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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Finding Inspiration.

Having completed my first few runs last week to get back in shape--nothing more than a few easy ten k sessions on hilly trails--I have found myself unable to run this week due to being home alone with my daughter. This is no bad thing as my Achilles is still wholly unready to get back to high endurance outings. I have been busy with other things and have started to do a pretty short but intense core workout to start each day. Looking for--what seems to be an elusive job has also taken up most of my time as has applying new ABA methods to Pearls daily routine. I have found some videos online that I can draw inspiration from and keep my restless nature at bay until I get back out there for real. A trip to Chamonix to soak in the atmosphere of the UTMB at the end of the month ain't gonna hurt much either :)

Jared Campbell on the West Slabs of Olympus in the Wasatch Range

Another Olympus, this time its Kilian in Greece.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Its been five weeks since I finished my run across Ireland and there are many thoughts and lessons that will probably stay with me for some time to come.

  • The first one is acceptance, it is emotionally crippling to be in a situation where you have worked really hard but still face what seems insurmountable. Letting go of the fear and the disappointment and the anger when I got injured was both hard and easy to do. It seemed easy once I had surrendered to my fate, it only seemed difficult when I went against it and fought the inevitability. Realising that I am accountable for my decisions became the only factor in choosing to continue on a bike and I know I chose well in the end.
  • The second is fear, where there is a will there is most certainly a way. Embracing the unknown and turning uncertainty into a voyage changes everything. As long as you are moving forward, regardless of the pace, you are still moving.
  • The third is belief, if you truly believe and visualise the goal you can achieve it. A lacklustre attitude or outlook never inspired or accomplished much in this world. From day one I never doubted that I would complete the trek, it just was not something that ever crossed my brain waves. If you project an image of failure chances are it will come true.
  • The fourth is positivity, surround yourself with people you believe in and who believe in you. I have an amazing group in friends in all areas of my life from people who run to people in Autism circles to people I have never even met in person. I think that once we are accepted and respected for who we are as individuals we can fulfill our greatest potential and truly make a difference in the world.

My running has been pretty low as of late and I now find myself rebuilding again and preparing for other adventures. I wanted--at my lowest points during and after the run-- to strangle the people who said "It's all happening for a reason" or "It will make you stronger these lessons you are learning". The reason for my frustration? Because I knew these people were right. It takes a while once you step out of the eye of the storm to get some perspective. I have that now and although my bottom line feeling is one of disappointment for not completing the trek as I had planned, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Accept the things you cannot change.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mizen to Malin--Part 2.

Tuesday July 5th

The momentum has changed as has the mode of transport but the goal is still the same. I am now winding my way north towards Malin head on two wheels as opposed to two feet.

Olivia found us a physiotherapist who was prepared to meet us on the roadside and I was wasting no time in making ground to meet him. I felt a new lease of life on the bike mainly due to the fact I was not in as much physical distress as I previously had been. I am a former amateur cyclist from my teenage years back home and still clock about thirty km's a week on my bike with little Pearl on the back but had by no means trained for a four hundred km bike ride. Luckily those thoughts did not concern me at the time, just getting to the physio was the objective. I was really hammering the roads and the tail wind had me moving at an impressive pace. I pulled into Newport to find the crew talking to Niall O Donnell who had given up his own time to come and see me. I lay back in the van getting a thorough check over and got the prognosis I expected, no more running. He told me any more pressure would probably snap the Achilles and that I was to take great care even on the bike. After asking him how much we owed him for the consult he said "nothing" and then gave US money for the cause, what a guy. So with the official and professional analysis concluded we were back on the phones and Internet. I would ride another forty or so km's to Borrisokane where Olivia was stationed and we would take a break there. Diarmuid in the meantime got us two more bikes and helmets kindly donated from Velo Bike shop in Birr, these bikes would be brought to Borrisokane to meet us, my brother in law Paul would take over the driving and myself, Mick and Mark would continue as a team.

I rode hard to Borrisokane and on the arrival noticed a police car pull in behind me, I am thinking of what I have done wrong and next thing the lights are flashing. It was only when I pulled into the town that I realise it had been organised for traffic control. All criminal paranoia by the wayside I was so happy to see two new bikes, familiar faces and a hearty pub meal waiting for us at "The Yanks" when I finally took my ass off the saddle.

(arriving into Borrisokane with the fuzz on my tail)

(with Paul the police man, top fellow)

(setting off for Ferbane with police and fire brigade escorts)

The three of us ate well and finally had chance to catch our breaths and talk the day over. Our next stop was Ferbane another forty km away and where we would call it a night. I was excited as its the town where I went to school, played music and worked for many years and word had spread that we were ripping up the roads. I jumped on my spanking new Pinarello bike after a few adjustments and we were off. Paul was cruising along behind us in the van along with our convoy of flashing lights and sirens. We picked up two more riders, John and Thomas who came out to meet us and ride a little. My friend Keith who is a highly regarded physio and has worked with pro cycling teams and currently Connacht Rugby also met me on the road for a double check. Same result, no running. Hearing it from him gave a more relaxed perspective as I now knew the right decision had been made. With our gang of cyclists now at five we arrived in Cloghan where I used to live, it was the same as always, dead. A few of the locals had come out and most of my family. It was so special for me to see Dylan again and to hold him in my arms. Pearl stayed at a distance for fear of her getting upset. Hugo Loonam Motors gave us a full tank of fuel and we all had a laugh taking photos and getting ready for the last seven km of the day to Ferbane.

(Cloghan-with Hugo and the team)

By this stage it was almost seven in the evening and I had lost count of the amount of cyclists with us, my brother Sean and sister Alison were along for the ride too. About a km outside Ferbane another fire engine pulled in front of us to take me home and when I turned the corner into Ferbane I was just floored. Half the town were waiting at the soccer pitch as Diarmuid had been busy circulating emails. It was the most emotional home coming imaginable, old and new faces arriving with hugs and kind words, all so overwhelming.

(luxury spa treatment-Ferbane)

(the banner says it all)

(the boys)

So as people came and went I was lying face down on a massage table as a local guy called Cathal Devrey went to work on me. The guy has hands like the hulk and proceeded to twist and knead every part of me until I was a groaning, whimpering piece of flesh that wished I had never been born. This guy was good no doubt about it and as painful as I felt I definitely benefited a lot from his thorough work over on my body. The tally for the day was twenty one km's run and a hundred and five on the bike. After goodbyes were said we headed to my sisters place for some serious calorie consumption and a shower. We had a whole new adventure in the morning and some new faces joining Team Pearl.

Wednesday July 6th

Up early to organise routes and Mick thrusts a phone into my hand "Mally, some woman on the phone wants to do an interview with you". Thanks Mick.

After my radio rants we were Ferbane bound in the van where we picked up my best friend Trev who turned up looking like he was going to a rock gig. Photos were taken, people were hugged and I assured gathered parents that sons would be returned in one piece, next stop Athlone. We cruised quickly to Athlone to pick up Neil who took the early train from Dublin to meet us and Tommo, who had flown in from Liverpool at midnight the night before just to cycle with us. This on top of cycling John O Groats to Lands End solo just a few weeks before. Legend. Introductions were made and we now had six certifiable lunatics of various abilities on the road. I was really happy to have these close comrades alongside me and fun and jokes were in no shortage. I have to tip my hat to them all and even though some took breaks in the van when they got tired everyone rode with tremendous guts. The weather helped us along too and the sun stayed on to party with us. Heading up north was not all fun and games though, the terrain was always testing. Paul in the van was giving us updates from home and doing a stellar job of keeping the mother ship in close range at all times on the busy roads.

(Athlone, l-r Trev, Mark, Tommo, Moi, Helen (A good friend) Neil and Mick)

We made it to Longford for some snacks after riding about forty km's. Everyone seemed in good spirits and then Micks wheel decided to explode all by itself. Once we got it repaired and on the road again all went well. This was going to be the longest day and I was determined that nothing would get in the way of reaching my intended destination, the town of Ederney. Steady progress was the order of the day, some of the guys were better climbers than others but as a collective the team worked pretty well. I was concentrating on times, lunch breaks, potential problems etc as I was now responsible for more than just myself. To go from three guys living on the road for a week and having all details well planned is a lot easier than becoming seven guys in less than twelve hours and completely unplanned. The three of us had our routine dialed in where as the newer guys were still finding their place in the grand scheme of this adventure. I think the fact that our goal was Team Pearl and that a mutual respect existed made things gel so well. Our first main lunch stop was around Swanlinbar and I threw together an array of goodies from the fridge and we hunkered down, ravenous the lot of us. Our repose was brief, partly due to my insistence that we make tracks. Trev and Mick sat the rest of the day out in the van. We had a hundred and forty km's under our wheels at this point.

Mark, Neil, Tommo and I soldiered on and it started to get tough. About an hour up the road I started to feel dizzy and my vision was blurred. Twice I almost touched the wheels of the rider in front and decided I needed to stop. I got my feet elevated on an ice bucket, ice bandanna around my neck and a few gulps of carbo-pro. I sat up for a bit and sipped some Lucozade as it had worked on day one when I hit the wall. Satisfied that I felt OK we resumed the labour of pedalling. By this stage Tommo was the driving force of the group as with the freshest legs and the most cycling experience he took care of the whatever needed doing. He was a rock for the team and I was glad to have him on board. Once we got to within twenty km of Ederney we were forced to shelter on the road side for a while due to a very heavy storm. It relented a little and I grabbed some rain jackets for us all and we set of again. Mark was feeling it but with reason, along with me he had covered the most distance on a bike and had been crewing hard all week too. I stayed with him as in my times of need he had done everything for me. Neil and Tommo kept the train a moving up front. Arriving in Edernery that evening in torrential rain was tremendously self satisfying. I had ridden one hundred and eighty km's and this left me with one hundred twenty to go on the final day. However we we all soaked, starving and in need of rest. My friend Edel from Loffa (a midlands Autism aid group) had told me her folks lived in the village so Mick called her. Half an hour later seven wet looking tramps are standing in her parents house being offered cups of tea, showers and anything we needed. Siobhan and Dodie Maguire are a shining example of all that is good in people, generous and kind beyond mere words. They also gave us three beds and another one at Siobhan's sister Monica's just up the road. Some of the guys headed out for a curry but I stayed back with Mick and Paul for some home made food and a bit of banter. I took an early night, excited for the last day in the morning.

Thursday July 7th

I was up early waving my bicycle pump like a wand to get as may heads off pillows as possible. Turns out I needed it, Mark had a flat so I fixed it whilst waiting for everyone to get their game faces on. Tea was drank and we thanked the families profusely for all they had one for us. They gave us donation money also, some people are just amazing.

(leaving Ederney on the last day-pic Justin Maguire)

Rolling out was rusty to say the least and the tally of complaints ranged from Achilles grief (Trev) sore back (Neil) and grinding knees (Mick) and so on. Personally I could not get out of the saddle as behind both my kneecaps a whole lotta grinding was going on. Every oscillation was weak and thankfully a good long descent brought us into the next town. Being in Northern Ireland was also a new experience for us all on the road, riding form one town to another we were greeted with a staccato of both Irish flags and the British Union Jack. I don't think anyone of us had much to say in the way of conversation for a while, each individual deep in their own reflections of the terrible violence that has claimed so many lives over the years and caused hurt to so many families. As someone who has never lived on the other side of the 'border' I can't imagine the hurt the troubles have caused and to the people who work hard at a peaceful existence my hat is off.

I decided that to get us to Malin regular breaks and nibbles would probably work best to get us there. Every twenty to thirty km's we were stopping for M&M's, Redbull, thermolytes tabs, carbo pro and I was educating the guys on fuelling for the day, great tips handed down from the mighty coach Tess back in Canada. The terrain was a rugged, beautiful pain in the ass. Ireland does not settle into a monotonous flat stretch, ever. Riding through tree lined valleys or summiting a wind swept pass was the norm and served as a distraction from the discomfort of the mounting twinges we all felt. I was running out of steam on the hillier stretches due to constantly being unable to stand on the pedals, Tommo served as a great domestique taking me through the hills steady and sheltered. Passing Strabane we had hoped to meet my great ultra running friend Graeme but no sign of him, next time eh! Heading further towards Derry brought more traffic and bigger roads and it also meant the last major town before hitting the majestic beauty of Co Donegal.

(the day started wet.......)

(.........but soon cleared up)

Navigating Derry was not simple with its heavy traffic, roadworks and seemingly endless roundabouts. Mick and Paul were on the case in the van and we passed through without incident. Once through Derry Mick called ahead to his friend Gareth at McLaughlin's Cafe in Muff where a feast was awaiting, ten km's later we rolled in to another banquet. We had forty km's left. Here we feasted on our staple diet of sandwiches, tea and anything else caloric that we could get our grubby paws on. Table etiqutette kind of takes a sabattical in cases like this and conversation is replaced by grunts of approval normally aimed the person responsible for preparing the food. The pains of the morning had given way to a real excitment and the guys were as jazzed as I was. I could scarcely believe that we would be reaching the most northern point in the country within a couple of hours. With stomachs full we got on or trusty steeds for the final push. Once outside my friend Rachael and her fiancee Paul arrived to surprise us, they had been following our progress on the Internet and tracked us down. I was really moved they had driven a long way to share the finish with us.

(at McLaughlin's cafe in Muff)

(Rachael and Paul)

Leaving Muff we rode out along the coast and the views just killed. I mean it was epic. Lough Foyle on our right all the way up before we turned back in on the mainland and I knew from the map that this veering away from water meant it was not going to be long before the signs for Malin appeared. And lo and behold the cheer that erupted from the group when we saw the first sign was hillarious, we were pumping our fists and shouting and being like kids really.

(give me sign)

The roads began to narrow and once we reached the town on Malin we had about fifteen km's to go. Mick climbed back on his bike with his banged up knees and the circle was complete. It was a tough ride due to the terrain but it did not disappoint, the bay and the green of the hills made for an astounding back drop. Many tourists passed us in camper vans and I was very proud that we had made it so far under our own steam. My emotions were running high the closer we got, the guys rallying around me willing me on, telling me that this is what I had come for. With about two km's to go the really tough climbs started, I was dead on my butt and digging deep in the reserves to find anything to propel me along. Turning down a narrow lane I looked up to my right and saw Rachael and Paul at the top, waving and cheering: all the while I am thinking how the hell am I going to get up there. It looked steep. The guys dropped back and I went for it. Out of the saddle, a colossal, primitive push all the way from the centre of the earth, pulsing through my wheels, through my feet , my knees, my hips, my upper body, my arms, every muscle and every fibre twitching and rippling in a propulsive sequence, main-lining adrenaline. Trev stayed on my wheel and reaching the summit my emotions exploded as a thousand thoughts rushed my brain. It was three o clock. All I really remember is dropping my bike and helmet and burying my head in my hands as my friends crossed the line. We hugged, we laughed (I cried) and we stared out to sea in disbelief as we all had achieved something special and we had done it for a cause greater the individuals invloved.


(what an amazing feeling)

(team Pearl)

(epic views)

(Malin head)

There are just too many people to thank so I will save that for another day. All I can say in conclusion is that there is untapped spirit and courage in all of us. There is kindness in people that largely goes unnoticed and unrewarded in modern times. I know that the way to live life is positively and to always reach for something just out of grasp, you never know, you just might surprise yourself.



Distance covered~605 km's
200km run, 405 cycled.
Time~4 days, 8 hrs, 50 minutes.

Running for Pearl

This blog is dedicated to my daughter Pearl who was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in August 2009. My goal is to raise funds and awareness by doing what I love....Running.