So here I am again, on the eve of what is the toughest bike race in Ireland, writing a rás blog. The last time I put pen to paper for something like this was at the rás two years ago. Little did I know then that my race wouldn’t have a happy ending. A crash on stage 2 resulted in a broken wrist and a few cracked ribs. I struggled on for 3 more days but eventually missed the time limit on stage 5. It was devastating having to pull out but at least I knew I battled to the very end and only left when they threw me out. Fast forward two years later and I am back for another shot at finishing this race. Do I feel under more pressure now to finish? Darn right I do.
Training: the team officially started training for this back in September 2015. I have clocked nearly 14000 miles since then, averaging 21 hours of training per week and around 350 miles per week. I have trained through every race so far. The amount of days training missed/rested is in single digits. Nights out were restricted to just 2 unavoidable nights out in 9 months. We have also just come through one of the worst Irish winters for training, where 4 hour turbos were becoming a regular feature, and do you know what? I loved every minute of it. Unlike others on the team, I am a sad pathetic loser with no wife, kids or mortgage to worry about. Sure what else would I do with my days?
Difference from Two Years Ago: the biggest change between now and when I first attempted the rás two years ago is that now I am solely focused on cycling. Two years ago I was also training for an Ironman so had to dedicate a lot of time to running and swimming. Last year, due to a long term run injury I decided to focus solely on the bike; funny because cycling was always my worst discipline in triathlon where the likes of Bryan McCrystal would absolutely hammer my bike times at every race. Despite that, I had a pretty decent year on the bike last year (Bryan still hammers me – somethings never change!) and that has continued into this year. I am in better shape for the race now than I was 2 years ago. With the mileage I have put in, I will hopefully be able to manage the long distance and the multiple days of hardship better than some.
Don’t expect much: trust me, I don’t have what it takes to do well at this race. Each day will be about survival. Physically I am in the best cycling shape of my life but, as always, it’s the mental side that will kill me. I am just not prepared to cycle in the middle/front of the bunch. I find it mentally draining and I get too nervous, expecting crashes on every corner. I will be at the back and when you are positioned there you have to expect to be out the back once the line outs and splits occur. I have already accepted my faith – the grupetto is calling. The aim for this race is to finish. For me, my racing season starts after the Rás. The rás is just a box I have to tick. Once that is out of the way I can focus on getting results in the 2nd half of the season.
Training partners: I am very ‘old school’ when it comes to training. I don’t use power meters, heart rate monitor, garmins etc. If I trained by myself I might opt to go that way but I prefer the company of others when I cycle. I would get too bored and lose motivation if I was left to train by myself. It’s very hard to face into season after season with just yourself for company. Therefore, all my training is done with Nenagh CC.
We started off with 7 hopefuls in Nenagh CC training for the rás. It was great to have the brother Gary back and Dan Hogan also joined us and fitted in very well. Kenneth Kennedy and Mike Browne were the main driving forces with me in the team. None of us was getting any younger so we kind of felt it was now or never. Kevin Sherlock and Matty Kennedy were also thinking about racing but for different reasons they opted out.
Most of the team were making a big jump up to compete at this level. It was important that we applied ourselves early to the task and trained hard and that’s what we did. Well….thats what most of us did! Gary had other ideas. Gary is the most talented cyclist in the club but having finished the rás in flying form two years ago he couldn’t quite get back the motivation to go for it again. It was a blow to lose Gary (but a big boost for business in The Well) but the rest of us kept working hard.
Dan had been flying it in training all year. Unfortunately for him, this wasn’t translating into results at the A1/A2 races. The fast surging nature of the race starts was catching him early each time and he wasn’t getting a chance to show his true potential. He wasn’t one for giving in though and kept showing up and taking his punishment, hoping something would click. In the end, the rás came about too early and he had to pull out. Ever the team player, Dan volunteered to be our mechanic for the rás. I am sure that watching the race will wet the appetite for a crack at it next year.
And then there were 3. The pursuit of an all Nenagh team was over but we still had 3 local cyclists on the team. Mike and Kenneth are the opposite of me when it comes to obligations. Both work crazy hours, have mortgages and families and despite my advice they weren’t willing to ditch them. The commitment needed to balance all that is huge and fair play to the lads as they barely missed a training session all year. A big thanks is due to their very understanding and hard working other halves.
While myself, Kenneth and Mikey trained together a lot, none of us would be where we are right now without the help of the whole Nenagh CC team. We had an excellent training group that made this possible. There was no complaining and whingeing and we were all pulling in the same direction. Everyone was willing to train hard and this made it very enjoyable going out cycling every Saturday and Sunday with the club. I would imagine, not many rás teams train year round with their home clubs; so thanks to Nenagh CC for buying into how we structure our sessions. When we cycle through the town on Monday we will be representing all of ye with pride.
Final Team: early this year, the Rás lads were kindly invited to a training weekend down in Kerry by Michéal O’Shea of Killorglin CC. Little did we think we would be returning the favour by offering Michéal a place on our rás team just a few months later. Funny how things work out. Shane O’Neill, originally from Listowel but now living in Cork and racing for AquaBlue, was the final invite on the team.
Both Michéal and Shane have risen up the ranks at pretty much the same pace as the Nenagh team. The two lads had top performances in stage races this year with Michéal finishing high up in the Kanturk 3 Day and Shane finishing high up in the Gorey 3 Day. Both are now A1 riders after those performances. The good thing about the lads is that they are in the exact same boat as us – they are just looking to finish it. There are no prima donnas on our team. We will all be trying to drag each other through each stage. There is just one team goal – finish the damn thing!
So, thats the story.
Tomorrow afternoon we pack up and head for Dublin. Expect a pre-race blog post sometime after 9. Before I forget, Kenneth wanted me to ask everyone to say a little prayer to Baby Jesus for him. Thanks.