Preparation & Planning
For 2022 I decided to take on the 300km route unsupported. The spirit of being an unsupported participant means that you cannot use outside help. Bring everything you need on the bike. If you suffer a mechanical or a puncture it's up to you to fix it. There's no help from anyone. Somehow this sounded appealing and I decided to give it a go!
Prior to the event, I had done a lot of big spins. Everything from a 400km ring of Clare audax to a couple of solo 200km+ spins. Possibly too much but I’ll get into that later. For this challenge, I decided on using a road bike with clip-on TT bars. Other additions included a top tube bag for extra food storage and a power bank for the bike computer. For gearing, I had 52/36 chainrings with an 11-28 cassette.
The organizers had built on last year's event with a new 200km option. Another change was participants in the 650km started the day before so all participants finished within the same time window. Great to see this event building into what is one of the premier challenges in the west of Ireland.
Morning of the Event
I had a good night's sleep the night before and I had all equipment ready from the day before. While preparing my bike a few days beforehand, I noticed a large cut in the rear tyre. It may have survived the event but I don't like taking chances like this so I swapped it out.
From a physical and emotional point of view, I felt I was in a good place for the event. One thing for certain, I was definitely going to finish the event. The question was, what challenges would I face along the way. As with any long-distance event, I broke it down into sectors. Get to Ballycastle, get across north Mayo, make it down to Achill Island, get around Achill, and finally give it one last push for home.
Completing the Wild Mayo Ultra 300km
My start time was 7:39AM and I rolled out of Westport feeling good on a beautiful dry morning. The first 80km or so brought us through an area called furnace and then north going past Neiphin which is the second-highest mountain in Connacht. A decent tailwind meant that I covered around 60km in the first 2 hours.
The coastline of north Mayo brought some challenging headwinds. It is a very beautiful area but it is very exposed, winds are always a consideration for cyclists. After a few hours of this, I started to feel tired and I think it was a combination of too much cycling in the lead-up to the event plus an element of dehydration on the day. When you are supported by a car and crew, you have the luxury of an almost unlimited supply of food and drinks. I was conserving my drinks a bit and this is never a good idea on a warm day. Better to stop somewhere and top up rather than putting stress on your body and not taking enough fluids on board.
As with the 650km last year, Achill was on my mind for most of the day. Event organizers had set up a very welcome food stop in Mulrany which gave participants a chance to cool down and top up on supplies before the trip to the island. The quicker participants will complete the Achill segment in about 4 hours so it's quite the challenge on its own. My main focus was to climb Minaun without stopping. If you have climbed Minaun then this may seem like an odd goal but those that have will understand. You cover just under 3km to climb Minaun and you gain about 400m in elevation. My 36 chainring and 28 tooth cassette is a borderline setup. A 32 tooth cassette would be a better option. However, I did not stop and got up and down safely.
By now I had about 200km in my legs and I started to struggle. My wife and family were camped in Keel and my original plan was for a quick stop to say how. However, this became more of an important food stop the closer I got. On the descent into Keel, I met up with Covey Wheelers #1, Michael Brady. He told me he was dreaming of a chicken sandwich from Ballycastle. His plan to pick one up in Bangor Erris was thwarted as there was a motorcycle rally passing through with queues outside the shops. I suggested we stop in Keel with the possibility of some sandwiches and he was like a kid on Christmas day! Thanks to my wife Martina for some very welcome toasted chicken, cheese, and tomato paninis plus plenty of tea and snacks.
That is the thing with Achill, it can burn up energy really quickly and you really need to watch your food intake.
I found the climbs in and out of Keem bay to be challenging even though they are short enough. As I mentioned earlier, I think it was a combination of things. Too much cycling in the weeks leading up to the event plus not looking after myself with fluids on the day. Lessons learned! Once out of Achill, I enjoyed the tailwind from Keel back to Westport and I got to the finish line around 8:30 PM. A long day out but I had conquered the course!
Congrats to all participants, any of the distances is a great achievement. Great to meet so many familiar faces along the way. Special shot out to Tony Keane who completed the 650km unsupported. Thanks and well done to the organizers for putting the event together, it is great to have this on our doorstep. I was delighted to have completed the 300km, but I did go away wondering how I managed to drag my ass around the 650km route last year! I had to look back on some pictures to convince myself that I did actually do it.
Feet up now for a few weeks before I take on the The Western Challenge 525km on June 18th.