Rachels epic cycle from Mizen to Malin Head.
2 CommentsTuesday, 28 July 2015 | Admin
Day 1 - Travel
Today, 21 crazy cyclists arrived in the Tesco car park in Nenagh at two o'clock. The morning had been spent packing an assortment of gear, equipment and food. Erring on the side of caution, most of us had over packed, throwing in kit for all weather and stockpiles of food. After all, we are cycling the length of the country over the next three days! When I showed my parents our itinerary for the daunting challenge, they asked the obvious question: "Why aren't you going in a straight line?" The only answer I could come up with was: "Because we're Nenagh CC."
This is one hard-core group of cyclists, I can tell you that. People have been accumulating endless hours on the bikes since Christmas. To be honest, the long spins actually started well before that. Rumour has it that one of the lads hit 900km in a single week over the summer. My approach has been to focus on triathlon. I am a triathlete first and cyclist second. I put in significant mileage over the winter but couldn't afford to do the back-to-back century cycles that occur every Saturday and Sunday with Nenagh CC during tri season. I don't want to even consider the mileage that took place on weekdays. I have been swimming, cycling and running all year... and am hopeful that my fitness will get me through the 750km ahead of us. Yes, you heard me correctly: our "scenic route" is adding well over 100km to this south to north adventure. My plan is to eat, eat, eat so that my legs will spin, spin, spin.
Our travel day went well. At Tesco, we wrapped our bikes in cardboard boxes and duvets and loaded them into a courier van. We then hopped on a minibus and set off, quickly learning that our bus is no climber. In fact, the driver actually took several detours in order to avoid small climbs. Add to that the fact that the engine cut out every few minutes... and you can understand that we were happy to arrive in Mizen in one piece. To be fair, the driver seemed to have a good handle on the situation, smoothly jingling his keys to restart the engine when needed. We had a lovely meal in Killarney, sneaking into a nearby shop to buy some chocolate. Did I mention that we're carbo-loading? Most of the chat on the bus revolved around what group each person was planning on cycling with. We plan on starting together and eventually splitting, with the faster lads heading up the road to race. My goal is to finish the 750km without putting myself under unnecessary pressure so I might dip between both groups. I know it'll be really tough so I want to complete the challenge without putting myself into a hole for the foreseeable future. I have two important triathlons left in August so I need to be able to run next week... Anyway, that's a distant thought for now. My focus is on doing three 80km cycles tomorrow. When I get that ticked off, I'll worry about Saturday...
Day 2 - Mizen Point to Lahinch (262.5km, 9:49:50)
Wow, today was tough! I guess that was to be expected. After all, I haven't done huge distance training (163km is my longest ever spin... until now). Still, anyone would be suffering after nearly ten hours in the saddle. Our planned departure time was 6:15am but we didn't set off as a group til closer to seven. We were in three different B&Bs (ours was the beautiful Heron's Cove) and had to load gear into one support van so the delay was inevitable. Then there was the customary 12km spin down to Mizen Point. There is no actual accommodation there so we stayed in Goleen. We took a group photo at Ireland's southernmost point, then set off on our epic challenge at 7:45. We cycled steadily as a group of 21 for about 90 minutes before splitting into two groups. Group one comprised the racers, whereas group two was the more steady (sensible) peddlers. I normally roll over with the racing group on our Saturday spins so I ambitiously joined them. Big mistake! There were seven others and though they weren't going as hard as they normally do, I found the pace hot. I was comfortable on the flat and they went steadily up the drags but there was the matter of the Caha Pass to conquer before our first stop. I was really working hard on that ascent... too hard too soon on a cycle that long.
After our brief break in Kenmare, I continued with the same group. As we began to climb Moll's Gap, I began to lose ground and called out for them to keep going while I waited for the second group to sweep me up. Unfortunately, my plea fell on chivalrous ears, as two of the lads dropped off the group and escorted me up. I safely negotiated the descent and stayed with the bunch to Killarney. As we neared Tralee though, my legs really died. Another Nenagh gentleman eased up and towed me into town, which was an unpleasant struggle. We were on a very open road and the headwind was tireless. I was beyond relieved to arrive at our lunch stop, where I promptly devoured soup and sandwiches. I had been eating all morning but a good re-fuel was needed. My nutrition plan was to eat a mouthful of flapjack/energy bar every 30 minutes and I was very disciplined about it.
I made the sensible decision to wait for the second group to arrive and I joined them for the rest of the day. It was smooth and steady, which is exactly what I needed and probably all I could handle. We had to go into sprint mode coming into Tarbert in order to catch the five o'clock ferry. We rolled onto it with about 30 seconds to spare. After our sail, we still had about two hours left of riding ahead of us and the headwind would not relent. With about 30km to go, I re-entered the suffering zone. It wasn't lack of food. I think the morning's race-pace exertions simply caught up with me and I found the going tough. After seeing signposts for Lahinch cruelly moving from 10km up to 11km, we eventually arrived at our hotel at 7:30. It was a short night: quick dip in jacuzzi, hurried shower and dinner. Time to prep gear for tomorrow. Then zzzzzzz...
Day 3 - Lahinch to Ballina (232.3km, 8:26:21)
I had no idea how I'd feel when I woke up this morning. My first tentative steps weren't greeted with unbearable exhaustion or pain, thankfully. After loading up on porridge and toast, we departed the hotel at 6:20. We stayed together as one large group for 90 minutes again. When the racing group sped off, I happily stayed behind with group two. It wasn't even a choice, as I had firmly decided the night before where to position myself. I was feeling better than expected but my legs were still really heavy. The day went relatively smoothly. My heart rate stayed low throughout. It averaged 113bpm, in contrast to 134bpm yesterday. I could certainly feel my legs on every drag though. Another pain of the day came from sitting in the saddle for so long. Most of us were constantly shifting position and standing up to get some relief. We had a coffee stop in Moycullen, lunch in Lenaun and another coffee stop in Castlebar. Those breaks were much-needed physically and mentally, as they divided the day into manageable chunks, and gave me mini-targets to aim for. I struggled a bit after our lunch break but re-discovered my legs for the final 60km. I was hoping I wouldn't hit a funk for the final stretch into Ballina and luckily I didn't. We had smooth roads and a lovely tailwind so we made great time to our hotel, arriving at 4:30. That gave us three more hours of recovery than last night. The jacuzzi and shower were followed by dinner and some chat. Hopefully the wedding party won't be too rowdy tonight...
Oh my God! Toughest day on the bike ever. I took my first pedal stroke at 6:26am and my last one at 9:53pm. I rose at my usual 5am and devoured a massive breakfast with the rest of the crew. I feel like I've been eating non-stop over the last three days. It's more out of fear than anything, as you don't want to leave yourself hungry at any time. Porridge was replaced with two bowls of cereal and followed by four slices of toast. We had checked the weather forecast well in advance and knew that an unpleasant day was ahead. When we rolled out of the hotel, it was gloomy, drizzling and windy... but the conditions quickly deteriorated. There was driving wind and rain for the following 68km. It was so wild that five members of the bunch got blown off the road and into the grass verge. And it was unbelievably cold. You were torn between: (1) sheltering in the group, which meant working less and, thus, getting colder or being tossed into your neighbour by the fierce crosswind; (2) keeping tight to the wheel in front and being continually nervous about wet brakes. We made the necessary decision to take an unplanned stop in a petrol station in Sligo. For quite a few, teeth were chattering and tears were flowing. Had we continued on, it's likely that a few people would have ended up abandoning... all brimming with fitness but suffering in the cold. I wasn't too lively myself either. We relocated to the Sligo Park Hotel for about two and a half hours, where we showered, had our clothes dried and ate. It was quite a sight to behold: one of the men was seen showering in his full kit while gulping a Red Bull, while the women were all lined up in their changing room, using hair dryers on their cycling shoes.
We rolled out of there somewhat rejuvenated, all eager to make progress towards our next stop at Ballybofey. The first hour was tolerable but then the rain and wind picked up and whipped us around the road. We stayed huddled together and kept the pace high, as the racing group was with us now and they settled at the front. The last 30km were awful. The roads were very flooded as well so we were getting soaked from every direction. I should mention that at this stage, we had had six punctures, having had zero the previous two days. Our legendary support driver became even more crucial at this point, as we had packed spare wheels and he was on hand to deliver them and a word of encouragement.
The Jackson Hotel in Ballybofey provided their leisure centre (including bathrobes), a drier and much-needed food at the 165km mark. We left there just before six, conscious that we would be battling daylight at Malin Point. We set a good pace and were relieved that the rain had subsided, though it returned with a vengeance with 25km to go. Three more punctures followed (including myself) but we peddled onwards. For a while, it seemed like the finish would never come. The road became extremely undulating, each uphill an opportunity for pain, each downhill an opportunity to get cold. The speed picked up quite dramatically for the last 15km, necessitating a few "steady up" yells to keep us together. Malin Point is at the top of a short but very steep climb. I was in my easiest gear and out of the saddle but still on the brink of stopping in my tracks. Thankfully, I just about managed to turn the peddles right to the top, as otherwise I wouldn't have been able to get going again (without going back to the bottom flat section to clip in). The courier van and minibus were there to greet us as night set in and there was a quick exchange of celebratory hugs on the windy "summit". The customary photo was taken as well.
Day 5 - Travel
After the 14km journey back to our hotel in Malin town last night, we showered and enjoyed a beautiful meal, finishing dessert a little after midnight. I went to bed just before one and woke at 4:45, blissfully aware that I had a few more hours to relax. I got up at 8:15 (mainly because my legs were aching and I couldn't settle), had breakfast with a few others and packed up. We left on the minibus at 11 and that's where I am now... beyond relieved to have finished the Nenagh CC version of M2M: three days, 756km cycled, 28:24:09 in the saddle, 6,226m climbed and nine punctures. I don't think I'll be doing that again...
A special thanks must go out to Majella (who organised absolutely everything for the trip), Bertie (our epic support driver), the hotels (who accommodated us for meals/sleeps/showers) and the 20 other Nenagh CC members who kept me going all weekend.