This is for all of you, all of us.
Today I didn’t ride Ras na mBan, I rode my own race. I started out in Ras na mBan but after 10km another rider decided she liked the piece of road I was on a whole lot better than where she was, and in the blink of an eye I was face first into the ditch. In that brief moment of silence that happened as my body became separated from my bike, and I readied myself for the impact, I thought, “I just want to be able to get up and walk away from this”. Silence. Crash. Pain.
The bunch sped by, I heard Orla crying out my name. The cars sped by, I heard people calling to me. Then Tom & Aidan pulled up, and then Conor. Tom sorted my bike, Conor sprayed my cuts with something stingy, Thanks Conor, Thanks Tom, Thanks Aidan :-). But I just want to go guys, get me going, they’re all gone on, time is racing away from me…… And I was on the road again.
Crashing is part of racing, you have to learn to deal with it, blame helps nothing, but I was mad. I turned the corner up to the first climb…….. no one. No one to be seen. Then it started to rain. 85kms of racing, including two Cat. 1 climbs, lay ahead of me and I was going to have to do it on my own. I was mad, and madness kept me going, and madness kept me sane.
Adversity means something different to everybody, and we will all face it someday. How we cope is a measure of nothing, but we must never give up. It will be very hard for some people to understand when I say that today was one of the two toughest days of my life. Nobody died, nobody is sick, nobody is missing. But I nearly broke today.
I felt like everything I came here to do was gone, like everything I’d fought to achieve all week had been whipped from in front of me. I couldn’t believe I had to race the toughest stage of Ras na mBan without the comfort of the bunch, without a single body to shelter behind, without my teamies and my buddies encouraging me. I pushed on, over the first climb, down the hairy descent. I came upon one or two other single riders, each fighting their own demons. We barely spoke, spent a minute or two together, and then I had to go. I was racing my own race and I had to do it at my speed and I had to keep going, and whatever had already happened, I wanted to do it as fast as I could. I wanted to get the hell out of there and the only way home was to pedal, to pedal as fast as I could.
I passed a few more lonely riders, heads hanging low, I went by without saying a word, we were like the last survivors leaving some doomed city and there was nothing we could do for each other. I battled on into the wind. The rain washed most of the blood off my legs, and it stung my face where it was scratched. The second Cat 1 loomed up before me. I could see it from some way off, like Mordor, a rising wall of stone. A few team cars were pulled in near the top, they had straggling riders out the road to encourage home. There were helpful shouts, and offers of bars and bottles, but I was in my own bubble now and nothing from outside could get in. I struggled up the wall, in my head I pictured the day The Ras went over The Mamore gap. I remembered how the guys had described it, sometimes you felt like you were moving so slowly you would surely fall over. Flat on your side, onto the road, bike and rider still conjoined.
I crested the top and turned into a stronger wind. Still 70km to go. And now The Suffering really started.
I told myself I couldn’t keep doing this. I told myself I could. I looked down at my speedo and I promised myself I’d keep it above 4okmph, then I’d be home in an hour and a half. I pushed up into the big ring and I pumped the pedals up and down, up and down, as if they were solely responsible for moving the blood through my heart; if I stopped I would die. If I stopped I would die.
I thought about many things. I thought about my club mate Jim Fitzpatrick who is doing the race around Ireland right now……. he is racing all around Ireland Fi, you only have to race 60 more km, no, 50 now….. I thought about my team-mate Caroline who had been so sick this morning that she almost didn’t start, then she got so weak on the first climb that she had to get in the car. I thought of my good friend Anne who was so ill that she hadn’t kept any food down since dinnertime yesterday, yet she togged up and presented herself at the start line, so that her team would be in with some chance of keeping the Team GC they’ve held since Stage 1. I thought about all the girls out on the road today, ahead of me and behind, every one of them fighting the good fight…… 40km to go now.
I thought of the night I’d climbed Kilimanjaro, everyone around me on their hands & knees retching and hallucinating because of the altitude, and my friend and I pushed on & up; we’d come here to do a job and we’d be damned if we didn’t finish it….. 30km to go now. I thought of The Paralympians; if amputees can cycle competitively what have I got to moan about. I thought about The Cycling Leinster Team I have had the privilege to be part of this week, this was for them, for Aidan, and for Tom, for Charlotte and Niamh and Caroline and Orla, and for Mags who had pulled us all together…… 20km to go Fi.
I thought about everyone everywhere who has gone to the edge and not jumped.
I know some people will read this (I’m assuming someone other than me will read it…..) and not understand. But trust me when I say that part of me died out there today. Tomorrow I am racing home.