I had heard about the Wicklow Way long before I got into cycling or properly into outdoor activities. To me, it was basically a super long walking trail that people hiked over 6 to 7 days covering some of Irelands most beautiful terrain, indeed, one of the first outdoor activities Mel and I did together was hiking a 6 hour chunk of the Wicklow Way together.
A couple of years ago when I did get into cycling the idea of doing the whole thing over a day or two was hatched. Upon further research I found out that a quartlet of talented Irish riders (Beth McCluskey, Eoin Keith, Paul Mahon and Peter O'Farrel) held the record at 12 hours and 4 minutes. At this point, my longest ride had been a tiny 2-3 hour ride covering only 30-40km and the idea of covering the complete thing in a single day was astonishing! An idea was there, but it would be a while until I did anything about it.
It was the start of this year when I really started to seriously think about riding it in a 'single serving'. I had been getting pretty good results in marathon type events and liked the idea of attempting a challenge that would really push me physically and mentally. When I'm riding well in a 'short' cross country race, I push myself as far as I can physically and mentally (if I'm not asking myself, why am I doing this?, then I'm not pushing hard enough!) but I felt a super long challenge would push me in different ways. Since the course is so long and demanding, I knew that I would not be able to attempt it during the season as the time to recover would be simply too long – as it was, I took part in races most weekends and felt that I would need longer than a few days to feel fresh again afterwards - so I forgot about it...
On Sunday the 4th of October I completed what was going to be my last race of the season. A Marathon World Cup in France (report coming soon). After that, I went into 'off-season' mode and started to enjoy a few of the things I mostly stayed away from over the last few months, pastry breakfasts and beer mostly :)
By Wednesday I was pretty relaxed and recovered from the marathon and the weather was nice – an idea popped into my head, what about doing a Wicklow Way record attempt on Thursday. I had not really planned anything for it but I was still very fit, the weather looked okay and Mel (who would be my support) and I were flexible enough with our jobs that we could free up the time to go for it. 15 minutes of writing up posts on various forums to make the attempt official (stating start time and projected times etc...) and I had backed myself into a corner where I had to do it :)
I keep my bikes in race ready mode (I'm very particular about having everything perfect) as much as possible so getting the nutrition ready for the attempt and going through maps of the course was really the only preparation that I needed to perform. Mel was going to meet me at 7 locations along the way for food support and probably a lot more places to take photos. I headed off to bed for a relatively late start from Marley Park at 10am (The park only opens at that time) - the last thing I did before I slept was ask myself - "Am I mad?"
The course itself is best described on this website – but basically, it is almost all off-road with a large amount of climbing – around 4,000 meters over the 130km course. I had ridden the first half several times and was very comfortable with it but the second half remained a mystery. Apparently, it was the 'easy' section – or at least, a great deal less climbing than the first half.
Mel had many tasks, feed support, photography and timing
I felt very lazy as Mel drove me over to the start of the Wicklow Way – it's less than 10 minutes from my home on the bike but I thought I should conserve energy as much as possible. We arrived, I set up my bike and we hung around taking a few photos. The first section would see me weave through the park before I tackle the first climb – the Kilmashogue Hill Climb. Technically, cycling is forbidden in the park and I had tried to contact the ranger in relation to this to let him know my plans and seek advice – unfortunately, I was unable to get a working number. My plan was then to ride very slowly through the park (a slow jogging pace) and dismount and walk if I meet groups of people – there were more than enough kilometres in front of me that this was never going to be an issue in the long run.
I grabbed my first bottle of TorQ Energy, a bar and a gel (I planned to consume about that much every 1 to 1:10 hours) and off I went.