Welcome to the second and final chapter recounting my 2018 TAWR journey.
In part 1 I covered my exhilarating dash to make the Kilrush ferry on day four, the Sunday evening. Arriving there in a credible 9th position.
If everything had carried on to plan then I only had a little over 2 days to go. Everything did not carry on to plan.
There was something special about that ferry ride for me. When you enter one of these events you become part of a tribe, a unique band of brothers and sisters, with an unspoken kind of camaraderie. There were just four of us who had made that 19:00 ferry. These were my comrades. Pawel Pulawski, grinning, but suffering with saddle sores. Matt Ryan, looking far to fresh but also dealing with a grumbling achilles. David Tomlinson, looking absolutely shattered, and myself, suffering with saddle sores and looking rather old I imagine.
We spent the short crossing huddled in a sheltered rest area comparing tales, struggles and plans. Pawel and Matt were going to ride on at the other side, David and I were heading straight to whatever B&B’s we could find. Then that was it, a brief spell of companionship ended and we went our merry ways.
I found a very closed looking B&B just minutes away from the ferry and checked in. The helpful landlady directed me to a secure place for my bike and I duly unloaded and went to the Spar next door to re-stock on fuel. I think I also found a chippy but I don’t recall clearly.
In TAW 2017 I had suffered with minor saddle sores, no great drama. I’d say about equal to how my backside was on the end of day 3 of this TAW18. In 2017 my shorts were getting a lot of rain rinsing and also had a thinner chamois pad. This year I’d invested in a high end set of bibs with a thick “endurance” pad. 2018 had, so far, been relentlessly hot and sweaty with no rain rinsing and I’d relied almost solely on wet wipes and chamois cream for cleanliness. Poor plan!
On reflection I think the thicker pad just makes for more movement or rub against the skin and holds moisture. I’ve heard others say a thick pad and/or more cushioned saddle causes more problems and this certainly reflects my experience. I’ll keep experimenting but I think two pairs of shorts, regular rinsing and a thinner or even no pad could be the way forward.
03:18 and I push start on my Wahoo Elemnt….. OUUUCH! Oh how my bum hurts, I can barely cope with any saddle pressure. Time to get macho! If I can just stay fully planted in the saddle then I know the pain will ease or I shall become accustomed to it at least. Easier said than done.
This was such a struggle and it seemed I was constantly stopping to apply cream. “Ummm, this is becoming a real issue…” After repeated wet wipe and cream sessions I finally had the bright idea of placing wet wipes in my shorts! It was as if I’d found the holy grail! Pain drastically reduced, I could ride in the saddle. Still uncomfortably, but I could do it. Eureka!
The tracker reveals that I rode past the sleeping forms of Matt and David just before they got underway. Off to Dingle we shall go!
Again my memory is vague and I recall little other than a painful backside and increasingly numb, tingly, fingers. It must have been early to mid afternoon when I first noticed my neck feeling weak.
Oh no! This was at more or less the exact same point that it had given out last year. I knew the symptoms, could read the warnings and see into the future…ease the strain on your neck or it’ll be a repeat of last year and ride over.
T bars were duly banned and I rode as sit up and beg as I could manage. This just put more pressure on my sore backside! Doh²!
David Tomlinson reeled me in at the Gap Of Dunloe. He looked in far better shape than he had at the ferry and after riding together awhile he finally took off into the distance. Leaving me tootling along in my neck easing position.
Not long after Matt arrived and abused me for setting away too early after the ferry. 🤣 Matt and I had some laughs on this ride. He’s a very good natured chap really.
We made it to Sneem moments before the general stores closed.
Matt duly charmed the ladies therein to make us instant coffees as the regular coffee machine was switched off. He later went on to tell me off for not saying please over something… it was quite comical, the banter we had going.
Sadly though, I knew my race with Matt was done along with any chance of a top ten placing. I simply had to make a long stop to rest my neck or face a repeat of 2017 and be forced to scratch from the race. I wished him well and away he rode to finish his adventure.
Resting was an easy decision as I feel strongly about staying safe and responsible on these events, on public roads. In 2017 I’d ridden quite some distance with the back of my helmet cable tied to my jacket as a way of stopping my head falling forward. Don’t do things like this people; no contraptions, no neck braces. If you cannot hold your head up and look readily in all directions then you’ve no business riding a bike on a public road.
It was near 22:00 when I knocked on the door of a nearby B&B. The landlady eventually answered in her nightgown and looking confused, grudgingly, showed me to a room.
“Did I want breakfast?” Maybe (I hoped to sleep long past breakfast)
“How long did I want to stay?” Not sure
She frowned; clearly not used to such vague, indecisive, guests.
Needless to say I didn’t manage to sleep past breakfast. Yes I was tired but I was also in the middle of a race and feeling a little hyper and raring to go. My idea was for a 24 hour stop with lots of good food, yoga and rest. Still, it was a struggle to stay put.
I saw the very helpful village pharmacist and got some antibiotic, steroidal, cream for my saddle sores and some more wet wipes. I re-charged my power bank and devices, hung my washed clothes out to dry and tried to get more sleep. I exchanged a couple of messages with an unlucky Karen Tostee who was stranded a little way up the road waiting for a mechanic to sort out her jammed, broken gear cable.
I then had another go at sleep. Fail
I pressed start on my Wahoo at 13:17 meaning that I’d had about 16 hours rest. It was time to complete the Ring Of Kerry, one of the very finest parts of the route, achingly beautiful and great riding.
Things were feeling really tough now, my sores were sore, my hands were numb and though my neck was holding steady I felt as if I was riding with the brakes on. I missed the fresh form I’d had earlier in the race.
Molls Gap arrived and I enlisted the support of a animal spirit guide! The late collie dog, Molly, that had been the very best of companions to a good friend of mine. Molly would have totally owned Molls Gap, she wasn’t one for sharing with other dogs!
I pictured Molly trotting along with me, shedded a tear or two but drew on her indomitable spirit to inspire and balance my spirits. Thanks Molly.
Awhile later a congenial Alex Hill turned up and we rode much of the rest of Molls Gap chatting together.
I settled in for another night shift and rode on through until 05:00 and a little past Cluin Allihies. Strangely I just don’t recall my bivi spot, the tracker simply shows me in a field.
Away again a little after 07:00 and off to Lambs Head where I met up with Paul Alderson, fellow competitor from 2017 who was using this TAWR as training for his Transcontinental Race campaign in July and not pressing on too hard.
Selfie time. Ragged but happy.
This was to become storm Hector day with some proper Wild Atlantic Way weather. I didn’t mind as it only seemed proper. I felt the rest of the riders had had it too easy with all this sunshine. Truly, they were missing out on the full TAWR experience.
Further silliness. At some point along the N71 I developed a very painful muscle in my right thigh that made pedalling with that leg really difficult. I just could not find any stretch that would get into it. In desperation I called my wife, who’s something of a yoga expert.
So ensued a really comical time with me rolling about on the road side trying different stretches and giggling manically. At one point a lady pulled over to check I was ok and timed it just as I was chanting “I’m such a manly man!” 🤣 Sadly though, stretching wasn’t helping.
I stopped at a supermarket cafe somewhere near Doonemark to rest and take stock on my situation. A hot meal was very welcome after the wet ride I’d been having. Jeremy Koijmans also arrived and I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t enjoying the wet weather anywhere near as much as me! He suggested I elevate my leg as that may help ease the pain off.
I worked out that I’d been riding in a way that had me almost back pedalling in an attempt to reduce the pressure on my sores and these particular muscles weren’t trained for that. Boo!
I’d taken Ibuprofen for the sores pain a day or two back but didn’t want to be filling myself with painkillers for days on end. I’m certain it’s not good for you. So, ignore pain, soldier on, painkiller free.
The weather got properly wild for the rest of the day with driving rain and howling winds. Yes! Proper Atlantic weather, call me mad but I love it. I met Jeremy again and he certainly wasn’t feeling as inspired by the weather and rode off grumbling. No matter.
Some slow wet kilometres further and I made it to the top of the ascent on the Sheep’s Head peninsular. The point at which I’d abandoned the race the year previously. It was an emotional moment that reinforced my determination to finish. It was just me and the route now, no racing, just keep making progress, hold it together till the end.
I made it to the tiny village of Kilcrohane at about 19:00 and in atrocious weather but noted some good bivi spots near the pub. Ok, out to the headland and back before a pub dinner and sheltered bivi, I might even have a Guinness! I had it all planned.
The ride out along the headland was brutal with driving rain and headwinds and of course not aided by my many pains. It was worth it at the end though as the wind whistling round the buildings was insane. I leant my back into it and held 18kg of loaded bike in front of me and it blew out in front like a flag. I couldn’t work out how to take a selfie of that.
The ride back to Kilcrohane was swift with the strong tailwind. To the pub! Pah! No food served, “…you have to go to the B&B, that’s the only place offering food.” Oh well if I must; it felt like a bit of a cheat though.
Still I did really need some recovery time to aid my failing, ageing, body. A hearty meal, sleep and leisurely full Irish breakfast had me set for the final push to the Kinsale finish.
The storm had past and it was a beautiful sunny day but I was in a lot of pain. Just 206km to go but I ended up averaging a lowly 16.6kph and it took me 12.5 moving hours in 17 elapsed.
I could barely ride with my one functioning leg and as the day past the same muscle in the other leg began to lock up as well. I became steadily slower and was forced to walk on many hills as I simply couldn’t pedal with any strength.
I was still moving however and all I could do was keep re-framing the situation according to my changing circumstances. I plodded along pushing my bike as the sun set. Strangely, I had a tremendous sense of well being in spite of my difficulties.
Here I was strolling freely on a beautiful summer’s evening in southwestern Ireland. Many people travel from all over the world to enjoy similar. My issues were self inflicted, there was nothing to feel hard done by about.
Still, I cannot say I enjoyed watching the steady stream of riders passing me by.
As the night wore on I was fully ready for it all to end. The kilometres ticked by ever slower and there seemed to be a relentless succession of hills that often had to be walked. Earlier, I’d passed people relaxing on pub terraces having dinner and thought how lovely that would be.
Stupidly, I’d disabled the “climbing” page on my Wahoo some months previously. This screen provides an elevation profile of your route so that you can see what lays ahead and how far up a climb you are (I’d figured that not knowing was er..”character building”). I think I’d built enough character by now. Just keep moving Chris!
Around 03:00 on Friday 15th June I literally limped into Kinsale, totally spent. I laughed at the sight of the final short and very steep climb to the finish at the holiday village. Race director Adrian must have been delighted when he saw that. There was no way I could ride up there no matter how much I wanted to. As it was I had to pause half way whilst walking!
I’d made it though, I had made it, and I suppose a mid 40’s placing isn’t too shabby for an old bloke anyway.
Still, I have unfinished business with this ride. One day I’ll have a solid clear run at it with no neck troubles. Not 2019 though, I have other ideas for that.
Trackleaders gives race statisics:
Moving time: 5:04:03
Stopped time: 2:12:54
Average daily distance: 292.1km
Moving average: 18.2kph
reflections, what did I learn?
- Any physical issue you have has a knock on effect to other areas of your body as you compensate for it. Particularly saddle discomfort as it tends to make you place more weight on your hands, arms and legs, leading to nerve damage, numb fingers and in my case also trashed legs.
- Self care and recovery are critical. Stay on top of your aches and pains, a ten or twenty minute stop to adjust bike fit, stretch, ease tyre pressures or rinse your shorts could save your race.
- I’m 59 not 29 and I need to make better allowance for that but without giving into age as being an excuse. How do I really need to pace myself for this or say a two week event? Would longer rest stops ease my problem neck for instance? I’ve much to learn.
- Yes, I still love these rides/races.