Billy Wells toughs it out at ultimate endurance event

Dave Kearsey
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Billy Wells, son of Corner Brook’s Bill and Caulene Wells who now resides in Toronto, is shown tackling the bike portion of The Race in Donegal, Ireland. — Photos courtesy of Paul Doherty, www.pauldoherty.ie

When the toughest were invited to come to Ireland to test their endurance, Billy Wells showed them there’s a Newfoundlander up to the challenge.

The Corner Brook native posted a final clocking of 15 hours, 22 minutes and 10 seconds to claim first place in the inaugural The Race: Ireland’s Toughest in Donegal, Ireland over the weekend.

The Race aims to be Ireland’s ultimate endurance event with participants testing their mettle over 260 kilometres in 24 hours. It is an unsupported, multi-sport event that unfolds across the least hospitable terrain in the country.

To make it to the finish line, Wells endured 15 km of kayaking, 175 km of cycling, 5 km of mountain running and 65 km of road and trail running. The course hugs Donegal’s spectacular coast and ascends one of its highest peaks before winding its way through rugged wilderness.

The venture began with a run in the dark, and Wells said the pace was fine in the lead group before jumping into a boat for a 15-km paddle in a tidal bay. He was able to move quickly with the tide and get a good jump on his competitors.

Wells then hopped on his bike and set off, but his watch strap broke so he had to stop twice to pick it up off the ground.

“I lost some ground and my GPS (I had to put it in my pocket) tracking so I had no real idea of the pace or distance,” Wells explained via email because he had no telephone access.

He regained the lead around halfway, just as the rain turned to hail.

“It was one of those days I would have surely stayed home if it wasn’t a race,” he said. “It turned out to be one of the hardest 100-km rides I’d ever done due to the hills, weather and a lack of data.”

Next up was the mountain run, so Wells got off his bike with his legs and lower back aching.

“It wasn’t a run, but more of a crawl up the side of the mountain and a slide down,” he said. “Because it was up and back I could see my competitors and saw I had about a 10-minute lead.”

He got back on the bike for a second run and it started to rain and hail on him once again. This time around, he said, was an easier ride, but he was showing signs of his ordeal. He rode inside all winter and also had to deal with a strong headwind.

However, he said he was able to suck it up and keep going.

Wells got off the bike to run the marathon through rain and plunging temperatures. A couple of Motrin, a caffeine pill and some salt pills helped him push on, as did a headlamp to cut through the oncoming darkness.

“Without my GPS watch I didn’t really know my pace, but I knew it was slow,” he said. “I was just trying to keep going because I didn’t really know my lead.”

He was so happy just to survive the race when he crossed the line, but winning was certainly something he hoped for when he signed up.

“It was really hard, but there was never a time I thought I’d quit,” he said. “I was running scared the second half of the marathon because I knew I was slowing and one of the other guys is a sub 2:40 marathoner, but given the day and conditions we’d all be suffering.

“I was really glad to be finished and I came into the race hoping to win so I was ecstatic it worked somewhat to plan.”

While he stood up to the gruelling race, Wells said he’s ready for a break.

“That’s it for these long races for a while.”

Geographic location: Ireland, Donegal, Corner Brook

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