‘Vivi Stories’ is a series of inspiring tales, thoughts, tips and tricks from real people. From running marathons to cycling 500 miles across Europe, find out what drives people to get fit and what experiences have been the best. This time, we ask Claire Donnelly about her experiences on her 700k cycling tour in Ireland.
Vivi: Hi Claire, thanks for sharing your cycling experience with us. Tell us about your cycling tour.
Claire: Here is a summary of the tour.
- Team ‘Clips and Chains Excite Me’ cycle from Mizen to Malin Head.
- Distance: 700km (approx)
- Length: 7 days (meant to be 8 but we decided not to use our rest day because of the bad weather expected. My legs still regret this decision!)
- Our cycle tour was from Mizen Head in Cork (Irelands most southwesterly point) up to Malin Head in Donegal (Irelands most northerly point), giving ourselves around 8 days to complete the journey.
- Sinead – the team lead. Super fit. Will give anything a go. She did the Paris marathon and didn’t even sweat (she’ll claim she did but I’ve seen the photos)
- Maria – super super fit. Basically, wonder woman. Also doesn’t sweat.
- Conor – Sinead’s brother and therefore has the ‘Give Anything a Go’ attitude. Currently training for a marathon in the Sahara…
- Me – couldn’t run a bath, let alone do 5k run. However, I will sign up for anything. Sweats constantly.
Vivi: Talk us through why you decided to do a cycle tour.
Claire: Sinead came up with the idea of the Ireland cycle trip 2 years ago. We’re both Irish, but like a lot of people, we’ve not seen that much of the country so she thought this would be a great way to do it. I can be talked into almost anything so when she mentioned it I said I’d be keen. At this point the only cycling I’d done in that last 5 years was a Boris bike around East London; half hour cycle around London vs length of Ireland – the same thing really! I felt I already had a good base level of training, but just to be safe I put Sinead under strict orders kick me off the team if I didn’t actually train.
Training for the cycle started in January (T-7 months to the cycle) with spin classes a few times a week. I also wanted to start training outdoors on a proper bike as soon as possible, so naturally, I procrastinated until March before getting said bike. It is now T-4 months until the cycle.
Vivi: When did training ramp up?
Claire: Our first team cycle was from London to Reading. Sinead and Maria were all set. My bike arrived the day before the cycle, unbuilt. I’d never used gears. Never cycled on an open road. Had never seen pedals with feet cages on them. Taking everything into consideration, making my adult cycling debut on a quick jaunt to Reading seemed ambitious. I bailed.
I quickly got my act together (I bought some Lyrca and a helmet) and team training was underway with weekend cycles to Richmond, Box Hill, Surrey Hills, Brighton, Reading and Windsor.
Training hit a small bump (and so did I) when I sprained my wrist canoeing down Regents Canal. Stating the obvious, you shouldn’t cycle with a wrist brace. The nurse told me this very witheringly at the hospital, I ignored her, I crashed into a wall because I couldn’t pull the brake. OMG WHAT?! NO WAY! Who would have expected that! (insert eye roll emoji here).
Training took a bigger hit T-4 weeks to the cycle when I woke up one morning with Bells Palsy. Could not have predicted that one. Probably karma for not listening to the nurse before. And if you can’t cycle with a wrist brace, you definitely can’t cycle with an eye patch and only half your face working.
Best case recovery for Bells Palsy is 4 weeks, worst case is months.
Vivi: Wow. What happened next?
Claire: T-1 week to the cycle… The eyepatch is gone! I can just about close my left eye. My face looks ridiculous, the left side of me is in permanent resting ‘bitch face’ mode, but I have the all clear to cycle.
T-0. We’ve all made it to Mizen Head and thankfully so have our bikes. This is it. 7 months of training, planning, booking and stressing.
Vivi: The tour begins! Talk us through it.
Claire: Mizen to Malin is now underway. Going through every day of the trip would take far too long so I’ve summarised my diary for the 7 days.
“I hate hills. I’m sick of the wind/rain. Seriously not another hill. Is this a hill or a bloody mountain?! Oooo dog! I need tea. How is it still raining?! Another hill?!? I’m never cycling again.”
Throws bike off hill.
Bins all lycra.
Never touches a bike for the rest of my life.
Joking. Here’s the actual review.
We had the worst weather imaginable, it rained every day!! 3 Irish on the trip and somehow we didn’t expect that! We had Hurricane Gert hit the west coast of Ireland 2 days into the trip and managed to finish a few hours before there was torrential flooding across most of the north. We had flat tyres, a mountain, ruined cleats, broken bikes and belongings left in the wrong county but I wouldn’t change a single minute of the trip.
Vivi: Sounds like there were ups and downs… What were the highlights?
Claire: It was definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done. Seeing the country in that way was incredible, you just can’t believe some of the scenery. Middle Earth has nothing on Killarney National Park or Donegal.
The weather definitely made the trip very tough, cycling in the rain with the wind blowing in your face was a huge challenge, and mentally very draining. Despite my rigorous training, and annoyingly because I was the only one who remembered to stretch, my legs cramped on the 4th day on the way to Galway. The pain was unbelievable, I had to stop so many times, and in the end, I only managed to cycle 30k the following day.
It’s hard to keep going when you’re legs are that bad, but it’s also hard to know you just have to stop, not just for your own good, but also you have to think about the rest of the team. The rest of the guys were amazing and waited for me to check I was ok, but given the terrible weather and cold temperatures, this had an impact on them. I had to just suck up my pride and stubbornness and accept the sensible thing to do was take a rest day so I could cycle the final day.
Highlights of the trip:
- The massive feeds we got in the bed and breakfasts (shout out to Violet in Goleen who was just amazing)
- Accidentally trying to cycle up Priests Leap on Day 1, and having to walk it for an hour and a half
- Killarney National Park
- Tralee All Ireland Fleadh
- Trying to foam roll with a christening candle in a post office on the way to Galway
- Getting drunk in Galway after we were late picking up our rental car so all our luggage was left in Tralee and we never saw the Cliffs of Moher
- Moaning to the taxi man about our luggage dramas as he drove us to the pub and ending up paying him 100 Euro to pick up our luggage
- Seeing Malin Head! And my family waiting at the finish with 4 tiny plastic trophies
- Doing it with such a great group. Your team absolutely makes a trip, and the sense of accomplishment and comradery when you all make to the next stop and the end of each day is just fantastic. I’m so proud of what we achieved.
Vivi: Summarise your experience.
- 11 counties (3 in one day)
- 85 cups of tea
- 9 coffees
- 4 hot toddys
- 8 punctures (5 in one day)
- 10 falls
- 1 alpaca (could have been a llama)
- 1 mountain
- 1 hurricane
- 1 christening candle foam roller
Vivi: Any advice to others considering a tour?
Claire: My advice to any amateurs like myself doing a trip for the first time would be:
- Train hard, you need to prepare your body as much as possible. I only got my bike 4 months before the trip, before that I was doing a few spin classes a week and then we planned long distance weekend cycles to Reading and Brighton.
- Plan properly and share the workload. Splitting tasks out among the team will make things a lot easier and take the pressure off. Make sure you plan the trip thoroughly and be realistic with times. When you’re tired after a long day of cycling, you won’t want to be trying to figure out how to get to your bed and breakfast – have everything organised in advance. That said, you can’t plan for everything (who knew a hurricane would hit Ireland in the middle of August), so just go with the flow when you need to and enjoy it!
- Don’t cut corners on gear. We each got satnavs costing nearly £200 and they were worth every penny. However, I went for a mid-range cycling jacket, stupidly thinking I wouldn’t need a more expensive water and windproof jacket to cycle Ireland. Fair to say I regretted that decision every single day. There’s no point being tight on something that will be essential for your trip.
- Get the right people. Cycling with Sinead, Maria and Conor was brilliant. There were never any issues in our group and everyone supported each other. Having the right people will make a good trip amazing.
- Learn how to fix a puncture!!!
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