Luckliy I have family near to Ballyhoura so this race was combined with the annual trip to see relatives. Most races feel like there is more grinding & climbing than descending. This one is the opposite … ace!
I had done this race in 2010 and some of the same protagonists were out in force. There was quite a long fire road climb to sort things out at the beginning. Four Elite riders whizzed up ahead. A group of 6-8 formed behind. As we entered the first decent back trail head area I was in about 10th. On the next climb the second group thinned out to two, me and James McCluskey (I think). I pushed on and found myself out on my own as we entered the rougher wilder non trail centre terrain.
It had rained overnight (as per normal in these parts of the world) & I was a bit too cautious and seemingly rubbish going through the peaty stuff. Aidan McDonald caught me. This wasn’t good as he had pipped me to 2nd place the previous year. Aidan did a good job hauling along a flat fire road section where we passed one of the earlier escapees, Ray Shaughnessy, who was suffering from lack of energy/fluid.
Ultimately Aidan got a gap on the final climb as I misread another peat bog, and he descended to the finish very strongly. I came through in 4th overall, but 1st Vet. We were only 2-3 minutes down on 2nd overall. Ryan Sherlock with a season of Elite road racing under his belt was way out in front by over 15 minutes despite a puncture.
I’m really struggling to think of a better marathon course. The Ballyhoura trail centre network is excellent. I could seriously see me flying to Ireland just to ride around the miles and miles of singletrack. Will be back, for sure.