As I got back into the kayak, I was nervous, nervous of how my body was going to react to sitting for the next 15min and nervous of how close Gary was to me. But my nervousness changed to excitement as I rounded the last yellow buoy and onto the beach. “I’ve done it, I have won!” The emotions got the better of me as I crossed the finish line, what a roller coaster of a day, of a race. Racing as it should be: a teeth grinding, heart pounding hard-fought battle – and I have to hand it to Gary, what a competitor.