Tag Archives: cycling

cycling

time to take back control

Warning: this turned into quite a long post!

Over the last couple of years most of society has given up a lot of control to others. Many of the decisions we had been used to making ourselves were restricted by the decisions of those in government over us. These restrictions have resulted in many positive impacts with health services not becoming over run and the lives of many being saved. There have been negative impacts also with the mental health of many being badly affected, health appointments, checkups and surgeries delayed and many people becoming frightened and isolated from the rest of society. Finally though, with the end of the latest Omicron wave, it appears that life will now begin to return to normal as restrictions are being completely removed in many countries around the world.

From a personal point of view I feel that I have lost control of certain aspects of my own life and especially so over the last 6 to 12 months. I’ve written a number of times here about my inate lack of motivation and tendency towards laziness and putting things on the long finger. I know Covid has made that more difficult but in some ways it’s also an excuse that I’ve been using to justify my actions or rather inactions. That needs to change.

Most years at either the end of December or the beginning of January I make a list of targets and plans for the year ahead. I intentionally didn’t do that this year. As 2021 drew to a close I’d been thinking about this lack of control and what I was going to do about it. I decided that this year was to be about taking back control of my health, fitness and weight. I’ve been very inactive especially since about August and my diet has deteriorated quite badly. Consequently I’m now less fit and heavier than I have been for a good few years. I’m 49 this year and that’s not a good place to be at this age. I decided that getting back to regular activity, cutting most of the crap from my diet and getting my weight back to a healthier level was more important than arbitrary distance targets or streak challenges this year.

Changing jobs has given me a new impetus and also new opportunities with a shorter commute and slightly shorter working day but the change has also brought new challenges with new systems, people and routines to learn and establish. I did get a little more active in January but not to the level that I need.

Last week saw the turn of the month from January into February. The 1st of February is celebrated in Ireland as St. Brigid’s Day but in ancient Ireland it was known as Imbolc. Halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox it traditionally marked the beginning of Spring and generally associated with new beginnings. What better week to start afresh?

On Monday I finally made it to a physio to get some work done on my back. It’s been an issue for me for quite a few years but has been a consistent annoyance now for the last 4-5. I’ve had a few episodes of very bad pain this last year and twice over Xmas and New Year. I’ve been to physios before but it’s always been a temporary fix and I haven’t maintained the stretching or exercises to get into shape and keep the pain away. This is now the time to reverse that. The physio gave me a good examination, some massage and stretching followed by some dry needles and electro therapy. I was tender for a day or two but the next couple of days were the best I’ve felt for a long time. I have a follow up appointment this week and then a series of strengthening and stretching exercises to do daily to keep it good. Despite my lack of effort this seems to be an issue that should be reasonably easy to treat if I apply myself.

On Tuesday I then read a blog post written by Jim at Fit Recovery. Jim writes a lot about cycling, more recently about bowling but also a lot about recovery from alcohol addiction. This particular post was about recovery but it definitely struck a chord with me, especially the bit about not letting the argument in your head start at all. Just shut it down before it starts. Too many times I let the argument run and it wins and I do nothing or put something off. My big challenge now for this year is to make that my new habit.

With that new momentum I decided to cycle with the Club on Wednesday morning. I got the bike prepped and my kit ready for the morning and for the first time in well over 6 months I went for a group spin. It was a damp Wednesday morning so it was only the 3 of us and the other guys were stronger than me. However, we went out with a headwind and with them taking turns on the front and me on the 3rd wheel we all had a good workout and at much the same level. At Ballinamore School (21km) I turned back for home while they went on to Fintown for an extra 10-15km. I knew I didn’t have the legs for that and was able to enjoy the tailwind home solo. I had a surprising amount of anxiety about going out for this spin that took significant effort to suppress. However, I went out, performed way better than I expected and had a good time despite the tender ass and tired legs!

With no plans for the afternoon, buoyed by my successful morning and the encouragement from the two guys I spent some time that afternoon getting my MTB sorted in order to join the Club run on Thursday evening. I used to do this 2-3 nights a week a few years ago but the small group we had broke up when the other guys switched over to Zwift the following winter and I couldn’t get a new group together. In the meantime a new group formed but I’d never joined them. Thursday was to be the night.

Again I was a bit concerned about my fitness but this is a very mixed ability group and the ethos is to stick together so I was feeling better about joining them. Altogether we were out for over 2 hours but lost 20-30mins with an awkward puncture. It was a whole load of fun, I’d forgotten how great it was to get cold and wet in the dark on a MTB!

The next stage of my comeback was to join the Sunday morning road bike group but a storm blew in over the weekend making it dangerous to ride and definitely not fun. Despite this early setback I’m ready to roll tomorrow evening again with the MTB group and looking forward to it.

I still have a bit of a way to go to take back control of other things I’ve been letting slide but the journey has started and so far I’m feeling good.

On a complete tangent this post has been rattling around my brain since yesterday and every time I think of it I end up singing this song…..

renewing old friendships

Last weekend I made the long drive to Portlaoise (3.5hrs each way) to take part in the annual Geocaching Ireland New Year Resolution Event. This takes place each year on the first/second Saturday in January. There’s a meetup in a scenic location followed by a walk, usually around 10km. As January is usually a busy month for retail and Saturday a key day I haven’t been able to make this event since 2013! However, changing jobs meant that I was able to book it off this year.

The walk mostly followed the waymarked Glenbarrow Mill Loop and for the first half it was along the River Barrow. After a few weeks of rain the river and waterfalls were in full spate with the waterfalls being especially impressive. The second half was along forest trails and a boardwalk across the more open hillside.

The walk was really enjoyable, a gentle rambling pace and beautiful scenery. However, the main aim and most enjoyable thing about the day was meeting old friends that I haven’t seen for a good few years. That was by far the best part of the day and more than worth the long drive each way 😊

with my old bud – mammy eileen

On Wednesday I then reacquainted myself with another old friend that I haven’t seen much of since August. We’ve seen each other in passing but I’ve always felt awkward about not spending time together like we used to and I’ve usually rushed on past with my eyes averted pretending not to notice him….

Since I screwed up my digestive system back in August I haven’t been cycling at all hardly and anything I did do was on the MTB. On Wednesday, after a 5 month gap, I finally went out for a road spin. I was way more nervous and anxious than I expected but despite my fitness being shot to shit I managed a pretty hilly route and even managed to enjoy myself. It felt good to be back out and good to finally break my duck 💪🚴

click here to view on strava

Header image by Chanikarn Thongsupa from rawpixel.com

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 © 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 🙈

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.

rrty #2 – july – donegal 200

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”.

HSE Ireland

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.

heart project sculpture raphoe diamond

click here to view on strava

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 (🤔) 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 © 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 😆

Getting a good but expensive (£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

the man who cycled the world

The Man Who Cycled The World by Mark Beaumont

From Audible:

The inspiring story of one young man’s record-breaking solo cycle journey around the world.

On 15 February 2008, Mark Beaumont pedalled through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. 194 days and 17 hours previously, he had begun his attempt to circumnavigate the world in record time. Mark smashed the Guinness World Record by an astonishing 81 days. He had travelled more than 18,000 miles on his own through some of the harshest conditions one man and his bicycle can endure, camping wild at night and suffering from constant ailments.

The Man Who Cycled the World is the story not just of that amazing achievement but of the events that turned Mark Beaumont into the man he is today. From the early years of his free-spirited childhood in the Scottish countryside to present day, he has been equally determined not to settle for an average existence but to break free and follow his dreams.

Mark Beaumont grew up in the foothills of the Scottish Highlands. When he was 12, he cycled across Scotland, then a few years later, completed the 1,000 mile solo ride across Britain from John O’Groats to Land’s End. His next long-distance ride took him the length of Italy, a journey of 1,336 miles, helping to raise £50,000 for charity. After graduating from Glasgow University, and having also qualified as a professional ski instructor, he decided against a conventional career and devoted himself full-time to raising money for his endurance adventures. 

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was brilliant! Hands down the best audiobook so far. It’s an absolutely amazing story of endurance and perseverance written in a very humble and unassuming manner. This feels like a very honest story. He has no arrogance about his abilities and conveys his nerves and worries. He revels in his successes but also describes the many low points. Having the story written and read by the guy that actually completed the expedition gives it a sense of realism. He also eloquently conveys his feelings at the time. Listening to him you can almost feel him relieving the experiences all over again.

I was amazed by how little formal training he did (although I definitely think he was already a very fit guy) and how little preparation was completed in some ways. His journey in Australia and America seemed particularly haphazard and he admits himself that he hardly even considered the final leg through Portugal and Spain. Also how inexperienced his Mum was and in such a critical role.

I found the story quite emotional at times. I could feel his passionate dislike of the Pakistani police escorts and their treatment of him yet also his delight with the Madrid police and his final goodbye to the main contact. I also found the last couple of days very emotional, especially that last section into Paris and meeting his family again.

Another interesting aspect was his difficulty staying focused after a rest day and getting back in the zone. This was most evident on the American leg when he decided not to stay overnight with prearranged contacts when he had opportunities almost every night. He felt that it would hamper his focus and drive to have company every night. It really enforced for me the importance of mental strength for endurance athletes. It also explains the almost selfish and self-centred approach that they have to take.

The version I listened to had a chapter at the very end telling the story from his Mum, Una’s point of view. At first I didn’t like this. Mark is a much more accomplished reader and Una seemed nervous and hesitant. However, after a short while I found her perspective interesting and overall that it added to the story.

I obviously found this interesting from the aspect of a cyclist but definitely feel it’s worth reading or listening to for anyone interested in endurance sports, expedition or adventure.

Header image source: fossbytes.com