This would be the second year the National Marathon Champs would be held in Ballyhoura, a mixture of man made trail centre trails, fire road and some off road relic cart tracks to link sections together. I had done the race last year and finished second to Cait Elliott having been caught out by the change in weather and ending up with a touch of hypothermia by the time I came in. The decision to ride this event had been a toss up between it and the Ras na mBan international women's road race which I also competed in last year and enjoyed greatly. This year however the road race had been extended to 5 days ending on the same day as the champs. Mountain biking is always my first choice so we headed off down the other end of the country Saturday afternoon to arrive late enough at the hotel in Charleville for a hearty meal and ready for the next day.
I was kind of nervous about the event, still feeling some fatigue from the holiday and additional "error" in training on the turbo in the middle of the week - cant understand why that thing hurts so much!!! - but a cold/hot bath and massage from Conor would surely sort that out. Unfortunately "princess and the pea" syndrome struck and I couldn't get a comfortable night's sleep, sort of dozing all night, and come the morning struggled to get motivated. Why on earth can I not get these things right before "big" events!! We headed on to the race venue and signed up with Conor choosing the shorter race for the day, and got our bottles, heads and supposedly bodies ready for the challenge ahead.
As I lined up beside Cait I wasn't sure at all how this would pan out, right I thought, let Cait set the pace today cause I'm too damned tired! So off we went up a fire road climb into the start loop. Sure enough Cait set a fast enough pace but I worked hard to wake up and warm up and just keep on her wheel. Into the first section of singletrack it was clear that I wasn't able to keep in contact on the descents, a mixture of lack of speed/confidence and probably a bit of tiredness. However I was in luck and between Cait getting caught behind slower riders and me being able to catch up on the climbs I stuck to the back wheel of the Treck like glue. Eventually warmed up I felt that the climbing pace being set by Cait was a tad less aggressive than I expected, a little on the flatter and steady singletrack trails and noticeably on the steeper and longer climbs, hmm was this a game plan or was I actually climbing better on the day? I noticed Cait needing to get out of the saddle on a steeper kick up and shortly after I spun past to see what response I'd get, none. Interesting, hmmm, ok so hit the singletrack first and see what happens, a while after I managed to drop Cait on a climb as one of the McCabes shot past me and I jumped onto his wheel - not for long though that guy is fast! - but long enough to break the bungie cord between me and Cait. I had built up a good lead but of course true to form we hit a descent section of REALLY sketchy wet and rutted cart trail and I slowed right down only for Cait to catch up. Fortunately for me there weren't alot of passing opportunities so when we hit the next feed station I made sure I was first out onto the next climb, able to head off on up what can only be described as the most torturous long, head wind blocking fire road drag, only for the fact that it went on for fecking ages!! After that it was a case of just keeping the head down and truck on, trying desperately not to lose too much time on the singletrack which was getting harder all the time as tiredness was making my eyes bleary and my brain mushy..... The last hour of the race was hard, the cold was starting to creep in and like the Cooley Thriller I started to fade somewhat myself, something I need to work on for the future I think, but I eventually crossed the line 3hrs45 minutes after starting, 20mins faster than last year and covered in wet gritty mud. I was really happy that despite not sleeping the night before and all the other doubts about even finishing I had crossed the line in first place - National Marathon Champion 2011!!
Conor had a blast in the shorter race, taking out his Specialized hardtail in race conditions for the first time, which he reckons is a speed demon, coming in mid pack at 14th spot. So all in all a brilliant day and great result for Team Summit! The race organisation was spot on, from sign on to signing off. We started on time, the feed stations were well manned, the course in excellent shape with some clear work having been done to make things run smoothly. Well done to the organisers and l