THE ENDURANCE JOURNEY
“It's good to have an end to journey toward, but it's the journey that matters in the end.”
2009 – THE JOURNEY BEGINS
RACE AROUND IRELAND SEPTEMBER 2009
1st Place, overall
2200 kilometres, 75,000ft climbing, 108 hours 12 minutes
In 2009 I was looking for a cycling event that would serve as a fundraiser. For 2 years I had held my young son as he battled cancer. At the end of that journey I needed to give back to the system and the people that helped him survive. An endurance race seemed a fitting metaphor.
As I rode this course I found I had an appreciation for what endurance would ask of me as a rider, nothing compared to what cancer asked of me as a parent. Along the way I started to see new possibilities both from a cancer fundraising perspective and as a discipline that would challenge me to overcome obstacles and discover new performance edges. My journey was only beginning.
"Failure is just a specialised form of training."
2012 – THE APPRENTICESHIP TO ENDURANCE
DNF (Did Not Finish)
4940 kilometres, 170,000ft climbing
The RAAM start line is a daunting place, especially for a relative newcomer to endurance racing. I had never raced in these kinds of severe climates - desert heat, high altitude. I knew anything could happen but I had no idea I would end up in hospital at the top of Wolf Creek Pass with altitude sickness that nearly cost me my life. Defeat is always a possibility but I had not suffered such a crushing one before. It was profoundly humbling. It took me a long time to integrate the lessons of RAAM but I am so glad I did.
“Every pedal stroke counts because it takes you further than before.”
2013 - BELIEVING IN MYSELF
RACE ACROSS ITALY JUNE 2013
4th Place, overall
600 kilometres, 20,000ft climbing
This race was critical in terms of confidence. After the DNF in RAAM I needed to prove to myself that I belonged in the world of endurance racing. I had used the time wisely to conduct a meticulous autopsy on my RAAM experience and I was beginning to understand where my performance gaps were. I was learning. There was much at stake as I rolled off the start ramp in Italy. The further I got into this race the more I felt the surge of confidence and self-belief. I started to dream about returning to RAAM.
"Your life, all your experiences, can appear in a single pedal stroke. You move it all forward when you move the bike forward."
2014 - THE BIGGEST START LINE OF ALL
2nd Place in 50-59 age category
4940 kilometres, 170,000ft climbing, 265 hours
Stepping up to this start line again was an act of courage because I knew what severe obstacles lay ahead. I had joined with US charity Hopecam, devoted to supporting children with cancer, so I also knew that my fears paled in comparison with what those families and children were facing. My son, Ross had battled and survived. I was ready to battle and survive too.
I had trained with incredible focus, had addressed and had a plan for dehydration and altitude. I needed to safely get over Wolf Creek Pass, the site of my near fatal illness in 2012. Getting to the top of this nearly 11,000ft mountain pass was emotional to say the least.
RAAM 2014 brought a whole host of new challenges. My team and I were able to overcome them all one pedal stroke at a time. Crossing that finish line was one of the proudest moments of my life.
"To compete in endurance, your courage must be greater than your fear."
2015 - ENDURANCE DOESN'T SLEEP
RACE ACROSS ITALY MAY 2015
DNF (Did Not Finish)
774 kilometres, 33,000ft climbing
This was a tough DNF after placing 4th in 2013. I was hugely disappointed but worked hard to understand what led to this outcome. My training load and performance had steadily improved however I had missed the boat on nutritional advances. Back to the drawing board!
IRISH RECORD - Northerly tip of Ireland to southerly tip of Ireland, and back JUNE 2015
1242 kilometres, 49 hours and 40 seconds
This record showed my real progression as an endurance racer. I had been focused on night riding for some time and had learned to manage sleep deprivation while keeping the bike moving forward. I managed to go the distance with no sleep and finished strong.
I knew I had broken through to a whole new performance level.
LE MANS 24HR, FRANCE JULY 2015
1st place in 50-59 age category
668 kilometres, 24 hours
Le Mans, the iconic racetrack, is a fun place to ride a bike for 24 hours! I brought in a nutritionist I had worked with before to overhaul my performance nutrition in a controlled environment. I was well up in the overall when a freak rainstorm hit and I crashed at speed going through one of the wide bends. I managed to get myself back to the crew to refuel and repair and still managed to finish top in my age category.
I felt confident that my new nutrition plan would soon start to pay performance dividends.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, TEXAS, USA SEPTEMBER 2015
1st place, overall
1609 kilometres, 41,000ft climbing, 80 hours 37 minutes
This is the race where all the hard work in training and nutrition came together. No Country For Old Men is a race that asks; “are you rugged enough?” We overcame significant altitude, desert heat, storms and injury to arrive at the finish line in a non-stop, no-sleep 80 hours.
My crew and I broke through new barriers in keeping the bike moving forward. This performance took me into deep reserves. Recovery was challenging and took time.
At the end of 2015 I was placed #9 in the Ultramarathon World ranking.
“The road is life and life is the road. There are tremendous highs and lows. Just don’t forget to lift your head and enjoy the view.”
2016 - RESTORE, RECOVER, RENEW
2016 - RESTORE, RECOVER, RENEW
DONEGAL ATLANTIC WAY ULTRA, IRELAND JUNE 2016
3rd Place, overall
555 kilometres, 20 hours 54 minutes
This was a year of great change both on and off the bike. I had to be patient with my 2015 season recovery, which was a challenge that brought many new perspectives.
It was a treat to race on home roads for a change. The story of this race will always be about taking a wrong turn and having to climb Mamore 3 times to get back on course. I chased the time I lost for the next 16 hours. Mistakes like these are difficult to live with but usually lead to great lessons, even at my age and stage.
"The race will always take you to a very simple place where you have to decide if you can or you can't go the distance."
2017 - RACING OUT OF THE DARK
1st over-50 age category
774 kilometres, 33,000ft climbing, 30 hours 33 minutes
This race was an arrival of sorts. After the prolonged recovery through 2016 I needed to face a few questions, questions that could only be answered by putting myself under the extreme pressures inherent in an endurance race. I battled and struggled for hours before the answer appeared. By the finish line I was already looking forward to the next race and new horizons.
1st over-50 age category
817 kilometres, 20,000ft climbing above 6000ft, 32 hours 50 mins
This world cup race draws a large community of people who ride every year. I made the strategic decision to take the race to the race. The field may know the route but I remained an unknown and I used that to my full advantage. I rode with intent and focus from mile 1 and managed to stay in front for 230 miles. By that time I knew who the contenders were and what they were capable of.
The team managed my hydration, electrolytes and nutrition superbly. When the altitude took effect and the nighttime temperatures sank to -3 we were prepared and were able to keep the bike moving forward for the full 32 hours and 50 mins.
This race proves the point that I may ride as a solo but endurance is a team sport.
MALIN HEAD TO MIZEN HEAD, AND BACK NOVEMBER 3RD – 5TH 2017
New World Record from the most northerly point in Ireland, Malin Head, to the most southerly point, Mizen Head and back.
735 miles in 48 hrs, 38 mins and 47 secs
I set the World record in 2015 but knew I could go faster. June is the best month for this route given the hours of daylight and the direction of the prevailing winds. I made an attempt but abandoned in Mizen Head after battling a ferocious headwind for 365 miles. This record remained unfinished business.
I returned November 3rd knowing that the weather odds would be stacked against me. I was prepared for cold, wind and dark, which is exactly what I got. What I underestimated was the impact these conditions would have over time, especially riding in darkness. About 420 miles into the record I pulled over and said 3 words I’ve rarely said, “It’s not possible”. My incredible team got me back on the bike by asking me to suspend all thoughts of impossibility for a while and just keep the bike moving forward. Letting my mind rest from the effort taught me that it’s sometimes enough just to keep the wheels turning. This World Record was the hardest 735 miles I’ve ever done but also one of my proudest achievements. Will I do this route again – never!
2017 WORLD CHAMPION OVER 500 MILES DECEMBER 2017
By the end of 2017 the World Ultra-Cycling Association had crowned me overall World Champion in the 500-mile category. I knew I had done enough to win my age category of 50-59 but my World Record had pushed me to the top of the overall leaderboard, which was a first for an athlete my age.
All the years of honing my endurance skills, all the miles of training and the investment to go racing, the failures and the lessons, everything contributed to my 2017 arrival on the top of the podium.
It felt humbling and exhilarating but are there things to learn and improve? Of course there are, that’s the drive in performance so 2018 will see the team and I attempt to win Race Around Ireland once again, 10 years after the first victory, the victory that started my whole endurance journey.
“Your mind-set is critical, it’s where the true race exists. It’s where the drive to move forward or the desire to stop comes from. You must master your inner race before you can win on the road.”
2018 - HOW FAR WE'VE COME
“Abraham Lincoln once said 'give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe'. I've been sharpening my Race Across America axe."
2019 - GOING HOME
1st in age category
482.6 miles in 24 hours
New course record in age category
The last couple of years have been building towards another crack at the biggest and toughest race of all, Race Across America (RAAM).
2019 will be my 3rd time crossing that start line. 2012 was my baptism of fire. In 2014 I received the coveted Finisher's medal and placed 2nd in my age category. This year, I'm going to race and I'm going to race for the overall. That's a bold statement and I don't make it lightly. Bear in mind though that I've been steadily preparing for Race Across America since 2017.
In 2017 I focused on building sustainable power and speed over 500 miles. I also continued to work on the mind-set required to race through consecutive nights. In 2018 I added race distance and climbing intensity with Race Around Ireland (RAI) plus I changed my time trial bike and put initial race miles on it.
The time trial bike is vitally important in RAAM. The whole mid-section is pan-flat and windy (think 600 miles through Kansas) so aerodynamics are key. After RAI I made some additional adjustments but I needed to test it on flat, fast RAAM-style roads. Sebring 24 hours in Florida was the perfect test-bed. Twenty-four hours on the TT bike on flat roads in heat and under pressure - nothing better?
I put in a great ride. Five hundred miles in 24 hours is reserved for the very elite riders and to get so close to it was a significant boost to my confidence. But the most confidence building part of the race was how close to perfect I've got the TT bike. I came home with minor but important comfort adjustments to make.
I'm closer to being RAAM ready than ever before. If you're going to be bold, be prepared, and I am.
RACE ACROSS AMERICA (RAAM) 2019 JUNE 2019
1st in age category
4090 kilometres, 3 deserts, 3 mountain ranges, 170,000ft climbing, 11 days, 16 hours, 23 minutes.
No amount of preparation is enough for a race of this magnitude and difficulty.
I arrived at the start line well trained with an experienced, cohesive and organized team.
Jill and I had spent the best part of the previous month in the US with Marc Poland, a US-based cyclist and crewmember who has become a friend. We started altitude acclimatization in North Carolina and continued as we progressed west. We even stopped at Pagosa Springs for a few days to acclimatize on my old friend, Wolf Creek Pass.
Still, the combination of extreme heat and altitude in the first 3-4 days of the race took a toll on my performance.
Racing through the Mojave and Arizona deserts is like being dropped into a furnace with no hope of cool, even during the night. The ice vests proved to be one of the most valuable pieces of kit. That and the constant supply of ice-cold slushies to cool my inner core got me through.
After the furnace came the mountains. The altitude through the Colorado Rockies proved significantly more challenging than I anticipated. My usual power was elusive and my heart rate responded in an unfamiliar fashion.
The front end of the race was steadily moving away from me and from a performance standpoint I physically couldn’t respond, this created huge mental and emotional stress. It was not the race I had planned or seen in my mind’s eye.
But there was no time for panic, my inner race needed to be more resilient than ever and I focused on finding a sustainable rhythm. I relied heavily on support from the team and found great strength in the messages from home. Through sheer perseverance and the team’s laser like concentration on my physical performance needs we found our way forward. And as the days and nights progressed I rode into a strong position within my age category.
The closer to home I got my lead stretched into an unbeatable position of close to 300 miles. At 60 I was going to achieve an age-category win in the toughest race of them all.
A victory but it’s also true to say a slight disappointment. But it’s the kind of disappointment that is fuel for future great performances if I give enough time for reflection and understanding.
Race Across America continues to deliver the greatest performance lessons an endurance athlete could hope for.
MID-ATLANTIC 12/24 2019 AUGUST 2019
253 miles in 12 hours
The World Ultra-Cycling Association’s (WUCA) world cup rankings are based on average speeds in best performances over WUCA ratified 12-hour, 24-hour and 1000+ mile races. It’s a great way to determine a cyclist’s capability and performance over a complete season. After all, different distances come with specific ‘asks’.
After solid performances in Sebring 24 hr in Feb and Race Across America in June I needed a 12-hour race to meet the world cup criteria. The Mid-Atlantic 12/24 is in beautiful North Carolina. It’s a flat course that lends itself to fast speeds and it didn’t disappoint. I clocked 253 miles in 12 hours! I guess there’s still some speed left in my 60 year old legs.
My WUCA 2019 season is now complete with final World Cup rankings issued in November 2019. We’ll see if the podium has my name on it. I certainly hope so.
EAST TO WEST IRISH WORLD RECORD SEPTEMBER 2019
New World Record set from Wicklow Lighthouse in the east of Ireland to Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula in the west.
236 miles in 13 hours, 32 minutes, breaking the existing record by 3 hours, 48 minutes.
I wanted to attempt this point-to-point record for a number of reasons. I knew I could make a fair fist of it because I had just returned from the Mid-Atlantic 12-hr where I clocked 253 miles in 12 hours. Still, that was on a flat course with good road surface so let’s just say Ireland would be polar opposite. I also wanted to throw down the gauntlet and get some friendly competition going when it comes to the World Ultra-Cycling Association’s (WUCA) point-to-point World Records. For that reason we rode the route with a GPS tracker, making it available to anyone who wants to give it a go.
It’s a surprising route! More climbing than you might think for cross-country. It’s a course that demands a high degree of technical ability, which is a kind way of saying that the road surface is truly abysmal in some places. Choice of tyres and pressures are critical to balance terrain, speed and function.
Point-to-point records require unbroken concentration from the first minute to the last. After all, time doesn’t stop and time doesn’t feel lactic acid. The first half of this course was brutally hard, which is made more challenging because you have to take it on right from the word go. No warm up. My concentration was unwavering even through the headwind (I was able to hide in the tall hedgerows) and the rain (no hiding from that).
When I got onto the Dingle Peninsula the weather began to clear. I found myself riding into the most glorious Irish sunset, into another world record with my team. It just doesn’t get better than that.
“It is by constantly challenging what is possible that we can reach further with confidence.”
2020 - REACHING FURTHER
1st in age category, 4th overall
236.9 miles in 12 hours
Where do I even start with this race? To say that it did not go to plan would be an understatement.
A few days before the start line the race director announced a course change. The finishing 3.7-mile loop of the 24-hr circuit was no longer on the iconic Sebring racetrack. Instead it would be on a 3.5-mile road loop adjacent to the racetrack. This changed the possibility of reaching 500-miles in 24-hours as the racetrack is much faster, plus it flows to enhance speed. The road loop had significant turns and the surface left much to be desired. The consensus among the riders, no one would reach 500-miles in 2020.
I had to begin a mind-set change immediately, which is a difficult thing to do when you’ve spent months and months preparing for and visualizing a totally different race. Obstacle #1.
Obstacle #2 appeared with Jill contracting a viral infection the day before we travelled. It started with an extremely sore throat. She did everything she could to quarantine herself, but the inevitable happened. The day before the race obstacle #3 appeared. I felt the first signs in my throat but kept it quiet so everyone would maintain focus on the race.
Race day – I managed the first 100 miles at the front. The impact of the virus started to show on the second stage of the race, the 11-mile loop. From about 6-hours onwards my fever would come and go along with my power. My throat got so sore it became hard to eat. I would have two awful laps and then 2 good laps. Nothing was consistent except the knowledge that 24-hours like this was simply not on the cards.
It’s a difficult thing to pivot mid-race. I rode a lap allowing my mind to accept the conversation that needed to happen with my team. I stopped with Jill mid-lap and admitted for the first time that I had the virus and what the impact was on performance.
Under pressure, we weighed our 3 options – DNF, continue with the 24-hrs knowing there would be collateral health damage or pivot quickly to the 12-hour.
I had ridden to maximum all day, which meant my accumulated mileage put me in contention for the 12-hour. Decision made. We pivoted quickly with the race organizers and I adjusted speed knowing that I had 90-mins left.
It was enough to win my age category and place 4th overall. Not my best 12-hour result but given my health and given that my early speed was calculated on a 24-hour race, I’ll take it!
It’s a disappointing start to the season. I’m a great believer in allowing disappointment for a limited time period. I took 24-hours and then started to turn my mind to our next race, Race Across Italy. We always say, ‘refocus, recalibrate and get the bike moving forward as quickly as possible’ and that’s exactly what’ll we’ll do.
New World Record set from the most northerly point in Ireland, Malin Head, to the most southerly point, Mizen head, and back.
1187.69 kilometres in 44 hours, 15 minutes, breaking the existing record (held by Joe) by 4 hours, 23 minutes, 47 seconds.
Maiden Voyage – Spiegel, Diablo
As the magnitude of the pandemic came to light in the spring, one by one our 2020 races cancelled – Race Across Italy, Race Across the West, Race Around Ireland.
We collectively locked down.
In that lockdown, the essence of our season, Reaching Further with title sponsor White’s Oats, still shone brightly. We just didn’t know how or where it would lead us.
Well in July, as soon as travel restrictions lifted, it lead us back to that iconic Irish start line on the most northerly tip of Ireland, Malin Head.
Our goal was to put the record under 48 hours.
Our secondary goal was to put the SPIEGEL Diablo, a bike that I had been gifted by Ted Spiegel, under extreme race conditions to see what it was really made of. This was significant given my history with Colnago.
World Ultra-Cycling Records follow very tight guidelines around start times. Once the application goes in with a start date and time you are limited to a period of 24-hours ,on either side, to aim for the best weather window.
True to form the weather forecast was dire – extremely high, gusty winds and heavy rainfall with weather fronts coming in fast and fierce over the 48-hour period of the record attempt.
A decision was made within the team to cancel as you simply can’t race the competitor known as ‘time’ under such bad conditions, because of course ‘time’ doesn’t feel the wind or the rain.
But all that preparation and all that form would be lost and my body and soul desperately needed to race. I couldn’t accept the cancellation. Things in my life were coalescing to drive me to that start line, throw caution into the head wind and just GO.
We reinstated and the team assembled. These were nervous times but we gathered ourselves and we headed to the start line.