Quick update on 2015

So last year my plan was always to move to the UK for work in the middle of the summer. That meant that I did road races in Ireland for the first few months of the year – 5 in total, and stayed training hard until the end of April. I finished in the bunch in two of them, went out the back door in the last km in one of them, and the other two were hilly so came in with a few others behind the leading group.

I enjoyed doing road racing for a change and I had bought a new road bike for myself at the start of the year with Di2 gearing, which worked flawlessly. The smoothness and ease of motion when riding was such a nice change.

I moved to the UK at the end of May and stayed riding out there as much as I could, but it was more about junk miles than actual training, as I didn’t have a set schedule and never knew when I could get out. But I was happy with 3rd place at the Bontrager 24/12 Torchbearer race, a 12 hour solo mtb race starting at midnight and ending at midday the next day. I had very little to none specific training going into that event so that felt good. I did a couple of road sportives throughout the rest of the summer to keep things ticking along, and went away for the day mountain biking in South Wales whenever I had a chance. It took me a while to figure out road routes which I knew and didn’t get lost riding! But overall it was a less racing focused year than usual. I hope to change that for 2016.

24 12

Above – Riding to 3rd place at the Torchbearer 12 hour.

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WEMBO 24 hour worlds.

After a lot of organisation and logistics, it was time to travel to Fort William for the World Endurance Mountain Bike Organisation 24 hour world champs. It was a race on a lot of riders calendar when Scotland was confirmed as a venue, previously it was in Italy and Australia. The journey up was an experience, I forgot how sparse and wild all the landscape looks up in the Highlands. My two travel companions and pit support (Al and my gf Shawna), were surprised at how big Fort William was after passing through very little for about 2 hours previously. Side note – there were some really impressive locks beside the hotel we were staying in which I had never seen before, about eight in a row.

A few rocks here and there. The first part of the first climb pictured.

WEMBO 2014 with Elevation (1)

The idea was to have Friday free for setting up part of our pit area and me going for a practise lap, both of which happened smoothly. We set up our gazebo in the allocated spot we were given, the organisers seemed to be on top of everything with customised number boards with names on. My first impression of the course was that it was extremely fun but also challenging! In that practise lap I probably rode more berms (banked turns) than I had in the year previously and was thinking having the amount of fun I had should almost be illegal! It was 13.5 km course which basically consisted of two big climbs and two big downhills, with a slightly undulating easy going section for about 5-10 minutes linking the two, and a total of about 450 meters of climbing. So it was then time to pile more food down my gut and think about the day ahead!

The pit set up ready to go!

I like to have all my clothes laid out for the morning to minimise any thinking or stress (not that I get stressed easily). We arrived at the venue at about 9.30 am and set up out pit area and Al gave my bikes a final tweak. I decided to start out on my full sus as I had only done one lap and parts of the course was fairly technical. I was really enjoying the buzz and atmosphere about the place, and the bagpipes leading us out at the start was a nice touch. I felt confident as the race started at midday and I spent the first 2-3 laps trying to find my own rhythm and not get too caught up in other racers pace. I tried to keep a balance somewhere between keeping touch with the front riders and losing touch completely, but I let the super fast or keen guys go on ahead. It is a long race after all! There was lots of chaos on course for the first 3 – 4 hours with pile ups on singletrack sections etc, for the first 4 hours my lap times were around 55 minutes. At about 5pm I realised I had already done 82km and I wasn’t even 1/4 the way in yet, there was going to be some big distances! The course was riding a lot faster than I had predicted. I had a few bike changes by this point for minor things, and I was feeling better on the hardtail bike (lighter and more efficient but it also beats you up more on the downhills).

The band leading us out at the start.

We were told to have our lights on by 5.30pm. It didn’t start to get noticeably dark until after 6, and by about 7 it was nearly fully dark. The course started to feel a lot quieter and it got colder by a few degrees, so I put on more clothes. My pit crew were doing an amazing job and really efficient with any problems I had or things I wanted to change. On some laps I’d grab some jellies or a swig of energy drink and keep going, trying to keep my stop time to a minimum. If I was feeling good I just grabbed a bottle and kept going without stopping at all, we called this a flying change. I also think seeing other life forms face to face at the start of each lap helps a bit, as it can happen where you wouldn’t see anyone else out on the course for a lap! At around midnight I was lying in 18th in the Elite men category.

A flying bottle change!

From midnight up until about 5am, I just did flying bottle changes. My lap times stayed around the 1 hour 7 minute mark, with Al telling me to keep doing whatever I was doing as it was working and I was reeling in the pack! So I managed to stay focused and just pump out the laps. I was hoping it would get bright at about 6 am but how wrong was I! I tried to calculate how many laps I’d have left in the dark, which turned out to be one or two more than I had hoped. It was an extremely long night with about 13 hours of darkness overall, but it also meant less time to the finish after sunrise. At around 6am I was lying in around 12th place and started thinking towards a top ten finish. I had no way of telling the time from about 5am onwards when my Garmin died, which was possibly a good thing, as it can be slightly self destructing to be always looking at times/distances in my opinion. So at about 9am it was time to turn on the gas for my last few laps. Luckily I never got leg cramp or got super tired to the point of having to walk or anything, but it was a very physically demanding course and my arms, legs, back, hands and feet were all feeling the effects of being beaten up on the singletrack, my hands starting to cramp up and arms barely able to hold onto the bike anymore on the rocky downhills. But I was still having fun of some sorts! I managed to keep digging and climbed up to 9th place in Elites by the end, which I was very happy about, and started my last lap at about 11.45am.

My lap times. 24 total.

Some other things I’d like to mention.

  • I’d like to say what an amazing job all the marshals did, some of them staying out all night and just getting a few hours kip sitting on a chair with a sleeping bag, they always shouted out words of encouragement too.
  • Did I mention how long the night was? Over half of the race in the dark made things harder than usual.
  • The course was really well made with a good mix of everything. Fast flowy burmy sections, natural woodland singletrack, technical rocky sections, some very steep climbs (which were often downhills in the reverse direction), but all of which helped to keep things interesting. Although I did walk up some of them on my last lap.
  • It was very well organised with no real glitches at all. Frazer – one of the main organisers, is always a funny guy!
  • Everyone was so friendly and I enjoyed having a few chats out on course. Big respect to the guy with the beard and the strange handlebars who was always cheerful in the over 60’s category, he’s was 69 I think! I hope I can still mountain bike at that stage in my life.
  • I’d like to thank Al, Shawna and also my dad who gave up their free time and were there throughout the race to cheer me on and definitely made things more manageable!
  • Big thanks to The Bike Rack bicycle shop for their help and support in getting my bikes ready, and for providing the van for the weekend.
  • Also a big thank you to Red Bull Ireland for their support.


So 24 laps ridden, about 325 kilometers total distance ridden, and 9th place Elite male in the world out of 30. Not a podium position but the competition was tough, with no big gaps anywhere between riders in the results with the first two riders on 26 laps and the next few on 25, so I’ll take that for my first world event!

Very much relaxing afterwards!

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Summer update 2014.

I just thought I would post a few words to update how things have gone for me over the last three months and what I’ve been up to. About two weeks after my return from Canada, I did the SHA3 road race in Wicklow. I didn’t expect to do well after being off the bike for so long but I was happy enough with my ride to finish the 85KM in 2 hours 40 minutes. Next up was XC NPS round 1 race in Ticknock, run by MAD MTB. It was a really fun course and a fantastic race overall. It was a wet day and the course was extremely muddy on most parts of it, but it was so much fun! I rode the S1 category and finished 1 lap down from the winner, but I used it as a good training day by riding to and from the race from my house, so it was a total of about five hours riding.


My next attempt at  XC (cross country) racing was round 3 at Sir Thomas and lady Dixon park near Belfast on 25th May, which was later affectionately names Sir mud and Lady off camber park, as a reflection of the extremely muddy and off camber conditions we all faced out on the course! I had a good first lap sitting in the middle of the S1 pack, when my rear mech decided to stop working leaving me with only the biggest ring on the cassette to ride in, which made it a huge challenge to get any kind of speed. So after one more lap riding like that, I decided it was best to call it a day.

I skipped the next round to focus on my own training, and the next race on my calendar was the European mountain bike marathon championships. This was one of the main events on my calendar which I wanted to prepare for. But being marathon distance means it was shorter than the race distance I am generally most comfortable with which is 24 hour racing. I was happy enough with the race and my performance apart from a puncture 10KM in which lost me some time and all contact with the other riders. I placed 44th out of 49th riders who finished in the Elite race, over a 95KM course with 2200 meters of climbing.

After being called up to the start line of Euro XCM.

I travelled over to Church Stretton in England for a round of the Scott mtb marathon series on the last weekend of June. which was a really fun 75KM non competitive marathon. It was a fantastic weekend of camping and live music and, of course, biking. My start for the marathon was slightly delayed when I waited for my friend to beg borrow or buy a helmet after realising he forgot it! But I had a reasonable time of 4 hours 11 minutes on a course with 2600 meters of climbing.

So the next big event that I really care about will be the national marathon mtb champs at the end of August, and then of course WEMBO, the 24 hour mtb world champs. I’d like to say thanks to my sponsors The Bike Rack, for all their help with my bike, the Avanti Competition 29.2.

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Winter update.

So I thought it would be a good idea to post a quick update of my plans for next year and also on how my winter is going. I am ski instructing in Canada for the winter so won’t be out on the bike until I return which will likely be sometime late March. Since I don’t have a bike over here, I have been running on my days off and some evenings after work, anything from 30 to 90 minutes depending on my time available and how I feel. It’s not an ideal way to prepare for bike races next season, but I was ski instructing for six weeks last year and returned in late March, which gave me six weeks to prepare for the 24 Hours of Exposure UK and European champs, where I placed 2nd. So I’m confident that if I keep up the running along with using my TRX a few times a week, I will be in a good position to prepare well.

Me after 24 Hours of Exposure

I was pretty happy with last season overall but I think I had a fair amount of bad luck too! I was placing 3rd in the elite national mtb Marathon champs when the front tyre burped and I couldn’t get it to hold air for the rest of the race, so had to stop and put a tube in losing lots of time. During Iron Bike I failed to finish one day after breaking my mech hanger so I wasn’t an official finisher. But I was happy that I completed every other day.

Next season, my main target for racing will be the WEMBO 24 hour worlds in Scotland, in October. It’s the same location where I did my first 24 hour solo back in 2010, and it’s a really fun course which makes a lot easier when you’re riding for that amount of time. I would also like to have a few road races as my focus, leaning towards hilly one day and stage races which is what I think I would do well in. I am thinking about doing RATA (Race Across the Alps), which is an all day and night road bike race in the Alps. The winning time last year was 22 hours 21 minutes, and it goes over the Stelvio pass twice, once at the start and once towards the end. So if I did that, it would be my main challenge of the year. I would like to do the European MTB marathon champs but they take place one week before RATA which wouldn’t be enough recovery time for me. In preparation for RATA, I’d like to do the Malin to Mizen head solo ride and target a time of around 20 hours, but it would be the first of its kind for me so I don’t have a very good Idea how I would do! I know I can ride for that long from 24 hour mtb races though. In preparation for WEMBO I would also plan on doing some 100 km single day MTB events, and I also plan on doing a triathlon or two, which helps me to have a different focus from just biking, and I enjoy the swimming a lot. More MTB events will likely catch my eye and become more of a focus too.

I would like to say thanks again for all my supporters and to The Bike Rack for helping me out with an amazing bike to race on, the Avanti Competition 29.2.

See you all next year.

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Iron Bike day 8.

Iron Bike day 8

63.9km – 3065 meters of climbing.

I was really happy when I woke up on the morning of day 8, knowing that it was the last day. I was hurting nearly all over and in a total daze, struggling with the simplest of tasks while getting ready. In my dreamy state I managed to find a glove I had been looking for for the previous two days, followed by losing it again, and it was never found that last time.

The view on the last morning.

On paper, day 8 was an ‘easy’ day, with about half the distance of previous days throughout the week and not even 4000 meters of climbing. We spent that last night indoors in a huge sports centre in Sestrierre. Everyones mood was suddenly lifted a bit knowing we only had one more day left, and I think everyones mind was on the thought of a beer after finishing! We started the day off with a gondola ride up to about 2500 meters. It was quite cloudy and almost cold when we got off, this was followed by a long downhill which made up most of the first special stage for the day. It was a really fun downhill which was specially made for bikes using the uplift, it was fast flowing with big swooping berms and some small table top jumps. It felt really good to be on that kind of fast flowy trail! After that long downhill we had the first feed station, then onto the first big climb of the day, relatively speaking. It was still a climb that would be huge by standards back home but it was a walk in the park at ‘only’ 18km with 800 meters of climbing. It only had about two minutes of hike a bike too, bonus! The next downhill that followed was a really fun singletrack downhill, quite narrow but the turns flowed together so well and it was just a case of staying off the brakes as much as you dared while putting in the odd pedal stroke. It was a really enjoyable downhill and I definitely had a grin on my face at the bottom of that one.

The next climb was another short one by Iron Bike standards, about 10km long with about 800 meters of climbing, and was the start of the last special stage. It included a short hike a bike section again but I was well used to them at that stage. My stride length had got noticeably shorter throughout the week on the hike sections though, almost mimicking a new born animal in the wild towards the end. The downhill was quite challenging to start with, very steep and rooty in places, but soon opened out into fast open sections with rocks everywhere, so it was important to keep your speed up to some degree so you could roll over them. The last part was a fast fire road section before reaching the last climb of the week! Once again though, this last climb felt a lot longer than it looked in the route book. It was about 8km long with a few rolling up and down sections but largely up, then there was a sting in the tail in the last 2 km as we passed by Sauze D’Oulx and then got sent off back uphill again for one last hike a bike section! It made me think again how it helps to have a sense of humour for this event. It was such a good feeling to reach the finish and know that I didn’t have to ride my bike the next day, or the day after that. The evening was spent chatting with friends from the week, with a lot of eating a drinking which continued on to be the main theme for the next week to come.


I’d like to thank The Bike Rack bicycle shop for helping me out with a fantastic bike, the Avanti Competition 29.2, it felt really good throughout the whole week and very rarely put a foot wrong. I think 29 inch bikes are definitely the way to go for these type of events, and the carbon frame helped take the edge off most of the time.

It was very tough event, tougher than I expected, but I’m glad I did it. There were probably more lows than highs for me overall, but with all biking events you usually forget the bad parts and the good ones stick out in your mind making you want to do it again. I’d be happy to give advice to anyone thinking of doing it, just send me a message. I’m sure I’ll see some of you fellow Iron Bikers again some day, probably not next year though!

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Iron Bike day 6 and 7

Iron Bike day 6

84.5 km – 3970 meters of climbing.

I got up on the morning of day six, and found it very hard to function properly for the first hour. I remember walking to and from breakfast and struggling to walk in a straight line, that didn’t fill me with confidence about the outcome for when I was to get on the bike! It was one of the few days where I was late to get to the start but it didn’t matter with the staggered start times. I also managed to leave a really nice pair of shorts behind where we were camping with all my fuzzy thinking.

One highlight I had to look forward to as part of this stage was racing through a disused mine, which I had a lot of anticipation about. The day started off with a long climb, as usual. And to my liking neither this first climb nor downhill had any hike a bike which was nice for a bit of a change. It was a fast fire road downhill going into a fast road downhill, there was one point where the rider I was following nearly washed out on one of the fast corners with the back wheel of his bike shooting out to the side, then I passed him out and did the same thing myself on the next corner so I found that funny! Then the next 10km or so that proceeded was road until we reached the old mine. There was a big feed station at the start too which was nice.

The mine was about 2km long, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I really enjoyed it though! Living in Ireland you end up riding in the dark quite often so that was nothing new to me, and I had good riding lights unlike a lot of the other riders doing it, but it was still extremely dark. I had to slow down to try and pass out a few other riders, but there really wasn’t much room and you had to negotiate the old tracks going up through it and also some junctions with track cross-over points. But I was glad I wasn’t one of the really tall riders who I heard hit their heads on the roof as it was very low in some places! The end of the mine was the finish of a special stage within a special stage, and we had to continue on up the hill and back down towards the mine building, then in and around some steep steps that seemed to appear out of nowhere.


The next climb was a long one, we started way down the valley and after about an hour’s uphill I still hadn’t risen above the tree line which was a bit worrying, as by that stage I had learnt that pretty much every summit we went over was well above the tree-line, with the last km or so being hike a bike. Well this climb was similar in that way, with a tough hiking section through some trees at a very steep angle and then thick deep grass, following a vague cattle track. The downhill was hiking for the first little bit and then changed into nice single-track. On the way down on the first bit, I was passed out by two other competitors who ran passed me while I was walking, then it came to a really nice single-track bit and I rode past them while they were still running, so that confused me a bit, not sure what they were at. The last big climb of the day finished up at our camping spot at a height of just over 2000 meters, and included going up and around the famous fort that we would descend the next day. It looked quite daunting from the bottom, towering over us in an intimidating way! That was a very slow climb up as it was walking for a lot of it due to the steepness. The camping spot was in and around a very nice refuge with a bar and restaurant, not much else but that was all we needed. It was then time to rest up and prepare for day seven. My time was 8 hours 34 minutes.


Iron Bike day 7

85 km – 4000 meters of climbing.

Day seven included the famous descent in and around the old fort as one of the main events, as well as a 2000 meter climb up the Chaberton. As we left the high refuge, we started off with a long winding fire road which led us to the fort, but I wasn’t sure how long we had until we reached it so it was a bit of a nerve racking first 10km for me as it happened. I got there and joined the queue with other riders who were waiting to set off, I had seen some video footage of them but it’s still hard to know what to expect until you are riding them yourself. It was built long before mountain bikes were around for starters, and the whole thing basically consisted of just under 4000 steps with several sharp turns, and often going in through a dark tunnel and out again. Nearly every rider I spoke to had a crash at some point on the way down, including me, with some riders coming off worse than others. I had one very near miss in the first tunnel part, I wasn’t sure of the steepness of the steps or even how many there were with it being dark, and just a small spot of light to see. I found it hard to keep the bike in a straight line and got bounced over to the right side where my handlebars smacked off the wall but luckily the impact actually brought me back in the center again, but there was a sharp right hand turn that I didn’t see until I was very close to it, so I broke hard and steered and hoped for the best, letting out a scream too as I was sure that it wouldn’t end well, but I got away with it somehow!


After that, the first half of day seven was a nice ride which for a lot of it followed a river and took us in and around some ski areas including Sestriere and Claviere. But the main event was still to come in a lot of people’s minds as we got closer to the Chaberton. One rare mandatory moment of relaxation involved going up in the gondola from Sestriere which brought us up 700 meters up to a height of 2700. From there we descended all the way down to the bottom of the valley on the other side, with the Chaberton staring at us the whole way. Me and another rider I was with managed to take a wrong turn somewhere partly due to enjoying the fast corners far too much so made up our own route, but as it turned out our route sounded a lot more fun than the official route!


The next feed station was at the foot of the Chaberton, it did seem a bit daunting looking up at it. I had been on the bike for nearly five hours at that stage and then had to ascend 2000 meters. It was about a 15km climb, the first 8km being ride-able and the last 7km being a mix of hike a bike and biking, with the last km being very steep. It was very hot too with no shade anywhere for the last few km as we ascended up faint outlines in the side of the mountain that sometimes only vaguely resembled any kind of track or path along with rock slides covering parts of it in places. At the top I had mixed feelings as I was glad the hardest part was over, but I had lost my enthusiasm for reaching the top about 8 km up, with the remaining km being a battle to keep going and not quit, so at the summit part of me felt very unimpressed with the whole thing. So back down we went towards Claviere, the same way we went up for the first part. I ended up being just outside the time for the final cut off point, so couldn’t officially finish that day. I think I just highly underestimated how long it would take to get up Chabeton and was just taking it too leisurely for the first half of the day. I was the first rider to be stopped, but I already wasn’t an official finisher so I wasn’t too upset about it. That night in Sestriere a group of us went for a well-deserved beer and pizza, glad that the whole event was nearly over.


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Iron Bike day 4 and 5.

Iron Bike day 4

86km – 3700 meters of climbing.

I actually felt really good that day, which I think was largely down to it having a lot more riding than hiking. After a short but fun special stage around the village of Cavour (which involved descending some steps with half the village out to watch), we carried on for about 10km of mostly flat roads. Cavour was the lowest point that we stayed in, and also the hottest too! Of course this flat section inevitably turned into a long climb after a short while. We went up and up and passed through an abandoned ski area which was slightly spooky and creepy to look at. I’m sure the views would have been spectacular but we were surrounded by thick cloud everywhere which descended in over us, leaving only the faint silhouette of the abandoned chair lift station. This was also where we had our first feed station. After that was a relatively short hike a bike followed by a really fun but steep single-track downhill with large roots at all different angles, I got off to walk in a couple of places only. This was followed by a long fast fire road descent with lots of little water bars going across which turned into opportunities for a bit of air time, it was probably the most fun Ive ever had on a fire-road downhill and I really enjoyed it. 

   After this you can probably guess what came up next, another big long climb followed by another long downhill, which was largely the full big special stage for that day. It was hot and I stopped at every water spring to put my head in it, which was one of the best feelings. The top of that second long climb was hike a bike and I got caught within a herd of cows that were being rounded up by a farmer, and they were right in the middle of the most desired hike a bike route! I eventually got through them with some shouting; they were a bit reluctant to move though. This brought us to a height of 2300 meters and the highest point of the day. The downhill that followed was very steep and a bit sketchy to start with, but then got really fun and fast, with heavy rain that arrived about half way down in my case, but I enjoy riding in the rain so it wasn’t an issue for me! That was a sub 8 hour day for me which was my shortest time overall and probably the day where I felt best, with a 17th place on the special stage. We finished quite low down again in a town called Torre Pellice where a few of us got a pizza to celebrate the half-way point. 

Iron Bike day 5

78km – 4440 meters of climbing.

Day five consisted of one huge long climb at the start followed by two shorter climbs by Iron Bike standards. The first climb was steeper than a steep thing and longer than a long thing. I enjoyed it for the most part as even though it was steep, the surface terrain wasn’t too rough to ride. This first climb brought us from 500 meters up to 2400 meters, with the first special stage of the day starting about 2/3 up this climb. The downhill that followed was a fast fun fire road downhill, this brought us down to a feed zone at the bottom, but we still had another substantial climb and downhill before the end of that special stage. This climb went on for a lot longer than I expected, but like all the climbs I think it’s sometimes best to not think about how long they are and just keep pedaling. 


   The next downhill consisted largely of a really long fun single-track, and it was a bit of a fight for survival to try and stay on the bike as my whole upper body and legs were starting to protest a bit and I really didn’t think I had the energy to keep the bike upright anymore! I soon learned with the riding on Iron Bike, that sometime you just need to try and ride sections you aren’t sure about, as otherwise you’ll most likely be on the mountain for twice as long. This downhill brought us into another ski area called Prali, where we went up on two chair lifts before the next bit of riding; it was hot down there at 38 degrees.


   Little did I know that this next ‘riding’ section would involve lots of hike a bike and even though it looked like it was largely downhill on the route profile, I soon found out that wasn’t the case at all with a sting in the tail in the form a steep hike a bike section in the very last few km, which seemed to have been purposely or mistakenly left out of the route profile. It got to the stage during the week where nothing surprised me anymore and I would be riding along and see a huge peak ahead and think yep, we’ll probably be sent up that! So I was happy to have day 5 over with as the last 20km were very draining. My aim was to finish the day within 8.5 hours, but this turned into a more realistic aim of 9 hours, which then ended up being a lot longer than I expected at 9 hours 40 minutes. We stayed in Pramollo that night at about 1000 meters elevation, where we were definitely fed by people who must have known how much food Iron Bikers want as we did get fed well there, always a bonus. 

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