Updated: Dec 21, 2018
Joe here - before I start this blog, know that there will be a series of blogs on various aspects of this race over the coming weeks. This is merely episode 1.
You've heard me say it before, the hardest part is often getting to the start line.
Even when you race at home it practically requires a degree in project management. You're dealing with people, administration, equipment, nutrition, never-ending logistics in various areas and these are just the things you can control.
Waking up on race day brings relief. Life is about to get very simple. There is a busyness around you via the crew but it's finally ok to let all that go because you've arrived in the place where there is only one thing left to do - ride the bike.
My point is this, you might think that a race like Race Around Ireland is won between the start and the finish line but that's not entirely accurate. Your greatest chance of a podium finish lies at least 6 months before the start line.
So what did Team Joe Barr do 6 months before the start line of Race Around Ireland?
We created a strategy for the race and then trained accordingly - Race Around Ireland is a rare melding of intensity and speed. The combination of terrain, road surface and weather is unique, add to that master route builders in the Roche family and now you have obstacles linked systematically and creatively that defy imagination. The course is a story in it's own right....
If you want to win a race with world-experienced riders then you have to be prepared to ride aggressively from the first mile. Trust me, your competitors will. If you're not in the mix in the first 100 miles then it's difficult to reclaim the race unless one of the front runners DNF's (Did Not Finish) and waiting for that is no strategy at all.
I went out hard. Within 2 miles I was at 30mph and it felt comfortable. I purposefully wanted to see who would respond so I kept riding at a heart rate just within my allotted performance boundaries. For sure there was concern amongst the crew that my heart rate was a little too high but this old racer knew that the race was quickly going to shape and I wanted my hand in it. Svata Bozak and Stephen Shrenck were at similar speeds and I've learned that you simply cannot give riders of this caliber any space.
The strategy was always to take the race to the race in the first 500 miles and then manage it from there. Our first stop was planned for Castlebar, by then we knew definitively where the fight lay and it was with Svata and Stephen.
Wonder why I focused on the 500 mile category in 2017? This is why. To podium in these long races, the first 500 miles of speed is critical. That initial cushion of time is vital to give you and your team the flexibility you need to effectively manage the race.
We prepared surgically - over this kind of distance small time gains accumulate. He or she who can create economy within forward momentum will gain time. Choice of bike per road section, choice of tyres, tyre pressures, gearing (esp over roads laid on top of bog) are all factors that influence forward motion. Even if the time gain is 2 mins over 100 miles...think about it....it adds up.
Jill, Alan and I spent countless hours on course riding sections to understand the road and where time could be created. For example, sections in the Ox Mountains are deceptively leg sapping and mind bending if you ride too big a gear. We planned to take time in these sections knowing that other riders would fall prey to the road surface. We also planned recovery sections, sections where I could maintain speed but focus more on refuelling.
We knew that it would be a delicate balance between sleep/rest and average speed. Our sleep stops were precisely choreographed - wash and clothing change, food, sleep - get up - toilet (or bio-break if you like that language better!) - go again.
Jill planned her nutrition to give me the best chance of glycogen replenishment in that 70 min stop. it worked like a charm.
Andy C planned the clothing change with an economy that is unparalleled.
The team and I were disciplined. The time we saved showed our own maturity and caliber.
I adjusted my race mind-set - slowly, slowly a mind-set is created. Don't believe anyone who says a race mind-set is a switch. It's negotiated over time and each race has a particular infrastructure based on the 'ask'. I had to find my way into a Race Around Ireland mind-set. This one was about unwavering concentration, it was about discipline, it was about trusting the team to do their piece so I could stay on the sharp edge of the race and even if things went awry (which they did), I had to trust that the team would figure it out. It's a radical kind of trust and because of that I was able to give every mile of this race my all. I have never been so committed to maintaining forward momentum for 104 hours, 3 mins, 8 secs...what an incredible experience.
We put the right people in the right roles - the crew go through their own endurance journey and each person performs differently under pressure, fatigue and depletion. Building a crew is a unique challenge and it can't be rushed. You need people who have their own relationship to the race, to each other, to the joint commitment of getting to the finish safely and in podium position. Things happen. Things don't go to plan. We all have moments. The most important character trait to have within a crew member is resilience - the ability to absorb the impact but still move forward.
We each learn something from every race that adds to our library of endurance knowledge. Expertise is a result of experience + reflection. We are good reflectors.
We carved out space within our strategy to respond to the race - the race is a living and dynamic entity. Each competitor breaths life into it, the way they ride, their strategy, adds personality to it. The weather shapes it, your own performance on the day or days adds or removes limits and of course there's always hidden factors.
One thing I've always done well is to establish a relationship with The Race early on. I respect The Race. Yes, I battle, I fight, I attempt to put my mark on it. However, I always listen to what The Race has to say.
I have lots more to say on this topic but one quick example, when the heavens opened and the torrential rain came down in Tralee I stopped to take shelter and warm up (thank you to the local community!) it would have been so easy to sit on but I experienced an overwhelming intuition to push on. So I did. And when a local gentleman showed me the greatest of respect by standing in the torrential rain simply to usher me onto the start of Short Mountain, his words, said with utter conviction, mirrored my inner sense, "you've got this".
That was The Race speaking.
Push on. Push on. Push on......through the driving rain......through everything I can throw at you.....push on...that's what this Race demanded....'you've got this Joe'.
Interested in endurance cycling, check out the Team Joe Barr 200 and The Joe Barr 500