by Will Martin-Smith

This is not a running race report so if you are easily offended, please avert your eyes.

My brother-in-law, Conor signed me up for Quest Glendalough as a Christmas ‘present.’ Quest is a series of multisport or adventure races run across the country. The races tend to be a mixture of hill running, hilly cycling and kayaking. I think the organisers would prefer if the kayaking sections were hilly too but thankfully gravity gets a say in the course too. The Glendalough race is 59 km long, split into sections of 6km (cycle), 6km (run), 13km (cycle), 5km (run), 18km (cycle), 6km (run), 1km (kayak) and a final 4km run. The mathematicians amongst you may note that this only adds up to 59km, but they somehow managed to sneak in an extra 1km along the way.

My plan was to coast the cycling sections and let my running background do all the hard work in the race but alas, a series of illnesses including Covid, and various niggles in early 2022 left me overly fresh and under trained. No matter I told myself, confident in my ability to tough it out. However, worrying reports of serious road work being done by Conor all over his home county of Laois planted the seed of doubt.

Beautiful weather the weekend before set expectations too high and the Saturday morning of the race was cold and drizzly as we set off on the bikes at 8.15 from Laragh GAA Club. The cold day didn’t dampen the mood and there was plenty of friendly chat flowing amongst competitors as we made our way up the steep Shay Elliot climb between Glendalough and Glenmalure. Once we reached the top, it was off the bikes and on to a beautiful 6km trail run to the top of Cullentragh Mountain. Having started at the back of the second wave, I had passed a  good few on the cycle and managed to pick a few more off on the way back down the hill to the bikes.

Once back out on the bikes, we headed steeply downhill towards Glenmalure but, most unfairly, the 800 metres downhill before Glenmalure Cross had to be run alongside your bike for safety reasons. Having worked hard to get up the hill, being denied the sweet pleasure of a downhill section was hard to take, especially as the next section was another long pull up Slieve Maan. On this climb, cycling muscles not worked since September 2021 screamed all the way to the top. This time though, the descent was glorious. Nose down under the handlebars and level with my knees, my Garmin told me I hit a top speed of 65kmph. This is a fine way to travel!

But as we all know, downhill sections are dearly bought, and I was soon in the hurt zone again finishing the second cycle uphill to the bottom of Croaghnamoira Mountain where we had a date with the second run of the day. Lactic acid, fatigue and a steep incline conspired to relegate this run to a trudge as we ascended a brutal 250m in 1.5km. The route to the top was dead straight leaving no room for mind games or tricks to allow you mentally break the climb into manageable chunks.

Below is an image of Conor and I taking a breather before starting the climb up Croaghnamoira.

Once at the top, the downhill section allowed me to shake some of the fatigue out of my legs and I  picked off a few of the hardy souls who had passed me on the way up. Back to my bike again and I set off on the final cycle at a good clip. This was an undulating section passing through lovely scenery which was a pleasant distraction from my still-protesting thigh muscles.

In the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, all roads lead to Laragh, and I soon rolled back into to the GAA Club to take on the last hill run which zig-zagged up the lower slopes of Derrybawn Mountain before dropping back to the valley floor at the upper lake for the kayak section. You take your chances here in your shipmate and, luckily, I teamed up with a chatty and useful paddler. This made for a most enjoyable paddle in the sunshine through the dark waters of the lough under St Kevin’s Bed. After the race I spoke to a man whose kayak was the only one to capsize into the freezing waters so it could definitely have gone a different way for us!

Once out of the kayak, we had a short 4km run along the Green Road back to the finish. This was mostly flat and uneventful with lots of walkers shouting encouragement. Back at the GAA Club, there was one final sting in the tail as we were sent on a lap around the pitch before the final dash to the line. All in all, a great day out!

I didn’t see any other Sportsworld Athletes so the only time to report is my own in a 4.41.30, a mere heartbeat behind the winner Shaun Stewart (3.12.31 and 93 places above me). Modesty dictates that I cannot disclose whether Conor beat me home or not.

Race reporter Will on less competitive day when he had time to take photos.