Skoda Tour of Connemara

The Tour of Connemara is regarded as one of Ireland’s most beautiful sportifs. It’s rewarding vistas and smooth roads make the 140km challenge a pleasure and I enjoyed every kilometre around the small and beautiful towns of Clifden and Letterfrack.

The decision to make the journey from Wexford to Clifden where the sportive began, was made during the run up to our exams in May. The weather was getting warmer with each passing day and we were longing for the bike.

David, a man of many talents, is a long time cycling partner and also a team mate. He had the difficult job of organising the bus journeys to Clifden, – which included nigh on eight hours travelling and three change overs – whereas I had to book the B&B.

GOPR0244-0001 The final decision on which B&B to stay in was easy as when I went to book it there was only one left that was affordable. It ended up being the second nicest B&B I have stayed in (Kerry trumping it just barely).

It was situated on the lower road of a hill that was populated by goats and cows whom never seemed to move.

The cycle took place on Saturday. We had registered the night before and were under no pressure the next morning. At the breakfast table Dave and myself ended up chatting to a hardened sportive rider who told us tales of his previous rides around Ireland and that we should keep something in the tank for the last 15km (we would later find out why).

The cycle into the start was good fun as it involved nearly 6km of free rolling downhill. The roads were dreamy smooth and we banked into the corners fearlessly. The adrenaline was kicking in. Well it was until the nerves took over two minutes before the start when we finally rolled into the midst of nearly 600 riders standing around chatting.

140km of riding is not a distance to be laughed at. On the contrary it almost puts the same stress calorie wise and physically as compared to running a marathon.  Underestimating the speed of some of the riders’, we started nearly 150 riders back. When the cycle began people were quick to fall into groups that were going a similar pace. Dave and I on the other hand raced from group to group for nearly 40km until we settled with a group that was going a little too fast for my liking.

From the back we glimpsed the rider that was happily piloting my pain and discomfort. He was a lean man in all black riding a beautiful bright yellow specialised tarmac. Somehow lost in translation we heard at the back of this relatively small group that this guy was a pro of some sort, which was hard not to believe when you were trying to hold his wheel at 37km/h.

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The first food stop came at the 50km mark. I was glad as we eased off the pedals and I could feel the release of tension on my quads. The weather had turned for the better and everyone was in high spirits.

After devouring a bacon and egg mayo sandwich we donned our bikes once again and headed into a strong headwind for another 40km. The never ending road took us through small little fishing villages and remote areas with vistas rivalled only by the Alps.

Not long after leaving the first food stop we ended up in another group, where the pace picked up and we were dragged through the headwind. Chatting stopped and a slight grimace spread across our faces. The wind was unrelenting and we wanted to get through it as quickly as possible.

That was when a group of racers passed us and myself and Dave worked like domestiques to latch onto the back of them. For the next 20km we raced up and we raced down the roads of Connemara, the club of racers not giving in and trying to shake the stragglers off the back. Although we persevered until the final food stop.

We had a beautiful descent into the stop which was led by our new friends at 65km\h. My legs were really pumping and felt like they were going to explode. The food stop was our oasis in midday sun.

From the food stop we had 40km left. We decided to just ride this last bit out and take in as much of Connemara as possible. So for the last time we through our legs over the top tube and rolled out. We were accompanied by a Finnish rider who kept our minds off our legs with his stories of racing in Finland.

The sun kept us warm and chat kept us busy. This is what the sportive was about. We realised there was a time and a place for speed, but in saying that, going at an easy pace is only nice after going at a hard one. The art of exhaustion.

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The day was a success and a great way to start the summer. The atmosphere was amazing, so was the weather and the road surface was smooth. My only advice to people wanting to do the 140km loop is to keep something for the very last climb… trust me.

 

By Nick Moloney

Ten triathlons, twenty hours

On the 23rd of July, Jim Wall and Stephen McCaffery will attempt to complete ten sprint distance triathlons in under 20 hours.

Rosslare Strand is the course where the two athletes will start and finish their epic challenge. At 4 a.m. the pair will be in the cold water starting their first of ten swims. They hope to have completed their challenge by midnight the same day.

This gives them a 20-hour gap to complete a cumulative distance of 7.5 kilometres (Km) swim in the sea, 200km of cycling and a 50km run.

This distance is to be covered by doing 10 consecutive individual sprint distance triathlons. This is a 750-meter swim followed by 20km on the bike and then a 5km run at the end.

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Stephen and Jim have allocated two hour slots to complete each of the sprint distances. This will include a little break to recover for the next one.

One of the reasons they are doing it in two-hour time slots, is so people can come and participate. They are however, capping the number of triathletes to 40 people in any one slot. People will be asked to contribute to the chosen charities when entering.

Jim has chosen the Enniscorthy Hope Centre which offers support to people who have suffered from cancer whether directly or indirectly. Jim choose this charity because when his wife’s father passed away from cancer they offered her the support she needed.

“My wife’s father died from cancer, and she got a lot of support from the centre when it happened” Jim said.

Stephen is raising money for his brother-in-law’s niece, Shan, who is suffering from a rare form of cancer called histiocytosis X. This type of cancer affects the immune system, tricking the cells to attack the body rather than help fight infection.

This type of cancer only affects roughly 1 in every 200,000 and Shan can only get treatment in either Texas or Boston. Her last treatment was a few weeks ago and it cost €100,000.

“She had an operation in Texas a few weeks ago and they found out it’s a hell of a lot worse than they thought. She will have to get the treatment for a long time” Stephen said.

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They plan to raise the money with the help of online donations through their Facebook page and through the page they set up on the website iDonate.ie. They will also be accepting donations on the day of the event and are using sponsorship cards.

Jim said, “social media is our biggest outlet…. we are hoping to raise as much as we can, there is no set target.”

The two met through Stephen’s brother who put them in contact when Jim said he needed a partner to go sea swimming with.

They decided to attempt this challenge after a sea swim they did without wetsuits in December 2015.

Jim said, “In the hyperthermia afterwards, you [Stephen] came out with this idea, ‘you fancy doing a challenge in the summer…. How about 10 triathlons in a day.’”

Stephen has done a challenge similar to this. Three years previous he did five triathlons in a day for the Tracey Lawlor trust fund. Last year Stephen also did an Iron Man distance triathlon in Wales.

Jim did the half Iron Man in Galway last year and has come a long way since, especially in his swim, which he said was a “shock to the system” for him the first time he swam in a triathlon.

Jim joked about his first experience in triathlon where he was thrown into the mass start of the swim which is like being put in a washing machine.

“I was prepared for the cold but it was the mass of people and everyone is just swimming over you. It went horribly wrong. I got an elbow to the face, my goggles went flying and I was in the middle of this river just drifting along.” Jim laughed as he remembered.

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Although Jim is happy to say his swim has come a long way since thanks to the help of Stephen.

With the event fast approaching and the two men torn between family, work and organising the actual day, it means they are up at 5 a.m. to get their training done before its even time to drop the kids to school.

While Stephen said his training isn’t on schedule, he did say that he has been in the triathlon game for nigh on a decade. After his first child was born he gave up drink and that was nine years ago.

“I haven’t drunk since and I’ve been running ever since. It makes it a lot easier to get up at 5 a.m. and go training.” Stephen said.

Jim is training six days a week. “I’m very technical about stuff” he says. He keeps an eye on his form by logging all of his training sessions on an app called ‘Training Peaks’ where he can see analytics from his training efforts.

“The biggest concern for the day is the getting in and out of the wetsuit ten times”, Stephen said and Jim agreed. “They can become quite uncomfortable especially since they will be damp for the 20 hours.”

The pair plan to eat solids throughout the day over liquid energy. They will not have an official break but will take a few minutes in the two hour slots to grab something to eat. Steak sandwiches, chicken and peanuts will be consumed in mass.

The duo is sticking together for the entire event as it is not a race, it is a challenge. It is inevitable one of them will hit a low point and this is why the other is there to help them through emotionally.

“75 percent of me is looking forward to it the other 25 percent I haven’t thought about” Jim said.

 

By Nick Moloney

Photos by Sean Rowe

 

The Channel Swimmer

‘The Channel Swimmer’ is the title awarded to few people in this world. A title that is earned only after spending hours upon hours in swimming pools, in the sea, swimming kilometre after kilometre.

Maeve Carey (37), an IT technician at Done Deal from Wexford is one of these people. She earned this title last summer on the 30th of July when she embarked on a journey from a small beach in Folkestone near Dover to swim from there and arrive roughly 14 hours later at Cap Gris Nez, a beach in France.

“That January I had just wanted to set a goal, set a target, it was just a typical New Year’s resolution.

“People had been prodding me in the club to go for it. People used to see me swimming down in Waterford in togs and said that I should just go for it.”

Unlike the usual New Year resolutions, Maeve took an ‘all in’ approach which meant that she had to jump in at the deep end and starting her training regime straight away. Time was already against her.

“People usually start training at least a year in advance”

Maeve’s decision was a last minute one. She knew she wanted a challenge and had being a swimmer her whole life. She now finally had the time and experience to devote to this huge undertaking. Maeve had gained a lot of experience from her time with the Wexford Masters swimming club which sees at least one relay team attempt the Channel swim each year.

The last team from the club that tried to cross the Channel had to pull out due to rough conditions, Maeve had said. Yet despite the club sending a team over every year, this was to be her first crossing, which she chose to do without a team.

“If I do something, it’s full on”, Maeve said. “I wanted to do it under my own control, I sign up on my own and it’s my name there. “

Her mind-set is one that many great athletes have adopted over the years, a single minded determination to see things through. Her approach to the subject was calculated and optimistic, as the coming year was going to be very tough, with a chance she might not even be able to swim if weather conditions were not permitting.

“There was one girl that got pulled half way through because the weather just turned, it started kicking up and she wasn’t going to complete it.”

Maeve’s training began very quickly after her decision to sign up for the Everest of swims. She contacted Colm Breathnach who had also completed the challenge in 2013 and he became her unofficial coach. He started giving advice and setting her training sessions which she had to stick to. They set up a spread sheet online to keep track of her progress. Colm checked in on her every now and again.

Maeve started out doing six kilometres a week, then ten kilometres a week which quickly became thirty kilometres a week which she maintained right up until the day of the swim. Maeve’s qualifiers for the event saw her spend six hours of continuous swimming in the sea, been observed by an independent observer and also her friend, Heike Coners, who paced the beach for six hours keeping an eye on her.

In that time Maeve swam a 1.25 kilometre length of Curracloe beach eleven times; but this was not a concern for Maeve who had completed ten hours of swimming in the sea on Colm’s advice.

“Six hours is a doddle you still have glucose reserves and all, ten hours gives you a real indication of what it’s going to be like.”

All of Maeve’s training culminated with an eighteen kilometre swim in UCD’s 50-meter pool in one session. This became a weekly trip to Dublin for Maeve where she would spend six hours training every Saturday.

Maeve was hoping for a twelve hour crossing time, but it was not to be. Maeve’s swim week was in mid-July where she waited in the small town of Folkestone for her big day to come.

“Every day I spent a lot of time on wing guru [weather app]. That was the hardest part was the exercise of pure patience, all I could think about was the swim.”

meave swimmer

During her wait, an American swimmer who was scheduled to get out before her had to postpone because the weather had turned and she had to wait again.

On the last possible day for her to swim she got a call to go. Maeve was only allowed to wear a standard swim suit, one swim cap, a pair of goggles and couldn’t touch the boat at all or else the observer, Cathy Bates, would pull her from the water.

Maeve’s training had made the crossing a smooth experience. She had a flawless swim for the first seven hours, eating oats mixed with water and some chocolate protein powder every forty-five minutes.

It started to become really difficult when she was ten hours in. The coast was in sight but the current was so strong she felt like she wasn’t moving at all. It was dark at this stage and keeping her head down while swimming was now becoming a mental challenge.

“I could see the French coast ten hours in but I didn’t zone in on it until the last two hours. But the current was taking me and I was putting a lot of effort in but not getting anywhere.”

The arrival in France wasn’t as glorious as people might believe. It was dark and Maeve was exhausted after 14.49 hours of swimming. That amounted to forty kilometres. There was no welcoming party other than her only team mate Heike who offered a familiar face and a well-deserved cup of tea.

Maeve has since won the National Kettlebell Championship [2016] in Limerick and hopes to return to the pool to continue improving her swimming soon.

By Nick Moloney