Wednesday, February 4, 2009

2009 Race Report

Clare Glens Race 09 - Words by Shane Cronin

The Clare Glens near Limerick is one of Irelands best runs. Its got approximatly 2.5km of clean drops, slides and blind corners all tucked away in a beautifull wooded glen. I think anyone who has paddled this river has thought about racing but despite the all the talk over pints no formal event has materialised. In November '08 Ross Redmond and John O'Rourke announced they would take on the challenge and try to organise a race on the glens. The risks involved in such a race are obvious but the guys proposed a simple format which they felt would allow them to manage any potential problems on the day.

The format included "inviting" a number of team captains from around the country. These captains were strong paddlers who would in turn invite two team members from their area to form teams of three. This ensured a high standard in the race field which the guys felt was necessary for the first time out. The race itself involved a team race over almost the entire lenght of the whitewater section and an individual race over the main drops. So the scene was was set but would it all work out?

Peadar Maguire. Photo Andy Mc

I travelled to Limerick the day before the event to run the river a number of times with some friends and get into Glens mode. Vibes were good, lines were discussed and many laughs were had. People showed up from all over and got down to the serious business of “training”. Some teams managed five runs! (Though we were happy to leave it at three).

On Race day we arrived into the car park at the take out and immediately we were confronted with boaters wearing down jackets and huge smiles – water levels were good, the race was on! It was all greetings and handshakes with old friends and new colleagues. It struck me that this wasn’t any old event, this was different, the atmosphere was expectant, the tone was fun and everybody just seemed thrilled to be there. We were going to race on the Glens.

The Author, Amongst it all. Photo Ross Harding.

I was invited to be part of the South West team which included Shane MacElligott and was captained by Kilian Kelly. The organisers delivered the team briefing, the rules of the race were clarified and the boats were loaded into the vans for the shuttle to the top for the team race. The river flows through an old oak forest and the collage of bright gear and boat colours looked great amongst the trees in the January morning sunlight. The usual banter and heckling rang out, the paddlers were like excited kids in they're playground.

The race officials at the put in were very slick and the teams were released with 2-minute intervals. The last words we got from the officials at this point was on safety - a quick reminder that as a team of three paddlers we were responsible for each other and to watch for the “good to go” signal on the run into Big Eas. We were off!

The run passed very quickly with features coming and going in a blur of clean drops, slides and bedrock rapids. Our plan was to push as hard as we could for as long as we could hoping that our “training” from the previous day would pay off. In the end we went pretty fast with little in the way of drama though Shane Mc did use the head rudder once and paddling over Big Eas with tired arms and lungs was certainly…………………em........different. We arrived at the take out exhausted but proud. We had just raced down the Glens in eleven minutes or so. Other teams chatted excitedly about lines and times but there was more to come as the race officials ushered us back up into the forest for the Individual Race.

Kim Siekerman, Big Eas. Photo RH
The team race was great – friends out racing on a beautiful section of water. The individual race was different - personal pride was at stake. The energy in the eddy was tangible and the adrenalin surge from the thought of sprinting over the steepest rapid on the river (including the 15ftr Big Eas) made this the real crux of the event.

The course was 50m of easy bedrock rapids, sticky hole, left, slide/drop combo for 10ft, pool, slide/bedrock rapid for 50m, hard right then boof the 15 footer, pool, another bedrock rapid then boof double drop then finish. Your time stopped with a touch finish on one of the more attractive race officials in the eddy. Most of the times were about a minute thirty – that’s a lot of boating in that time!

While the format was simple and the organisers had ticked all the boxes in terms of safety and fancy walkie-talkie communication this was a serious challenge and the river claimed its victims. A number of paddlers did not make it through Big Eas and spent some time in the cave behind the waterfall. Local Limerick paddlers provided the safety cover and the local knowledge showed with paddlers and gear being collected and sorted with no issue and in super quick time. Well done boys!

Limerick Safety. Solid Out Boy! Photo RH

By the end of the individual race quite a crowd had gathered below Big Eas with spectators and paddlers encouraging they’re colleagues to push that little bit harder. With the last man down the race finished for some with an impromptu boatercross, others just floated out, happy to take it easy.

The day finished with presentation of the new Clare Glens Race perpetual trophys. Kilian Kelly took the Indivdidual event and Kev Egan led Shane Lynch and Sean McTeirnan of the ULKC team to glory in the team race.

All in all this was a killer event and I was delighted to be there. The camraderie between the paddlers was great, the river is super. What else do you need? The organisers had worked hard on they’re format and safety cover which meant that the race was smooth and the paddlers were protected. This was real extreme racing and feedback that I got from the other paddlers was that it was great to have a fun day out on a challenging river racing with their friends.

Here’s to next year!