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XC Marathon Championships – 18th September 2011

David F leads a posse through some fast Ballyhoura singletrack

[Report by David Conway]

It’s 3011AD. A bog body is found curled up under an ancient mechanical device. The archives identify the machine as a mountain bike. On the body’s tattered clothing a small equilateral triangle containing the number 795 is barely discernible. The archaeologist whispers in awe  “The legend is true, there really were such heroes.”

That could have been the case had things ended differently. Here’s what really happened.

David F, David T, Barry and I headed off to Ballyhoura in the big blue van yesterday for the 2011 National Marathon Champs. Only DF had done this before but his report from last year had convinced us to give it a lash. We were under no illusions, it was gong to be a tough day.

The organisation was excellent from the get-go, with easy parking and sign-on and helpful marshals quickly setting the tone for the remainder of the day.

As we lined up at the start I had one thing in my mind. Barry had revealed his strategy of sticking to my wheel or DF’s wheel for most of the race and then going for broke towards the end. My counter-strategy was to get out of sight at the start and stay there. It’s hard to chase when you can’t see who you’re chasing!

Bang on time at 11:30am we were off and immediately into a long fire-road climb. I was startled by the early pace  – this was to be a 65km marathon, what was the hurry? Anyway I stuck with it and soon realised that just like any other MTB race, early position going into the singletrack is important, especially for anyone with notions of winning!

After about half an hour things settled down. The fast lads and slow lads had disappeared to their respective ends of the fields and I began to see who I was really racing against. Had some good battles, notably with a couple of lads from Unlaoised and Lakeside Wheelers. The course had everything, long fire-road climbs, fast flowing Ballyhoura singletrack, muddy heath-land and rocky descents. The mud was plentiful, and some of the puddles really should have had lifeguard stations. Sounds like hell but for me it was MTB Nirvana, I was having a great time!

I had managed to get far enough ahead of the lads so that I couldn’t see them behind me and I was feeling good on the bike, climbing well and almost floating down some of the man-made trails. In MTB there are fleeting moments when everything just clicks and I had more than a few of those moments yesterday.

Of course in a 65km race it isn’t all plain sailing. There were 3 very well placed food stops on the course at approximately 15km, 35km and 50km. I had enough of everything on board to make it to the 35km stop where I dismounted and took my leisurely time. Big mistake.

While I was there faffing around I saw Richard Lynch from Epic passing through and grabbing his bottle without even dismounting the bike. Holy c**p I thought, I’m usually well ahead of Richard in NPS races. By the time I was finished messing Richard was well ahead of me up a cruelly long fire road. In due course I caught up and exchanged a few pleasantries before forging on ahead. Made good time to the next feed station and stopped again. More faffing (lesson not yet learned) and sure enough Richard breezes by again grabbing his bottle on the fly. I got going and passed Richard once again but by now I was slowing down and didn’t find it so easy to shake him off. He was the wise old tortoise and I was the poxy hare.

Finally I managed to shake him, or so I thought. I was fairly well ahead in one of the final sections of singletrack when I mounted one of the famous Ballyhoura boardwalks, wooden structures traversing areas too boggy for standard trails. They are treacherously slippery when wet and require 100% concentration. Well I was tired. I was only about 5 metres from the end of the boardwalk when disaster struck and I found myself teetering on the edge, looking down into a black stinking boghole of  uncertain depth. I couldn’t recover, the unthinkable became the unavoidable and down I went. It was a big fall, the boardwalk was about 3 feet high at that point. I landed hard on my right arm and then the bike landed very hard on my head. Luckily the water was only about 6 inches deep but it stank to high heaven. As I was thrashing around in the puddle Richard the tortoise passed me again. Gentleman that he is, he paused to make sure I was OK before disappearing down the trail, never to be caught again. I was a bit shaken but thankfully nothing broken so I got back up and made it to the finish without further incident.

I wasn’t waiting too long before DF arrived with similar stories to my own, highs and lows, but mostly highs I think. We were waiting a long time for Barry and were actually beginning to worry when he arrived with the sorry tale of his misguided wanderings. He had missed a sign and ended up doing an additional 10km. David T arrived and we all set off home pretty pleased with ourselves having risen to one of the toughest MTB challenges on the calendar.

Lesson 1 of the day? Be the tortoise, not the hare. Stay on the bike and keep churning.

Lesson 2? Never, ever forget your helmet. If I had not been wearing my helmet, the bog body story might have come true.

All in all a great day’s racing, the most enjoyable of the year for me. Highly recommended. Well done to the organisers, Team Ballyhoura.

Results and Photos

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5 Responses

  1. ha ha fair play lads! Racing 795 always have the best race stories of any club, sounded like a great event.
    Fergal

  2. A great day out, made better by finally managing to get to a finish in front of you pair! In fairness you had me beaten until you decided to do some bog snorkling – once I’d established that you were ok I did smile just a little!!

    • Richard, I had a feeling you were quietly enjoying my misfortune 🙂
      In fairness you rode a very smart consistent race. I certainly learned from it so watch out next year! Cheers, DC.

  3. […] race after many months with a dodgy back. My goal was to at least match and hopefully improve on last year’s performance. Sunday dawned, bright and sunny. The Tullywagon picked me up bang on time and before we knew it we […]

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