Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wicklow Way Record Attempt - Part 3

Having reached the half way point and already covered the most technical and mountainous terrain of the ride, I had thought that the second half of the Wicklow Way would be about the same as the first effort wise. The terrain and riding would be easier but I would be more tired so evening out to be about the same. I started out climbing up Slieve Maan and it seemed like that. Mel had ridden the climb earlier in the year (everything from this point on was new to me) and warned me of a right turn off that is easy to miss. At 67km into the ride I found it which took me to a steep hike a bike climb in the mud. The climb looked like it would be a lot of fun as a descent and I think I'll come back here some day soon but today it was much to wet and muddy to even try. Up up up, filled the next 30 minutes as I made my way to the top of Slieve Maan where Mel was waiting in the car. I briefly stopped and checked the watch – 5 hours in, another 3 ish to go... I remember telling her that I'm starting to get tired.

Slieve Maan

The next while was pretty uneventful, I had to take it pretty easy on the descents to make sure I didn't make any wrong turns and even had to consult a map on a few occasions. The rain was getting worse but it didn't bother me much as I was warm and pretty concentrated on getting around the course.

Descending down some fireroad

At one point I was riding up a tiny road that was more like a mucky fireroad when I hit an unmarked turn. It was basically at a derelict farmyard. I stopped, took out the map and started to figure out where to go. At this point, I heard a rumble behind me to find Mel driving up the road – I couldn't quite believe it. We chatted, took out the colour map and figured that the left was the right choice (I was pretty paranoid throughout about making a mistake).

I left Mel and headed down the hill towards my next turn – a river crossing which was pretty cool and I started out on a long traverse around Garryhoe and Collafunshogue hills. I remember looking at the OS map beforehand and felt that I would be 'bombing' along on this section. If you had to pin point an exact location where this long ride became a real challenge for me, this was it. As part of my training for racing I do a lot of climbing, I like climbing, and in hindsight, I would have much preferred climbing up and down Glendalough 3 more times than the 'flat' course that remained. The thing about it was that the traverse was on a grassy track – the type of thing that during the summer (or I should say, after a long period of dry weather) you would ride along quickly at 20kph. Fun, fast and maybe even flowy. Not today though – the ground was completely saturated and keeping myself moving on the bike was very difficult – I ended up having to walk lots of it. That was what got me down – physically I was pretty tired but okay – just having to walk, in the rain, in the mist on super slompy ground, it started to play with my mind. Anyway, I trudged on and after about 10 gates to jump over and some nice short descents I got back to the road. Unfortunately for me, the road didn't last very long – fortunately for me though Mel was right at the corner before the next off road section pointing me in the correct direction. I remember saying, “this sucks!” as I passed by...

The river crossing :)

If the last section was the part that it started to get really difficult, this next part was the bit that practically broke me... For the next 3 kilometers I was basically riding on a boggy path that a hundred cows had milled over. Again, lots of bike pushing. I mean, it's one thing to push a bike up a hill – but this was pretty flat. It was raining hard, everything was misty, I was tired and walking through a swamp that was going half way up my calves – this really does SUCK. After what seemed an hour I reached the road again – but this time I was a broken man. I don't think I have been in this state before – I was not physically exhausted – but I was mentally 'cooked' – I had had enough and wanted to stop. If I was in a racing situation, mentally it would be very different. You have people to race against, or a known course, or a difficult time to beat. This ride had none of these things to mentally keep me going.

The start of hell...

So why didn't I stop, well, there were a few things that kept me going from this point on.

  1. I REALLY don't want to do this again so I better do it now, I have already invested a lot of time.
  2. Mel has been a star helping me all day – I can't not finish
  3. Both Mel and I took days off work to do this, it's costing me money!
  4. I announced on all the forums that I was going to do this – I thought that I would be a wuss if I didn't finish.

With all that in mind, I rode on. Thankfully, much of the final 30 kilometers was on roads and fireroad (although all the fireroads where either muddy or had freshly placed stone that rode like treacle). Apparently, it was supposed to be mostly 'flat'. That it was not, I still remember climbing a lot. After my final meetup with Mel I turned up a road climb that looked like a wall. I have to admit that not only did I drop the gears into the granny ring, I actually contemplated walking! and it was tarmac! I thought better (it would be even more energy walking up it) and continued on the bike.

Me at the last stop - incidently, that Assos ClimaJet jacket is amzing!

With darkness starting to fall, and my brain functions slowing down, the final 20 kilometers were a bit of a blur. It was easier than that final super boggy section but I really had enough of it all and wanted to be done.

Arriving in Clonegal

At 6:39pm - 8 hours, 17 minutes and 19 seconds after I left Marley Park I reached the placard in Clonegal. I broke the previous Wicklow Way by bicycle record by almost 4 hours and was happy to be finished. The weird thing was that I actually wasn't as physically tired as I expected – mostly, I think the difficulty in the final sections was mental. Too many people told me that I would 'bomb' the last section while in reality, my average speed turned out to be almost the same as my speed over all the big mountains earlier in the ride. Mel took a few pictures and I cleaned up a bit – needless to say I was pretty hungry so I had some recovery drink and a bag of Haribo and we headed home with the aim of finding a restaurant on the way. A fine Indian in Tullow called Krish was exactly what I wanted. Never is my life easy as by the time we got back to Dundrum we had to quickly pack as we were off to the London Cycle Show early the next morning.

At the finish

So at the end of all that I think I had the most interesting job of the day – I have to say a HUGE HUGE thank you to Mel for being my support (in every sense) for the day. I'll admit that for the first half I was fine but the final 50 kilometers you really pulled me through (which you probably didn't realise, as afterwards you thought I was fine throughout). It is not nearly as glamorous a job as what I did, (if you can call riding through rain and mud glamorous) but is just as important – thanks :) I know I will have to return the favour at some point.

Stats from my Garmin Edge 305.
Time: 8:17:19
Moving Time: 8:09:46
Distance: 130.2km
Climb: 3900m
Average HR: 149
Max HR: 180

Drink: 4 liters of various flavours of TorQ Energy
Gels: 6 TorQ gels
Bars: 6 TorQ bars, a flap jack, a muesli bar
Calories used: 7709 (taken from Ascent Software)

Lots of records for me.
Longest bike ride time wise, longest off road ride, biggest day of climbing (just about), most calories burned in one day, most TorQ bars eaten in one day and lowest mental point I have had on a bike. Probably more too...


Unknown said...

Brilliant blog Ryan. Planning on doing this early next year although will be breaking it over two days. Very well written and the best info i've found to date. You're some man to have done that in one day, well done!

Ryan Sherlock said...

Thanks for the comment. It is a great ride and a proper adventure. I have been thinking about doing it again. This time, I would like to do it with good weather and good winds and really make a go out of it. A few more years of riding in the legs since the first time and I think I could go faster.