Yesterday marked what I hope is a new start for me on my cycling journey. My cycling activities have declined significantly starting in the second half of 2021 but completely collapsing during 2022 with only 860km in total and my longest ride being slightly over 56km back in May.
Some of my decrease in activity I put down to a decrease in Club group activities during Covid. The majority of my cycling in 2020-21 was solo and I’ve always found it more difficult to self motivate. The social aspect of Club riding can be challenging at times but overall I found it having a positive effect. As my cycling became more erratic during 2021 and I lost fitness I found it increasingly difficult to take part in Club activities as the group I was a part of became too strong for me and I couldn’t stay with them. I did do some rides with this group and while a few of them were understanding and helpful it quickly became frustrating for everyone and I stopped riding with them. I then found it difficult to find a new group that I fitted with as comfortably and the Club became less attractive for me. Then I got into a spiral of decreasing interest and declining fitness resulting in my worst year since I started cycling back in 2013.
The other reason for my lack of cycling motivation last year was the lack of a goal. Yearly distance goals are too long term for me and a randomly selected weekly mileage doesn’t really motivate me either. My two best years on the bike were 2016 and 2017. It’s no coincidence that I was very active with the Club in 2016 and had two big events that year.
Wicklow 200: June 2016
Causeway Coast Sportive: September 2016
In 2017 I discovered Audax and that gave me a series of goals to work towards that year with the 4 Provinces Challenge. It’s also significant that my cycling dropped off very quickly shortly after I completed that challenge in October 2017 and 2018 was a much poorer year without a specific goal to aim for.
All that is a long way of saying I’m planning to turn things around by setting myself a goal for 2023. I turn 50 this July so as well as having a goal I want it to be something special as a milestone for the year. I’ve decided to take on the Audax Super Randonneur Challenge. This is a series of Audax events that comprise the full set of distances and requires completion of at least one each of a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km event during the Audax calendar year (November 1st – October 31st).
I have selected 4 events that will also allow me to complete the 4 Provinces Challenge for a second time as events can be used to qualify for more than one challenge at a time. The first of these events is the Dark Hedges 200 on April 23rd. This is a route I’ve ridden a few times now and one I’ve enjoyed. It’s a challenging route with a lot of climbing in the second half but will be a good test of my fitness and an indicator of my chances of success at the longer distances.
My first ride of the year and my first step on the road back to Audax fitness was yesterday afternoon. A simple 27km with a little climbing to break me back into the cycling habit. My “plan” is to use this loop to rebuild my cycling habit and some form of base fitness throughout January by completing it 3 times each week. In February I’ll start to increase the distance and elevation and add in some more structured training. For now though I want to focus on getting back to a regular cycling routine.
Header image by alexandre saraiva carniato from Pexels.com
“50 States of the USA” written and read by Anna McNuff
This post may contain spoilers.
It’s not commonplace that a good author also has the ability to be a good reader. Anna McNuff is brilliant at both! Not only is this an excellent description of her challenge but she reads it with passion and a huge sense of fun. She obviously loved her time during this book, revels in reliving it and it pumps out of the speakers. I’m totally convinced that this is a book enhanced by being an audiobook version.
I’ve read and listened to a number of books on endurance activities now. Most are based on long-distance hiking of the PCT or AT and a couple on long distance cycling. The most notable of the latter was Mark Beaumont’s story of his world record cycle round the world but this story has more in common with the best of the hiking stories I’ve listened to.
While many adventure stories focus on either the journey and the places encountered or the organisation of getting to and through the challenge this story is mostly about the people the author met along the way. While she camped plenty she managed to spend a lot of time staying with friends, friends of friends and hosts through the Warm Showers association which this story is an excellent advertisement for.
Throughout the book the author is continually surprised by the warmth and generosity of the people she meets but I’m positive that it is partly her own wonderful nature that brings this out in people she encounters.
If you want an uplifting experience and to hear an encouraging story about society in general but especially American society then this book is for you. It’s so nice to hear positive stories about America and especially small town America that seems to get bad press in many media.
20miles, 32 kilometres, it doesn’t sound like an awful lot but that was my target for Wednesday. Back in 2012 I did my longest ever walk at 30.5km on The Bluestack Challenge along part of the Bluestack Way from Glenties to Lough Eske. That was an organised walk and over some hilly terrain. Since then I’ve done some longish walks in the 15-20km area and last year walked a half marathon for the first time since 2012. A few weeks ago I repeated that same walk and pushed it out to 25km.
Since then it’s been rattling around in my head to push on and beat my personal best. I’ve been walking a bit extra this month as part of the fundraiser for the Irish Community Air Ambulance and I wanted to finish March with a big one. I’ve also been listening to a few audiobooks recently on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail and was inspired to put in one of their days. One of the big milestones for those thru-hikers is their first 20mile day so 32km became my new target, albeit without the 15kg backpack!
I walked a very similar route to the other two days linked above but with variations to increase the distance. It was all on roads, some of which were very familiar but I also managed to find roads I’ve never been on before and yet so close to home. I was surprised by the variety of landscapes that I saw and just how quickly they changed. I had great weather, cold and breezy at times but dry all day. I had a great time and despite the throbbing knees and ankles had a massive sense of achievement at the end.
beautiful birch at lunch stop
(For some reason this video has uploaded in a low resolution version and I can’t work out why, yet another thing to learn.)
So what is the next challenge? I guess the next logical step is to walk the full marathon distance which is 42km. I already have a route pencilled out for that and I’m investigating a 50km route also. That one will require a long dry day in summer and it’s probably the absolute maximum limit for me for a single day walk. I’m going to enjoy the current achievement for a while but also enjoy making plans…
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.
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.
We’ve just been through what qualifies as a heatwave in Ireland and Sunday was the last day of mega sunshine, high temperatures and the extended period of dry weather.
Definition: A heatwave refers to a prolonged period of abnormally hot weather which may be accompanied by high humidity. While there is no generally accepted definition of a heatwave, in Ireland it’s classified as 5 consecutive days with a maximum temperature in excess of 25 degrees Celsius”.
Sunday was also the last day available for me to complete a 200km ride to qualify for RRTY. It would also have to do double duty and count for my Metric Challenge ride for July. Due to various weak excuses I wasn’t able to fit it in earlier this month. Our wedding anniversary was the only other available day and the flag I attempted to run up for that date was mercilessly (and unsurprisingly) shot down.
Heat was going to be a challenge so I decided to set a 5am alarm and get on the road early. I also decided to do my own Donegal 200 Permanent so I wouldn’t have to drive to the start and therfore start cycling earlier. Due to a bit of faffing around with my Garmin I ended up wasting half an hour and getting started at 620am, but only 20min later than planned.
Even leaving at this time the temperature was still 13°C. It was 18°C at 8am, 20°C by 10am and 24-26°C in the afternoon. As a result it was a much more laid back ride than usual. I made sure to keep my power well down to keep my heart rate low and therefore my speed suffered a bit.
donegal bay from mountcharles pier
I also took plenty of breaks. I was going through water pretty quickly (at least 6L throughout the day) and made good use of the many shops along the route to stop and refill. My main break was at Ardara, at just under 100km, where I had my lunch in the sun outside a local service station. On my inaugural ride of this route back in October I missed this shop but amended the route shortly after to include it. It’s a definite route improvement as it’s a fully stocked shop with good toilets, a hot food deli and an indoor seating area. The indoor seating was unavailable on Sunday due to Covid restrictions but these should be lifted shortly and it will be an important refuge in colder, wetter months.
gweebarra bay and bridge
My most enjoyable break came just before the hardest climb. On my 100mile ride last month I’d noticed a large lough on the edge of Glenveagh National Park. I always had a plan to wear a wet buff under my helmet and down the back of my neck for the toughest climb up to Glenveagh as I’d be hitting it in the early afternoon. Leaving Ardara I remembered this lough and had the idea of stopping for a chance to cool my feet in the water.
cooling off at lough barra
This was my best idea ever! By the time I reached the lough (Lough Barra I discovered from the information board) my feet were hot and swollen and getting sore. Soaking them and my legs up to the knees was a beautiful relief. I splashed water over my head, down my back and arms. It was glorious. I was pretty soaked but cool and dried out quickly in the strong sunshine. There was a family there kayaking and if not for them (and the proximity to the public road) I’d have been tempted to strip off for a fully submerged dip! It took a real effort to dry off and leave but off I went with a soaking wet buff dribbling cooling water down the back of my neck.
lough veagh from the head of glenveagh
I ended up stopping twice more, in Churchill and Raphoe, to cool off in the shade, buy more water and eat more food. The heat impacted my average speed (24.2km/hr) with my 200km ridden in 8hr 16min. My usual target is sub 8hrs so I was still pleased. My total time was longer than usual too at 10hr 40min but I needed those extra stops and I enjoyed every one of them so it was all worthwhile.
I may have mentioned it before (🤔) 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 😊
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 😆
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!
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.
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.
After my motivational crash and mental reset in the middle of the month my reduction in activity had a very detrimental impact on my cycling. After a strong February (568km) and March (558km) April has been quite poor. Up until yesterday I only had 133km across 5 rides. In addition I hadn’t sat in the saddle for 2 weeks! True to form I was also leaving my 100km to the very last possible day seeing as I’m working the last two days of the month.
Time was a precious commodity yesterday. Our normal car pool arrangement fell apart this week as the neighbours’ girl was off sick. This meant I had to collect the boys from school and of course it’s a half day finish at 1:20. My normal preferred mid morning start (10ish) was out the window meaning no lie in and no dawdling on route.
A 7:15 alarm was set with the aim of hitting the road by 8:30. I was eventually out the door at 8:45 and almost cancelled due to a bit of an upset stomach. Not sure if it was the larger than normal breakfast or anxiety. I was definitely feeling nervous, whether it was stress due to the time pressure, performance anxiety worrying if I was fit enough, anxiety about being so far from home for the first time in 8 months or a combination of all of that.
The route was Derry via Lifford and Carrigans, through the city and back home via Bridgend, Letterkenny and Ballybofey. The wind was from the Northeast which made the 45km to Derry a bit of a slog and also pretty chilly straight into the cold 18km/h breeze. However, leaving Derry I had the benefit of a tailwind most of the way back as far as Stranorlar at 95km.
Coming into Derry I had the only rain of the day. A short 15min shower just heavy enough to justify stopping to put on my waterproof gillet. As it’s also HiViz I kept it on through the city to help make me a bit more visible to both cars and pedestrians. I managed to avoid the majority of the traffic by jumping on to the cycle path that runs along the Foyle all the way to the bottom of the Buncrana Road. This is partly shared use but a lot of it is segregated for walkers and cyclists. A lot of pedestrians are clueless about this though as there is no physical separation, just a change of surface colour and signage so it’s slower and requires constant vigilance. It’s still a lot safer than playing in the traffic though.
I had chosen this route partly because I was able to stop at 52km and enjoy a welcome cup of tea and a bun at my brother’s coffee van (#curiouscoffeecompany). I was also able to top up my water bottle removing the need for 2 today.
Business was good and the clock was ticking so I wasn’t able to hang around for much more than a short chat. However, refuelled on sugar and partly rested I made great time to Letterkenny and the only real climb of the day. Good route planning meant that I also had some wind assistance most of the way to the top.
The heat of the climb, loss of windchill with a tailwind and the re-emergence of the sun meant I was able to remove the leg warmers and enjoy air on my legs for the first time this year – I decided to spare you any photos!
Shortly after this I had my worst bad pass for a while. I was on a very slight descent and nipping along at 45km/h in the hard shoulder. A Nissan Micra passed me and straight away indicated to take the left turn less than 100m ahead. We drive on the left in Ireland meaning he was about to cut across in front of me. I slammed on the brakes with no hope of stopping without crashing but he stopped dead in the left lane. I figured he either didn’t see me when passing or totally underestimated my speed and somehow had the presence of mind not to turn left allowing me to pass on the inside. I gave him a good bollocking through his open window as I went by, followed a few seconds later by a long honk on the horn responded to by the most universal of hand signals🖕
Arriving in Stranorlar at 95km I was flagging. I was tired, the sugar had worn off and I was getting hungry again. I was also turning back into the wind for the final 10km. A quick stop to eat a cereal bar helped but the next 15min were not much fun! Arriving into Killygordon there’s a short, sharp climb to the traffic lights. I decided to stand up to power up it and my left leg just said no! The muscle in the back of my leg felt like water resulting in a quick rethink and a very quick downshift to keep my momentum going.
Exiting the other side of the village I ticked over the 100km mark at 3hrs 41min which I was very pleased with considering my mileage this month. I finished up the last climb to home (no standing attempted here) with the wind fully behind me again and rolled in home with 105km in 3hrs 54min at 1:10. A quick change, a handful of nuts and I was picking the boys up just 10min later than normal. Of course in moody teenager world this was a terribly unfair amount of time to be waiting, despite a warning that morning that it could be up to half an hour 😆
Dead pleased to get that done, I really thought I was going to miss this month! Not a bad time for me either.
Over the last fortnight I’ve enjoyed two of the very best cycling weeks I’ve ever had. With a great dry spell I’ve been able to get out every day bar two. One of these was when a storm blew in and the other was yesterday as I went back to work.
In two weeks I’ve managed to cycle slightly over 600km. To put that in context my target to hit 6,000km for the year is 500km per month.
Apart from my “31 Days of Biking” Challenge in August last year, which was mostly short daily rides I have to go back to the “Every Day in May” Challenge in 2017 to get consistent high mileage like this. That month included one week of 517km which had my first ever Audax event (205km) followed the next day by a 106km Club spin that nearly killed me!
This consistent cycling has also had a significant impact on my fitness. I can feel it in my legs but it’s measurable according to Strava. A score of 79 is probably a lot lower than many other people but my highest score for the last two years (limit of Strava’s charts) was a very brief 81 in October. This time last year it was approximately 30, two years ago it was 12!
The challenge now is to maintain my great start to the month. These two weeks have put me back on track for my yearly target but this weather won’t last much longer and now that I’m working again I’ll have to be more organised. I have a plan that gets me to 170km per week across 4 days using two mornings before work and my two days off. I also want to start some much needed strength and conditioning training while keeping up with the walking. All of that is in the plan too which starts tomorrow morning.