- a full month of lockdown v3.0
- lots of walking especially in the first half of the month: 201.5km in 31 activities with at least one walk every day
- my longest walk was 21.72km, just over the half marathon distance
- lots of cycling especially towards the end of the month: 568km in 11 activities
- cycled 5 days in a row to end the month including my longest ride of 101.6km on the last day
- restarted intermittent fasting and dropped approximately 2kg
- a mixed up month of multiple storms and long cold, dry spells including signs of an early spring
- homeschooling continued for two seriously fed up teenagers
- got the call from work with a restarting date
- almost a fortnight of amazing sunsets
The way January has developed I was starting to think I’d never get this ride done and that one of my main goals for 2021 was going to fall flat in the first month! I lost a lot of time due to Covid, 10 days isolation plus recovery afterwards ate up about half the month. Then we got snow and I lost at least another week for cycling. I was able to keep walking though so did build and retain some fitness.
For the last few days I’ve been watching the weather forecast pretty closely. The prediction was for it to get a lot milder Wednesday before another band of heavy rain moved in Thursday. I was hoping for a quick thaw to open up the roads again and let me out on the road bike. In the end up the thaw started Tuesday afternoon with most of the snow gone by evening and completely gone by Wednesday morning.
Then the weather gods played the joker! Fog! Clear, mild conditions combined with an almost total lack of wind and high humidity meant that the Finn Valley was shrouded in thick fog all morning and into early afternoon. By the time it cleared I’d lost interest and had become engrossed in my current book. Plus I was going to run out of daylight and I didn’t fancy finishing in the dark.
The forecast held out further hope with a window this morning into the late afternoon between the two bands of heavy rain. It was to be a bit breezier (18-24km/h) so fog was unlikely. All set to go 👍
I’d already planned to do my “easy” route. It’s the 50km loop of the Finn Valley between Strabane and Ballybofey using both sides of the river. I also planned to stop at home at the halfway point, have something proper to eat and adapt my clothing if needed.
The weather turned out very mild. I had on thermal leggings over my shorts but could have gotten away with leg warmers instead. The skull cap went at 25km, I changed to a lighter base layer at lunch and also ditched the liner gloves.
The first half was OK but I really paid for my lack of cycling over the last two months and this month in particular. At 40km everything was hurting, shoulders, neck, lower back and ass. Some of it was lack of flexibility, some due to the effects of walking with a weighted backpack this week but to be honest most of it was due to a lack of saddle time. Up until today I only had 278km across 6 rides for the whole of December and January. My ride today pretty much doubled my January total. I was glad to see home at the halfway point and get some anti inflammatories into me as well as a bowl of soup and wheaten bread.
I was expecting the second half to be slower but it turned out slightly faster. Coming back from Castlefinn to Killygordon I felt great. There were impressive figures (for me!) showing on the Garmin and I was starting to think there was something in the soup! At the very least the wind had dropped. Turning in Ballybofey to come home on the final 10km I realised that the wind had changed direction slightly, I’d had a bit of a tailwind for the last 20km and I was now finishing into a headwind. The last 10km was tough. Mentally I’d had enough and I was physically tired. The big effort from Castlefinn was now biting back. For the first time ever I thought I wasn’t going to make it up the final hill to home!
The roads have been very dirty since October but they were really bad today and I was glad I made the last minute decision to stick on the rear mudguard. The surface has also deteriorated a lot over the winter and especially with the recent ice and snow. There were random patches of grit on the hillier bits as households had dealt with the snow and lots of gravel washed off side roads in the heavy overnight rain. It didn’t make things any easier.
Header image © Strava. 100KM Gran Fondo January 2021.
Before that we climbed it as a family on Easter Sunday 2018. This day also marked the 20th Anniversary of the day Catriona and I met for the first time.
This morning I started 2021 by climbing Errigal once again to witness the dawn of the new year.
The idea for this started as a joke on Xmas Day when I told the boys we were going to camp out on Errigal to witness the dawn. I’d no intention of camping but the idea of a dawn hike was rattling around in my brain ever since. I kept an eye on the weather all week and it looked like it was going to work out.
The alarm woke me at 4:10am and after just one snooze and my first attempt to talk myself out of the idea I was dressed, fed and out the door shortly after 4:45am having tried to talk myself out of it for the second time!
Driving over to Letterkenny I suddenly remembered that the new lockdown restrictions that came into effect yesterday included a resumption of the 5km travel limit. At this stage I was committed and drove on hoping not to meet a checkpoint on the road.
Approaching Glenveagh Muckish was suddenly on the skyline, reasonably visible due to the almost clear sky and the bright moon, just one day from full. Along the road the remaining “Seven Sisters“ appeared with Errigal finally looming large with some clinging cloud and a topping of snow.
Arriving at the car park there was a car, a van and a motor home already parked up. A second and third car appeared within 5 minutes. As I was getting dressed a hiker appeared over the ridge and into the car park. He had some route advice and showed us a video of conditions at the top. He had started out at 3:30am and didn’t want to wait for dawn as it was so cold.
The other cars and the original van turned out to be a small group of online friends meeting for the hike. They were pretty fit looking so once they were ready, after everyone sheltered from a fairly heavy shower, I let them get a 5min head start to keep us apart on the hill. This was my third and final attempt to talk myself out of it!
The initial section of the hike is across wet bog and along the bank of a stream. It’s pretty difficult terrain at the best of times, particularly wet this morning and very tiring in the dark. Keeping an eye on the lights in front I was able to plot my route pretty successfully and reach the start of the scree without falling in a bog hole. Despite the compacted snow and patches of ice the firmer ground made for much easier walking and surprisingly I soon passed the first group.
Following the footsteps in the snow and the path faintly visible in the light of my head torch I made steady progress and soon reached the rest point just below the summit. This is a ring of stones approximately 4m wide and built up to a height of about 1m. Just enough to provide shelter from the wind. Just as I arrived another heavy shower of snow and fine hail blew in but once I had my hood up and sitting on my seat pad, leaning against my rucksack it was reasonably comfortable. Less than 10 minutes later and the group joined me. We were way too early for the dawn and with zero shelter at the peak we waited in the shelter until 7:45am and then headed for the top all together. Along the way the clouds lifted and there was a tantalising vague view of the mountainside falling away and the nearby landscape and mountains highlighted with drifts of snow.
Very quickly we were on the first summit and crossed over the narrow ridge to the second. The cloud was fairly thick again but the brisk wind was keeping it moving with the full moon appearing every now and again as the clouds blew over.
The other group moved back to the first summit to check the view for photos and fire up a drone. I stayed where I was as I was keen to experience the dawn peacefully on my own.
The temperature was close to freezing and the windchill sub zero which made it difficult. As usual toes and fingers suffered the most, especially my right hand as I had to remove my glove to take photos.
As the light gradually appeared the sky started to ripple with the pink of dawn and as the clouds blew past I soon forgot about the cold. Ever so slowly the landscape below began to materialise as the light increased and eventually the sun’s glow was visible through the clouds.
The whole experience was amazing. It’s easily one of the best things I’ve ever done and I found it quite uplifting and emotional. A morning I don’t think I’ll ever forget ♥
The descent was pretty straightforward now that daylight had arrived. It needed care though as the path was compacted and slippy with a mix of snow and ice. Lots of people were making an early ascent of the mountain and it was really nice to get a chorus line of Happy New Year all the way back to the end of the scree. The bog was running wet for the rest of the descent and very muddy for the last few hundred metres but much easier descending and daylight made pathfinding much easier.
I met at least 40 people on my way back down and the car park was full to overflowing with more cars parked along the road. Seems like I’m not the only one who forgot about the 5km limit today!
Two of group I met on the hill are very talented photographers and are active on Instagram. These are the photos they chose from this morning. They have a lot more talent than I do and are worth following.
Header image by Aodh Mairtin O Fearraigh and published by “Donegal Has It All“.
I’m not really into retrospectives but Gerry from The Vicious Cycle posted a really good one earlier this week and I have been reading a few others too. I don’t usually find a lot of personal value in looking back. Facebook memories, Strava’s end of year review and Veloviewer’s infographic are as close as I normally get.
I’m much more interested in setting goals for the future. Some of these are short term like the mini challenges I wrote about last time but at the start of a new year I also like to set longer term goals for the full year.
Unsurprisingly, most of my goals are cycling related.
annual goal: since I started using Strava in 2014 my biggest year was 2016 when I rode 8,046km. This past year was fairly average for me at 4,541km. I’d like to beat that in 2020 riding an average of 500km per month for a total goal of 6,000km. 8,000km would be a good stretch target as I’ve only hit it the once and it’s also the equivalent of 5,000miles.
streak goal: I should have my 12th metric century completed by the end of this week completing the set for the year. I’m planning the same challenge for next year but this time I’m going to do it within each calendar month and go for the full set of Strava Gran Fondo trophies for 2021. It doesn’t sit 100% right with me that I missed a month or two this year.
I also want to restart the Audax Ireland RRTY challenge this year. I plan to start it in May or June so that I can start and finish in Summer as well as having some momentum going into the tougher Winter months. I’m also hoping that lockdowns will be a thing of the past by then giving me a chance to take part in calendar events and introduce some variety.
distance goal: my biggest ride so far is 210km back in 2017. I’ve completed quite a few 200km Audax rides now and would like to complete one next level 300km ride this year.
For the first year I now consider myself a runner as well as a cyclist and I want to set goals to improve my running this year and make it a permanent part of my training.
streak goal: I’ve managed to get back to a level that I can run a 5K without stopping. This year I want to run a full 5K each month and like my cycling goal above complete each of the Strava monthly 5K challenges.
time goal: my fastest 5K time so far is 27:23. My goal this year is 25min.
other activity goals
bikepacking: I’ve been watching a lot of Bikepacking videos and read a lot of articles this year and want to complete one short trip and camp out for one night. I haven’t spent a night in a tent for about 10 years!
strength and conditioning: during lockdown I discovered Tom Merrick’s YouTube channel. He has a nice and simple 6 day follow along program for strength and flexibility. I’m not setting a specific goal but want to incorporate this into my regular activities this year. I have strong legs but my upper body strength and my general flexibility is poor and needs to improve before I end up with injuries.
weight loss: in the early part of 2020 I was at 88kg. During the latter stages of the first lockdown I managed to get that down to 80kg through 16:8 intermittent fasting and increased activity. I wasn’t able to sustain the fasting for long once I went back to work and bad habits gradually crept back in. I’ve been able to keep it between 81-82kg and during this year I’d like to get it down to 76kg and keep it there consistently.
There’s a lot in there and too many goals could mean that I’m setting myself up for failure. However, most of them are continuations of goals I’m already working on or are stretches that are definitely achievable. The key one is the 365 challenge. If I can get that rolling then most of the rest should fall into place.
Header image by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels