Coast to Coast Ireland
By Mickey Regan
Beach Run 5km - Road Cycle 108km - Kayak 27.5km - Road Cycle 17km
Road cycle 123km - Mountain Run 32kmHow do you prepare for a coast to coast? I have no idea, still don’t having completed it. How did I complete it? I think it was a mixture of the right equipment and the right will power. You learn a lot about yourself when you are at your lowest points. Picking yourself up and pushing through it to the end is what it’s all about. It is finding that last bit of energy and then some more to complete the challenge. Friday evening Ivan Park my support crew picked me up for the drive to Enniscronie Co. Sligo. We arrived sometime after 9pm thinking we were late for the briefing but it turned out they shifted the times due to other teams running late too. I got signed in and was issued with the route card, maps and instructed to mark my maps the lock gates for the paddle and anything else I thought I might need along the way. The atmosphere was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. The race briefing for day 1 was short and to the point (Unlike this race report will be but bear with me it was a race across Ireland) Rowan and Ian introduced themselves and told us what lay ahead. Ian introduced Ivan as the time keeper “Is he Jack” I said. He is my support crew. After the race briefing I went and got checked into the B&B. The Ceol-na-mara was the same B&B Ivan had stayed in the previous year so it came highly recommended. Jim O’Regan www.ceol-na-mara.com/ greeted us and showed us to our room. There were a few other competitors staying there too on Ivan’s recommendation. As the race was starting at 7:00am the next morning we asked if it was possible to have a 5:30 breakfast. “Not a problem” he said. The stay in the B&B was brilliant. Comfortable and welcoming just what you need the night before a race. I got straight to bed and Ivan went up to sort out the computer timing system.When I woke up at 5 there was no sign of Ivan. What was I going do without support crew? Turned out he left without taking a key and didn’t want to wake us racers by ringing the doorbell in the early hours. He ended up sleeping in the car and coming in for breakfast. Thankfully I had switched my phone off as he tried wakening me to let him in. He didn’t want to waken Jim as he was getting up very early to cook breakfast. No worries for me who was racing the next day LOL. I had a bowl of Alpen and then a full fry washed down with a glass of Orange. The fry probably wasn’t the best of ideas before a race but I knew it was going to be a long day. We all met in the beach car park and got our final race prep sorted. Bikes, food, water and instructions checked. Last look at town names and maps. I had a small map I took with me as I didn’t want to carry a full A4 laminated map. Turns out I never used it as the route was well marked on the roads. We walked up over the sand dunes and lined up on the beach for the first leg.
Leg 1 Beach Run: Enniscronie Strand 5km
The time was now 7:13 and we used our electronic dibber to start our times and started the run up the beach. Into a head wind the pace started fairly quick. I was feeling good and going well, so just kept as close to the front runners as I could. The sand got a lot softer around the half way point and slowed everyone a bit. Round the flag and back along the beach to the sand dunes and the check point dibber. The beach run was supposed to be 5km but most reckon it was more. I quickly changed from my Salomon Speedcross2 trail shoes into my cycling shoes and jumped onto the bike.
Leg 2 Road Cycle: Enniscronie – Ballinamore 108km
My Vitus Dark Plasma Road bike was sitting prepped and ready to go. We travelled out of Enniscrone heading in the direction of Sligo. We took a small country road to start with. It was perfect for getting the legs opened up and getting us into race mode. I started fairly quickly and could feel myself getting slightly out of my comfort zone. I remember thinking this is a two day race relax breath and pace yourself. I started breathing better when I relaxed a bit but still was keeping the same pace. My legs were feeling good and the only pain I had was in my back. As I warmed up a bit the pain eased off. I tried to catch the wheel of a couple of riders but they were riding very fast in their team. Then another pair passed by but I missed that pull as well. I didn’t want to bust myself so early on. The third group to pass I got on and it helped get my breathing back and feel even more relaxed. That was until the rider behind clipped my wheel and went down. I stopped with him and got him gathered to his feet. Ian stopped as well and they said for me to go on. I went up the road feeling terrible for the guy. At such an early stage of the race to take such a heavy fall. Thankfully the fall didn’t stop him and he finished the race. At this stage I was isolated the competitors behind weren’t gaining on me and the competitors in front weren’t easing any. I just got my head down and kept turning the pedals passing through the towns of Easkey – Dromore West – Templeboy – Beltra – Ballysadare – Collooney. The first check point was in Ballygawley. I got a fresh water bottle some food and a banana. Ivan shouted to push on and eat on the move. This fast transition tactic really helped as I kept my momentum and pace and didn’t get that tired feeling at any point. After the first checkpoint I was passed by two teams from the London Tri club. I sat with them for a bit but they slowly eased in front. Then I caught them again and stayed with them until they slowed to let one of them stop for the call of nature. I pedal hard on up the road knowing I was feeling good. The bike was going so well a really smooth bike to pedal and comfortable. As this was a new bike I hadn’t covered this distance on it before. It was a baptism of fire so to speak but what a ride. Smooth, comfortable and had me smiling all the way through the remaining towns of Geevagh – Keadew –Drumshambo I was passed again by the London Tri club who were going well in their groups. I knew we were nearing the transition when we turned off the main road onto the kingfisher cycle trail. This was a small lane running alongside the canal. Turning into Transition the Marshalls warned of a slippery cattle grid so I hopped of and just ran the bike in. I dibbed the check point, swapped shoes and got on my spray deck and buoyancy aid.
Ivan had the hydration pack in the pocket on the buoyancy aid which meant I could drink as I paddled. The pockets filled with food for the long 27.5km paddle. I had never paddled this distance before so it was all going to be new to me.
Leg 3 Kayak: Ballinamore – Ballyconnell 27.5km
It was a short run across the locks and down to the boat which Ivan had ready. I was very lucky to get the loan of this boat from fellow competitor Peter Cole. It would really help me on what I described as one of my weakest disciplines of the race. We got the boat in the water I hopped in and got comfortable. We knew it wasn’t far to the next lock so there was no need for the spray deck just yet. I passed one other competitor at the start. I paddled the first section quite tense and could feel my shoulders and arms getting sore. On arriving at the first lock we got the boat out and ran it down to the other side. I hopped in with no feeling of cramp at this stage. Ivan had a tough time at this stage last year so I was glad to have his support helping me along the way knowing how I was feeling. Again this next section was all on the canal so no need for the spray deck yet. Ivan shouted “remember to use the torso” I took a while to settle in to the paddle. As I got more relaxed and started paddling with the correct technique the pain went away and I started to enjoy it a lot more. When the sun came out I even managed a smile. I’m sure if anyone had seen me paddling along on my own grinning from ear to ear they would have thought I was nuts. They probably would have been right after all I am racing across Ireland. It was one of the moments in the race that it hit me what I was doing and how lucky I am to be able to do such a thing. At the next Lock gate Ivan was getting ready to get into the car and drive off. He had helped other teams and had a slight memory loss thinking I had already gone through. Thankfully he spotted me and got down in time to help. As I hopped in again I got the spray deck on for the paddle across Garadice Lough. The wind was on our back so the waves were helping us at times. Still slightly on our side which made for an interesting paddle across. I had a few wobbly moments in gusty winds with waves hitting the boat at the wrong time. I aimed for Church Island and on passing it spotted Ian who was in the water for assistance should anyone need it. I then crossed the remainder of lough Garadice to Haughtons Shore Passing Marty Lennon just before the check point. I got out and dibbed while Ivan turned the boat. Some food for my pockets and I was away again. Having past Marty and another competitor in the canal I pushed on as hard as I could go without burning up. Ivan had told me there was another boat not far in front. This was my motivation and target. There was another couple of small lough crossing and the second being the worst as the waves were hitting side on. I think this speeded me up to get of the lough and into the river again. I was just catching friend and fellow Soloist Enda Reynolds at the last lock gates. This lock was a nightmare in the big boat. It was hard to get close to the steps as the lock wall was in front. I managed to get out but took a bit of cramp. I ran slowly to the other side and it eased up. This side was again the same awkward step angles and hard to get into the boat. I paddled on and caught Enda at the next straight. Passing him I got the head down and tried to make as much ground as I could because I knew he would be strong on the final bike leg. I had no idea of distance but this stretch seemed to go on and on. Eventually we turned into Ballyconnell and got out at the slip way. Quick transition changing into my cycling shoes. I knew I was on the final leg and glad to be out of the boat.
Leg 4 Road Cycle: Ballyconnell – Share Centre, Lisnaskea 17km
The thought of 17km on the road bike was heaven after the last leg of the kayak stage. I was either sitting in the kayak wrong or I was tense as one bum cheek was extremely sore. As I pedalled hard up the road I could feel it easing out. I had no idea who was in front or how far Enda was behind but I got the head down and give it my all to the finish. There was a few times I started to doubt myself in the directions but kept telling myself I haven’t seen any road markings to tell me to turn. The brown signs for the Share Centre were a welcome sight and I dibbed for the final time. Day 1 Complete I headed straight to the centre for a leg rub which helped a lot. After a shower and a big glass of recovery High5 4:1 it was time to go for dinner.
We all met up in a hotel in Lisnaskea for some much needed food and then the race briefing for Day 2. Pasta, Turkey, Ham, Stuffing, Potatoes and Veg. I took a bit of everything washed down with some Iced water and a Dioralyte for desert to try and replace the salts I lost during the race. Day two briefing was again short and to the point. Something I need to work on if I want people to read my blogs. Is anyone still reading at this point? Probably not! Aw well I’ve started so I’ll finish. Early night and getting into bed I put on a pair of compression skins to hopefully help the recovery of my legs.
Day two would be a staggered start with the slowest competitors from day one starting first. My start time was 7:15 so I got up early to get some breakfast. I had toast with nutella and ready break then some orange juice and cod liver oil capsules and pain killers to try and ease the slight pain in my knees.
Day 2/Leg 1 Road cycle: Share Centre Lisnaskea – Rostrevor 123km
On the start line we would dib then run or ride across the grass and dib again on exiting the share centre. A big day lay ahead and this was well into unchartered territory for me because I am used to one day events. The weather wasn’t great a light rain but it was warm enough so the rain kept me cool. The two riders in front of me were Enda Reynolds and Marty Lennon both very quick on the bike. I knew if Enda caught Marty I would have no hope of catching them. It turned out they rode most of it on their own like me anyway. I just got into a nice pace controlled my breathing and tried to stay relaxed. I pushed on the hills and pushed harder on the descents using any flat sections to recover. Again the bike felt great after so long in the saddle on Day one. I didn’t know what to expect on day two but I have to say I was comfortable. The weather wasnt great and with light rain and a humid feel my sunglasses kept steaming up. This was really getting to me and a few times they almost went over the hedge. When Ivan pulled up along side the sunglasses were flung into the car. Such a small thing to get annoyed about but getting rid of them glasses made me feel a lot better. The guys behind me were all in the top ten. So I was expecting to get picked off by them pretty quickly. Town after town past and I was still in front this give me real encouragement. We passed through Lisnaskea – Maguiresbridge – Fivemiletown – Clougher – Augher and Aughnacloy. I knew with every pedal stroke I was closer to the finish. After the Dib checkpoint in Caledon I hit a real bad spell. Climbing a small hill I felt like I was going to stop I was going so slow. The vision dipped for a second and I got out the saddle and pushed up the hill. The next section of road to Armagh was a blur. I can remember thinking I was a long way from Armagh. What felt like a blink when I looked up I seen the sign for Armagh. I couldn’t believe it and thankfully just started to come round in Armagh as the hill out was a total nightmare. I was out of the saddle the whole way up with legs threatening to cramp. Thankfully I got to the top with no cramping and got a breather on the hill down the other side. It was a tough run in to Newry from here. The road had a series of climbs and descents that really made the legs work. I started to drink more and more of the Xtreme Zero energy drink. I think this really help because I had been thinking about eating at the Gosford support point but instead I pulled in threw a bottle at Ivan (Under arm so it wasn’t aimed at him like the sunglasses weren’t either) he handed me another bottle while still on the move. I was hooking it into the bottle cage and near took Ivan out. I’m sure he was thinking I had it in for him since he kept me awake on Friday night worrying about the poor soul. I got away without knocking Ivan down much to his delight. I rolled back out onto the main road I got back up to speed. It was shortly after this I started to get caught by the other riders. I was in some way annoyed at getting caught but then I thought I am nearly finished and am only getting caught now. Rather than letting it get to me I got out the saddle and onto the wheel of the another guy that caught me. It didn’t look like he wanted to let me draft him as he moved right across to the verge. Fair enough I thought and got back out onto the road pushing on at a similar pace. I was aware of a group coming at speed so I got the gears right ready to get in the wheel I heard Peter Cromie shout get in he give me a bit of a hand on the back and I got on the back. Peters team mate Peter Cole and solo leader Antoine Rivoire were in this group along with one other guy. There was a really fast descent down to the ring road around Newry. We past the other riders that had past me further back. They tried to get on but at the pace we were traveling it was very difficult. Normally in the draft it is a good chance to get a breather but the pace of the two Peters was brutal. Having ridden all morning on my own I decided to let them go. I was going to burn myself out trying to keep that pace and with the mountain run still to come I watched them pedal of with ease. Kenny Short caught me again and we both eased back into a more manageable pace through Newry. When we reached the Warrenpoint road Kenny eased away from me again. I could feel my pace dropping but fought hard to reach Killbroney Car park. The last wee climb up to the Dibber was the first time I was in the small ring all day. Cycle over now for the run.
Day 2/Leg 2 Mountain Run: Rostrevor – Newcastle 32km Elevation Gain 3,325 ft
I took a break at this transition. It was the first time I stopped at a transition the whole race but I needed it. I changed from the cycle shoes to my Salomon Speedcross 2 trail shoes. Wiggling my toes to get a bit of life back into them and trying to make my feet as comfortable as I could. I had some pancakes with nuttella, orange juice, a banana and a couple of pain killers for my knees. My mate and Adventure racing wing man Andy Lyle had decided to come and run back to Newcastle with me. I was under strict instructions by Andy to leave him behind if I was feeling ok. No worries there as I couldn’t find my running legs at all at the start. We set of up the hill out of the kilbroney car park and followed the mourne way through rostrevor forest in the direction of Leitrim lodge. This section should have been the easiest being all on forestry roads but I couldn’t run more than 10 steps. I was both full with food that I rushed into me and totally knackered from the bike ride. I was running a bit walking a bit thinking to myself just keep moving. Every step forward was a step closer to the finish. On any descents I would run but on the climbs a fast walk was needed. After leaving Rostrevor forest we crossed a section of mountain trail and followed this to Leitrim lodge. We caught a female team and on passing exchanged a few pleasantries and words of encouragement to one and other. This was the furthest I had run on this leg and the softer ground was a lot easier to run on. We past the Support crews who were cheering us on at the Leitrim lodge car park and then it was onto the road for 2.5km. Dermot Mathers of the Newry runners and his team mate passed us on the road and seemed to be going really well. We all exchanged a few words of encouragement and kept going. This section was very sore on the legs after getting into a good rhythm on the softer ground. We reached the base of Hen Mountain and followed the signs back of the road to meet up with the mourne way. From here the ground was very boggy and we started to climb and traverse around Hen Mountain. We crossed the river and climbed back onto the road for a long climb up to Spelga dam Car Park. I was greeted by my sister Paula and niece Sarah. It was great to see the girls and Sarah jumped into my arms. If I still had the energy to lift her and run I was going to finish this. Ivan had the usual food and drink ready for me to choose from. Sarah give me a polo mint to help me run faster she said. I don’t know what’s in polo mints these days but it worked. After a slow climb to the top of the road we took a left turn heading down hill to fofanny dam. Two of the London tri Team had decided to cut out the run and instead cycle back from Rostrevor to Newcastle. They passed us on the descent down to the back of the dam. I let gravity help and got moving along the road section. We turned of the road onto the trail that took us around the dam a really nice single track section that took us along the base of Slieve Meelmore Mountain. It was at this point the Polo mint kicked in. I got a second wind and started to feel a bit better. I passed a Solo female competitor and we discussed the check points and the route. After this we started to meet more and more walkers. One group of young girls tried to jump across a boggy section right in front of me. One girl stepped out of her shoe as it got stuck. As I was crossing I pulled her shoe free and set it up beside her. Good deed done I hoped this would help me for the final push. It was around this point that I noticed Andy wasn’t behind me anymore. I shouted back that he would get a breather on the climb up trassey track. I thought I would be back to a walk to the top of Hares gap but the tougher the climb the better I felt. I dibbed at the check point and started the climb with another competitor. This guy was still going strong having injured his leg and I noticed the night before was wearing an ice pack. It is this type of determination that really helps me. Seeing others push on encourages me too. I spotted another few competitors in front and they were my next target. I caught these guys and discussed the best way up hare’s gap. Ivan and I had discussed this prior to the race. I had also taken the right hand side while up this way on the mountain bike. The middle section is very rough and boggy while if following the miners track you have most of the climb done on better terrain. I was always going this way and said it was their call to follow or go the middle. I got onto the trail and followed it to the gate on the gap. As the gate was open and I was going well I totally forgot to get the number on the steps. Rather than set up a dibber on the mountain we were told to take a note of the number on the steps both here and at the saddle below Slieve Donard. I could see I was catching the lads from Newry Runners. I also wondered why the group looked so big. When I caught up with them it turned out the other runners were friends of the two newry runners and just up for the last leg. The brandy pad was an amazing run. The weather wasn’t the greatest my body was tired but with the scenery you could do nothing but smile. I asked if they had remembered to get the number and they had number three they shouted. As we ran in a group we caught up with another couple of competitors just before the castles. I spotted the trail leading to the saddle and got climbing. I don’t remember seeing markers on the trail but maybe they were slightly further along the brandy pad as this section has numerous trails leading up to the steps. I reached the steps first and again bounced over forgetting the number. I sat on the other side and cleared my shoes of the small stones from the path. I shouted back for the number and on I went. The way down was tough. I wanted to go quick but every step felt like the legs were ready to go at the knees. I followed the lads who had the crash on day one asking if the shoulder was ok he was grand and going well. This was another reason for me to just get on with it. He took a big spill on day 1 and was still pushing on to the end. This section was very rocky and I was watching every step. When we reached the forest Kenny Short passed me again. I wasn’t sure what had happened if he had taken longer at transition or took a wrong turn but he was going quickly and I tried to stick with him to get me home. Finally we had reached Donard car park and I knew this was so close to the end. Crossing the road to the sea front Dermot and the other lads passed me again. Two of them ran along with me encouraging me to keep it up and lap up the congratulations from members of the public watching us finish. With the finish line in sight I went for it. In my head I was sprinting but it was probably a fast run if even.
The one face in the crowd that made me run quicker was Marga. It was so great to see her waiting on the finish line to welcome me home. My Dad, Sister Paula and Nieces had also come down. Which was a really nice way to finish what can only be described as my toughest but most enjoyable racing experience yet. Rowan and Ian event Directors from 26 Extreme congratulated me with a hand shake. Ivan was also there to welcome me home. What an experience, what a challenge. As the hoody says One Island, One Weekend, One Hell of a Race. It really was one hell of a race.I would like to firstly say thanks to Marga for all her encouragement and help in the build up to this race. Even if she did say “You’re going to Die” when she first seen the route maps. Cheers Marga. Next is a massive thanks to Ivan Park from Causeway Coast Adventure Racing. Ivan was a brilliant help as he knew what I was feeling at each stage having completed the race last year. Ivan’s Adventure race series had also helped me train for this race. I know without the series this year I may not have been in such good shape at the end of the race. Ivan also motivated me at each transition keeping me going strong. Next on the list is Peter Cole big thanks for the boat and the words of encouragement through the race. Also thanks to my mate Andy Lyle for the encouragement and company at the start of the run. After I had pushed on Andy had followed another team of competitors. Unfortunately they all went the wrong way missing the turn at for the saddle at slieve Donard. This took them down the far side to Bloody bridge. Andy having ran more than he ever ran got a lift back to the finish line. The other competitors ran the extra 6miles around the coast road to Newcastle. Hats off to you all for the final run guys as if 20miles wasn’t enough for you. Thanks to all the fellow competitors for the craic along the way you all made it a great race.
Last but not least to 26 Extreme Rowan, Ian and all the helpers. Without you guys we wouldn’t have a race so thanks again for what truly was an epic race. Also for the Hoodies which are a great way to remember the race… Until Next year and we do it all again.
PAIR WINNERS: Peter Cole and Peter Cromie
SOLO WINNER: Antoine Rivoire
I finished 7th in the Solo Category and 9th Overall. Over the moon with that result.