Tag Archives: road

Light Up My Life

As requested by Paul over on 36×25.blog here is a rundown of the lights I use to keep me safe and allow me to ride at night.

Daytime Riding

I know a lot of people who dismiss the usefulness of lights during the day but I’m very much a “be safe, be seen” type of person and ride virtually every time with a rear and front flashing light.

Up front I have a Lezyne Micro Drive 500 XL. This has nine different modes including flash, pulse and various levels of steady light. It has an integrated adjustable silicone strap that fits pretty much any handlebar size and a weatherproof full size USB plug (no lead required) for charging. The USB plug is protected by a removable, chunky rubber cover which is its only niggle. This cover is not attached to the light body and can fall off or get mislaid. Thankfully these are available to buy separately despite the light now being discontinued (other current models use the same charging system). Despite having mine about 5 years I still haven’t gotten around to creating a fixing system and yes, I have managed to lose a couple of them!

The photo above shows the light on the top of the bar but I prefer it under the bar and the adjustable strap allows for this very easily especially as the light can swivel on the strap. Keeping the light under the bar gives a cleaner looking cockpit and more space on the bars.

My rear light (Cateye Viz 300) resides on my seatpost as I use a bottle style tool kit in my second bottle holder and no rear saddle bag.

This light is pretty new and really good. I was lucky to avail of a deal with my club where they bought a batch of these and subsidised the cost to members. It only cost me €15 which is an absolute bargain.

I run it on flash mode (but not the most annoying pattern) and having seen it on other club members’ bikes it’s really noticeable.

spot the guy with the same light

Removing the light from the holder is a bit of a faff and rather than potentially breaking it I tend to remove the whole thing, strap and all for charging. This means I could potentially lose the strap but on the flipside I’m unlikely to lose the light while out.

Night Riding

First of all I use both the above lights, still in flashing mode. I don’t use the Lezyne light on full beam mode. I found it weak for night time MTBing and upgraded to a better light (below) but I haven’t tried it on the road. I think I’ll see what it’s like this week in case I ever need it as a backup. As a flashing light it’s an effective additional eye catcher for approaching traffic.

My main headlight is the Moon Meteor Storm Pro which was originally purchased for MTB riding off road on forest tracks and trails. The level 5 full beam is really good for this kind of use.

Using it on the road though, it’s not as good. L5  is way too bright for cars while L4 or 3 are less dazzling but don’t provide as much visibility. Changing through the levels requires cycling down and through the flashing modes which isn’t practical when riding fast. The light did come with a remote that I’ve never used (and had forgotten about until now!) that might make this a bit easier and I will investigate that this week also. The model I have (max 1700 lumen) is now discontinued but there’s a very similar new version available with a 2000 lumen boost.

The major downside of this light is its weight. Including the mount it weighs 260g. It comes with a helmet mount but I wouldn’t fancy that weight on my head!

This light though is rock solid. When properly tightened the mount will not move no matter how rough the road surface. This was especially good on fast forest tracks on the MTB. However, I managed to break the clip on the base of the light on an Audax ride when trying to adjust the angle while riding. I was concerned about blinding oncoming traffic so tried to twist it down by manipulating the light itself. Of course it moved, the mount didn’t and the plastic clip broke. As it is part of the light body it can’t be replaced. A bodge repair using electrical tape saved me that night and a slightly tidier wrap of tape now secures the light to the mount.

This year the club is repeating the light subsidy but this time it’s front lights – Cateye AMPP 500. At €15 again it’s too good to miss and even if it isn’t as good as the Moon light it will be a good replacement for the Lezyne. I’m hoping to get mine this week and I’m looking forward to testing it.

On my helmet I use two additional lights. My old rear light (Cateye Rapid Mini) is now on the back as a blinking high level visibility light.

On top I have a second Lezyne Micro Drive 500 XL. This is set on the lowest full beam level and I find it incredibly useful for reading my Garmin screen and checking gears, seeing my pedals for clipping in etc. On this mode it gives me just enough light and lasts forever. Also it’s not very heavy meaning it doesn’t annoy me at all. A heavy light could cause a sore neck or cause the helmet to tilt annoyingly to one side or down over my eyes.

Future Upgrades

This setup works well for me and I’ve used it successfully on Winter 200km Audax rides when shorter days mean that I have to start and finish in the dark. However, if I’m going to ride 400km and 600km this year I’ll need to upgrade my headlights for longer lasting performance.

The ultimate Audax setup would be a hub based dynamo but I don’t fancy spending that amount of money. This light could be a very good alternative – IXON IQ Premium from Busch + Müller. It runs on AA size batteries and two sets will provide 10 hrs lighting and if I run out of rechargeables then regular Duracell will work in a pinch. At €80 on most sites it’s a lot cheaper than a dynamo wheel!

not the sexiest of lights!

Be Seen!

It’s important not to forget the second part of that saying and make sure that as well as being able to see I can also be seen. On local roads round home I’m riding shorter loops and I’m happy wearing a reflective harness. This doesn’t interfere with my pockets and is enough that I can be seen by following or oncoming cars.

On Audax rides when I spend a lot longer riding in the dark and being a lot more tired I prefer something a lot more visible and have used a light reflective workman’s shirt over my gear. This is heavier, less fitted and restricts access to my rear pockets but is incredibly visible at night.

Header image by Reactual.com

Night Riding

In order to rebuild a good cycling habit and also build fitness I need to be cycling regularly through the week and spread out to allow for recovery between rides. As I have to fit this in around my full-time job it means I have no choice but to cycle at least 2 evenings a week. At this time of the year that means riding in the dark.

I’ve done a bit of night riding before but this has mainly been off road with the Club MTB group. There’s a definite sense of security riding in the dark on chunky tyres and with company that is absent when riding a road bike solo.

To make things easier on myself I’ve chosen a route that is mostly on quiet country roads or with a good hard shoulder when I can’t avoid the busier sections. The downside of this is that the roads are narrower and rougher. Meeting traffic can be difficult if they have bright lights or don’t dip but so far I’ve had very few issues. In fact cars are often confused by my lights at night thinking I’m a much larger vehicle and holding back giving me space to pass safely.

Getting set up for night riding can be reasonably expensive but over the years I’ve already invested in good headlights, helmet light, tail light and reflective harness. I’m probably more visible to many drivers at night than during the day!

The most significant difference riding at night so far has been visibility. While my headlight is pretty bright and gives good coverage it is limited and I have to be careful that I’m not blinding other road users. Unless you have a floodlight style light with a high capacity battery it’s never going to be as good as a car headlight so the limit of visibility will always be restricted and you have to ride to the limit of what you can see. This is where the rougher nature of the roads comes into play and speed is reduced as you have to keep a good eye for potholes or gravel deposits to avoid taking a spill or damaging a wheel. Apart from one heart-stopping wobble last night I’ve managed to avoid all of that so far too.

Last night was my 3rd night ride having lost last week to the snow and ice that covered most roads for 5-6 days. The first two were wet nights but last night was dry. I was pleasantly surprised how much this improved visibility. Not only did my light have better penetration, showing me more of the road, but the road itself was easier to see and read. When wet the road is a uniform black at night but it dries out to a much lighter grey with potholes and cracks showing up as darker patches. Much easier to identify and avoid. Gravelly patches are still difficult to spot though.

Reduced visibility means a reduction in overall speed. This suits me right now as I need to concentrate on building fitness rather than exhausting myself. With cycling you often need to go slower to get faster so that’s my excuse for now! The need for less speed is most evident on downhill sections. It’s just not possible to tuck in and fly down those descents when you can’t see enough of the road ahead. It also has a pronounced impact on cornering. Normally on corners you need to look well ahead and the bike will naturally follow where you are looking. Only being able to see 4-5m ahead means I’m often looking at the wrong section of the road on a corner meaning the bike flows differently forcing me into corners at a different angle and having to scrub off a lot of speed.

Overall I’m enjoying the night rides so far. The roads are quieter and it’s definitely adding a bit of variety. Last night was particularly enjoyable with a dry, mild night, less bulky clothing and that little bit of extra visibility. Having lost last week to what is hopefully the last gasp of winter, it’s given me a new boost to keep going.

Header image by Reactual.com

Humble Beginnings

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

“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.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

More on Goodreads and Audible.

Republished as “The United States of Adventure

Header image source: fossbytes.com

catch up 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

forest park entrance

insane elevation profile

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

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

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

© garmin

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

© garmin

© strava “training” log

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

accommodation area at 10am

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

Header image by Mike from Pexels

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

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