24 Hour Time Trial
With one month to go to the Race around Ireland, the preparations and training are in full swing, so Frank and I headed up to Athy to compete in a 24 hour time trial which was organised by Audax Ireland. As the name suggests, the aim is to cover as much distance as possible in 24 hours. Again, I have to take the blame for this one, as I was surfing the net and found this event. I thought it would be good practice for the RAI so I contacted Frank and we both signed up.
This was a very low key event. We turned up on the side of the road and were met by the organisers and marshals with handshakes and smiles. They must have seen the fear in our eyes as we had never tried anything like this before. Once registered, we parked our cars at opposite sides of the 44.5km loop and returned to the start. Again there was a lovely relaxed atmosphere, unlike any other TT I have completed. Normally I am wound up before the start and my arms and legs are shaking as the clock counts down ready to sprint off the line as soon as I am released by the starter, or as was the case in the UCI Gran Fondo Worlds in England, the fear of falling off a 6ft ramp in front of the cameras and crowds had my heart jumping out of my chest before I turned a pedal. This was completely different. I rolled up to the start line at 12.10 (Frank was off at 12.12). Again the starter offered some advice and told me to enjoy it… yeah right I thought and off I went on the first lap.
The course was rolling and although my average was around 31kph, I felt crap for the first 20km. I had severe pain in my left knee and didn’t feel comfortable on the bike. I quickly passed my minute man and then was passed by the rider who started a minute behind me. Was thinking Frank will be flying past soon but refused to look back. After about 30km things improved and I was going well. I did two laps and stopped to refill bottles and grab a quick bite and set off again. Again I was feeling good, until around 150km when my feet started to cramp so I decided that after the next lap, I would stop for dinner at the Crooktown Inn. I struggled around the next 40km and then pulled in for some grub. I met a few lads having a couple of pints and they were telling me that they had completed a 14km charity cycle that afternoon and that they were in bits. I thought fair play to them; I was that soldier years ago and knew their sense of achievement would be as much as anyone else’s. Then one of them made the mistake of asking me what I was doing… when I told them, the stunned look on their faces made me realise that I had a long night ahead. I lashed the salt onto the dinner and headed off again, telling the lads that I might be in for a pint later.
Once up to speed again I felt really good and flew around the next few laps, stopping every 90km to refill bottles. As night fell, I had my first experience of cycling in the dark. I really enjoyed it; there was no Garmin to watch, no speed to maintain, just turn the pedals. I was starting to feel tired around 2am but a smiling face appeared from the dark and told me I was doing great. I wasn’t, but it gave me a boost so I thought if I could do one more lap, I would have 400km completed so I could rest then. This was a mistake. I struggled. My head was all over the place, my legs stopped working and it also began to rain. I went from cycling along singing to myself to dragging myself around and thinking this is stupid and I am going home to bed! The song that popped into my head was Patsy Clynes “I Fall to Pieces”, which is what was happening. My feet were burning, my arse was too, my shoulders, neck and arms were paining, everything was wrong. This is when you have to make a decision: do you give up or keep going?
You have to convince yourself that you can do this. You think of everything: loved ones lost, friends lost and new friends made, mistakes that you have made, what other people have went through. I thought of the family I saw sitting at their daughters grave when visiting my parents grave recently and couldn’t imagine what they went through in the depths of night. I thought of my two cousins who passed away from cancer and what they must have been thinking at 3 in the morning on several nights. I thought of people who suffer from depression and who lie awake all night and then get up the next morning and pretend that everything is okay. These are the people that have it tough. I thought fuck this, how lucky am I? I have signed up for this. It’s completely crazy but all I have to do is ride my bike. I have a great bunch of friends who are giving up their time, energy and money to help me complete the race. All I have to do is turn the pedals and get on with it!
I eventually made it back to the car and took the lights and Garmin off the bike to charge them, got out of the cycling gear and lay down and instantly fell asleep. I woke an hour or so later. The sun was rising but it was a miserable morning, grey and misty. It took me an hour to get going so I decided to do a lap at a time. I competed two laps before we were sent onto the short 18km lap. After this, the mood improved and the support was great, so I kept going as hard as I could for the last hour and a half until I reached the last timing station and was told my time was up. My official distance was 525.087km which I was very pleased with.
So when people ask, “what’s it like spending 24 hours cycling?”, it’s like life; sometimes you are the shit, sometimes you are the shovel. When things are good, you float along and sing songs without a care in the world, when things are bad you keep going and convince yourself that things are going to get better and eventually they do. All in all, it was great experience in preparation for the RAI. I learned that cycling at night is actually grand. I also learned there will be highs and lows during the race, neither of which will last very long. I would highly recommend this event for someone who wants to do something different and see how far they can push themselves. Well done to John and his team for running a super event and to all the other competitors and crews for their support during the night.
As for the RAI, the preparations are now in full swing: our crew chief PJ is finalising the roles for the crew, Jarlath has completed all the paperwork, Mike has designed the jerseys and tops for the crew, Don and David are flat out training for their Ironman but were first to reply when asked to meet for a trial run, and Niall, Ger and Ann are busy organising the food (little do they know how much I eat. They think they are preparing food for a normal person!). John Redmond can’t do enough, despite breaking his collarbone in a cycling accident. He will be fit for the RAI and able to push me with both hands. Kevin and Elaine are being generous to a fault as usual: they are giving us their campervan which has cost them extra money to get the lads on the insurance, and when we eventually forced them to tell us how much, they text us saying “give it to Wexford Hospice and pray to God we never have to use their services, it’s a great cause”. These are the bunch of people that we have behind us, in the background, giving everything with nothing in return, only the promise of a sleepless week looking after two gobshites who thought it was a good idea to try cycle around Ireland. So when the going gets tough, I know I would never forgive myself if I let these guys down.
With a month to go, the nerves are kicking in. It’s all consuming now. If we are not training we are planning. I really just want to get on with it now. The fear of failure is always there, but failure without trying is unforgivable. There are days I wish I had trained harder but there are days that I feel I have done all I can. I have cycled over 7000km, spent 270 hours on the bike this year, of course I could have passed on the sneaky pints, passed on the biscuits, cake and rubbish that would make the 26% climb of Patricks street in Cork easier but feck it, I am hoping my stubbornness will get me up it at this stage.
The next big event is our bucket collection and stationary bike session in aid of Wexford Hospice Homecare over the August Bank Holiday weekend in Bunclody. We hope to add to Elaine and Kevin’s generosity and raise as much as possible for this very worthy cause. Their work is invaluable. You can also donate on the charity page on this site. We would be grateful if you would enter “RAI” in the “Add special instructions to the seller” field