Earlier this month, the adventure racer, journalist and Vigour creator Charlie Norton, 39, died after reportedly falling from a cliff while walking in Morocco. You can read moving tributes to the father-of-two at the Telegraph and Vigour.
What follows is a piece that Charlie produced for 220 in October 2014 from the Killarney Adventure Race that captured the wit, self-deprecation and sense of adventure of the man. “I raced for the beauty, the pain and the glory of finishing,” said Charlie of his Irish experience…
I’m a sports/adventure journalist/charlatan, who’s been royally battered into submission by numerous ultras and marathons, and has dipped my hobbit-like toes into a handful of sportives, duathlons and obstacle races. I’ve also entered the 350km Mark Webber Challenge in Australia, where I was unlucky enough to get a leech on my eyelid and a kayak partner built like Ghandi.
Training-wise, I’d been in ultra-snail mode over the summer, so I hauled my carcass over a hilly 18-mile run along the Jurassic Coast five days before the Adventure Race (7km run/35km bike/1.5km kayak/9km run/6km bike). On the bike, I only had time to murder my quads on a series of hill repeats up a 17% ramp, so I was worried there was a somewhat soft belly to my bike endurance. The kayaking, meanwhile, looks short enough to wing it.
My pre-race thoughts were the usual range of miracle middle-aged glory and not curling up into the foetal position on the first hill with cartilage problems. I settle on surviving unbowed and unbloodied in what is likely to be good ol’ Irish weather, descending the wet roads and rocks like a lily-livered toddler, and then taking off towards the end like a freed lifer with a day pass to the Playboy Mansion, hopefully burning an unstoppable furrow into the front-end of the field.
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Race and craic
After a delayed flight and a windy bus journey, I join a crew of motley adventure hacks in Killarney and go straight to dinner, where every dignitary from adventure sponsor Helly Hansen to the Mayor of Killarney says a few encouraging words. After an early hotel breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, tea and pineapple, I arrive at the race start alongside 1,800 or so others for what’s billed as the largest adventure race on record. There’s a festival feel, yet everyone seems intent on pushing themselves – a good balance between race and craic.
The first 7km run section up Strickeen Mountain is like swimming in a crowded shoal of kindergarten fish. Many go off too fast with adrenalin and then slow to a walk just in front of me. The loose rocks and mud on the way down are treacherous and I slow down after skating on a bit of slate and nearly poleaxing myself, while a few brave fell-hardy descenders come past at breakneck speed. But my old legs are starting to crank up.
I slip into the toe clips for the 35km bike, but cackhandedly screw up the gears and veer across the road into a horse and cart. I seem to have invaded a Caffrey’s advert. The Irish pony then nuzzles my helmet as another guy swerves and loses his shades in a muddy puddle. The sun peeps out as I slurp up a couple of chia seed gels like a desperate toad, and start the ascent to the Gap of Dunloe. It’s a gradual few kilometres, then pow! There’s a steep ramp ahead and I see riders getting off their bikes as I disdainfully weave past them out of the saddle on the 15% climb, soon regretting my bravado as I cling on to the top round the last few bends.