Thursday, 24 July 2014

After nine and a half years...

I've been quiet on here for the past few weeks, partly because once the Ring of Kerry and Run Streak were over I took a well deserved break but mainly because I am getting ready for the next big adventure in my life...

After nine and a half years together, myself and my better half are getting married tomorrow! 


There aren't enough words in me to describe exactly how much he means to me. He is the rock, my support. He celebrates alongside me and my successes and always seems to know exactly what to say when I fall off track. He loved me when I didn't know a tomato from a red pepper. He loved me when the furthest I had ever run was to the fridge to get more chocolate during a break in X Factor. He loved me the day I graduated with my Masters. He loved me when I crossed the finish line of my very first run. He is like my own personal one man fan club!

The best part of this story however is not how much he loves me... it's how much I love him. Sounds totally bawk I know, but I really am extremely fortunate to have found (and marry) my best friend. Here's to the next chapter, the next adventure, I know the best is yet to come...

"In a sea of people... my eyes will always search for you"

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Run Streak - Days 31 to 40

As I entered the final quarter of the Run Streak (Days 1 - 20 here, Days 21 - 30 here), I hit a stumbling block, I hurt my calf. It had started to twinge of the previous few runs but I didn't pay it much attention... big mistake! 

Day 31: The Renville Park 5K - Wednesday 25th June
Myself and Brad took park in the Renville Park 5K. My time wasn't great but I'm blaming that on how bloody humid it was (and the flies!)

Day 32: The Crampy Calf One - Thursday 26th June
With a still leg, I surprised myself with running this 5K especially in the time. I had to keep my leg straight while I ran as otherwise the muscle tightened. Wasn't ideal but I was a week off completing the Run Streak so was going to try anything

Day 33: The Renville Run - Friday 27th June
A 6:45am run before catching the Ferry to the Aran Islands. My run was interrupted by a woman who had lost her dog so I ran keeping an eye out in every field/house/bush for the little pup but no sign :(

Day 34: The Repeat Renville Run - Saturday 28th June
Fresh off the boat from Aran, I got home, laced up and headed out for my run! With the finish line in sight, I was starting to run through the niggley calf without paying much notice

Day 35: The Same Old Same - Sunday 29th June
A late run (9pm) as the heat is starting to take its toll. An afternoon on the couch watching movies helped energise the run!

Day 36: The Last Monday - Monday 30th June
As it was my brothers birthday, I got out for a run before work so I could spend the evening eating cake :)

Day 37: The Post Dinner Run - Tuesday 1st July
A friend unexpectedly called after work which delayed my run. I ended up having a big pasta dinner which I can't tell the food helped or slowed me down.

Day 38: The Renville Run (yet again!) - Wednesday 2nd July
So close to the finish really started fueling me on. Its always hard to think of the finish line when you start but days like this always remind me of the following quote: 'Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.'

Day 39: The Second Last Run - Thursday 3rd July
A post work nippy 5K, I was so excited to get home just to take this picture. Every one of the photos I have take have been straight after I finished the run. 

Day 40: The Finish Line - Friday 4th July
BOOM! A 7am run to finish the Run Streak off as I was Killarney bound for the Ring of Kerry straight after work. 

40 Days.
40 Runs. 
144 Miles Covered.
19 Hours Running.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle

This was it... the weekend all my cycling efforts were building towards had arrived - it was the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle, a 180km loop starting in Killarney, heading through Caherciveen, up Coomakista, around into Sneem, through Kenmare, up to Molls Gap and back down to Killarney. Each of these places previously meant nothing to me as I had never done the Ring before despite being half a Kerry man (my grandfather is from Kerry).

I had originally signed up to do the Ring with a gang (18 others) from work back in April. Cycling was going to be my "new thing". I had just finished my second marathon and I fancied a change. I thought the cycling and the thoughts of going 180km seems like the reasonable yet challenging next step in the evolution of me. My training in the run up to the event however left a lot of be desired. About 8 weeks ago I cycled the Tour de Connemara (80km), then four weeks later cycled the Tour de Burren (96km) with not a single bit of training in between. At 6:45am on Saturday morning I found myself at the start line of a 180km loop around Kerry, under prepared but full of the self belief that I was going to finish.

 Getting ready for the whistle

Although the cycle officially started at 7:30, there were starts from 6am so being on the road earlier than the official start seems to help as we seemed to be constantly surrounded so I can't imagine what the main start was like as there were over 9500 other cyclists doing the Ring at the same time. Pretty soon after starting, I found my grove and comfortable pace and the work crew petered out into their comfort levels. Myself and Joe ended up side by side from the start and everything else just seemed to work out.

Cycle-Selfie: Myself and Joe

The first leg of the cycle from Killarney to Caherciveen (62km) took us 2 hours 45 (according to my Strava) but it certainly didn't feel like that. The atmosphere was buzzing around, everyone was in great form and the banter between cyclists was great. Everyone had the same shared respect for other cyclists on the road (well, with a few exceptions - yes I'm looking at you Mr Rude Tandem Bike Man).

As we came into Caherciveen we were wondering why the town and all of the shops had huge groups of cyclists outside, most were sipping tea and eating sandwiches from tinfoil pouches. When we turned into the Food Stop we understood why - it was mayhem, good mayhem, but mayhem all the same. There were bikes discarded everywhere like what I'd imagine a post apocalyptic car park would look like (after the petrol ran out). 

Caherciveen Food Stop (in the rain)

I've never seen such an efficient setup or a wider spread in all my life. The hall of the school was bordered with table stands, each with a sign saying what sandwiches were available at that station. It's worth noting that there was a huge volume of Tuna and Sweetcorn sandwiches left while the Bacon & Chicken stations were wedged. The queue for biscuits, brack and tea was too large so after a 15 minute food and re-fill stop, we were ready to hit the road again.

Hungry cyclists...

The next part of the journey involved one of the two "big hills", you know the ones everyone talks about in advance. We knew we had Coomakista between us and the next food stop 70km down the road. We had met a few of the others from work at the food stop so it was nice to catch up, we all headed off together again but it wasn't long before the road separated the men from the boys and myself and Joe found ourselves nattering away while the sun shone down on us and we took in the spectacular Kerry countryside.

Just keep swimming... just keep swimming...

Our arrival at Coomakista was marked by a signpost at the side of the road alerting us to the 5.7km climb to the top and it's 3% gradient. I didn't know this beforehand but the gradient only gives you the overall % increase in height along the hill, so although 3% sounds tiny, climbing from an elevation of 10m to 209m actually took over 20 minutes to climb. The view from the top however made every single pedal worthwhile.

The view from the top of Coomakista

The top was a buzz with cyclists who had just conquered what felt like the first main challenge of the cycle (despite the fact the climb itself pretty much signified the half way point in the entire cycle). Myself and Joe stopped to refill our water bottles and take a few minutes rest while we could. It was up here, we met my favourite person we'd met on the entire cycle. An older farmer was standing at the side of the road with a milk trough full of water and with a single plastic jug, he was refilling water bottles.

People were coming up asking him if he had any chocolate for them and he did! He had a single box of small chocolate bars which he was handing out to anyone who asked. He didn't seem to be connected in any way to the official water dispensers (I could be wrong), but he was awesome! Here was this old man spending his Saturday on top of Coomakista dishing out water to us without so much as a thanks. He rocked (and was my favourite person of the entire Ring!)

Just keep peddling... 

The next 8km were fun/straight down into Caherdaniel before we continued onward towards Sneem. Every 10km along the road was signposted, so as we passed the 100km sign I wooped at passing my furthest. I knew every cycle km after that point was virgin territory for me so that kept me motivated as climbed the sneaky hill into Sneem. Myself and Joe had gotten a text from Elaine (work colleague who lives nearby) who was going to meet with us as we passed Sneem.

Having never been around these parts of Ireland before, I can't believe how gorgeous some of the towns are. At times it felt like you were looking at a postcard. Part of me felt sorry I couldnt stop and take photos while the other part of me was afraid I'd run my battery down before the end of the cycle (Priorities John!). Myself and Joe stopped at the outskirts of Sneem (disappointed as we thought the 2nd food stop was there) and we met Elaine. While chatting to her, two others (Tim & John) from work spotted us (well... they spotted the multicoloured-disco kit we were wearing).

Speaking of the kit we were wearing, cheers to the lady complimented us as she passed. I've never had a hand in designing a kit before so getting the opportunity to do one for work was quite fun. Now, disclaimer alert: While I didn't personally design it, I championed the guy in Velotec to be as adventurous as he wanted when designing something for us - and while his first kit was a safe white and green, this one jumped out at me. I pushed it with the guys at work and they agreed to go with the disco one!). Also, cheers to them for getting them to us in time for the Ring!

The Work Cycle Kit!

The cycle from Sneem to Kenmare was probably the lowest point of the whole Ring experience. I'm putting this down to the fact I was expecting food (and rest) 20km before it actually came. That being said, a quick scan of the body let me know that nothing was actually physically hurting, rather I just fancied a biscuit or some time off the bike.

We pulled into the Kenmare after 2pm which was rammed with fellow hungry lycra clad cyclists all scrambling for the loo or a Nature Valley bar. It was here I had the most luxurious jaffa cake I've ever had in my life. They were so good I had to go back for more! Myself and Joe also re-met up with Tim who we'd last seen in Sneem. He agreed to cycle the rest of the journey with us which I think Joe was relieved about... surely after 7 hours he must have been sick of the sound of me nattering on about everything from Bichon hairstyles to me complaining about needed to pee to my favourite Britney Spears songs. I'd have bored myself!

We knew as soon as we left Kenmare it was up to the top of Molls Gap. I had met Edel (dellers on Twitter) at the Kenmare stop who was the only person to comfort us ahead of our final challenge. Most people had swooped in like Dementors telling us of how difficult the climb was while Edel told us to look out for the Yellow House as once we passed it, we had the hardest part behind us. With that in mind, Tim, Joe and myself started the climb... and Sweet Jesus - Molls Gap certainly didn't disappoint!

The View from the Top!

We were 150km in to the cycle once we reached the top, so like many other cyclists we took the opportunity to park up our bikes and reflect/rest before we started the 22km journey back to Killarney. Joe lay on the ground to stretch out his back while I faffed around taking pictures and people watching. We only hung around for about 10 minutes before grabbing our bikes and speeding off downhill on the epic (but speedy) descent.

About half way down, Joe turns and shouts 'I left my bloody jacket on the ground at the top!'. It was one of those moments in life you couldn't have timed better. Of all places to leave something behind, the highest point of a cycle is probably one of the least ideal places (Well, it's in the Top 5 anyway). Turning around would have been both dangerous (as cyclists were speeding downhill as the road was completely closed) and heartbreaking. Resigned to the fact his jacket was gone to cyclist heaven (a Lost & Found box somewhere), Joe sped off ahead of me soaking up the speed. We met at the 'End of Descent' sign (BOOO!) as we made the journey back past Torc Waterfall and on into Killarney. The final few kilometres were signposted every 0.2km along the way which certainly helped raise the excitement levels as you knew you were heading for the finish line.

End in sight...

It wasn't until we hit the last roundabout that I realised we were right back at the start line. In just under 10 hours since we departed we had come full circle and myself Tim and Joe crossed the finish just before 5pm. My phone battery had made it (with just 4% left)! We parked up our bikes and headed over to the Heineken Bar where all the gang from work were looking suspiciously relaxed. Turns out they had come in well ahead of us. I think the pint of beer that followed was one of the nicest I've ever had!

Tim, Myself and Joe after the Finish Line

The entire experience was amazing and I feel extremely grateful. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to see such an amazing part of our country on a bike. I'm grateful the weather held out for us despite promises of rain. I'm grateful to the people we shared the road with, the volunteers, the food stop people, the other cyclists. I'm grateful to have experienced it with someone (Thanks Joe) but most of all I'm grateful that I was able to do it.

I honestly still to this day can't believe the things my body can and has done. From running marathons to cycling 180km, I still surprise myself with the things I'm able to do, things that had never even registered as possible as I'd never seen myself as able or capable. I've said it before about how sometimes I get sad when I think of how I'd let my 20s go by with how many missed opportunities. I'm grateful that I am getting the opportunity to do these things now!

The Ring of Kerry was awesome and I can 100% guarantee that I'll be back next year! 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Tour de Burren - The 96K

Despite having originally signed up for the 160K route and then changing to the 96K one, I was still quite nervous heading down to Ballyvaughan two Saturdays ago for the Tour de Burren cycle. I had planned on being at the start line early in order to have my bike ready and prepped however after a delay leaving home and then an unplanned petrol stop, I ended up getting caught outside Kinvara as the 9am cyclists took off. I arrived in Ballyvaughan at 10:15, signed in and got to the start line with minutes to spare.

Waiting for the whistle

The whole thing seems to start effortlessly (so round of applause to the organisers). The route started by heading back along the N67 towards Kinvara which had a few small surprise hills along the way. It wasn't until we hit the Galway border and I realised we were turning up the Corker Hill. Bloody eck! Hills really separate the men from the boys in that, I quickly realised how little (i.e. no) training I had done. Thankfully I pushed onward and got to the top without having to dismount the bike.

The next 15km was a super cycle where I quickly picked up on the social etiquette of cycling on busy (well, busier) roads. I loved hearing people shout 'Car UP' or 'Car DOWN' as we made our way to Carron (the water stop at 30K) and as soon as we left I started in the ritual of alerting other riders to the presence of cars. It became apparent after about 5 minutes though that you do not need to shout 'Car DOWN' on a straight road where everyone can see. I can be such a gimp at times.

Water Stop & Short Rest

After the water stop I pushed on knowing that the next 30K was going to be the hardest. I still had Corkscrew Hill somewhere between me and the food stop - and I wasnt going to let any hill get in the way of this cheesecake everyone seemed to be talking about along the way. The one thing I loved about this cycle was the chats I was having with randomers the whole way around. I talked to two girls in Cycle Against Suicide jerseys about their experiences, I spoke with a man who was taking part in this as his first ever cycle. He told me why he started cycling and how much he loves the Burren.

Pic from The Burren Eye Facebook Page

The 40K to 45K segment of the journey was all downhill. I loved it - I loved the speed, loved the view, loved the minimal effort required. A guy who passed told me Corkscrew was coming up so to enjoy the ride, and sure enough, as soon as we passed Ailwee Caves, we came back onto the main Ballyvaughan - Lisdoonvara road heading for Corkscrew Hill.

The worst part of the whole cycle was the Strava sign at the side of the road which read: 'Segment Start: Corkscrew Hill. 4.7KM', Are you kidding me? Don't tell me how long its going to be! I always though the Corkscrew was a cute (but lethal) hill I've only ever seen from the comfort of a car. Sure enough the gradient increased gradually passing Gregans Castle where myself and another rider contemplated popping in for a cuppa. 

We started the Corkscrew climb and honestly it really wasn't as bad as it seemed. It's horrific when you can see a long straight road infront of you but sometimes not seeing is better - it gives you hope that the next incline MAY be the last. It usually isn't mind you, but it could be. I kept on motoring on as each cyclist gave words of encouragement to others as they passed by. One lady told me the food stop was just at the top of the hill. I knew she was lying but I admired her motivation pep talk.

Heading up the Corkscrew

At the top, it was a smooth 8K downhill ride into Lisdoonvarna - which was starting to feel like a desert mirage as every sign I passed seem to keep saying I wasnt getting any closer to the village. I pulled into the Food Stop and walked straight into a gang of cyclists from work. I met Caitriona (who I cycled most of the Connemara route with), Daniel and Ronan. I will admit it was nice to see some friendly faces after a pleasant enough 60K, I knew I had a relatively flat journey ahead of me but my energy levels were starting to wane. 



After refueling both my belly and my water bottle, myself and Ronan headed back off on the road as he said he'd ride the remainder of the journey with me back to the finish. I've never been happier. Chatting the whole way back, the journey around my Doolin and Fanore flew as we came back around the Clare coastline and back into Ballyvaughan about 4 hours 30 minutes after we left it. 

96KM later, we were greeted at the Finish Line tent by Catherine from Clare Sports Partnership who had a giant hug for me :) HB were handing out free ice-creams so clearly I needed to devour one before myself and Ronan headed to Monks as he had been dreaming of Chowder all day. 

The flake was the best part...

I absolutely LOVED my first cycle around the Burren. Yes parts of it were a challenge but parts of it were simply breathtaking. People would pay thousands to travel to see parts of the world like it and we completely take it for granted and its right at our doorstep. Maybe its the Clare blood in me but I honestly think there is nowhere more beautiful than the Clare coastline. One of my favourite drives is the one down to Fanore so experiencing it on a bike was something I'll never forget.

The 160km cycle escaped me this time but its definitely something I am going to add to my Bucket List for next year.