What to say about the Race Around Ireland... hmm... It was the final race of my two years as being just an ultracyclist, and I didn't finish it, yet I feel no sadness... just a general glow of happiness and fulfillment of pushing myself to my very limits and coming back in mostly one piece, and a overwhelming gratefulness for my crew that made it all possible. Here's my somewhat scattered report, since I'm still picking up the pieces.
The crew met up in Navan on Saturday afternoon, the day before the race and after hugs and hellos settled down to getting the vehicles checked in and everything ready to go. We went out to dinner and it was like family already... Jim, from Ireland, was our off crew wrangler. His duty was to take the off crew to eat and sleep and if possible see a few sites. Jason, from the UK, and Drew were the drivers. Drew took to driving on the left side of the road like a duck to water. Susan was the chief, in charge of making sure everything ran smoothly, and Julie was my massage therapist to ensure that I kept running smoothly.
Sunday, 8pm, and with a go I was off. I had a "police escort" through town which made me laugh as he was on a motorbike and basically zipped up and around cars and didn't really lead me or stop traffic for me. But, I made it out of Navan and onto the roads in the fading light. Drew and Julie had first crew shift and soon were behind me. At night, I had to stay in their headlights and I could just see the flashing amber light on top of their vehicle. The other competitors went off in 5 minute intervals behind me, and passed one by one as the first night went by.
The first 30 hours really are a blur of rain and headwinds. Serious, ride hard and go under 7mph headwinds. I felt I rode pretty well, but was definitely not riding easy. The winds just made me mad. At some point we got a call that the race was extended 12 hours because of the conditions, so I knew it wasn't just me that was being affected. 30 some hours in was time for my first sleep break, and the beginning of our Irish angels. A friend of a friend had friends in that part of Ireland who contacted my crew and offered up a house, food, and a shower. Drew and Jason had swapped out some hours before and Jim took him to the angels house. When we got to the gas station that was to be my sleep break, there was a sheltered wooden porch I slept in and the angels brought a campervan out for Jason, Julie, and Susan to sleep in. 3 hours later I woke up pretty refreshed, but sad to see that it was still raining and the winds were still out in force.
Into the night we went, up and down. I knew we were in Northern Ireland only because the speed limit signs were in mph. We went out to Mizen Head, the most northern point of Ireland, and the winds were so strong that I was fighting to stay upright on Artemous. The point was at the top of a steep pitch, which Julie walked with me, and at the top Susan could barely get the door open. I walked back down, and then enjoyed a 10 mile break of happy tailwinds. It didn't last, as soon we turned back again. A gorgeous, switch to running shoes and walk it up, climb was about 20 miles later, and then an ongoing blur of riding.
Into the next night I was still in the winds, and darned sick of it. I stopped about 15 miles shy of the checkpoint and climbed into the car to warm up... I lost it a bit here, as I was just miserable, but soon was back on the bike and riding mad. We finally made it into the CP, where I had another nice nap in the lobby of a hotel. Fortunately I woke up to an unbelievably nice section. 55 miles of tail/crosstail wind and the rain finally let up. I had good tunes rolling on my iPod and life was happy again.
The Irish angels continued to care for my crew... it was amazing. At one point Jim had to go home for awhile and his friends Frank and Camille subbed in for him, and then decided to stay with us. So, the off crew always had a place to stay, yummy food to eat, and good company. And, this all came back to me as these guys stayed amazingly positive through my up and down points. I had trouble eating, which we all expected, and they kept finding porridge, mashed potatoes, and eventually some lovely mint bar thing that I could keep down.
During the days there was lovely scenery, and some crazy hills. I remember a section that went by the ocean that was just incredibly gorgeous, of course there was a short steep 25+ gra
de hill in there to remind me of the work. The section by Sneem we hit 6 hills, on roads that were best for a cyclocross bike. It was unbelievely lovely, and crazy hard. Jason had brought a bike with a triple, which I used through this section as Artemous took a break. After the second hill I had a mini break down, it was so beautiful, and so hard.
During the nights the challenge was different. The lovely scenery was out there I'm sure, but all I could see was hedges and headlights, with the flash of the amber lights. The hills were still there, and without scenery to distract were punishing, and the downhills were thrilling, cold, and fun as I'd race in and out of the follow vehicle lights.
It was a team effort, but also quite solitary as I spend most of the time listening to my iPod and the wind and my own thoughts and would only talk to the crew when they handed me food, when we'd stop to try to figure out the navigation, or when I'd need to stop. I lost my mind three times, all but the last quite scary to me:
The first: The second day maybe, I was going downhill through a town. And, I was asleep. I remember only flashes of the town, from about a 15 mile section. I finally woke up at a gas station where I stopped to use the facilities, and it scared me. The next time I recognized this happening, the next day or two, I stopped for a 20 minute sleep.
The second: 5Hour energy and RedBull. I took a 5 hour at a checkpoint, and then a few hours later climbing a hill Jason handed me a redbull shot. Drank that down, and soon was at the top of the hill. I LOVE going downhill, and this was some of the best asphalt we had had the while time in Ireland. But, I was stoned. Out of my mind. I started down the hill, and the yellow line was moving in and out, and I looked over to the left and my attention was grabbed by a rock. All at 30+mph. I freaked, stopped, and tried to sober up. Creeped down the next bit at 15 with my hand on the brakes, and m
et my crew. I asked them to drive in front of me slowly and I just looked at their bumped and talked to myself out loud all the way down ("look at the bumper, focus, focus"). Ate some food and had some flat and uphill to sober up on.
The third: In the 5th day, I think. Day time. I was following Jason and Julie on a pretty
flat section, in the middle of nowhere. And, I lost my mind. I had no idea why I was out there, on a bike, following this car. It made no sense. I couldn't think of anything else to do, so I kept following them, but I had no idea
why. I pulled up and asked them, and Julie explained I was in a race, but that didn't make sense. If there had been a coffee shop, or really any alternative, I would have stopped, but there wasn't so I kept going. Finally, I pulled the pieces together and came up with a reason I was out there. I was a tour guide. I was showing these people in this car Ireland in a new way. This pleased me, and when I next talked to Julie and Jason I told them that was my job, and they agreed I was doing it well. I asked, if I was their guide, why was I following them and Julie explained I was a beginner guide and just learning but that I was doing well and we should keep going. So we did. It wasn't until we pulled into the checkpoint and the rest of the gang was there that I came back to reality.
So, the race went on and on. Physically I held up pretty good. I had the usual problems with my bum, but we were able to control them with shorts layering, seat changing, oragel, and second skin. But, I used up a huge amount of my reserves the first two days in the bad winds, and my pace kept slowing. At some point I learned that Ian, who I'd been playing cat and mouse with all week and had dropped back, had dropped out and I was the last one out there. It was dark, and the roads were nice fresh chip and seal (take that bum!), and the cutoff went by. I asked for a 20 minute nap, as I had started to weave again, and as I laid there I decided I would keep going as long as my crew wanted to but for no other reason than that I wanted to finish it for them. When they woke me up, they told me it was another day to go at my current pace/rest/ride.... 200 miles, a somewhat usual training ride, but a full day. I asked to call it.
The caravan rolled in (Jim and the off crew, and Camilla and Frank) and they all hugged me and told me it was okay, and the race was over.
And, so. There ends my ultracycling career. It has been a blast, and I have learned a lot about what drives me, and what my limits are. I say my ultracycling career is done, and by that I mean I do not have plans to attempt another cycling race longer than 600 miles solo. I would very much like to come back and do the Race Around Ireland again in 2012 as a 2 person female team. I also plan to set the Colorado West.East record as part of my training in the next few seasons.
For today, I'm recovering and beginning to scheme my return to UltraTri. In 14 months I will be doing the DecaIronman in Monterray, Mexico, so I need to remember how to run and swim!
I want to again say a huge thank you to Susan, Julie, Jim, Jason, and of course Drew who believed in me, and pushed me, and joined me in the Ireland Adventure and also to the Ireland Angels. My heart is so full of happiness, I cannot muster any sadness at that last 200 miles... though I will see them in 2012!
Ride long, then rest...