There are lots of reasons to like cycling. Exercise, fresh air, environmentally-friendly way to travel, genuine tanning opportunity and people tend to think you’re pretty hardy. I’ve also mentioned the coffee stops too and the inevitable accompanying piece of cake. But the best bit about cycling, for me anyways, is speed. That feeling of whizzing through the air, preferably down a hill, wind bellowing past your ears and bringing tears to your eyes as you soar through space feeling like a superhero.
It’s utterly childish and utterly wonderful.
One of my most vivid childhood memories is taking my bike out for a ride one afternoon after school and homework had been completed (I’m nearly sure it was a Thursday afternoon and I reckon I was 10-11 years old). It was hammering rain outside and I just suddenly got the urge to get on my bike. My Dad, you see, was very liberal in his child-rearing views so he wouldn’t have objected to my apparent lunacy of going for bike ride when it was pouring rain outside. What I remember is pedalling, standing up on the pedals and going absolute full throttle down the road from my house, no rain jacket, no helmet (wouldn’t advise this now, mind you!), rain spitting up from the road and coming down from the sky and it felt amazing.
Pure unadulterated, unrestrained freedom.
I felt free, I felt invincible and I felt I could do absolutely anything.
I don’t do stupid things like cycle about without a helmet anymore, but I do still have moments of speeding down hills as fast I can go on my bike, big stupid smile across my face and feeling thoroughly heroic. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’ve also taken to being more adventurous with my cycle routes in the last few months – trying out different areas and even driving to a start point a bit further away so that I can explore new areas and unexplored territory. Not gonna lie, it hasn’t always proved a roaring success and there have been some not so good road surfaces and just predominantly boring areas of Ireland that I would quite happily not miss ever seeing again. But mostly, it’s been great seeing new parts of the country and enjoying different landscape and towns of our fair green isle.
Today, I took a venture around County Laois. I started from Monasterevin in Co. Kildare and headed towards Emo (because I always wanted to visit this place with it’s very cool name…), then Mountmellick and on to Clonaslee and the Slieve Bloom mountains. I passed through quite a few small towns and villages along the way. Most of these towns were old, delapidated, small towns with not more than the usual old pub, shop, church and great looking GAA club. I was hoping there might be a coffee shop somewhere along the way but if there was, I didn’t see one.
I like seeing these small towns, as there is something reassuring in the way there are so many towns around Ireland that are exactly how they were 30 years ago. Sure, the cities are modern and progressive with all their fancy dancy wifi, frappuccinos and chic male haircuts, but take a short ride out to the countryside and let you be in no doubt whatsoever – you won’t be getting no fancy wifi down here.
Lest you be getting notions about yourself 😉
It was nice to see rural Laois and they did have some lovely cows and friendly locals, but some of the roads weren’t the best (poor road surface makes for gritty cycling…), the scenery was not special and the towns were disappointing. I probably wouldn’t return here again unless there was a cycle race in the area. Rather, I think I’ll be trying out another area the next time.
The good news? It didn’t rain, I didn’t get lost and I had a little weekend adventure – and that’s good enough for me to feel just a little bit heroic for the rest of the day.
I write this from a position from which I confess I may not be able to move from for quite some time. In a very supportive, yet comforting sitting room chair, sheltering from the biblical rains that continue to pummel down from an overwhelmingly pessimistic sky. To cut a long story short, I went for a long ride this morning and got soaked.
It rains a lot in Ireland.
This is not a new concept to me. I’m Irish, I get it. In fact, I’m quite sure my Irishness makes me part human, part rain. However, the last few weeks in Ireland have been nothing short of stunning with absolute clear blue skies and tear-inducing sunshine that occasionally shines on our fair green isle as a kind of tease, to remind us of the weather we could be having all the time, if it weren’t so prone to the wet stuff.
Take yesterday, for example. Hottest day of the year so far at a balmy 26 degrees celsius – beautiful. Today, not so much. This morning it was lightly raining, with the weather forecast lady promising “rains will clear”. No Lady, the rains did not clear. As I cycled my way up to Dunshaughlin, Ratoath and did a wee tour of Meath this morning, the rains in fact got significantly heavier and steadily worked their way up to being what I would class as an out-and-out solid downpour.
It’s almost as if the universe was having bit of craic with us today – See here now Irish people, a few days of sunshine and here ye were, getting all cocky and carried away with yourselves thinking ye be living the life of Reilly. Now, let’s be putting ye back in your place!
I was like Forrest Gump walking around Vietnam.
First, the rain came the front, like teeny darts to the face, despite the extra peaked cap I had added to my headwear this morning. Then the rain seemed to come from the side. And then, there were times when the rain seemed to jump up from the ground. Mushy socks and swimming pool shorts soon became the dress du jour.
Apologies, I don’t mean to moan.
Really, I don’t mind rain that much, as I said, I’m well used to it at this stage. And sure once you’re wet, you’re wet. What was a real kicker though, was when I picked up a puncture 50km from home and it was yes, still spilling down. It’s tricky enough to change a puncture by the side of the road, but when your hands are soaking and you’re trying to fiddle with little nuts and bolts, it’s not funny. And you just know the people driving by are thinking “Who is that crazy girl messing with her bike on a day like today?”
Irish summers are typically temperamental and utterly unpredictable. Once you reconcile yourself to this fact, you’ll never stress again over Irish weather. Me, I am at peace with this fact but I’m also an inherent optimist so despite my intimate acquaintance with the facts about Irish rain, I will always ALWAYS believe that maybe the weather forecast peeps have got it wrong and maybe the sun WILL come out tomorrow.
My country, I love you. But enough with the rain already.
In running, there are certain distances you become accustomed to. 5km, 10km, 10 mile, half marathon, marathon etc. These are milestones every runner grows to know intimately – you learn to recognise how you feel at certain distances and what to expect physically and mentally at different points, the result being that you develop a kind of mental store and psychological toughness that helps you be better the next time. But when you’ve ran enough races, you also learn to know how you can expect to feel at the end of certain distances. For example, even though I haven’t run for over a year, I can remember exactly how I would feel after a 5km parkrun Vs. how my body feels after a half-marathon race Vs. after a marathon.
With Cycling, I find it a lot less clear cut. I could cycle an 80km today and be in bits tomorrow. Or I might cycle 100km today and be up for cycling another 70km tomorrow, no bother. There have been some days recently when cycling 37km to work on back to back days has just knackered my legs. But where is the sense, I ask you?
Apart from being able to draw the obvious conclusion that the harder the ride and more effort you put in, the more it will take out of your body and the slower it will be to repair and refresh. And the hillier the cycle, the tougher it is – also going to tire you out more.
But generally for cycling Vs. running, there are no milestone distances to focus on – or maybe there are and I’m just out of the loop! Oh well…
Some cyclists seem to work with time, rather than distance. You cycle for an hour a few days during the week and then go for a three hour ride at the weekend, for example. I don’t work that way. I like to map out a ride beforehand and then see how long it takes me. Next time, I try do it faster. That’s what motivates me. I’m less good with a “three hour ride” because for me that’s just a licence to sit on my ass and flooter away three hours coasting along at my ease.
So I stick with distance. Up to this year, I’d never ridden over 100km, with the longest cycle I’d have competed being around 91km. So I cracked out mapmyride and mapped a few 100km -ish cycles and worked my way up to them. Then I did a race a few weeks ago which involved a 105km spin around Carlow and over Mount Leinster. I loved it.
Today I took a spin from Naas to Kilkenny, travelling through Athy, Carlow, lovely Leighlinbridge and Bagenalstown along the way. The weather was a bit crap to be honest with dark clouds, some rain and a headwind most of the way… but I was happy out just to find I could actually make it all the way to Kilkenny. Needless to say when I arrived in Kilkenny 3 hours 41 minutes later, I was delighted with life and Kilkenny was buzzing with people, despite the rain.
I had booked to get the train back from Kilkenny to Sallins and had a bit of time before my train was due. I knew exactly how to spend that time.
What is cycling, if not really good coffee and cake?
After all, it’s the worst kept secret in cycling that the only real reason cyclists actually cycle is for the coffee and cake. And it’s worth it every time 😀
After wandering around trying to find a coffee shop that I could safely leave my bike outside without fear of it being pinched, I came across the Pantry on Kieran St., which was exactly what I was looking for. Really good coffee and a good selection of homemade baked goods, as well as soup, sandwiches and hot lunch options too. I really just wanted somewhere to sit down and rest my weary bones for an hour, while indulging in a much looked-forward to pick me up.
The staff were lovely, the coffee was excellent and my cupcake was just grand. The bun could have been fresher and the icing was a bit over-sweet, but I was starvers so it tasted great anyway. Good spot and I’ll be back again.
Next Up. Now that I’ve gotten past the 100km mark, I’d like to build on that and be able for greater distances. There’s a clatter of 200km events in Ireland that look fab but I’m a long way from being able to remain upright for 200k. But it gives me something to aim for – oh, you know how it goes… citius, altius, fortius… better.
I’ve talked about my feet so many times on this blog that I’m starting to feel they have more of a presence than I have on here. In fairness, their drama, trips, days out, dates and life in general has been far more exciting than my own of late…
For those who don’t know (and have been saved that pedi-saga) I injured both feet in the run-up to the Paris marathon 2016, in or about March last year, which has resulted in me being benched from running for nearly 10 months now. Since then, I’ve seen numerous physiotherapists, a GP, a chiropodist and two orthopaedic surgeons who specialise in feet – all of whom have given me a different diagnosis in terms of the source of the pain in my feet. The first physio told me it was soft tissue damage, “just a battering” from all the marathon training. The second physio (from the same clinic) told me it was NOT a soft tissue injury at all, rather it was more likely a rheumatological condition, possibly rheumatoid arthritis.
On foot of what physio no.2 said, I visited my GP who ran blood tests which confirmed no inflammatory markers in my bloods. So, she ruled out the possibility that the cause of my foot pain was rheumatoidal. She referred me on to an orthopaedic specialist who specialises in foot problems on the basis that the pain could be a result of a stress fracture. On inspection of my feet, this orthopaedic surgeon was of the opinion that indeed the source of my foot pain was most likely a result of a stress fracture – 90% sure it was a stress fracture in the 5th metatarsal – to be precise.
Went for an MRI… went back to Mr. Ortho… no stress fracture, anywhere in my feet. He then promptly informed me that he could do nothing further for me given that the problem did not appear to be a bone problem nor could he offer any opinion on what was wrong with my feet.
At this point, I cried.
It had been 9 months of different experts, with wildly different views on what is wrong with my damn feet. And here I was, after spending a chunk of money on all these guys and having not been able to go for a run in so long standing in a car park outside a hospital thinking I’m never going to be able to run again…. and not one person can tell me what is wrong with me. So I cried. With my Dad (who had kindly come with me to the appointment) looking at me like I was crazytown.
This week I went to see another orthopaedic (foot) surgeon for a second opinion, which if nothing else, was hilarious. What my mother calls a good old-fashioned surgeon- glasses, dicky bow, abrupt, utterly unsympathetic, impatient and entirely forthright and opinionated – I loved it. After examining my feet, he took the view that I have basically bad feet. I have splayed, wide feet, with bunions, swelling in the forefoot and collapsed arches – basically, all these factors combined mean that the mechanics of my feet is all off. He told me that the custom orthotics I had made many years ago were useless on their own and that they would not be effective without accompanying exercises to make them work.
So what did he decide should be the next step? A physio! No, but not just anyone, he specifically recommended a Dublin physio who has worked with Athletics Ireland specialising in sports injuries with good experience. Given that this glowing referral came from a man who strikes me as exceptionally hard to impress, I’m expecting great things. I’m honestly very excited and feeling more positive about this than I have in months.
I have an appointment in 2 weeks time and I can’t wait. In the meantime, I also have an appointment to see a rheumatologist to investigate my Reynaud’s and just to rule out any rheumatoidal cause of my foot pain.
For the moment, I am still cycling away at weekend and early mornings before work, when I can. The mornings are slowly getting brighter earlier and the days are starting to stretch out and I can’t wait for those long Summer days… I also just joined a gym to action my new year’s resolution to get stronger this year. Strength and conditioning is an area I’ve neglected for a long time and I’m hoping if I can work on it, it might help with my feet/ knee/other injuries going forward.
Injuries suck, no doubt. I miss running massively. Word. But for the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel like there’s hope that maybe some day in the near (ish) future, one of these experts will tell me it’s time to run again.
And what a wonderful day that will be. Happy running folks, enjoy!
I’m a cycling novice, having only really committed to regular training on the bike in the last 6 months. Prior to that, it was just heading out whenever I felt like it on irregular occasions and for irregular lengths of time. No plan. Nowadays, I’m on the bike 5 days a week with structured short and long sessions for specific days. However, I have to admit that I’m still not overly fussed about being too strict about how far I should go for a cycle in any session, preferring to leave it up to how I feel on the day. I’d rather not suck all the joy out of cycling.
As a novice, winter cycling is new to me. Of course I have cycled in winter before (it would be weird if at the age of 30 I had not…) but in previous years where running has always been my priority, deciding not to bother with a recovery cycle just because the weather was horrid was not a big deal.
Now that running had been put on hold for the foreseeable future (breaking my heart in the process but let’s not get morbid!) my cycling mentality has temporarily taken over my running mentality. This means if there is a session for today scheduled, then it’s get up and out, get it done. Doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, doesn’t matter if I’m “not in the mood”. Up, out, get it done.
This was tested today.
On a Sunday in Ireland, where a thick white frost covered the fields for as far as I could see, leaves on trees and bushes frozen in place like tiny statues, and a constant white fog hung in the air, there was no mistaking that winter had indeed arrived on our not-so-green-today island.
I deliberately waited to later in the morning to head out on the bike in the vain hope that temperatures might increase as the morning progressed, but in fact, they never got about 0 degrees. Cloud hung low in the sky, blocking out the sun and preventing it from shining through and creating a smidgen of heat.
I love a good, solid, unmistakably winter morning but today’s conditions were simply freezing. Armed with two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks, overshoes and solid layering on top, I was all set to test my cycling resolve!
I headed out in the direction of Kilcock, feeling better than I expected to and happy that I had got the whole layering thing right. Not too cold and not cooked either. After passing through Clane, I continued on the Kilcock road before turning off for Donadea, where main roads gave way to country fields on either side and an accompanying deep white fog. I quickly realised I should have equipped my bike with lights today as although it was daytime, visibility would be seriously affected by the fog.
I then continued to Timahoe, from where I turned right for Cloughrinka, making way through bog country and farm areas, all appearing as though the White Witch had just past through turning everything she touched to winter. Bushes, trees, leaves on the ground, the grass verges… all encased in white. The fog ever-present as I pushed on, with me wherever I went. My fingers started to numb despite the two sets of gloves because even though it was dry, the moisture from the fog was such that it was starting to settle on my clothes and hands and soak in. You wouldn’t think it, but I could see the moisture drops forming on my bike and starting to roll off my helmet.
From Cloughrinka, I made a left toward Edenderry and from there, I motored on to Clonbulloge village, on to Rathangan and then straight home to Naas. I hardly drank or ate anything on the bike today, despite the 94km distance. Partly because I was too cold to notice where I was thirsty or hungry, but mostly because my hands were too cold to pick up my bottle. It just seemed like too much effort to route around my back pockets to dig out an energy bar or wrestle with the bottle from its cage. At one point, I dropped one of my bottles on the road after losing my grip on it due to my numb fingers… and having to turn back when you’re cold and tired is a killer. I tried to drink more towards the end though.
I was happy to get in a good long cycle today and it’s always good practice to cycle in challenging conditions. I have to admit that reading George Hincapie’s biography at the moment and his stories about training in freezing conditions for hours on end is inspiring me to be a tougher cyclist. OBVIOUSLY my cycling expeditions are on a whole other level to George’s but he has really made me aware of just how hard pro riders actually train and the extent of the effort and discipline involved in the unglamorous, unforgiving daily life of a cyclist.
George was in my mind today I spun through the chilly conditions and although it was a long spin, I felt brilliant when I got home. Well, more specifically, I felt brilliant after I had defrosted, had a hot shower and changed into warm, dry clothes… and clung to a radiator for a while.
Running or cycling. I always feel brilliant afterwards. It may be winter out there, dark, cold and forbidding and oh-so-tempting to stay in your warm bed, but it’s always worth it to get outside.
So go forth folks and embrace your inner winter demon!
I grew up in a world where “going on holidays” meant packing a bag (and as many toys as I could squeeze in there…) and piling into into the family hatchback, rammed with suitcases, pillows, dog, brothers and pre-made dinners for a week, to head off to another corner of Ireland by the sea for 2 weeks. Squeeze in two grandparents along the way and we were all set.
Simple and we loved it.
Kids at school would talk of far flung places like Spain, Turkey or camping in France. We never had the money for foreign holidays but then, I don’t think we missed them either. We spent our days at the beach, complete with body-boards, fishing rods, swimming, sandcastles and playing cricket, football, tennis and every other form of sport you could manage on a beach. Evenings in the local pub, eating local caught fish and chips and listening to a good trad session and then sweets on the way home.
Since becoming an adult, I’ve explored much further afield and loved that too. But there are still many places around Ireland I’ve never been to and many I still want to explore.
Last week I had some holidays from work and decided to take off to Wexford where my Aunt and Uncle have a holiday house. Their lovely holiday home is on the Hook Head peninsula at the very tip of Wexford. Rural but absolutely stunning setting.
I spent the week cycling around the peninsula, trying out different roads and routes. Perfect blue skies, dry weather and a cold definitive wind accompanied me for most of the week as I explored Duncannon, Ballyhack and New Ross. Surprisingly good roads and some very decent climbs to be had for the adventurous cyclist. I loved it.
After the weather took a rather wet turn and the sunny South-East ceased to be sunny, I decided it was about time to pack up and come home.
Alas, there are other roads yet to be cycled and other parts of Ireland I have to explore.
Thank you Wexford! (and Michael and Tina for letting me stay!)
Are you running the 2016 Dublin Marathon? If so, you are a lucky, lucky person in for a beautiful day of running. A great day to be alive! For those who are not, due to injury or otherwise, I commiserate entirely with you, being benched myself this year for the first time in 5 years.
The Dublin Marathon is without doubt, my favourite day of the year – trumping Christmas and my birthday, just to be clear. From the terrific route, unreal atmosphere and the best magnetic crowd support, this road race is, in my opinion, unrivalled on the Irish running scene.
What Do You Need to Know?
With just 7 days left until race day, the countdown to the start of the Dublin marathon 2016 has well and truly begun. Runners will be crossing off the days on their calendar as they pace themselves through the final days of their taper and preparing mentally as well as practically.
To help you out here’s a few things to keep in mind from now until Sunday:
Tapering – It looks easy on the running schedule when you see it written down and compare it to all of the other weeks of training you’ve done, but in it’s own peculiar way, it is one of the hardest weeks of training you’ll do. Personally, it wrecks my head…but I know it works and is worth the mental turmoil so just try to relax, take lots of deep breaths and trust your training plan.
You will all have your own versions of a taper plan but general rules of thumb are to incrementally reduce your overall weekly mileage 2-3 weeks before race day, maintaining the number of days you run and the usual level of effort involved in each session – but reducing the number of miles you would normally run in each session. You’re aiming to rest your legs and allow for increased repair and recovery by doing less miles, but you simultaneously want to keep your legs sharp and maintain pace memory.
Don’t freak out. Don’t be cranky. And try not to lose it. Every year, I do this – unusually high levels of energy due to less running coupled with pre-marathon jitters is a recipe for a jumpy runner! You have been warned.
Food – By now you’ve practised with different food (and drinks) before, during and after training and hopefully too with races. The week before race week is NOT the time to start experimenting with new things. It’s coming to the end of a marathon training cycle and it may well be the case that you’re getting bored of your banana on toast or bagel with honey…My advice?
Suck it up.
You can eat something different next week – when you’re not about to run 26.2 miles and subject your body to massive physical demands which significantly hinges on the digestive system and your body’s ability to produce energy.
Don’t make it harder for yourself. Trust me when I say eat the foods that you know work and leave experimenting to the next cycle of training.
Carbo-Loading – On a similar note, there is a lot of advice bouncing around about “carbo-loading” before a marathon. 2 things:
White – In the days before a marathon, it can be good to reduce the amount of fibre you normally take in as this will make it easier on your digestive system on race day. For this week, it’s okay to switch from wholegrain everything to white everything.
Don’t Stuff Your Face – Carbo-loading does not mean simply add extra high carb foods to your daily intake. Aim to increase the percentage of carbs in your normal daily intake of food, rather than just adding it on as an “as well as”. Eating excessive amounts of carbs, particularly on a week when you’re running less, could leave you feeling bloated, heavy and might affect your weight- the last thing you want after all your hard work is to end up feeling like crap on race day.
Make a list of everything you plan to be wearing on race day, as well as anything you need before and after the race. A throwaway top for waiting around before the race, a black plastic bag in case it’s raining (and a cap), food and drinks for immediately after the race, dry clothes… Try to think of everything now and get it all ready a few days before the race. This always helps to calm me and it gives me plenty of time to think of anything I might have forgotten. Leaving this to the last minute the day before a race can make you frazzled. Again, unnecessary hassle and wasted energy.
The Expo – The expo in the RDS is always great and I love chatting to visiting stalls about foreign marathons, like in Scotland or France and browsing through all of the running bling. But be selective – don’t be tempted to spend too long on your feet. More wasted energy and glycogen seeping away!
This year will see the route remain the same as last year, having incorporated a few changes in last year’s edition to accommodate ongoing Luas works. A few tips:
2 Mile – Watch your pace after you pass the 2 mile mark. You’ll come along the quays of the Liffey, cross over and head uphill on Blackhall Place. It’s early and you’ll be a combination of nerves and wanting to set a good pace BUT Blackhall Place up into Stoneybatter is all uphill so don’t push too hard. Be patient here.
3 – 7 Mile – Mind the Incline (again) This is a more subtle gradient than Blackhall Place and because it’s early on too, you might not pay as much attention to this as you should. Listen to me when I say this – IT IS ALL INCLINE THROUGH THE PHOENIX PARK as you make your way along Chesterfield Avenue. DO NOT worry about your pace and DO NOT push too hard here. I did that a few years ago, being anxious about not getting too far behind my goal pace in the early miles and the result was my quads blew up after 16 miles. Once you’ve left the park and passed through the great crowds in Castleknock, there’ll be a sharp left turn and a nice downhill. Just be patient for it.
21/ 22 Mile – Clonskeagh and Roebuck Hills – Heartbreak Hill. Beware Be aware that there is a climb awaiting you as you turn onto Clonskeagh Road and make your way up Dublin’s version of Heartbreak Hill around the back of UCD. There’s a Lucozade station to look forward to here so focus on that, just keep tapping forward and keep in mind – once you get over this hill, you’re downhill onto the Stillorgan road and on the home straight. This is always a favourite point in the race for me – it’s at this point I know roughly what time I’m going to finish in and more importantly, I KNOW I’m going to finish the race and I can really start to suck up the atmosphere and just enjoy every last minute of it.
Relax. Marathon day is reward day. You’ve done the hard part – the weeks and weeks of early mornings, late evenings, speed sessions, long runs, disciplined diet and social life. Now is your time. Now is when you get to do what you love most – lace up your runners and run one of the best marathons there is (if you ask me!). If your nervous, that’s ok – it would be frankly quite inhuman if your body was not nervous about what you were about to physically subject it to. Nerves are natural. Nerves are good. But control them and don’t let them take control.
Rest. As much as you can this week, don’t walk if you can drive and don’t stand when you can sit. Sleep properly and early. And do not fill your extra time with spinning classes, housework or clearing out your storeroom. Your goal this week: avoid spending any energy you don’t need to. Energy conservation is your mission should you choose to accept it. Regular stretching and foam-rolling are also good to keep your muscles from getting too tight.
Enjoy This Time. You’ve spent ages getting to this point and often we blitz through the run-up to a marathon fretting about getting organised. It doesn’t need to be that way. Sit back, soak up the excitement and look forward to Sunday.
Because it is going to be truly great and you are not going to want to miss it 😉
Are you one of the lucky ones taking part in the Dublin Marathon this year? Best of luck to you and would love to hear from you if you are! Go n-eiri an bothar leat!