National Marathon Championships – Ballyhoura

After racing in Plymouth we had a 3 hour drive to Bristol on Saturday night after the race, the plane was delayed 2 hours, I missed the bus from Dublin airport and finally got home at 1am absolutely exhausted. Got up at 6.30am for a 3 hour drive down to Ballyhoura for the Irish mtb Marathon championships – great race preparation. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to go but decided that if my legs felt in anyway functioning I’d at least try and get around the course. We were in for a single loop of 60km with 1500m of climbing so not easy in itself.

ready to start

Warming up I felt tired but able to ride, and after the disaster the day before I suddenly found a sense of purpose, I was going to win this thing if it killed me, I had to salvage something from the weekend. I was testing some compression wear before the race from new WXC team sponsor compressport and can highly recommend it, it really seemed to help speeding up recovery. We set off up a long fireroad climb and as loads of over enthusiastic guys went shooting past I rode on Ciara McManus’s wheel, letting her set a steady pace. I moved in front but was careful not to get carried away, I decided riding conservatively and keeping it steady was the best option since I wasn’t sure how long my legs would last after yesterday.

the start

I started to pull away from Ciara and settled into a steady rhythm, concentrating on my own race. The course was a nice mixture of fireroad climbs, manmade trail centre singletrack, and rocky or boggy moorland tracks. I’m not normally a fan of trail centres but the first descent was great, super fast berms and jumps that really got the adrenaline flowing without using much energy – perfect for tired legs!

Some of the climbing was tough, technical rocky sections that required a lot of effort and seemed to go on for a long time. After about an hour of riding with the guys, Ciara suddenly appeared on my wheel out of nowhere on a climb. That scared me, I had to force myself to keep it steady rather than panicking and trying to shoot off. At the top I got ahead of a couple of guys so that I had a bit of a buffer, and then went hard on the descent to try and get away. I think I needed a kick up the bum and it meant I had to stay focused for the rest of the race. My one bit of good race preparation was to write on my handlebars where the big climbs and feedzones were on the course – why I haven’t done it before I don’t know, but it was incredibly useful for pacing and pushing myself as we went along.

course notes

Some of the open mountain trails were really boggy, with several gigantic puddles. Organisers MBCC did a great job of marking them with signs to warn you how deep it might be. At one point a sign said ‘deep but doable’ – ok I thought, I’ll ride it, my feet were already soaked. I didn’t expect the water to go up past the top of my forks though, I might have been better swimming!

avoiding water

By the last long climb I was starting to hurt a bit but my handlebar note told me there was a big long descent to the finish, so that made it much easier. I was making up lots of places against the guys too as people started to struggle and blow up. The last descent was worth it all, a fast swoopy singletrack that seemed to go on forever. I was pelting along, riding on my limits with the thought of a new jersey giving me a new found fire in my legs. I caught a couple of guys in front but the narrow trail meant it was impossible to pass. I got a bit frustrated but in the end gave up trying to pass and enjoyed the ride down with four of us riding on each other’s wheel at high speed.

pain at the finish

As the finish came in sight I couldn’t believe it when we were directed into a little finishing loop that included a slight climb, it was a killer and the final nail in the coffin for several people who ended up off the bikes with cramp despite being less than a minute from the end. I was delighted to cross the line in 3hrs 45, winning my 2nd national marathon championships and making me feel a bit better after the day before. A much better end to the season. Full results are here.

Fiona Meade, Cait Elliott, Ciara McManus (L-r)

Thanks to MBCC for organising the event, I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and the facilities and prizes (nice hoodie and bag from Vans) afterwards rounded off a good day. Also thanks to UCD CC for their support, and Aine Conneff of MAD for her amazing feedzone assistance skills (don’t know how she does it, flawlessly managing to pass the right bottle to every rider passing). Now time for a break, can’t promise no biking but at least no painful training for a while!

new jersey and trophy

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