Category Archives: cycling

catch up 2.0

For anyone that is still reading this blog or following me on Facebook it looks like all I’ve done for the last 5-6 weeks is read, listen to music and play Wordle. Although all those things have occupied quite a bit of my time I’ve also been messing about getting back in the cycling groove.

I’d decided that group cycling probably wasn’t the best idea just yet as I haven’t really ridden anywhere close to consistently since July last year. I was out with a couple of guys early February and on the Club MTB rides a few times over the following weeks but somehow managed to drift away again after that.

Shortly after my Barnesmore Hike I somehow started getting the urge to get back on the bike. Possibly influenced by lengthening days, improving weather but also by the realisation that time was running out if I was going to get any meaningful cycling done this year. I’d already drifted through Spring and if I lost Summer too then that would be it really.

I knew my weight was way up and that my fitness was shot to hell. This was partly my reason for not cycling with the Club yet. I was also wary of embarrassing myself in front of guys I’d fallen way behind. Anyway my cunning plan was to increase my fitness by completing a weekly routine of a couple of short solo runs after work and a longer spin at the weekend while keeping up the reasonably regular early morning walking habit I’d developed.

The theory was a short run of approximately 25-30km would be long enough to push me back to fitness but not painful enough to discourage. Going straight after work meant I didn’t have the opportunity to talk myself out of it by going home first. I figured a few weeks of this would be enough to get me confident enough to get back out with the Club on a Sunday morning.

I’d identified a few routes around Omagh but one really grabbed my attention. This was a spin out towards Gortin and the Gortin Glens Forest Park. This is a slightly hilly road (good warmup) and there is a tarmac forest drive that I figured would be a bit hilly but traffic free with a good road surface. The last two bits were correct but I seriously misjudged the hills and I really should have known better!

forest park entrance

insane elevation profile

A number of climbs were >15% with at least one of them being >20%. I stopped on three of them and had to stop twice on the last and eventually walked a section as my legs were like jelly. Of the total 390m climbing I had 360m at the 18km mark! It’s a great training ride when my fitness is built back up but was a bad idea for a returning, get back into the swing of things kind of ride! After that I came up with a few other routes that were a bit less punishing.

I also knew it was going to rain a bit that evening so had a waterproof gillet with me. What I didn’t expect was heavy rain for most of the ride. I ended up soaked to the skin, chilly and driving home wet due to lack of preparation. Over the next couple of days I developed a rotten cold that took me a good 3 weeks to shift completely. I had a cough, breathlessness and a snotty head that kept returning when I thought I was OK and went out for another spin 🀨

I didn’t do too badly though. During May I managed 6 rides totalling almost 240km and two 50+km rides which were each my longest since July last year.

Β© garmin

What did take a hit was my walking. At the end of last month and into the start of this month I’d developed a good routine of a short 4.5km walk each morning before work. It was setting me up well for the day and as Catriona has been walking a lot recently and also before work, I was used to being awake at that time of the day anyway. The head cold knocked that a bit. It left me quite tired and I didn’t feel able for both cycling and walking especially on the same day. I also felt that I needed that extra hour of sleep each day to knock the cold properly and not getting it was part of the reason it was dragging on.

Β© garmin

Β© strava “training” log

If you’ve come this far with me you might notice a drop in activities completely in the last week of the month. Part of that was lingering tiredness (laziness? πŸ€”) and working extra days at work (2 x 6 day weeks) but also prep for going on holidays. I’ve been off work since Wednesday for the start of a 2 week break. The highlight of that is a week away so I’m very happy to say that I’m writing this from a holiday resort on the shores of Lake Garda

accommodation area at 10am

We arrived very late last night after a very long 15 hour journey (long story!), hungry, tired and dehydrated. Today has been about exploring the resort, getting our bearings and recovering from the journey. Tomorrow the proper touristy stuff begins…

Header image byΒ MikeΒ fromΒ Pexels

pan celtic race

As part of my interest in longer distance Audax cycling I came across this fantastic event a couple of years ago. It’s a self-supported ultra long-distance endurance cycling event. The 2019 event was the first as far as I know and the route was simply amazing.

The 2020 event was scuppered by Covid but by keeping it restricted to England & Wales, they managed to put together a route and run the event for 2021.

As part of the celebration of the 2021 event they created a really good film and I’ve linked it below. I’d recommend it for anyone with even a passing interest in cycling or endurance sport of any kind. The standout for me was the camaraderie of the riders and how ordinary so many of them are while still being extraordinary.

The 2022 route has been released and as a nod to the fact that they couldn’t get to Ireland in 2021 it’s almost exclusively here this year. I’m especially glad to see that they are also visiting Donegal.

All images Β© Pan Celtic Race

killygordon and clady mountain bike

Biking

On Sunday last week I finally made it back on to the bike after almost two months to the day. I had a lot of digestive issues in September, had two bouts of illness heading into October and totally lost motivation for cycling or much of anything else fitness wise to be honest. Any focus I did have went into training for the sponsored run for Pieta.

Sunday though was such a perfect cycling day that I couldn’t let it go to waste. It was mild, bright and dry with very little wind. I decided on an easy paced cycle down to Clady and back to Killygordon using a mix of back and main road. The treat at the end was a short off-road section along the river in Killygordon and a final spin around the forest trails of Monellan.

Mid morning on a Sunday the roads were pretty quiet which was a nice, relaxing re-introduction to the road. Just over the border in Clady I made some new friends.

The trail along the river was really nice with the trees all colourful with changing leaves and lots of water in the river after all the heavy rain of the last few weeks. In Monellan the trails were better than expected and definitely drier than I’d hoped for, really enjoyable.

autumnal bike porn!

After Monellan I was still feeling good so decided to tackle the pretty tough climb up Gleneely Hill before heading home via the long, easy downhill. This is never easy on any bike, never mind on a mountain bike and definitely not after such a long break but I surprised myself and made it to the top without passing out! I was more than ready for an easy glide home though 😊

Filming

I also decided to try and film for the first time while cycling. In July I got a budget action camera (Akaso Brave 6 Plus) and set of accessories for my birthday. My plan was to use a mixture of handheld and chest mounted filming but it didn’t go very much according to plan. The handheld bits were fine but I totally miscalculated the placement of the camera on the chest harness. I ended up with a lot of footage but most of it of my handlebars πŸ™ˆ

I was also using the camera in the protective case which kills the sound quality so the two pieces to camera that I filmed needed an external voice recorder. This worked well for the introductory piece but having just finished the climb up Gleneely I totally forgot about the external mic for the concluding piece which left it totally unusable. I’m still using my mobile for editing (VN Video Editor). This worked pretty well but synchronising the voice over and the video was tricky.

In the end I managed to salvage just over 6min of reasonable quality footage and I’ve decided to go ahead and post it up as a learning experience. I’ve posted a link below if you are interested in giving it a view.

metric challenge 2021: august

It’s hard to believe we are so far into the year already and that Summer is now officially over! The approach of Autumn can definitely be felt at both ends of the day bringing to mind layers, gillets and arm/leg warmers that have been discarded for months. Thankfully we are experiencing a bit of an Indian Summer that seems will carry us well into September with mild and dry weather to soften the blow.

As the month drew to a close I was running out of time, yet again, for a Gran Fondo ride and/or an Audax Permanent. I’d wasted a lot of cycling time in August with a mixture of illness, bad weather and time spent on family days out and painting the house. The last two reasons are obviously not wasted time but combined they all left me lacking fitness and carrying a little bit more weight than I’m comfortable with.

Last week I managed to get myself back in the saddle and get a few rides in to try and get myself back in reasonable shape. The plan was to do my own Audax Donegal 200 route as a Permanent on Sunday. Saturday morning my plans were derailed fairly significantly. I woke up with quite a bad digestive issue that left me tired, uncomfortable and out of sorts and needing a strong dose of immodium to get me fit for work. Initially I figured it was a reaction to my cholesterol medication again but it didn’t feel the same.

I eventually worked out the cause on Sunday morning. Friday evening I’d gone for a 60K spin and needed water half way. In Raphoe I was attempting to use a service station tap that was disconnected and a local man directed me to a public spout. I thought this was a great novelty to be drinking from a natural water source. In hindsight I looked back at the photo I took and it was most likely the cause of my woes!

Regardless of my lack of energy on Saturday evening I pushed on with my plans and prepped my bike and gear for a 200K ride on Sunday morning. I woke early and felt tired but OK but quickly realised that my digestive system still hadn’t fully recovered. The 200K was off the agenda and I wasn’t even sure if I’d get out at all.

Eventually by lunchtime I was starting to feel a bit better and decided to risk an afternoon attempt at keeping the Metric Challenge rolling along. It was bugging me to break the streak this late in the year. I decided to repeat the route from April which was pretty straightforward, had minimal climbing, made the best advantage of the light breeze and allowed me to call and visit my brother at his coffee van.

All in it turned out to be a pretty good ride. It did take me about 40K before I felt comfortable and relaxed and lost any anxiety about taking ill while out on the bike but I managed to enjoy it and it was good to see my brother again and have a bit of a chat. He was very busy which reduced our ability to talk but it was great to see his business flourishing.

click here to view on strava

The Strava graphic above shows that it was a pretty fast spin for me. I wasn’t trying to push things so was dead pleased how it worked out. As I was leaving Stranorlar I realised that I had approximately 8km to go for the 100K and it was possible to push hard and get there for 3hr45min which would be a very fast time for me on any day. I put the head down and concentrated on maximising power and speed. It was tough going and the traffic lights were with me in both Stranorlar and Killygordon but the 100K alert popped up on the Garmin just as I reached the junction in The Crossroads and the time was 3hrs44min! I was really chuffed, absolutely beat but delighted that I had that still to give. My last 5K was in a time of 9:21 which is very fast for me. The last few kilometres were done at a much slower pace especially having to climb the last 1.6km to home!

The downside is that my RRTY has now been broken once again and I’m back at the start. However, I’m determined to get right back at it again in September and have time booked off work in October/November to give me a chance to select the best weather days to get those two difficult months completed as easily as possible. It will still leave me finishing in 2022 in summer and hopefully with a string of good weather rides.

running out of excuses

I’ve been off the bike for a week and a half, in fact I haven’t recorded a single activity since my 200km spin on the last day of June. I’ve been in a real slump over the last week but I’ve felt it coming for the last few weeks. The real indicator was missing a couple of days in the middle of June, recording no activities and breaking the streak I had kept going since the middle of January. Until today I hadn’t even done one of my previous self imposed minimum distance 2km walks.

Everyone is very aware of how tough 2020 was but to be honest I’ve found this year much harder in many ways. Since the start of this year it has felt like a constant barrage of negativity that is very wearing. However, it’s not all Covid. It’s in me as well. I’m very easily distracted and find it difficult to stay focused on long term targets. I’m an expert prevaricator and as well as finding excuses to stop doing something, I’m also great at putting off starting things.

I don’t know if it’s a fear of failure or simply a lack of drive and self belief. Since early this year I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos on wild camping, backpacking and bushcraft. I’ve lots of ideas where I’d like to go and I’ve endless lists of gear I’d like to buy. Realistically I don’t have the perfect gear setup but I have enough to get started but it’s pushing myself over the starting line that is the hardest thing to do. I’ve been like this for many years but it seems to have worsened recently. Easy to blame Covid again but it’s not just that.

This last 10 days I’ve surpassed myself with excuses though. I had planned to take Thursday off to rest weary legs and recover. Friday night I didn’t sleep as I was driving support crew for one of my friends competing in the Donegal 555K Ultra race. Saturday I was exhausted from the night before and an inability to sleep that morning. I also had my second vaccine so on Sunday I was wiped out with the side effects (shivers, sweats, slept most of the day and generally very, very tired). Monday I was back at work but still tired, Tuesday I snoozed the alarm instead of getting up early and the evening was spent taxiing the boys to and from football training. Wednesday was my day off but as Catriona was also off I opted to spend the day with her instead and we went to Derry for a wander around the shops and for lunch. This is the one day I’m glad I skipped! Thursday I was also off but I had the dentist first thing and really didn’t feel like riding that afternoon with a swollen mouth and tender jaw. Friday it was raining after work (easiest excuse of the week) and Saturday morning I snoozed the alarm once again.

Today I really was all out of excuses. It was warm and dry and not very windy. The boys didn’t have any training, Catriona was at work and I was off. Still, it took me until 3pm to get myself off the couch, away from my Kindle and YouTube and out on the bike. During the early afternoon I’d planned and discarded a number of route options before finally settling on a reasonably simple and easy 32km ride.

I have a big cycling plan for 2022 and I have my RRTY challenge just started. If I’m going to achieve either of these I need to break myself out of this current slump and get back in a positive frame of mind. I still have almost 3 weeks to spin my legs back up and get ready for the second 200km. Retraining my legs will be easy, the real challenge will be retraining my brain.

rrty – here we go again!

I may have mentioned it before (πŸ€”) but RRTY stands for Randonneur Round The Year. It’s an Audax Ireland challenge to ride at least one Audax route (minimum 200km) each month for 12 consecutive months. I’ve tried 3 times before but have quit for various different reasons. My longest streak so far was 4 starting in 2017, which derailed in December that year due to lack of motivation. My latest attempt was last year when I got frustrated by Covid restrictions and decided to park it until things had returned to normal.

My tentative plan through the first part of the year was to restart in June. I figured this would give me a number of months of decent weather and longer days to build some kind of momentum into and through the tougher winter months. It would also give me a chance to build my fitness to a level that would make this all possible.

I’ve been building my distances throughout June with an early 100km spin, a strong 165km spin and a hilly 87km ride to get the legs in shape and build my mental confidence. This, combined with work and family commitments meant it was going to be very late in the month to get this done. The weather forecast was predicting a great day for Wednesday and I took the reasonably safe gamble to leave it to the very last day of the month.

I have a choice of three nearby permanents; my own Donegal 200, the Fermanagh 200 and the Dark Hedges 200. I chose the latter as it’s an easy drive to the start, a route I’m familiar with and easy to navigate and it has the least amount of overall climbing.

The sting in the tail is that it’s very unbalanced with the climbing increasing towards the end. In the first 50km there is a total elevation gain of only 180m (the next 2km have almost 30% of that alone), 50-100km is 400m, 100-150km is 520m and the final 50km is 650m. In that last section 320m is gained between Moneyneany and Feeny alone at 150-165km.

interesting elevation profile!

The weather didn’t turn out as good as predicted but good enough. I started about 7:45am and expected a chilly start so was wearing arm warmers and my wind/waterproof gillet. This also gave me a higher degree of visibility in the early morning pre-rush hour Derry traffic. I really didn’t expect to have to wear this for the first few hours. With dull, grey skies and very low cloud it wasn’t until 1:30pm that I felt able to remove the gillet, followed by the arm warmers 20min later. It was quite warm when stopped but chilly when moving in my self created wind. The rest of the day was then a real scorcher which added a bit of extra bite to the climbs later in the day.

I changed my bag setup a little this time. For the first time I used the Podsacs frame bag I purchased back in January paired with the saddle bag and my usual top tube bag. On these longer runs I like to carry sandwiches, sweets, power pack and charging cables to keep me and my recording devices well topped up. The frame bag allowed me to carry much of this in the middle of the bike, keeping the centre of gravity low and retaining good stability. Bar bags and larger saddle bags inevitably introduce a measure of “swing” when standing but the frame bag didn’t. In addition it is very accessible on and off the bike and gave me lots of space for storing my gillet and arm warmers when I was eventually able to take them off. Well worth the slight extra hassle involved in using my water bottles.

I gave a pretty detailed route description in my September post and it hasn’t changed since. I felt a bit stronger this time though and the wind was a lot more favourable. It was very light and ended up on my back from Ballymoney to Maghera making it a lot less of a slog than normal. My 200km time was 7:56 moving and 9:50 total time bringing me home under both key time targets and giving me a huge confidence boost.

the dark hedges at 90km

Last time I took a nutritional gamble on a cowboy supper in Ballymoney at 105km. I was delighted to see this still on offer despite the renovations under way at the shop. This is now my traditional mid way feed on this route 😊

click here to view on strava

meen machine

Title inspired by unironedman’s latest post:

Meen; a mountain meadow

Meen is a common townland name and it is usually an indication of hilly terrain. It’s no surprise that many Irish windfarms also have Meen in their name.

In this part of the country it’s hard to avoid hills but most of my recent rides seem to have involved quite a bit of climbing and according to Strava (including today) I’m way ahead on my climbing challenge (98%) vs my distance challenge (58%).

My ride today was very hilly but that was by plan rather than accidentally like the rest of the month. It’s a route that has been on my list for a few weeks as the hillier bits are part of the recent Sperrin Sportive run by nearby Strabane/Lifford Cycling Club. It’s a challenging route but I’m planning an Audax ride on Wednesday and wanted a hilly ride to give me a confidence boost.

The first 25km followed the same route as my Friday evening spin taking me into Clady, over the Glebe climb to Victoria Bridge before a couple of more climbs into and out of Douglas Bridge to Newtownstewart.

At the top of the Glebe climb out of Clady I could see across to the hills in the distance and the TV mast I’d be climbing to later. It looked very lumpy from this vantage point.

The river at Victoria Bridge is one of my favourite local views and with the river low today it was particularly scenic.

There were a few anglers and I watched one guy casting for a few minutes before heading on.

At Newtownstewart I made a slight route error. I turned left on the usual road to Gortin and ignored my beeping Garmin as there’s only one way to go. After a couple of 100m I remembered I’d decided to use a more rural road on the other side of the river when designing the route. I couldn’t be arsed turning back and decided to go on as the two roads eventually meet about 5km up the way.

The road rolls nicely all the way to Gortin. It’s mostly agricultural land but very scenic and especially so today with the sun shining. Just before Gortin there’s a very deceptively steep climb. It looks easy but felt tougher than it should have. Looking down it was a 10% gradient and I was pushing 280W. No wonder my legs were moaning!

The last bit into Gortin is really lovely. It’s a winding descent on a good surface with streams to one side and a mature forested area to the other. I was barely into the edge of the village before I was out again on the Plumbridge road. Gortin sits nestled in a small valley at the foot of the mountains and close to the popular Gortin Forest Park. The road from Newtownstewart was busier than expected with traffic so it looked like lots of people were there enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon.

gortin glen forest park Β© tripadvisor

Approximately 1km outside Gortin the route turns right on to a new road for me. This is the scenic driving route to Barnes Gap (not to be confused with Barnesmore Gap between Ballybofey and Donegal Town). It was lovely. It’s mostly a single lane road that rises along the side of the Owenkillew valley with fabulous views across the valley to the wooded far side. The surface is very good for such a minor road and with lots of trees and high hedges it was sheltered and cool for most of the time.

After about 5km the road becomes a lot more minor and starts climbing more significantly. The terrain takes on a more mountainous look and it was clear I was approaching Barnes Gap. It was a nice steady climb and really enjoyable. At the top the Gap is really narrow with hills on both sides before it drops down the other side and into the Glenelly Valley. This was a fantastic descent with twisting roads through wooded areas and an almost new tarmac surface. I wanted to let the bike go free but I was wary of the road being my first time on it and not knowing what was ahead. I still noted 45km/hr on the Garmin screen. At the bottom of the hill there was a great parking area with toilets, a shelter and picnic benches. I stopped for a stretch and a bar before refilling my bottles at a tap kindly pointed out to me by a guy who had been MTBing in the local area.

The next section was beautiful and easily the best part of the day. The road gradually descends along the side of Glenelly Valley with views across and down to Plumbridge. The surface was smooth and fast and virtually traffic free. I loved it!

Arriving into Plumbridge the real climbing is straight in front. As you leave the village on a short descent the road ahead rises like a wall with the first of 4 climbs to the TV mast. Within the space of 100m you lose all your speed and hit the lowest of your gears with a 13-14% gradient that seems to go on forever. The road eventually levels out a bit and on the top I passed an unusual memorial looking across the landscape towards Bessy Bell that I climbed a number of weeks ago.

Shortly after this the road drops again. This is the theme of this challenging climb. The first three climbs are all followed by a significant descent cancelling out much of the hard earned height of the previous climb. This can be mentally very challenging also as it’s frustrating to lose so much of your hard work and have to repeat it all again.

The worst of this is between the third and final climb. The descent is long and fast and incredibly enjoyable (I hit 65km/hr here today) before you have to face the hardest climb of the day once again seeing 13% on the screen. The first time I climbed this road I thought the 3rd climb was the last. The forest at the top hides the descent and the mast looks very close. Dropping back into the steep valley and having to climb out the other side was soul destroying that day. At least today I knew what to expect.

The TV mast itself is 305m tall and the tallest man made structure on the island of Ireland. It’s lit at night with a series of red lights up its length and is a very visible landmark and a very welcome sight when travelling home from Dublin, indicating the journey is almost over.

After a brief stop at the top there is a great descent into Strabane that I wasn’t able to enjoy to the full. Coming over the hill I was now on the exposed side and very susceptible to the strong, blustery breeze. The road constantly changes direction as it winds down the hill meaning I had to control my speed so as not to get blown off course by the changing breeze.

Back in Strabane I was getting hungry and decided to stop for food. I’d been carrying a sandwich in my bag all day, seemingly for nothing, but finally it had a purpose. In the first shop the young assistant provided no assistance and watched me waste 3min getting a tea started and struggling to get hot water. When I eventually asked what was up she informed me that the machine was switched off for the day. Why didn’t she say something sooner! I left with a real hump πŸ˜†

Getting a good but expensive (Β£2.40!) cuppa at the next shop I enjoyed the warm afternoon sunshine while eating the staple of any irishman’s diet – a good old hang samwich before enjoying the last 20km home with a tailwind for most of the way. Of course after a day of challenging hills I finished with one last 1.6km climb to home.

click here to view on strava

On a more functional note I seem to have cracked my hydration on the last few rides. I’ve always been bad at drinking enough on rides but I have been stopping to pee mid ride this last few weeks suggesting I’ve finally nailed it. Either that or my prostate is playing up!

Header image source: pinterest.com

imperial century

Part of my plan for my long weekend off at the start of the month was to complete my first 100 mile ride of the year. The idea was a 100km ride on Saturday and a 100 mile ride on Monday but getting my first vaccine jab on the Saturday morning put paid to that idea. I got the 100km done the Wednesday instead and Sunday past was my rescheduled day for the 100 miles.

This ride was an important step on the road back to 200km Audax rides again. The physical challenge is very important of course but in this case it was important mentally also as I’d decided to use the second half of my Donegal 200 route. It was on this section in October that I really struggled and had one of my toughest days ever on the bike. I felt it was important to go back and put this ghost to rest.

The first 60km took me through Ballybofey to Glenties before joining the 200km route just outside Ardara. The first section of this to Bellanamore School is a popular Club route for the start of the season. It’s a great training route with testing climbs on the way out and fast descents and flat sections for racing on the way back. Today though it was all about the climbs as it was one way only for me this time. One of the climbs (Leitir Bric) is my all time favourite descent on the way back to town.

After Bellanamore I pushed on for Fintown. The road follows the head of the Finn Valley to the shores of Lough Finn which is the source of the River Finn. The Finn flows all the way to Lifford where it merges with the Mourne to form the Foyle. The valley along this upper river section is steep and rugged and this is reflected in the mixture of steep climbs and descents as the road winds along one side high above the river.

Leaving Fintown the road heads for Glenties initially along the lough shore. The lough is long and narrow (5 x 0.5km) and overshadowed on the far bank by Aghla Mountain. It’s very scenic but also a brutal funnel for the wind making the headwind stronger and the going harder. Much of the road to Glenties is across higher bogland, exposed and open. It’s a number of years since I rode this far on this road and have memories of one particular early spring day getting caught in a hail storm and my only shelter was to stand at the side of the road with my back to the wind and endure the hail bouncing off my helmet and ears.

The last few kilometres into Glenties are a frustrating mix of washboard rough surface, caused by the drying bog underneath and perfect smooth sections that have been upgraded. Arriving in Glenties, at slightly over 50km, it was too soon for lunch but I decided to take a 5min break to stretch my back and have a bar.

The road out of Glenties to Ardara is used by the local Tir Chonnail Gap Cycling Club for their TT course. It must be the only time trial course with a lump of a hill about halfway along! This is a pretty decent road and it meets the Frosses road from Donegal Town to finally join the 200km route. Since my inaugural ride I rerouted to go through the town and out the Narin/Portnoo Road to take advantage of the last service station until Letterkenny.

Going into the shop I had a slightly weird encounter with a fairly large man. He mumbled at me as I said hello on my way past and managed to blurt out something about having no insurance. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t playing with a full deck and replied that it was a good job I wasn’t intending to crash before going on into the shop.

It was after Ardara that my woes began last time but today couldn’t have been more different. Last time I was into the wind and everything look grey and bleak in the dull October light. Today I had a tailwind and everything was bright and green. Along the coast I had the time to lift my head and look around to get glimpses of the white strands of Nairin and Portnoo. It really was a very beautifully scenic part of the county and one I plan to go back and explore further.

The road pops back out on the main N56 between Glenties and Dungloe. It’s a completely refurbished road and despite the N route status it was pretty quiet. Regardless of the traffic though there’s a segregated shared use path along the side of the road. It’s for pedestrian and cycling use but I was the only one on it today for about 5km. Last October a lot of this path was covered with loose gravel thrown by passing traffic. Since then it’s obviously been swept as it was very clear, apart from the occasional crossing where farm vehicles had been crossing. My only complaint is that the path ends without warning by suddenly swinging left down on to the old road requiring either a diversion into a residential area or a steep climb back up to the main road. The latter was my only real choice as I needed to carry on to the long and picturesque bridge crossing over Gweebarra River.

The route continues for a short distance along the main road and through Lettermacaward before swinging off on to a rural single track road to Doochary. Similar to the route from Ballybofey this rises and falls along the side of a narrow, steep river valley cut by the Gweebarra, basically more and more scenic views with the countryside in full bloom.

Leaving Doochary the climbing starts again. It was this road that destroyed me last time but despite the steady 10km climb I still had the tailwind making it so much easier and despite the heavy drizzle that started soon after, I loved it. It’s a bleak and empty mountainous landscape but also beautiful. The road is crossed multiple times by rocky mountain streams with small waterfalls in many locations. Along the way is a large lake off to the right and I was surprised to see a sandy beach on the far shore.

Just before entering the border of Glenveagh National Park I stopped beside some ruins. On a rock beside one of these ruins was a plaque in Irish commemorating the Derryveagh Evictions of 1861.

The plaque reads:

April 8th-10th 1861

Derryveagh Evictions

In memory of the poor people who died and were evicted from this area during this time.

Normally when you reach the top of the final climb there is a reward of a fabulous view down the Glenveagh valley but with the low cloud and persistent drizzle today the view was wiped out.

I was only slightly damp at this stage but as I was now facing a long descent into Churchill and mostly downhill into Letterkenny I decided to layer up with my waterproof gillet. Flying down the hills it got very cold and I was very glad of this decision. Through Churchill and towards Letterkenny I was getting hungry again and on the lookout for a service station I could remember. Unfortunately I was remembering one from a different road and it was the outskirts of Letterkenny before I had the option to stop. Adjusting the Audax route to allow a foodstop in Ardara was definitely a good idea.

The service station is off the Audax route by approximately 1km but instead of back tracking I carried on into Letterkenny and picked up the back road at the Old Town end of town. Then it was the rolling back road that skirts along the edge of town and the dual carriageway all the way to Manorcunningham before swinging right to head over the hill to Raphoe. This was a long and difficult climb with tired legs and a tailwind that had now become a bit of a headwind with the change of direction. However, I was now on very familiar roads and feeling good so I was quickly down into Raphoe, on to Ballindrait and Castlefinn.

I opted for the slightly easier main road home from Castlefinn. Despite the better surface and flatter road I really regretted this. Within a 3.5km stretch of main road I had 4 bad passes including one that verged on dangerous. I’d managed over 160km with no issues and managed to save all my idiots for the final 15min!

Leaving Castlefinn I also tipped over the 160km mark at 6hrs 21min. I was very pleased with my time and really enjoyed the ride but suddenly lost all interest in the last 5km. If Catriona was at home there’s a strong chance I would have rung her to come and get me!

It was a really enjoyable ride and Audax is definitely back on the table again and I’ve really regained my confidence for RRTY.

metric challenge 2021: june

Originally I had no real plan for today, the last day of my long long weekend off work. I did have plans for a 100K spin on Saturday and 160K on Monday but the vaccine on Saturday pushed both of those off the table. I thought the 100K on Saturday was unwise and I was knocked on my arse for Sunday and Monday with an incredibly sore arm on Sunday and quite a lot of tiredness. I ended up falling asleep for an hour on Sunday afternoon having spent the day at Fort Dunree with Catriona and the boys.

I was still up for a spin Monday, just a shorter one, but shortly after lunch I fell asleep again and managed to sleep for 2 hours! At that stage I decided a walk was probably the better option.

Tuesday I was well recovered and back to normal so decided to go ahead with my plan to attend the first Club spin for a very long time. This was pretty full on and left me with tired legs this morning. It was still nagging at me that I hadn’t got my 100K done though. Getting up early I had a plan for a hilly but interesting route that made the most of the challenging 22km/h breeze.

I had to wait a while before I could leave. The forecast was giving heavy drizzle showers up until 11/12 and I didn’t really fancy having to start off either wet or wearing a waterproof gillet. I also spent the morning trying to contact my car mechanic to find out when my car would be ready for collection. I’m not having much luck with mechanic communications this week and need to change my approach as I didn’t get speaking to him until 5pm this evening!

Rolling out shortly after 12 I first of all went the opposite direction into Killygordon before turning for Castlefinn. This gave me an easy extra 5K to start and allowed me to finish coming downhill to home rather than uphill and into the wind.

At Castlefinn the fun started. For the next 30km it was a lot of climbing and straight into the wind. My legs were really feeling the effects of the previous evening and I hate headwinds. I must be the least aero dynamic person and really struggle with the wind. After the first 6K climb it’s a long descent into Castlederg and despite only being at 20K it felt like time to stop for a brief break and a bar.

The next section is up out of Castlederg to Ederney and Kesh. This was a real slog. It’s a series of small and big climbs punctuated by the occasional short descent. The overall emphasis is on up and I was still contending with the headwind. Approaching the toughest section, climbing over Scraghey, the rain came on. At first it was only a light drizzle so I pushed on thinking it was pointless stopping to put on my waterproof gillet. I figured I’d dry out quickly in the heat and strong breeze. By the time the rain became more consistent and I realised I’d made the wrong call it was too late and I was soaked. By the time I finally dropped in to Ederney I was starting to dry out and although 46K felt too early to stop I was getting hungry and had enough for now.

I didn’t stop long, just enough time to scoff a sandwich, drink a tea and top off my water bottles. I wasn’t completely dry and despite the warm day I was wary of getting chilled.

Kesh saw me over the halfway point and turning for Pettigo. I was now on unfamiliar roads but also starting to swing away from the headwind. Up until now I had been following part of the route of our Club Sportive but in the opposite direction. I was expecting a crap road from Kesh to Pettigo but it turned out pretty good and I seemed to blast through to 60K before I knew it. The food and lack of headwind seemed to be having an immediate effect.

Pettigo is an unusual little town. It straddles the border between Donegal and Fermanagh and therefore also the border between UK and Ireland and now the border with the EU. The town has two names, Pettigo in Donegal and Tullyhommon in Fermanagh. It is rumoured to be the inspiration for Spike Milligan’s story Puckoon. This is set in 1924 in a village divided by the border which runs through the pub meaning beer is cheaper in one corner than in the rest of the bar.

Leaving Pettigo I was now following the main approach to the pilgrimage site at Lough Derg. This is famous for the religious visits through the summer and in particular the 3 day penance retreat of fasting on water and bread while walking the Stations in barefeet and trying not to sleep, not really my idea of a weekend away! About 2km from the lough the road takes a swing right bringing you up above the lough with a cracker view across to Station Island and as close as I ever hope to get to it.

The road was now starting to rise again but with 65K done and the wind at my back I could sense the end and felt my second wind coming on. This area is open mountain bogland. It’s very open and exposed so I was glad to have the wind with me. It was very pleasant and pretty today with lots of wildflowers but must be an unforgiving place in the middle of winter.

Just before 70K there is a sudden and unexpected steep descent down into a river cut gully. This is the River Derg and marks the border crossing bringing me back into Northern Ireland once again. Even if I hadn’t seen the border on the map there are subtle road and signage differences that are plain to see. The management of the countryside also feels much more organised and maintained in NI versus the Republic, especially along the border.

The payment for any river cut descent is always a steep ascent on the other side but once up the short, steep climb I was in the midst of yet another windfarm and back on familiar territory with great views down the valley to Killeter and beyond. From here to Killeter it was pretty much all downhill and on great road surfaces. The upside of the windmill construction was a fantastic upgrade of the small country roads giving them a finish like a runway that’s still in great condition some years on.

The good surface lasts all the way to the closing of the big loop just above Castlederg. The fast run-in is finished with a steep climb up to the junction. My legs were really flagging on this climb and I knew I needed something to get me the last 14K to home and up the last climb of the day. I stopped in one of the small supermarkets in Castlederg for a Fanta and a chocolate bar. Not very healthy but the sugary goodness carried me all the way home and I even set my second best time on the last climb. This may have had something to do with the nicely planned tailwind too though πŸ˜†

Arriving home with a nice 800m free wheel I had just over 101K and slightly over 1000m of climbing done. No great speeds today but after last night I was delighted to get it finished and also to have my metric challenge completed early in the month again. That’s halfway through 2021 now which is a bit frightening!

click image to view on strava

This weekend off and especially last night and today have given me back a lot of the cycling confidence I managed to lose during April and May. I’m now starting to feel that Audax is back on the cards and tentatively planning to restart the RRTY Challenge before the end of the month.

tnib* – first club spin of the year

With the lifting of restrictions our Club officially restarted Club rides again last week. Like most Clubs this is a Tuesday and Thursday evening as well as Sunday morning. I used to be a regular attendee of pretty much all 3 meets but since changing jobs back in August 2019 I’ve been missing them a lot. I finish work at 6 and the spin starts at 7. This doesn’t usually give me time to get away, changed and travel to the start in time. My old job was almost 15min less travel time and a lot quieter so I was able to get changed early and go on the button of 6.

My last activity with the Club was our Bike Week event back in September and previous to that it was a few Sunday rides in January last year. I can blame the pandemic for most of that but it was me as well. During 2018/19 my cycling activity dropped off considerably and I lost a lot of my fitness. Most of my cycling was solo and I lost the edge I needed to ride with my usual group who had all stepped up a level. Even back in January last year I was struggling, and often failing, to stay with them, especially on hills.

Having the long weekend off and no work yesterday meant I had a perfect opportunity to get back to a Club meet. To be honest I was nervous about it. I’ve always been a bit awkward in social situations and the last year and a half haven’t helped that any. I knew I’d gotten stronger on the bike this year but I was sure I was still way off the rest of my old group, especially as my activity had dipped in April and May again. There was quite a bit of flip-flopping throughout the day about whether or not I was even going to go but eventually I knew I had to go for my own good.

I cycled up to the meeting point from home and ended up leaving early and being there almost 15min early. I was ready to go so just left before I could talk myself out of it again! Quite a few people turned up and a good mixed group so I knew I had someone to ride with no matter what happened. After a bit of chatting among groups a route was decided. All abilities were heading in the same direction which suited me perfectly as it meant I could fall back to a slower group if I wasn’t able to keep up. I didn’t intend to go with the faster group but as everyone separated out I ended up starting with them. At least three other guys came too that I knew I could stay with so I was reasonably happy. Nervous but happy.

The route was up Barnes Gap, left down the Derg Line to Castlederg, over the valley ridge to Castlefinn and back to Ballybofey via the main road. This also suited me as it gave me a few drop out options to cut the ride short as well as not having to cycle home solo from Ballybofey at the end.

The big issue with this route is that the start is pretty brutal. The first 10km has a lot of climbing when legs aren’t properly warmed up. The last time I came up Cappry I really struggled to stay with the guys and I was pleased to stay with them this time. I did fully expect to be dropped heading up into Barnes Gap (one of the two hardest climbs of the route) but I wasn’t the last one up. I was seriously red lined at the top and didn’t get much of a chance to recover as we kept on to the Derg Line before stopping properly. I ended up behind Tony and really struggled to keep his wheel before losing it on the last small climb about 200m before the turn.

This next section was a lot better. It’s a fairly rolling section and the wind wasn’t as much of an issue as before. We formed a good double line with all of us taking some time on the front. My pulls were pretty short but I still got up there and took my turn. This was a very fast section too and that took a lot of getting used to. Riding in a group was nerve wracking, especially across the first bit which was pretty twisty and bumpy. At times I really felt close to my skill limit and verging on uncomfortable but I soon settled in.

Two guys had decided to hold back and wait for a slower group just after Cappry but I had one other guy that didn’t normally ride with the fast group and one other guy that does but is the slowest so I still had company and didn’t stand out too much. In fairness the three faster guys were great. They took the majority of the time on front, set a challenging but reasonable pace and eased off to wait for everyone to regroup after the tougher climbs.

The route stayed rolling and fast all the way to Castlederg with one last steep climb and fast descent into the town. Then it was the last long pull up over the valley ridge before dropping down to Castlefinn. This is a long, hard climb at the best of times and my legs were really complaining at this stage. However, the wind was now behind us which helped. I managed to stay with everyone for about half the climb before two of the guys really started to pull away followed by one of guys I was trying to match. About 2/3 of the way up John came past me like I wasn’t even moving! He had dropped a chain when he had to stop for traffic mid change and had fallen way behind but I’d say he was still one of the first to the top. Close to the top I got passed by the last of the group meaning I was the last one up but about 1km on I caught up with them again as they had slowed to regroup.

Then it was the very fast descent into Castlefinn. This is a nice twisty road with a good surface and there’s always a fair bit of racing here to get to the bottom. I topped out at just over 60km/hr at 100rpm on my fastest gear and still couldn’t catch some of the guys with bigger chainsets and more power than me. It was great!

Regrouping again in Castlefinn we took it reasonably steady to head back towards Ballybofey. I initially planned to drop off at Liscooley and head home but the craic was good and I felt my legs needed a slightly longer spin down before climbing home so I stayed with them to Killygordon before turning off and soloing the final 5km home.

Leaving the guys my average speed was 29.5km/hr but that included the first 12km solo ride up. Most of them finished with a 30km/hr+ average which is a lot faster than I’ve done for a long time. My usual average weighted power is 180-185, last night it was 200! It’s a very long time since I’ve asked that from my legs and I was very pleased that they had it to give.

*TNIB = Tuesday Night in Ballybofey, nod to BigDdyJim πŸ˜‰πŸ‘Œ

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