Wild Mayo Ultra 500 Unsupported
Sean Hernon (The Bear ) Galway Bay CC
As the saying goes “everything you want is on the other side of fear”. As I write this, just over a week since finishing the Wild Mayo Ultra 500km unsupported, body parts (notably my chest) may be sore but this is outweighed by a real sense of pride in having overcome fears to start and complete the Wild Mayo Ultra 500.
Fear follows us all most days in some way or another but I had lots of fears in the few days before the race after coming down with a chest infection. Can I do the race? Am I stupid to take part? What if I get really sick out on rural roads in the dark, cold Mayo night? What if I cant cycle as well as I planned to? It was only on the Friday morning that I definitively decided I was taking part – I don’t wish to suggest people should be reckless with health decisions but for me it came down to FOMO or the fear of missing out. It seemed easier to pull out and yet the thought of doing so also gave me the fear. Once I accepted I was scared, it seemed okay to start the race and at least give it a try. It then turned back to being more about the adventure side of things and as Dr. Pepper said: “what’s the worst that can happen?”
Probably because I’m an adventurer at heart. I originally got into long distance cycling via solo unsupported adventure cycling trips abroad in places like Europe, Africa and Asia. And I had won the Donegal 555 unsupported in 2021 so I had a good sense of what might be involved and of all the things that can go wrong.
In many ways, unsupported is not that different from supported – you still need to do all your race planning and strategy in advance and then it’s the same case of pedalling your bike as fast as you can to the finish line without getting lost! A key benefit of unsupported racing is that it is cheaper and simpler/fully stripped back – you don’t have to worry about finding crew or covering hotel costs and petrol/diesel costs etc. The biggest obvious differences are that you are very much alone for an extended period of time and you need to carry a lot more weight on your bike via nutrition and water.
I think that unsupported will continue to grow in Ireland as more and more people experience the benefits it offers and the joy of crossing a finish line unsupported, just you and the bike out in nature.
How I found it
Tough. Very tough 😊 and beautiful!
I started just after 8pm and my heart rate and power meter would not work throughout the race for some reason so I only had speed and perceived effort to go by. This was annoying but I can’t say that it impacted my performance much, perhaps was even a blessing in disguise to just go by perception.
I loved the first half of the race – I felt okay at a moderate pace and my mind was clear. It felt wonderful to be out in nature and cycling into the night. After a few days of having the fear, I was loving this!
As night and darkness began to fall, so did the temperature, dropping as low as 3 degrees in north Mayo. It was probably only fully black for just over 5 hours (11pm to 4am). I always find the nightime experience quite magical, particularly on this occasion because I did not have any crew or music – the world was dark and quiet other than the sound of the sea crashing to shore as I pedalled slowly along the north Mayo coastline. If that was special, then the sun rising from the sea over the sea stack at Downpatrick Head was something I’ll never forget. I felt blessed to be alive and out there.
I always struggle with stomach issues in ultra races, its probably been my biggest obstacle, and this race was not different, my calorie intake dropping heavily for the second half of race. My chest also felt heavier and heavier and I noticed that my speeds were dropping quite significantly in the second half of the race.
On reaching Achill Sound, and gorging on some coke and jelly babies, I was told I had a good lead so it was just a case of getting me and the bike home. The Achill winds were swirling and I found the 100km on the island to be the hardest of the race as my chest was forcing a slower pace. I even had to walk up most of Minaun Heights as my chest just couldn’t take it. First time to walk in a race and felt embarrassed but the chest was just not able for heavy efforts.
After Achill it was a straightforward, yet tiring, run in to the finish line in Westport. I was delighted to finish even if a few hours down on my originally targeted finish time. No ultra race is easy and this one certainly wasn’t. After chatting with Padraig, Jimmy and others, I grabbed a burger and fries at the Mariner Hotel and then crashed asleep for almost 13 hours straight – one of the best sleeps I can ever remember!
A big thanks to the organisers for putting on a great event, it’s a lot of work no doubt on their part and I hope that the event continues to grow across all race categories. I hope to return in full health and perhaps next year it will be the shorter 300km unsupported. Thanks also to Jimmy for all the selfless time he puts into marshalling ultra races – always nice to see him out on the road!
Finally, a big thanks to my wife Patricia for supporting me in my cycling training efforts throughout the year. Cycling can be viewed as a selfish pursuit, particularly with 2 young toddlers. But as my wife says, there are worse things I could be doing! 😊