There is no limit to what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit
Well it’s been a while since it all finished and I suppose I should finish up the blog. I could bore you with the details of every stage, every hill or every kilometre, but that’s not what I remember about the race.
Of course there are parts of the cycling I remember, whether it was cruising at 40kph from Cobh to Youghal or struggling at 4kph while falling asleep on the bike somewhere in Galway and I will gladly bore anyone that wants to listen over a few pints anytime! When we started this adventure, Don put us in touch with Pat Maher from Castlecomer who gave us invaluable advice throughout the year. One thing he said that stuck with me was “it will be the hardest thing you will ever do, but it’s also the best thing you will ever do”. I can’t disagree. The Race Around Ireland is one of the toughest events in the world for a reason: it breaks you down physically and mentally. It was much tougher that I thought it would be, mostly because I couldn’t sleep and eventually that wears you down. While the legs were willing, the rest of my body was shutting down as the week went on. As I said afterwards, there was never a point where I made a decision that I was prepared to die on the bike but I knew it probably would have taken that to stop me.
It was the best thing because of the support we had. Firstly the crew:
- PJ Dunne, the head man, had everything organised from start to finish and a word of encouragement for everyone.
- Niall O’Muiri who gave one of his famous speeches in Trim before we set off and set the tone for the week.
- Ger O’Muiri who appeared like an angel between each stage with food and a smile no matter what the situation.
- Ann Murray who was dropped into the crew and didn’t really know what she had signed up for but still had the food ready and a smile and a cheer for everyone.
- Kevin Gibson who always had a one-liner to lift the mood even though he didn’t get any sleep for days.
- Mike Ryan who was coolness personified when the navigation was a bit dodgy in places. He knew not to panic and quickly got us back on track.
- Don Morrissey who joined as my van driver on Tuesday morning and must have wondered what he had landed into as I was already struggling.
- David Kendellen who worked tirelessly with no fuss and always had time for a chat and a laugh.
- Jarlath Duffy who was at home in ground control and kept the whole show on the road and got less sleep that any of us.
- Iomar Burke who was also dropped in for a stage and who I thought was a marshal and didn’t get to thank him for his help.
- Keith Coleman who had the misfortune to go for a pint at our first meeting and got the job of driving across the country dropping crew members in and out of the race.
- John Redmond who was my behind me all week and quickly realised that he was more than a navigator when I managed to lose my heartrate monitor, one shoe cover, my helmet and glasses, all after just one stage!
Then of course there was Frank, who I saw more of than I was expecting during the race. The fact we were well ahead after two days meant we didn’t need to rush our changeovers. He had said to me on a training spin when he was having a particularly bad day that he wouldn’t let me down. The thought had never entered my head. Frank wouldn’t know how to let someone down. I knew that from 2016, which was a particularly bad year for me, we would go for a spin and he would be genuinely more concerned about how things were going for others than himself. So whether it was a roar of ‘Well done!’ after a hard stage, or a slap on the back as I arrived on the side of a road somewhere in the middle of Clare completely shattered (the last thing anyone wants after cycling for 5 hours and had no sleep for 3 days is a slap from a 6 foot plus Galway man) or him telling me from the van as he passed that he was going for a sausage sandwich as I struggled up an 18% hill in Wicklow with one leg, this was all motivation not to let him or anyone else down.
Then there was the other support along the way, whether it was a WhatsApp message reminding me of my own words during a bad patch in Mayo when the inner demons were telling me I had let everyone down, or a perfectly timed text at the bottom of the 26% Patrick’s Hill which I had been nervous about from the start telling me I could do this or the countless messages along the way, they all made a huge difference and meant I did actually make it up Patrick’s Hill, despite hitting it as schools ended and the chaos of traffic was at its worst. The people who came out to meet us on the road: Bill Barry who turned up in Tarbert in Kerry, the above mentioned Pat Maher who appeared in Cork, Bill, Ann and Fionn Jordan who arrived in New Ross with a car full of baking including a cake with ‘Can’t Do Hills’ on it, Mary Slye and my sister Maryanne who were also in New Ross.
Out on the road for the Wexford stage, which was a dream for the first 80km: Fran Maddox appeared shortly after New Ross and several times afterwards, Stephen Kelly was out around Kilmore and appeared again in Wexford town, Liam & Ciara Bowe were in Duncormick where I grabbed Liam’s pint and had a “taste”. It was lovely! They appeared again in Wexford. Phil Skelton who was supportive all year was in Wexford along with Paul Bolger and the Ruth family: Liam, Mary, Conor & Roisin who I was very happy to see. Liam was always a big fan of the RAI and I knew he would be out watching. There were several times during the week I didn’t think I would be seeing Liam on the road so that was special. They also had a box of baking for the lads. This was one of the highlights of the race for me. These were lads that had done more cycling than I could have dreamt of and they were out cheering for me.
Then as is always the case with these long events, it quickly goes from a high to a low and shortly after this was the only point in the race where I thought I was unable to finish. My knee which had been sore from Mayo finally said ENOUGH and stopped working. The pain was terrible, so bad that at one point I clipped out and was pedaling with one leg. I met Gillian and Paul from Slaney Cycling Club and with their words of encouragement and the thought of my own girls who I knew would be waiting for me in Kiltealy kept me going. I wasn’t going to let them see me fail, even if I had to crawl. So eventually I made it there and as I crested the hill into the village, I was greeted by a cheering crowd. It was amazing. People had traveled for miles and dragged children out of beds just to support us in this mad race. I am afraid to mention names of people who were there because I was so exhausted due to lack of sleep, I will probably forget someone. I’ll mention the children that were there: Aoife and Grace were there so it was great to finally get a hug from them. My god daughter Sarah was there also which was great. My cousin Eilish and her son Conor had driven 30km to be there, John and Jacinta had their children asleep in the back of the car because neither would stay at home and childmind while we were passing. The amazing thing about this is that it was 2.30am and all these people had stood on the side of a road for hours while I dragged myself from Wexford. Thank you to you all, it is a memory that I will hold dearly for a long time. I know there were others out around Wexford that night and I apologise if I didn’t stop or acknowledge the effort you made,
After Kiltealy it was home for dinner (I know, what other event would have 3 lads sitting down for dinner at 3am and they thought it was normal) and into my own bed for the only decent 40 minutes sleep of the week. I described getting the call to go again as being like the first morning back to school after the summer holidays. My first thought was ‘how can I get out of this?’. It was hard to drag myself out of bed but I knew it had to be done. Then it was the final push to Trim. This is all a bit of a blur. David Furlong was out in Kildare on the final run to the line and his encouragement was certainly needed at that point. There were also a couple of lads on the side of the road with a Can’t Do Hills sign somewhere and I am sorry I didn’t stop to thank them. I would love to know who they were or did I dream that? All I remember is the cold, I just couldn’t warm up, but I knew it was from the lack of sleep. We got there and it was great and probably my only regret is that I was too tired to enjoy it. I got my trophy and all I kept thinking was ‘don’t drop it!’, but there were many more highlights.
So now that the dust has settled and I think about it or when people congratulate me on my achievement, I think yes it was a great achievement, not because I managed to cycle 1085km but because I had so many people willing me to do it. I think anybody could cycle the race by training hard for a while but I don’t think anyone could do what the crew did. One of the crew remarked that the hardest part was watching me suffer on the bike and they felt they couldn’t help. That sums up why we won the race, not because we had the best cyclists but because we had a bunch of people who were genuinely concerned for each other. The whole crew did more than what was asked of them and there was never an issue. I have made friends for life, friends who were always there but I had to cycle all the way round Ireland to find them, maybe because I am or slow learner or maybe I was looking in the wrong place.
It has been a great journey from start to finish. It’s been a hard years work to get there but I wouldn’t change a thing. I have also learned that even in the bad times, even if the finish line seems or is literally 1000 miles away, you can get there with the help of people who care. As for what’s next, I don’t know, I’ll let someone else choose the next adventure. I will let someone else take the limelight but if I get the call I will gladly help out in any way I can. I will be more than happy to drift back into the background, do the odd A4 race, and get dropped by lads half my age and half my weight because after all everyone knows “I can’t do hills”.