Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Ireland 8 - 24hr Rogaine Ireland

One word. OMG!

We made our way on Thursday and Friday from the lower West of Ireland and through to County Wicklow via the town of Wicklow and into the Laragh area. Mom and I were kindly hosted by Chris, who I met at Abu Dhabi in 2010. He and Brian opened their home to us and we were made to feel most welcome. My rogaine teammate, Sean, lives 500 metres down the road.

I met up with Sean on Friday afternoon - we'd been chatting on email from about a month back. We headed to his home to meet his kittens (mom and I are missing our kitten) and met Sean's dog too. I hear Sean speaking to his dog and asked, "Is her name also Lisa?". He hadn't quite joined the dots before that and with this realisation admitted that she'd been named after the cartoon character Lisa Simpson.

Sean, Lisa and Lisa
This bunch all live in the beautiful Laken area. We drove from Laragh on the Wicklow Gap road to get there. It would turn out that the start location for the race was just off this road, in a forest clearing.

Looking back down the Wicklow Gap road towards the Glendalough National Park and town of Laragh (not visible). Sean and I would drop through these forests in the wee hours of Sunday morning during the race.
So. The rogaine.

My experience in Bangor on the trail was a good one because I had a half idea of what I could expect. At the race my education was expanded as I learned about bog, peat, heather, grass tussocks and baby heads - the latter being a kind of extreme form of grass tussocks. 

I did expect wet, I did expect rain. I did expect muddy and slippery.  I did expect temperatures to be cool to cold.

I didn't expect driving wind, rain, 30-meter visibility and bone chilling temperatures on mountain tops. I didn't expect to be dwarfed by peat 'cut-outs' that scar the landscape all over the place. I didn't expect to land on my bottom as many times as I did ;)

The race started at 14h00 on Saturday in a light drizzle. Sean and I spent about 25 minutes plotting the checkpoint locations from coordinates and planning our route. Sean suggested hitting the mountain area in the South first as the terrain was harder going. There was also a good points distribution down there.

Overall there were very few controls which meant that route choice between controls was reasonably open but also meant that the distances between controls was big and we were probably hitting controls every 90-minutes to 2.5 hours. Also, as there wasn't a large scattering, if you headed in an area you generally had to get what was there to make the effort worth while. I would have liked there to be more controls - the kick is finding the controls as much as planning a route between them and deciding what to get and what to leave.

Within minutes our feet were wet - as expected - and within 30-minutes we were quite wet. We did start out in our rain jackets anyway. We saw another two teams on the way to the first control, one of them on the way to the third (or second?) and then pretty much no one else for the rest of the race.

Sean approaching our first control. All controls were well placed and clearly visible on approach from at least 50-100 metres away, if not more.
At our first control (an orange corner peeking our behind Sean's back). The rain and wind started just after I took this and didn't let up until we descended the mountains after midnight. This may have been around 15h30.
From here it was up, up, up and my introduction to peat and baby heads. Nasty terrain for sure. Baby heads are rounded grass tussocks that have your feet working in all directions. It's hard work and good to get out of there.

About halfway up the mountain Sean and I were freezing. We stopped in the shelter of a peat cut-out to put our wind shells on over our thermal base layers and under our wind shells. That was a good move. We also put on gloves. Sean's hands were almost non-functional but improved quickly with gloves, which, even when wet kept out the wind and chill to keep our fingers warm.

By evening (as in time, not darkness) we were up on top of the mountains and the rain was coming down, the wind was crazy stuff and there was cloud all around. We couldn't see anything but the few metres ahead and occasionally a few shapes that turned out to be sheep looking quite ok in the nasty weather.

The descent from the first bunch of mountains was steep but took us from cold to forest-sheltered warmth. We'd been hoping to dry out our tights a bit before putting on rain pants but with no hope of dryness in sight we put them on. What a good decision and we really should have done so earlier (well, wouldn't have been possible in the wind and rain up top anyway). Despite the wet we were far warmer.

Up to another mountain top and more wind and rain but not as bad as that first, most southerly section. And then down into Glendalough. I'm not sure what time but would have been about 2am because first light wasn't that far off. We stopped under a shelter in a parking lot to change our soaked base layers for dry baselayers and that made a huge difference. We also needed to plan the next section of our route as we'd only planned the first half before setting off.

Warm and snug we hit the Wicklow Way, a hiking trail around this region. Halfway up I was cooking and needed to stop to remove a layer. Further up with daylight just starting to come through I needed to remove my wind shell from under my rain jacket. It looked to be a warmer day.

Locating another control on Sunday morning.
We only ran a little bit of the route overall - we trekked the rest. Sean said pre-race that he was quick on the downhills but not much good on the uphills. Well, he's good on all inclinations and really good over the terrain. I'm glad he was walking in front of me so he didn't see the number of times I slipped, slid, fell and plunged into the bog - immersed thigh-deep at times! I took a lot of strain on the ups, especially on Sunday morning. My thighs really got hammered by the cold on Saturday night and at one stage I started to feel my inner thighs cramping. Really weird as I very, very rarely get cramped muscles of any sort. I just kept steady putting one foot in front of the other. Luckily I didn't cramp but this definitely affected my muscles. Fine on the flats and downs but lethargic on the ups.

Beautiful light on Sunday morning. The sun peeked through and brought with it a dash of blue sky. Good news was little drizzle and mostly just wind. The control was a bit further down the stream from here.
Yay! Another control. 
We finished the rogaine in 23 hours, finishing comfortably and without pressure with an hour to go.

Sean left me to the map but as he knows most of the area pretty well I did defer to his experience and didn't have to focus on each and every route. He kept tabs on me; I kept tabs on him. It was a good balance.

We made a few bloopses that could have been a bit better but as Sean put it at the finish, "Well, I couldn't have done any better" to which I responded, "I couldn't have done any better either". We walked hard, we found most controls with little difficulty and our routes were fairly solid.

Our points tally was around 2700. Winning tally was just over 4000. This was a difference perhaps of four or five controls. Goodness! I have no idea how they got those controls too. Even if we'd been able to get another one we wouldn't have been able to get another two or more. Well done winners!

The terrain out here is totally challenging. Every step on or off a path. Paths are wet and sloshy and can be ankle or calf deep mud too so they're not always easy going. Off the paths... I cannot even begin to describe bog, peat and the peat cut-outs. And the heather - stepping over it and working through it is really tiring. The baby's heads... wicked on the feet and ankles. Lots of stumbling if you lose focus for a second.

Saturday's weather really wasn't pleasant but this is the kind of place where the dash of sunlight on Sunday morning and when the mist/cloud shifted to reveal spectacular valleys and scenery makes up for 12 hours of cold and lashings. 

In the last few hours of the race the undersides of my feet were tired from the multi-directional movement they'd been subjected to and my quads were tired but for the rest I was doing ok. I asked Sean, who plays on this terrain, whether his feet got tired after 24hrs out there or whether his feet were adapted to the vigours. I was delighted to hear that his feet also took strain after this long period of time out there - not just me!

At the finish we were warmly welcomed and there were hot drinks and we could make our own rolls with a variety of toppings on offer. Super to chat to other rogainers as they came in and sat around. I've found them all to be so warm and welcoming. Mom met us at the finish, catching us just after we got in.

Sunday night my legs were stiff already and I expected today (Monday) to be really bad. Self massages in the afternoon and before bed definitely helped and it is only when I get up after sitting for a while that I look in bad shape. I'm descending stairs backwards. Going up is fine. I don't think my legs are quite as stiff as after the HURT 100 in Hawaii a few years ago, so that's a good thing ;) I'll rub my legs down again tonight before bed.

This rogaine was a really great experience and I thoroughly enjoyed being out there with Sean. He came highly recommended and he was indeed worth this recommendation. We made a good team.

Although I wonder why anyone would knowingly subject themselves to this terrain, I'd probably do it again. Sure it is tough. Sure it is nasty. But it is also fun and one helluva experience. Conditions were unseasonable and the worst we could have had but being out there on Saturday night was a first for me in those conditions so it was pretty exciting too. I wouldn't wish peat cut-outs and baby heads on my worst enemy but I'd probably voluntarily slip and slide through them again. The overall experience was a very good one.

I'll post bits of map and our routes when I get back home (arriving home on Friday).

We're now visiting with mom's cousins just North of Dublin and will head through to the city tomorrow to look around and for an AR meet-up on Tuesday night in the city, kindly arranged by Ronan. I'm looking forward to it.

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