Mizen to Malin, the entire length of Ireland, all in one single day, I wonder is that doable? That was a question that crossed my mind one afternoon last December. Of course it’s doable I told myself, sure haven’t a number of others already done it. Yes, but could I do it?
I had done it in two days previously and that was really hard. A chat with Liam Murray, a companion from the two day adventure gave more reality to the thoughts with one main question remaining. How hard would one day be? Well there’s only one way to find out!
Last Saturday at 3pm Trevor Groome, Pat Healy, Davy Cullen and all set off to find out.
We each had our own reasons for undertaking such a challenge. For me it was to do my bit to help out a fellow cyclist ‘Kenny‘ who is battling Cancer.
Leonard ‘Shank’ Murphy and Davey ‘the Ironman’ Hogan accompanied me down in the van, and soon assumed the roles of support crew no.1 whilst Pat ‘Mokes’ Mockler and Orla Healy accompanied Trevor, Pat and Davy in the VW Wanderly Wagon that was kitted out like something from Team Sky.
The rain fell softly as we pushed the pedals away from Mizen Head. An unexpected tailwind for the first hour gave the impetus for a higher than anticipated average speed. It would give us time in hand later when we might need it, and it also meant that dropping back in speed when the wind turned would be from 33 to 30kph rather than from 28 down to 25 which would have put a finish time within 24 hours in jeopardy.
We stopped roughly every 100k. The first three stops were just 10 minute affairs whilst the last 3 stretched out to twenty. Breaking it down like this meant focusing on doing one single 100k spin at a time. And sure with the training that we had done we should be able to do 100k in our sleep. That’s how it works in theory anyway, in practice it can be slightly different.
If you don’t eat enough at a stop or on the bike between stops. Or if you don’t drink enough you can very easily run into trouble. Luckily we all got this pretty right. Although for the last 10k before the 500k stop I did feel a little bit of the bonk coming on.
Riding along for kilometre after endless kilometre you get into a zone acceptance of pain. You grit your teeth and dig in. You question your sanity. You think of the bigger picture and the reason why you are doing this and then someone at the side of the road gives you a cheer of encouragement which drives you on. This happened on a number of occasions. Just outside Limerick almost the entire Upperchurch Drombane Club were there to greet us at our designated second stop. It gave us a great lift to see everyone. My in-laws were also there and even though you don’t get time for a big chat, support like that as we headed into the hours of darkness really does help. We said good bye to part of our support crew there as Davey Hogan and Orla Healy were replaced by Bernard Lonergan and Lorraine Healy. In Nenagh the Borrisoleigh Track Attack crew could be heard long before we could see them and it felt like passing through the Tifosi at the Giro d’Italia. Here too Pat ‘Mokes’ was exchanged for Jamie Groome. The importance of a great support crew cannot be understated and we were fortunate to have excellent people looking after us.
Riding through the night was a surreal affair. The anticipated drowsy need for sleep around 4 or 5 am never materialised but there were other obstacles to be overcome.
Passing through towns at 2 and 3am when those who scored nil nil, were falling out of the chippers looking for anything to get up on, our bikes seemed to capture their attention. The initial bewildered sideways squint, gives way to the realisation that the hallucination is real and there really are 4 lads dressed in Lycra pedalling bicycles up the Main Street at 3 o’clock in the morning. Twice we had guys who felt the need to try to commandeer our bicycles from us to save us from ourselves but luckily their bodily actions were about ten seconds out of sync with their thoughts.
Around four am, as we pedalled away, what little glow of light was being emitted from the sky disappeared and the sky turned jet black. I was reminded of the saying that it’s always darkest before the dawn. I also thought of Kenny and his family and the many dark days they faced before their own dawn arrived. Those thoughts brought me on to a point where daylight began to appear and with it our next rest stop.
Our route map had very kindly been passed on by Ronnie Greaney of the Dew Drop Inn in Galway who was part of the record breaking group of 18 who blasted through the Country in record time a few years back. This combined with Trevor ‘the voice of Garmin Sat Nav’ made for a very clear and easy navigation along the highways and byways.
Once we reached Muff we all knew that we were on the home straight and would make it. We had maintained the higher than planned average speed and our finish time seemed to be on target to be reached 3 hours ahead of schedule.
There is a great sense of camaraderie when you complete a challenge like a one day Mizen to Malin. Everyone suffers and understands how much the others have suffered too. It’s nice to start together and finish together.
We finished at 11.56am. 20 hours and 56 minutes after we started. We spent 18 hours and 58 minutes propelling our bikes and bodies along the 595km of Irish roads between Mizen head and Malin head.
Now, one week later, thanks to the generosity of many friends and family and the school children of Rathgormack NS, I have reached the second and probably more important target, that of raising €2,500 for The friends of Kenny.
Looking back now at what I learned from cycling the length of Ireland in one day for a cause that mattered to me, the importance of variety in life is what really stands out. We were a mixture of different ages and experiences. But we all needed each other to make it to the finish. The times when the body was really hurting made me appreciate the times when I felt strong all the more. The changing landscapes that we passed through eliminated the feeling of boredom. The different foods and drinks at different times gave sustained energy.
Without pain, we would never know when it is easy.
Without hardship, we would never know when times are good.
Without friends and family to share experiences with, they become meaningless.
We only get one shot at life. We are all capable of much more than we think we are.
Rather than just going through the motions of putting down each day to get to the next throughout your life, put life into your days and astound yourself at just what you are capable of doing.
Thank you to everyone who made both targets possible and complete. Thank you to Trevor, Pat and Davy for being such great companions. Thank you to our fantastic support crew who in many ways had a tougher job than we did, and thank you to Kenny and family for allowing me to help in some small way.