Helly Hansen Killlarney Adventure Race

 

If you have ever wanted to take part in an adventure race, then the Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race might be the one for you.  It combines running, cycling and kayaking in some of the most spectacular scenery that Ireland has to offer and trust us when we tell you, they have some truly breath-taking scenery around almost every corner.

 

Helly Hansen Killlarney Adventure Race Glorious Scenery

 

For those that are feeling adventurous there is a choice of three distances: Sport 27km, Pro 60km and Expert 70km.  Without a doubt our intrepid reporter, Anna Railton, is a little unhinged (in truth by the time you have read her blog you will know that she is as mad as a box of frogs!) and perhaps embarking on the Expert route, when she was up to her neck in finishing her PhD and so unable to train, might have been a little ambitious, but she tells us it was an incredible experience and she would do all it again in a heartbeat.

 

She was lucky enough to train and compete in a variety of super technical gear from Helly Hansen including tights, footwear and of course the very best base layers money can buy – we know, we’ve tested quite a few and they are so good we have chosen to race in them all season.

 

So here is the 2014 Helly Hansen Killlarney Adventure Race in Anna’s words…

 


 

For some reason or another I was offered and accepted a media spot on Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race in County Kerry, Ireland at the beginning of October.  There were three lengths of race I could do: the 27km, 60km or 70km.  The shortest had 9km of running, the next 17km, then the big one was 27km.  Oh, and this running was up mountains.

 

Naturally, having not run for years, I picked the longest option.  I mean, none of the others would be hard enough, right?  I didn't want to be weak.

 

Helly Hansen Killlarney Adventure Race

 

I had stopped racing my bike about a month into the season (at the end of May) as I quickly came to the conclusion that to race you needed (a) time (b) effort (c) money and (d) some mental capacity to spare, all of which I am and was sorely lacking as I tried to finish my PhD.  I knew I would have some residual fitness but 27km of running up and down hills on rough ground was full on non-blaggable, so this was going to need some training.  

 

Therefore, in mid-June, I started running.  I barely believed it myself to be honest.  My past experiences with running have all been along the lines of:

"yay running, I will do LOTS of running"

*runs 10 miles*

*catastrophically breaks self*

*vows to never run again*

*repeat annually*

 

This time I resolved to do it sensibly (it turns out that I have actually learnt something after 25 years of living) and build up the mileage SLOWLY.  The first few times I went out were accompanied by horrific wheezing.  It was truly embarrassing for someone who was still reasonably fit to be coughing up bits of lung after 1.5 miles of running (not even up-hill by this stage) but I kept at it and by the time I made it to Ireland I had done a few runs of more than 10 miles and felt like I had got myself to a position where I wasn't going to injure myself in the attempt.  

 

My ambitions were reasonably modest:

  1. Finish
  2. Do not stop
  3. Do not injure self
  4. Do not die
  5. Do not come last

 

Race day seemed to come around very quickly and after some last minute liberating of (very small) bananas from the hotel breakfast, I was as ready as I was going to be and it was time to get on with it.  At this point I began wondering about my decision to choose the longest route…

 

The first leg was a 10km "warm up" run up and down a hill.  We started in waves of about 50 and everyone was bunched together, so you had to run at other people's pace.  That and I was hardly in any condition to work myself to the front of the pack.  It will come as no surprise to you to learn that I run very slowly uphill – this is in fact a very good metaphor for the entirety of my 2014! – admittedly, if I hadn't been a good stone overweight, it might have been a bit easier but such is life.

 

Helly Hansen Killlarney Adventure Race running - this is NOT Anna!

 

Gravity sucks I thought as I struggled on to the top then threw myself downhill, back down the way I came.  Then GRAVITY RULES!  It turns out that I go down-hill very fast indeed and actually overtook people at this point.  Suddenly it was huge FUN!

 

Next came the 35km bike leg, which for me was on a trusty rental bike.  I decided to go for the style of riding known as "don't break your collar bone or else you'll never finish your PhD".  This meant that I was being passed by people who were decidedly more gung-ho than me, but once on the flat and with a bit of a headwind kicked, I passed them all again. Once again it was FUN!

 

When my eyes were not on the road watching for gravel, mud or sheep, the views were simply stunning.  Tourism Ireland had even organised to have a rainbow for when I got to the top of the valley, which was nice of them.  Around this point I realised I had been going for a good couple of hours and hadn't eaten anything yet, but whatever.  I felt totally fine!

 

Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race cycling in amazing scenery

 

The ride finished in a field with lots of crash barriers in it and bikes everywhere.  I left the bike and started to stuff my face with food as I walked (yeah, sorry!) down to the kayak leg… OMG!  It was my "oatcake transition" and sadly I can't run and eat multiple packets of oatcakes at the same time.  In case you’re interested, these were stored in my rowing onesie "snack pouch" like some sort of oatcake marsupial.  There was a free cereal bar in the race pack, so for good measure I ate that too.  Honestly, it was the most well prepared transition you have ever seen and everyone within a five mile radius was in awe of this display of slick professionalism.

 

The kayak leg (out and round an island and back) was a welcome break for my legs and a chance to talk to a nice Irish nurse who was being my stoker (they were two man kayaks).  He however was weak (or sensible?) and had opted for the 60km route, which reminded me that I had a 17km run up a bloody mountain still to do.  So I got out of the kayak, wished my kayak-stoker good luck, ate a micro stolen-from-breakfast banana and started running.  Naturally I immediately got the worst stitch known to mankind.  Then the path went from "flat field through transition" to "cliff face" and I started to get into trouble.  This was three hours in.

 

Helly Hansen Killlarney Adventure Race kayak

 

I was pretty much already at my limit walking up this hill so I decided on a strategy of "run on the flat, route march uphill".  On and on it went.  Steps turned to a nice trail through woodland.  Nice trail through woodland turned to mud with some rocks in it at 25% gradient and my pace slowed to a crawl.  I ate some more things, felt awful and kept climbing upwards.  The only slightly reassuring thing was that everyone else I saw was walking by this point too (the elite entrants had gone in the first wave and were now hours ahead).  "It's only 45 minutes to the top" someone said.  I think my reply was a 1000 mile stare.

 

The path finally started to flatten out but I still couldn't progress from my death march trudge to running.  I'd try, then peter out after a few steps.   All my food was now gone and I still had to get to the checkpoint at the top then get down again.  Eventually, I rounded a nondescript corner and there was the final checkpoint.  I turned round and tried to run back down-hill.

 

Sadly by this point as you may well have guessed a very very deep “bonk” had set in and my brain no longer had the sugar that 5-hours-ago Railton had had to enable it to make the quick decisions needed to run downhill quickly over rough ground.

 

I was in the "fuzzy vision" section of sugar-bonking and was therefore going to have to walk all the way back downhill too, lest I act an infringement of one or more of my targets, specifically "do not injure yourself" and "do not die".  Still, there were stunning views over the lake I'd kayaked across a few hours ago, it wasn't raining and the memory of those micro-bananas stolen from breakfast were still fresh.  Can you get sugar from the memory of a banana?  

 

Eventually, (very eventually) I hit the woodland trial again.  Then, finally, I reached the field with the bikes in, three hours after I left it. There were not many bikes left, I thought sadly as I found mine. Still, there would be food soon.  Just one little 6km cycle and then there would be food… so off I set in the direction of the finish line and FOOD…

 

Helly Hansen Killlarney Adventure Race start/finish

 

And suddenly there it was, the finish line and it had a table with bottles of protein milk on it (and some other stuff, but I only cared about the milk).  I drank a litre of milk, bloated to the size of a house then collapsed in a heap.  I realised that someone had given me a hot food voucher, so I swapped that for FOOD, inhaled that too, then collapsed in a heap again.  Then I went to sleep...  I think in my room... I’m not hugely sure to be honest and I didn't care.

 

At some point I also washed my trainers in the bath, stuffed them full of promotional newspaper and fell asleep again.  I am really sorry to the person who had to clean that bathroom.  This was sadly very necessary as past-stupid Railton had not only failed to pack enough food, but she had only brought one pair of shoes to Ireland...

 

Things I learned from this trip:

  • Mental breaks from PhD doing physically strenuous things = GOOD
  • Entering a race with 27km of fell-running in while a stone overweight and not particularly fit = BAD
  • Taking enough food with you is super important
  • Eating said food is even more important
  • The west coast of Ireland is completely epic and I am definitely going back again

 

To be fair I did finish about 30th out of 60 women doing that 70km route, but it wasn't fast and it wasn't pretty.  I did however finish it without any lasting injuries to myself and I rediscovered that amazing feeling of pushing yourself that bit harder.

 

Helly Hansen Killlarney Adventure Race FOOD!

 

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