We hear from Mark Crothers following on from Quest Kenmare – the first of all four Quest’s he’s taking on this year thanks to winning a season pass earlier this year.

People spend their life spectating – and completely obsessed about sport stars and how great they are.  They spend many hours every day watching an ever bigger curvy screen, higher definition and surround sound. Just think about it for one second – what a waste of time. People try to tell me I’m obsessed – because I cycle to work (sometimes) – run for an hour 2-3 times a week – do the odd adventure race- while they in turn report that they have no time to do anything – yet they squeeze in 4 hours of TV every night. I grew bored of spectating. I want to do something.

It took me far too many years to realize life is boring as a spectator. You don’t have to spectate when you can participate. You can be an adventure racer. You don’t have to be the fittest – the fastest – the best looking – have the best gear. Finish first, second, thirty-eight, last, DNF – well that’s far more interesting.

Laura and I hadn’t intended to make the trip to Quest Kenmare until I got a phone call to say I’d won the Quest Journey Story competition and the prize of a Season Pass – four entries – I could use them how wanted. I was absolutely astounded.  Laura pointed out this this doesn’t happen often – we would try to do the whole series if we could.

Saturday 2 March 2019 is a day now imprinted in the memory of the 1400 of us who decided not to spectate but to participate. We all have a story. This is our story – my story. This is Quest Kenmare.

Right from our arrival in Kenmare on Friday afternoon I was struck by one thing – the friendliness of everyone. The first person we spoke to was our landlady for the next two nights, she was delightful for the entirety of our stay – even with our dirty wet footprints on her light-coloured carpet. And our weird breakfast requests (not me –beans on toast for breakfast before an adventure race?)

After every single Quest Adventure race, I tell Laura that it was the most difficult and the most memorable yet.  Quest Kenmare is the most memorable yet and most difficult – FACT! Firstly, on Friday night we had a power cut.  Thankfully we had eaten and arrived back to our B&B. However, this is the first time I have prepared my gear, filled my water bottle and sorted out my kit – by candlelight!

Saturday – race day. The weather forecast was superb – I mean accurate. They were absolutely spot on. Even before I pulled back the sheets I could hear the rain hammering of the roof. Barra Best is our Northern Irish weatherman on UTV (bet he was smug – “I’m right again”) – I’m no fan he could have given us some hope!

I watched the first few waves depart and for once wasn’t really overly terrified, I was excited. We were dibbed in, had our mandatory kit checked and lined up in the pen. I had the thought there and then, ‘they are letting me race in the elite group’ – I’m still chuckling now. It’s weird what goes through your mind in the few minutes before the race.  A lot of people say they get a bit emotional after the race is over, but I find it’s the few minutes before affects me more. Sometimes I think of others who can’t do these races, those I meet through working in a hospital etc. This time it was weird, I felt a real sense of privilege to be there.  Maybe because the Quest team were so warm and friendly to us. Possibly – the fact we are allowed to race in such a beautiful stunning area. Maybe because I think these races could be some of the highlights of my life.

The race starts and my plan of slow and easy goes out the window and I fly through the first few kms on the bike. Half way up the first hill towards Mamore I hear the sound every cyclist recognizes instantly, a puncture. Five minutes off the bike, my heart rate settles, I settle, I fix the puncture and realise I need to calm down. The puncture does me a favour. I take the rest of the first cycle calmly. Well, until I reach Mamore Gap and turn the corner. Must be gale force wind right in our face, the rain piercing our faces like thorns, these are the worst conditions I have ever cycled in. Everyone gets battered by the wind, even draughting someone else doesn’t help. We battle on and it’s several kms before we get some sort of respite from the serious wind as we take a sharp left turn. Then it’s uphill for a short while to our first transition. I’m not sure what to expect for the first run.

Sharp uphill to begin with, it is hard to get my legs working but they eventually come round. Uphill, flat, downhill, several waste deep river crossings (I’m short) and a quagmire or 2, the going is tough. At one stage I count my shoes, I’m not sure why – if one was missing, it would be lost forever in 2 foot of mud. The turnaround point arrives. Twenty seconds later I realize I wasn’t super fit and flying today, but the gale force wind/driving rain had been behind us, seems obvious now. The other thing I notice is the downhill on the way here, now uphill on the return seems much longer and steeper. I walk a good bit and chat to my shoe twin, it is wonderful how the most insignificant thing cheers you up and helps you through. Eventually I reach the end of the first run and think to myself that probably the more difficult run over. I later learn two things. One is obvious. The second is interesting though – that run was on the Old Killarney Road – life must have been difficult in those days.

I try to mount my bike too early in transition and get scolded by the marshals. The second cycle really helps me today. I am much more comfortable on the cycle and pass a good few, probably helped by my puncture delay. It does wonders psychologically when you pass others. I enjoy the second cycle as it’s on quiet roads with grass up the middle. The cycle winds upwards in the valley, with many steep climbs and steep short descends. The last hill goes on a bit further than I expect but eventually transition comes. Again, this very quick, I dump the bike and take my helmet off (others don’t).

I like doing a race for the first time, the unexpected is all part of the enjoyment. At the very start of the second run the girl beside me asked me how far it was, I said I wasn’t sure but I thought it was shorter than the first – how wrong. It wasn’t until I was about 2 maybe 3km into the run that I realised where we were going, Esk mountain I knew that – but for some reason I still hadn’t realised it straight up the biggest hill in sight. I suddenly see the bright jackets ahead rising steeply up the little path and now see I have terribly far to go still. On reaching that point I looked around expecting to see the dibber post and a frozen marshal offering words of encouragement – ah no! There was still a good few hundred meters of muddy trail to go. At this stage I got cramp – there was nothing I could do but stand in mud for what seemed like forever, until I could move on a bit more gingerly. There is always a point when I think of our Aussie friend and his stupid saying “eat concrete – harden up!”  It seems strange now, that thought always comes to me when I want to hear it least. The only thing I could think of to cheer me up was my wife, Princess Laura, she had to do this too, that made me smile then, and it makes me smile now. Laura isn’t a fan of the mud. I think of her pristine pinktrail runners and water going in her shoes.  My last 100 meters to Esk mountain dibber point could only be described as a dander – I have a twirl, the chocolate variety, it does little to spur me on.

The return down Esk mountain was no more straight forward. The path down was a brown muddy river. Every slip could instigate an episode of the dreaded cramp. I sat on my bottom a few times just to get down a few slopes, not my proudest Quest moment. No one noticed, they have enough to keep them occupied. Even if they did, I don’t care I hope it cheered them along.  I eventually get back to the little weird bridge crossing the river and realise I’m nearing transition. I glance to my left and see where we came from, the path up Esk mountain and the colourful dots of people still there. I feel for the people who pass me heading there. I don’t point out to them what I didn’t notice when I was in their position.

Transition is nothing more than helmet on and off I go. The final cycle is mostly downhill with a slight breeze in your face. I get some mild cramp on the way and think I’m gonna get caught, not that it matters as I’m probably fighting for 50th place or something. I push as hard as I can. As I cross Kenmare bridge I glance left and notice it very windy and the waves crash off the bridge – the kayaking is off – I’m not surprised. At the final transition there is a space for my bike right at the entrance, honest, and I set off on my final run.

It’s more of a hobble than a run by this stage.  I get passed and tell myself it’s probably someone doing a different wave, I know it’s not, because it is the bloke with the same shoes as me and I have passed him several times. I cross the line in 4 hours 28 mins and later find out I’m 38th. I am delighted. This is my best finish yet. I had discussed with Ed (new Quest friend) in our B&B that morning that 4hrs 30 would be a good time – I was thinking I’d be happy with 5 hours.

What then makes this most my memorable Quest event to date?

  • Power cut and preparation by candlelight
  • Driving rain for the entirety – sun had the cheek to poke out after I had finished
  • Waist deep river crossings and mud
  • Colours of the mountains
  • Every competitor – their positive and encouraging attitudes.
  • The Quest team’s warmth and friendliness
  • Kenmare
  • Snow storm on the way home

I am already entered into the next Quest event at Glendalough – see you all there. It cannot be as memorable as Kenmare?