In the very first week of the month I managed to aggravate my back. I’ve had sciatica issues with my back off and on now for a good few years and every so often I will do something to cause it to flare up. This time it was unusual in that the pain and spasm was on the left as well as the usual right side. I obviously managed to hurt the muscle on that side. For the first two weeks I was wearing a support to work every day and taking prescription anti inflammatory tablets to keep it under control. While I was keeping up with my daily walking cycling was definitely out of the question.
As the month progressed the pain eased but two weeks ago I still had serious doubts about being able to complete a 100km spin for the month. I had managed to get a decent hike on the 19th and had hopes to get cycling again that week. However, the weather gods decided that wasn’t going to happen and it was the 25th before I got out for an hour after work, just enough to see how the back would react. Everything went well and I had a good 50K spin the next day. Apart from some tiredness I felt good and no major complaints from my back. The plan then was to get a second short spin after work on Friday before trying for the 100K on Sunday – sounds scarily like a training plan!
In the end up Friday didn’t happen. The forecast was for rain and I was knackered after a busy day at work. However, summer was finally on the way and I was still clear on my plan for Sunday.
As well as the usual bike and kit preparation I also got my back ready. I still had some of the pain medication so took a full dose on Saturday and also Sunday morning before leaving to give me the best chance of completion without causing any further issues.
Sunday morning is also football training for Conor and with Catriona at work I had to delay my start until I had dropped and collected Conor. I usually like to get on the road between 9 and 10 but Sunday I wasn’t away until well after 12:30. Just like in April I had some stomach issues that morning again. Some of it may have been the beer at the BBQ in Mum and Dad’s the previous evening for my brother’s birthday but I think it was mostly nerves and anxiety that I wasn’t up to the challenge.
Leaving home the route was still very fluid. I knew I was heading for Ballybofey and into Barnes Gap before turning off to take the back road route to Laghey which also mostly follows the route of my Donegal 200 Audax Permanent. After Laghey I had a few options in mind and in fact it wasn’t until Laghey that I decided how to go home. The first 40km to Laghey were mostly into the wind. It was blowing from a mix of S and SW direction and forecast to flip to the SE later in the day. At Laghey I decided to push on to Ballintra along a sheltered rural route before turning back to Donegal Town and home with hopefully a tailwind to help.
I’d been passed by quite a few motorbikes on the main roads and coming through Donegal Town the Diamond was full. There must have been 150 bikes parked up and the local shops were doing a roaring trade in coffee and ice cream. It was great to see signs of normal life finally returning. I left Donegal Town on the bypass before swinging back in at the other side of town to stop for lunch. It was a simple sandwich, Snickers and a bottle of Pepsi but it was great to sit in the warm sunshine and get a sugar and caffeine shot.
Heading back to Ballybofey another cyclist caught up with and stayed with me for most of the way through the Gap. He was from Raphoe and riding a MTB with light off-road tyres. Before we parted he mentioned being puffed from staying with me on the road bike but I felt it was me keeping up with him and he still looked pretty fresh to my eyes! His company and conversation was very welcome as the road back through the Gap is not enjoyable, busy with traffic, pretty boring and a sapping steady climb that I’ve never enjoyed. His conversation distracted me and made it a lot easier – as did the tailwind!
I turned off at Lough Mourne with the intention of taking the Corgary Road and descending Meenglass into Ballybofey before heading home but at the top of Meenglass I changed route yet again. I was feeling pretty good and didn’t fancy the final 1.6km climb home so decided to stay on the Corgary Road to Aghayarn and Castlederg before climbing the gentler Moneygall Road and dropping down to home. It was approximately 10km longer but I figured the extra distance was worth the chance to finish mostly downhill for the final 5K.
My final distance ended up at 111.22km which is my longest spin for 2021 and my longest since October last year. I felt a lot better than I expected with almost 6 weeks of very little cycling and with a recovering back.
The weather all day was bright, dry and mostly sunny with temperatures in the high teens/low twenties. It was a joy to cycle in warm air for a change but it created a hydration challenge I underestimated. I only took one 750ml bottle with me and this was gone by 35km. I’d hoped to be able to refill once only at 50K but not to be. Thankfully there were plenty of shops to get refills but I’ll need to be more careful on future long runs in more rural areas. As it was I had no water for the final 15km due to extending the route and felt pretty dehydrated by the time I got home.
On the good news front my back coped much better than expected. It was burning quite a bit for the last 20-30mins but that was normal and not unexpected. Alternating position plus on-the-bike stretches kept it under control until I got home and there were no long lasting effects that evening or the next day at work. In fact it has continued to improve and I was back cycling today for 50K with virtually no problems.
This weekend is another Bank Holiday in Ireland and I’ve also booked some holiday days so I’m hoping for some more good weather and at least 2 longer distance spins.