Fail to Prepare, prepare to Fail.. The truth by Mike Burke

Its a tough sentence to read especially after you have made a gigantic effort to be on the start line.. Mike Burke travelled all the way from Almeria in Southern Spain to make the Wild Mayo Ultra 650k start, but nearly 400k in, Mike had to throw in the towel. This read is compelling, thoughtful and can be used as a warning! otherwise you may here this famous line quoted “Fail to prepare Prepare to Fail” The good news is Mike is already thinking about his next event the Mondello 24 at the end of June and he also wants to close the circle, so to speak by returning to Mayo in 2024 to finish what he started, the Wild Mayo Ultra 650..

Mike Burke wishing Philip Culbert goodluck on his 650k ultra


Mike Burke Wild Mayo Ultra story

This is indeed an epic race – 650 kms through all that Mayo has to offer in terms of fantastic scenery and people, terrain, the weather – everything – and the information provided beforehand barely prepares you for the job in hand.  Perhaps other people are able to judge a race by the elevation profile but I certainly cannot – I totally underestimated this one, as I have done often before.  I do wonder if I am learning anything at all while doing these.

When asked as I finished this attempt at the Wild Mayo 650 Ultra would I be back again I said “No, this is too big for me, I’m too old for this”.  Now, a dinner, rest and a good night’s sleep later I’m thinking “God help me, this is going the very same way as the Donegal 555 – fail, fail, SUCCESS (hopefully)!!


My training for this race was not as good as it needed to be primarily because we moved house and country in the last year.  Not an excuse, just explaining the facts. This was a huge undertaking and if I hadn’t had my lovely wife, Kate, by my side it would have been even huger(!) – sorry, I meant greater.  In terms of training, this was interrupted while I went out and found training routes around Almeria and I missed a significant amount of the sessions my coach, Cillian Moffat, set for me.

Race Preparation:

The old adage applies here – Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

My race preparation was, to say the least, not the best!!  I put our dream team – Pat, Mary, Mick and, of course, Kate – together.  This is the team that followed my ass through the hills of Donegal and now Mayo.  They are a fantastic team, work brilliantly together and between the four of them they tick-off all the requirements for an event like this.  They may not all be the prettiest but they are the best.

The race strategy was nailed – power range and feeding stops timing – and nutrition plan – food and timing worked out – the latter with the help of my performance coach – Lee Compton.

Kate an I left home in Almeria on Saturday, May 6th, 12 hour drive to Bilboa, 28 hours on the boat to Rosslare, couple of days to rest up and arrived with the rest of the team in Westport on Thursday, May 11th.  We settled into our rented apartment and started preparing.

Having the craic beforehand 

And then the wheels started falling off the wagon!!

  • Start time for me was 14:12pm on Friday. But before that I had to drop my bike into the shop as I had an indexing problem – not accessing the TWO fastest cogs!! – and a puncture!!  And the cigarette lighter in the support car broke – a small but VITAL piece of kit to keep things charged and powering the mandatory flashing light on the roof – had to be replaced.  But we had a mid-day start and we got these done – thanks to The Bike Shop in Westport and J.J. Burke’s Car Sales in Ballinrobe.


  • Then the hub was rubbing on my rear Carbon wheel making it useless – so back to my 35mm aluminium wheel!!


  • I rolled off the starting ramp and immediately took a wrong turn. Westport is a small but heaving town, fleadh ceoil, two funerals, traffic chock-a-block, not an excuse but definitely had an impact on me. I had intended to scope this specific part of the course as I always get this wrong but, with the repairs to bike and car, I didn’t get to it.


  • I noticed I had no power showing on my computer. It turns out I had no charge in my power-pedals due to a brand-new charging bank we used to charge all our stuff which seemingly was kaput!!!  This was to have additional ramifications as time went on!


  • Our two-way radios, used for communicating with the support car for such vitals as NAVIGATION, stopped working as, yes, you guessed it, they were charged on the same charging bank. We could charge one radio in the car and had to keep swapping radios to charge the other one


  • Next, we found that half of my big bike lights for night riding hadn’t charged and we now had to charge this in the car also.

The effect of all this was to add extra tension to the team and myself and the inside of the support car looked like a small power station during the race. At all times the team were calm and cool, not sure how they did, but once they were not flapping, I knew things would work as they should.

And finally, The Race:

My race started at 14:12pm on Friday as I rolled of the ramp at The Mariner Hotel in Westport.  You’re pretty much into the climbing immediately with about 1,000 metres elevation in the first 120kms and with gradients up to 18%.  Without power numbers I had to make an educated(!) guess as to Heart-Rate range for the race and I figured I should keep it in the up-to 140 range – on checking later this should have been no more than 126 bpm!!  Unfortunately, this is where I lost the race – my HR was almost constantly about 20 – 25 bpm outside my Z2 range so I was burning matches here – I wouldn’t have made this mistake if I’d had my power meter data

The climbs kept me honest in the first 120kms and I was glad to get down to my first food stop at about 6.5 hours.  Fuelled up and took on two fresh water bottles and got back on the road after about 30 mins – not the 10 – 15 mins we had hoped and planned for.  But the plan was quickly going out the window!!

It was good to get going on the flats and I made some sound progress over the next 130km. I figured I was averaging about 25 – 30 kmph in parts but overall, with stops, which were becoming substantial, only about 16kmph!  This brought me up to about 5:00am on Saturday morning. 

Unusually, I found the night riding tough – much tougher…and much colder than I had known previously on the bike.  I switched into leggings and about 4 layers on top to keep warm and I had to take a 90-minute break to try and get some heat back in my bones.  As I said – the plan was quickly going out the window.  I have to thank my great team, and particularly my nephew Mick for dragging me back out on the road at 2:00am – I really wanted to throw in the towel at this stage, but he just wouldn’t let me. 

From here on, it was a mammoth struggle with my mind to keep the bike going forward, evidenced by the proliferation of stops during this stage – everything I owned was hurting – shoulders, hands, feet, everything. 

The short-term goal was to hit the initial cut-off at Ballina at 301 kms – we had to be there within 20 hours.  We hit this check-point with just under 2 hours to spare but things were going downhill (not in a biking way) quickly.

At 358 kms we stopped and broke out the calculator…

358 kms done, 23.3 hrs = 15 kmph

302 kms to do, 16.7 hrs to go = 18kmph required – and I’m tiring

302 kms to do, 16.7 hrs to go LESS 3 HOURS STOPS = 13.7 hrs = 23kmph required – I was never to do that and definitely never going to do it with Minuan Heights in front of me!!!

So, we – the team and I, called it and retired at 358.97 kms, 23:23 hours.

It was heart-breaking and sickening for every one of us but we put the bike back on the rack and headed back to Westport…the easy way, took the walk of shame to return the tracker to Pádraig Marrey at the Mariner Hotel and went back to our apartment.

I cannot thank the fantastic team I have enough – my beloved wife, Kate, my brother Pat and his wife, Mary, and the legend that is his son, my nephew, Mick Burke.  They’ve stuck with me through thick and the occasional thin, driven that support car, sometimes at that must have seemed like NEGATIVE kmph following my ass up climbs.  Thank you, guys, – you’re all brilliant.

And then there’s the race and it’s organisers, Pádraig Marrey and Bryan Hyland and their great team.  The Wild Mayo 650 Ultra is a great race and brilliantly organised and run.  It’s a huge challenge for anyone looking to venture as close to death on a bike without actually dying!  Keep up the great work!

If I had one personal criticism it was that we on the 650 kms race started out at 3-minute intervals from 2pm. My preference would be for an early start and get to hell out on the road.  Hanging around until the start time plays havoc with my head.  In saying that though, the later start helped me with my bike and car issues, so…swings and roundabouts.

…So, to wrap up

Failure here was caused by two issues

  • Lack of preparation/complacency and
  • I totally overshot my HR range, as usual, in the first 130 kms


IF anyone is considering doing one of these, my advice would be:

  • Get the best of kit and take the best of advice – you’ll be on that bike for days
  • If you’re setting yourself criteria, thresholds for entering the race – e.g., achieve a set FTP –  STICK TO THEM.
  • Test EVERYTHING beforehand and then test them again, e.g., Powermeter, lights radios, carbon wheels etc – you gotta have the picture by now!
  • Arrive at the race site, in this case Westport, a day or two, or a week early and at least try and drive the course in advance – it was just not possible for me to recce this course in advance from Spain.
  • Keep to your Power/Heart Rate range meticulously – you cannot overshoot the runway on this and survive.


I’ll be Back” I am Mike Burke