I had intended to write a readiness report before the race. This didn't happen, mostly because I slept very well. I came into the race well rested and a little better prepared than round 1.
Myself and Hannah made our way to the venue, navigated the parking situation and got registered. We kitted up and met some friends who were also racing. A bit of a warm up was had, spinning our legs up a stretch of fire road, and then turning back in time to start fresh after a brief rest. We lined up and waited the start.
Once the whistle went, we went off. Unfortunately the fire road start wasn't as long as round one. Very quickly a bottleneck appeared at the entrance to the first bit of single track, and that opening section became a string of riders nose to tail. Everyone seemed to patiently make their way and on the next section of fire road people started to pull away and shuffle around. Some point during this climb Hannah caught me and I realised I hadn't started my watch. I sorted that as I watched her power on up the hill faster than I could muster. This climb in particular had a viscous head wind for the entire way up it. I honestly thought that if I was going to fail my no walking goal it would be here. Thankfully it didn't happen. I was in my lowest gear and just kept turning my cranks.
The flowing descents of single-track interspersed with fire road climbs and some beautiful techy single-track climbs lead to some regularly leap frogging throughout the race. I'd get by someone on a downhill, only for them to catch me on the climb and visa versa. It had been so long since I'd ridden in Ballyhoura I wasn't always able to tell where I was on the loop. This kept it interesting and hid some rather long climbs from me. One climb, which I remember as "The Forbidden Climb", from back when they were first building the Brown loop, had been felled. It was no longer a dark twisty climb through some trees that went on forever, but instead started in the open, and continued in the open for a long time. The photo below, again courtesy of Adrian Van Der Lee was taken on that climb.
Before too long I recognised our furthest out point. We exited the single track and turned left up a long fire road climb. In years past the length of this consistent and uneven climb would always catch me out. I had a couple of moments as my wheels slipped over rocks, but the end was in sight. It was starting to point, if not downhill, across again. My spirits bolstered by the knowledge that I was on the homeward leg I picked up the pace and headed for home. I was able to build up and maintain a decent pace in the woods, but any time we came into the open the wind would slow me down again. Pushing hard meant I was going forward, but little else. The boardwalk sections were slow going as at times there was a strong cross wind. The wind even sapped the fun out of some of the descents, much to my dismay.
The run down to the carpark was so much fun. They've recently resurfaced and redesigned a number of the sections of trail. They were all fast and flowy with large catcher berms to rail through. There were little tabletop jumps and other features you could launch off if you wanted. The old green loop descent hasn't been given a makeover yet, so that section was a bit rough, but just above it was a spectacular piece of trail and well worth the cost of admission.
The end of the trail got a little tight, with a very narrow gap between two trees to navigate, and then a run off some slate to take you back to the carpark. The finishline, however was a 90 degree right turn followed by a hill sprint away. What is it with hill sprint finishes? I was more prepared this time. I dropped a few, although not enough, gears but enough to catch the rider who was ahead and I sprinted over the line. Race done. I looked at the clock as I passed, 1hr 21m. I knew I'd been quicker, but strava would be no good. I had to wait for the results. But I knew I'd beaten every possible goal. I had thought 1hr 30, maybe 1hr 25. My last time was just over 2hrs, so I wanted to be cautious. To say I'm ecstatic with my time of 1hr 18mins is an understatement. As usual, Hannah wasn't too far behind me. She came in in 1hr 22. We were both tired, but our lungs weren't burning like in round 1. This is positive improvement.
Bring on round 3 I say. Although, it's a course we've never ridden, so that will have it's own challenges.
Trail Length: 17km
Finish Time: 01:18:02
Finish Position: 73 out of 83 finishers