22nd September 2018
It’s 5am its an early start and it’s carbs carbs carbs all the way to the start line of the national Audax 200km series, exchanging my usual road bike for the unusual mountain bike – Extreme 200kms through the mayo mountains taking in Nephin & the Ox mountain range by every gravel track, bog road, and forest climb the organisers can throw at us…
The flag dropped in Ballina at 7am sharp and the pace from the gun was red hot. Like dogs fresh from the traps we flew through forest trails and nature walks hearts pumping and hyperventilating, it was game on. The course was brilliantly put together mainly all off road ,very short paved section but best of all great technical sections and brutal climbs one after another, it was a proper hard course. Navigation was sent on entry few weeks back by GPX files and set on your Garmin head device on your handlebars, and remarkably it was bang on. The back up was a route map and detailed directions , so you’d think you’d not get too lost .. lol.
The event was completely unsupported, meaning carry your own food, water, fix your own mechanicals and navigate yourself to the finish line .. it was total down to you, with critical control points to hit avoiding shortcutting.
So, 10k in and 4riders established a break, two riders from Ballina one rider from Wicklow & myself yours truly lol .. the pace was mental and at times personally i was well into the red zone but defiant to hang tight.. climb after climb the track was killing, deadening the legs with the heavy gravel mud & grass wet damp surface . The pace was just under 30kph for first 40k up through the western way coast roads around Ballycastle and through the forests and bogs of Inagh .. it was a mental pace for off roading, this surly cant last as my heart rate was flat to the mat. Getting my nose in front for 5k or so pulling out a small gap it was puncture time, sure it wouldn’t be normal unless I had a flat something thats been a bit of an Achilles heel in endurance racing for me. Chasing back kilometre after kilometre, let’s just say its not nicest feeling in the world, “for those that’s experienced it” but a necessity evil to catch up if you wish to stay at the sharp end.
The challenge now was staying ahead of the huge calorie burn forcing me to fuel non stop so my hand was more times in my rear jersey pockets scoping out grub than on the handlebars. Have to say conversation was light hearted & fun between the four leaders something after years of mainstream road racing, it’s the opposite, ultra racers are a very different breed of competitor, simply kill you with kindness & support yet murder you on a growling climb…with half a chance.
As we approached the 60km point i could see an opportunity to launch a real push. I sensed a bit of a lull in pace, some were refuelling the wicklow lad had map issues and i suppose after years, you just know when to push on. Coming out of the forest at “god knows where” their was this super long climb, and feeling strong and wanting to test the legs, i had a good go at it.. ok push push push.
Looking back id opened a sizeable gap and I drove on hard, actually super hard wanting to see how my winter development plan was working for next years ultra racing 2019. I drove it from Moygownagh and the bogs of Dooleeg, to hell with it I’d exposed myself and i had to back it up..
After 114kms navigating around the most beautiful tracks and trails on Nephin mountain I arrived into the midway check point named “Bothy” Scottish mountain lodge. Greeted by the organisers Eamon Nealon & Seamus o Dowd with an approved refuel which they provided and a warm friendly smile, have to say, two great lads and the blood line of why ultra endurance racing is fast growing as a main stream sport globally.
Pushing on from there it was onto the Nephin drive walk way so tough and challenging, I was loving the views the scenery it was breathtaking literally. The second half of the course proved so much more difficult, combined with the fatigue and the technical aspect of the course, rounding a left hander at full gas, I simply ran out of talent, hitting the ground really hard and finding myself in the trees, my left knee leg and elbow taking the full blow. Yip roaring like a bull calf, I could have been heard in cork, I thought it was all over. You know that feeling when you think you’ve broken something and don’t want to check. Rite get on this bloody bike Jason, let’s go get up, I kept saying.
Straighten the handlebars and climbed on. 5/10min passed things settled and with blood gushing I was back in the game and back to maximum attack the clocks ticking and thinking rite these lads will catch me soon.
Arriving into Foxford village I needed sugar, probably because the adrenaline ripped through my glycogen blood supplies. Stopped at O Haras centra store in the town, refuelled and headed for the hills again. Do they ever end, course designers have a sick sense of inflicting pain, grinding it up past the prayer grotto the hills kept coming taking us further off road and deeper into bog and heavy exhausting ground. Spinning the smallest gear finally as high as the windmills high in the ox mountains I was still feeling really strong Physically & mentally and knew 15km to go. Finally a solid tarred road and a sharp drop into Emmet street in Ballina. Rounding the towns two bridges, that I hadn’t been over since racing the Markiewicz cup RR over 25years ago. There it was 211km and the finish line.. I’d stayed ahead and while the only person i was racing was myself and my own personal time i was delighted to be first home and in doing so set a “new corse record” by over an hour..Yesssss I was stoked over the moon it was a great yardstick measurement for my winter training, just 8 weeks to the day I was standing 8611mtrs on the summit of K2…. and while yes it may not have been an out and out race it was a great chance to test against that personal clock on an awesome hard course… it was just great to be back riding hard in the saddle.
At the finish line to greet once again was course designers and organisers Eamon & Seamus. We laughed and joked about the challenge to finish by way of the unsupported nature. Have to say they delivered a proper hard man/women course a proper test and one I would seriously recommend to all my mountain bike & ultra friends. The MTB extreme 200km had it all and one I’ll surly return next September.. huge congrats to all the fellow extreme 200’ers – thank you to the organisers for the friendship sandwiches, blood sweat and pain..and a beautiful finishers medal, it was just brilliant.