Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ger Kearney Memorial 4mile Run

This is an image from last year's Ger Kearney Run, as we walked with Mom on her home stretch. I need to get my camera fixed to start taking more snaps from this year's events!

And finally, the last leg of my blog 'catch-up'!  
Folks thought I was mad in the head to get up at 8am on the morning after our arrival in Stabannon, following a three-day cycle across Ireland and a heavy night of celebration, to travel the two hour journey to Wexford for a four mile run - but how could I miss out on the Ger Kearney Memorial Run in Tombrack?  This was the second year of this race, in what has to be one of the most picturesque parts of the country.  The added incentive for me is that my younger brother, Richie, is married in the area - and actually a key organiser of the event.
On arrival I was greeted by my mother and father, who had also journeyed south, and other brother Cormac who traveled from Dublin.  It was an early start for this race - 11am, so the legs were still a bit stiff and sore after all of my cycling.  Mom was once again going to walk the circuit and this year both Richie himself and his wife Deborah, were going to participate in the run.
From the off, Cormac and I held back together and let the bulk of the field shoot on ahead at speeds that we knew only some could sustain. Knowing the course from last year, we decided to keep our strength for the hills and pick off some struggling runners along the way.  The plan worked a treat!  The first hill came at around mile one - it was a long slow incline, and already some of the more enthusiastic early runners were beginning to flag, so we took a victim or two here.  The second of the hills threw up a few more victims and by hill number three we were comfortably running in the middle of the pack.  While my legs were stiff from the cycle, I felt fine, and could have done with another mile or two to pass some more strugglers!  Cormac and I finished around 34.20mins.
Richie, however, came in well ahead of us - fit man that he is, and Deborah was not far behind...  Once again Mom walked the course in sprightly fashion, while Dad took care of refreshments!  A very enjoyable run - I hope this stays on the race calendar for years to come.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day 3 Cycle Report - the Road to Stabannon.

There we are - most of us, after arriving at our destination, Stabannon, 340kms and 3 days after leaving An Cheathrú Rua.

Some of us awoke with very sore heads on Saturday morning last in Mullingar... I went to bed at an early hour, being knackered from two long days in the saddle, but reports at the breakfast table told of high-jinks until 5am from some quarters! 
I was glad of the early night, it left me in great form that morning.  The final leg of the cycle was to be a 95k trek from Mullingar to Stabannon, via Delvin, Athboy, Navan, Woodtown, Ardee and finally Stabannon.  11 other cyclists joined up with us in Mullingar, so now we were a party of 41 (having one dropout from the previous two days).  
Sunblock was a must on that Saturday... it was one of the nicest days of the year - perfect for a homecoming!  We broke up into two main groups again and the extra riders were divided out between the fast and slow groups.  Whilst the road out of Mullingar was fine for awhile, the narrower road to Delvin, and then on to Athboy, became a real hazard with so many cyclists.  Lines of traffic were held up behind us and some of the more insane drivers tried their luck at passing us out on the worst of spots.  We were glad to see the back of those narrow roads when we finally got on the road to Navan.  
First off though:  a brief stop in Athboy, 30kms in.  And once more, some lovely cake from the two Missuses!  Some of the 5am drinking crew were still nursing sore heads, but they were slowly coming to.  
The Navan road itself was a far safer cycle, and we really were ticking down the clock now to the finish so spirits were definitely high.  Word got out that we would be 'well received' in Woodtown (it being the seat of 'O'Donoghue's Bar', cousins of some of our main cyclists!  So we got to Woodtown at about 4pm, with only around 25km of the cycle left, and sandwiches, sausages, pints and more all for hungry, thirsty and overexcited cyclists!  We were greeted there by family and friends, and were joined by another dozen cyclists for the last leg to Stabannon.
The final part of our journey, from Ardee to the village of Stabannon, was a ceremonial jaunt, as we were joined by still more cyclists, many children amongst them.  We still had about 10k to cycle but it was at a very leisurely pace and with great chat and cheer.  Entering the village proper, after three days and 340kms in the saddle, was actually quite emotional.  We were greeted by half the village and feted at the local pub - where we danced and drank until the early hours of the morning.
What an experience, and what a fantastic event.  I'm delighted that a daft idea that I had last year when I cycled solo across the country has turned into a serious event that seems set to raise in excess of 20k for a very worthy charity.  Don't get me wrong - it's no great shakes on my part, the organising has of this year's event has been the genius work of others, but it feels good to have come up with the germ of the idea!  Will we do it next year, or the year after - who knows?  And then again, who the hell is going to stop us??????

Friday, August 24, 2012

Day 2 Cycle Report...

Destination for Day 2 was Mullingar, where I just had to toast a pint to the great Joe Dolan!

I had great intentions to blog immediately after each of the cycle days, but it became so hectic that I'm nearly a week late with it!  However, here goes the description for Day 2 as best recalled:
Day 2:  We left Carrick on Shannon at around 11 o'clock, some of us were stiff, sore and tired (namely me!) but we were excited and ready for the road.  As was the case on day 1, we split into two groups - one slightly faster than the other, with the slower group going off ten minutes earlier.  I nestled into the faster group this morning as I had spent the first day with them.
From the Landmark Hotel (where we had spent a very comfortable night and ate like kings), we turned out the Longford Road, heading Edgeworthstown direction.  Bums were sore.  Legs were aching slightly!  Our first stop was not due for another 40km so on we went without complaint.  I was finding the pace a little too fast for me this day - the tiredness after day one meant that I was hanging on a little at stages, but still I was enjoying the crack.
Cycling in a group is far different from my solo experience from last year.  It works in a chain-like motion, whereby you pair up on the road and continue to change partners as you either go up or down the chain.  It makes for a very sociable exercise - as I got chatting to all who were participating for a few minutes at least each day.
At our 40km stop my good wife D and Ruth had sandwiches, cakes and you name it ready for us.  We pulled in behind a Texaco garage in Longford Town... the sun was shining and all were feeling good.  I made up my mind at this stage that I would swop over to the other group for the rest of our cycle down to Mullingar.  
The trip to Mullingar was fantastic... we had the hard shoulder all the way and I had the added extra of having 16 new riders to acquaint myself with!  The pace in this group was far more manageable after a day and a half with the Tour de France crew so it was all good for me.
Pulling in to Mullingar Town - our destination for Day 2, was fantastic.  We had a good crew waiting for us there in their orange Jack and Jill t-shirts, collecting money in their plastic buckets.  As for us cyclists- we rushed into Canton Casey's pub in the main square and had a well deserved pint!  Only one day to go now!

Friday, August 17, 2012

First Day of the Big Cycle Done!

Ciarán, Denise and Alan getting, and giving, a three-way massage at Loughglinn (with 130k done and another 30k to go on day 1)

A year on from my solo exploits, it's fantastic to have the first day of the big cycle done, this time with a group of 30 other cyclists!  We split the big group up in to two smaller groups of 15 & 16 and set off from An Cheathrú Rua at 9am yesterday morning, heading for Carrick on Shannon, 168kms away...
Our group was second to go and was marshalled by the great Mark Toner!  This man can cycle - up and down through the group at will, helping those in need of a lift (yes I did at one time) and keeping a tight rein on those who were speeding away from the pack.  
After just 30k - coffee in Keanes
The first section of the cycle brought us out the bog road to Camus, where we were encircled by the wonderful sight of the Maamturk mountains, and following a short incline after Maam Cross we positioned our bikes for a fantastic descent down to Maam Bridge - 30k done and the first of our stops.  After  a quick coffee - thanks to Keane's Pub and a certain someone who picked up the tab - we got onto our bikes again for the wicked ascent up Máimín an Ghabhair (Goat's pass).  This is a very sharp and tough climb but the reward of the descent afterward is worth it - as is the run in to the beautiful village of Cong, our next little stop. 
From Cong we headed onwards into County Mayo, passing Ballinrobe and working our way to Claremorris.  This would bring us to the 90k mark, a little past half way for day 1.  My wife D, and Ruth, had driven on ahead of us and prepared sandwiches and cake for our lunch.  The Garda (police) station was kindly given over by the local gardaí for this purpose.  Everyone was feeling good at this point - we were well on our way.
Following Claremorris we were heading to Knock (site of a Marian apparition in the 19century) and down to Ballyhaunis, then through to the little village of Loughglinn in Roscommon, 120km in.  We stopped again here - our last stop before heading straight for Carrick on Shannon.  At this point, most of us were feeling the pain - but it was close enough now to just plough on.  We readied ourselves for the last leg of the cycle - taking a turn to Fairymount, where there was another severe climb, and then on through Frenchpark, turning right for Carrick on Shannon.
What a feeling when we finally reached our destination!  We were all joined at this stage - tired, sore, but very happy!  
Day 2 today:  a shorter cycle, approx 80km to Mullingar.  It's all for a good cause, the Jack and Jill Foundation that helps families with severely ill children.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Swimming At Last!

Clam shells on Trá Pháidín (Páidín's Beach)
As my cycle approaches I should be winding down the training with some light sessions - either on bike or on foot, but instead the weather has dictated that I take to the sea for some lovely swims...  Trá Pháidín is a beautiful, secluded beach that can only be accessed through fields by those of us in the know, and it truly is a slice of paradise.  Yesterday I left the house at 7.30pm with a little rucksack containing a towel, a book, and a transistor radio.  When I reached my paraside destination I found two local women there already, basking in the evening sun.  We three were in on the secret of this beach - the rest of the world lived in pure ignorance.  The water was calm and clear, but the funniest thing was that a shoal of mackerel had come to the beachhead and were swimming around us as we waded through the water.  This happened to me in this very same spot four years ago... back then I rushed back to the house to get my fishing rod and proceeded to land two score mackerel, but yesterday I simply swam amongst them for an hour.  
Tomorrow I'll be on hand to help Conor, as part of his crew for the Connemara Ultra 100.  This will be his very first ultra marathon, but more importantly it will be his 100th full marathon.  What an amazing achievement.  As for my preparation for the big cycle that starts next Thursday - rest is probably key now. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Almost Ready for the Cycle...

The Boat Inn, in the picturesque village of Oughterard, where I stopped off for a toasted sandwich and coffee, 45k into a 105k cycle.

I'm developing bike legs at last.  This past week has seen me up on the two-wheeler for an 80k, 40k and finally a whopping 105k cycle yesterday!  In between all of this I managed to run a 5 miler and a 3 miler - but the cycling has slowed up my running progress for sure.
Which pursuit do I prefer?  Like asking to choose between strawberries or cheese, it depends on the mood...  Cycling can be very difficult on our Conamara roads - especially the route back from the beautiful village of Oughterard (Uachtar Ard as we say in Irish!), where I took a short break and had a sandwich in the Boat Inn.  This is mountainy country - beautiful, but damn tough.  The wind seems to always swirl against you - no matter what direction you are heading in.  There are times of course when it is just directly in your face and forcing you backwards.  I'm just a novice at this cycling lark of course - I've only recently learned to sit low against the wind - it makes a fair difference but can be difficult to crouch for a very long period of time.
My 105k cycle went okay (believe it or not), but I did begin to tire at the very end.  The first day of our cross Ireland trek will demand a 160k effort, so I still need to acclimatise. 
Beautiful scenery - tough cycling!

The big event is only nine days away now - and the excitement is growing for sure.  I'm well chuffed that a solo effort from last year is  taking on greater significance this time out, with 30 other participants coming along for the three-day cycle to raise some much needed funds for the Jack and Jill Foundation.  The credit for this year's success has to go to Teresa, Enda, Ronan, and all the gang up in Stabannon who are fantastic organisers.  Of course, it's all in memory of a very special little girl, and for all the families who are struggling to cope with the illness of a very young one.