Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Lough, Lapped!

Lap the Lough 2016

In the interest of honesty, I should say this up front: I would not have considered riding Lap the Lough had I not been invited to cover it. There are several reasons for this. First, it's a sportive. And in my seven years of cycling, I have avoided sportives as some might avoid poison ivy, or jellyfish, or malaria. I am a cautious, risk-avoidant cyclist. And sportives (aka charity rides, gran fondos, or whatever you want to call them), reek of danger: a heady cocktail of riders with mixed handling skills trying to go fast in very large groups, without necessarily knowing how to ride in groups. In addition to this, I am generally not a fan of crowds. Crowds make me panic. And crowds on bikes just seem like a special kind of nightmare that I want no part of. A club ride, a niche dirt road event, or a local brevet, are just about the height of what I can cope with. A "famous," mainstream sportive in which 2,500 cyclists are expected to take part? Oh goodness me.

The other thing about Lap the Lough is, well, the lough! Or rather, its absence. I had visited Lough Neagh once before. The countryside is pleasant enough, even though by Irish standards it is, frankly, somewhat lacking in drama. But the most curious part, is that the lough itself is mostly invisible from the road. So, while it's true that Lough Neagh is the largest lake in all of UK and Ireland, the satisfaction of lapping it requires some capacity for abstract thought, since the actual body of water would remain hidden from view.

Lap the Lough 2016

So, in summary: 100 miles, in the company of 2,500 other cyclists, around an implied, but mostly invisible lake. I was about to thank the lovely organisers (whom I've met, and who really are lovely), and politely explain it was not my cup of tea. But first I mentioned the ride to my husband, Gary. And he stunned me with a degree of enthusiasm I had not thought him capable of for such an event. He had never shown interest in organised cycle rides before. And he wasn't too keen on distances either. When I took part in my last brevet, he was happy enough to send me off with a friend, helping us load our bikes in the car and muttering "not in a million years!" under his breath. But now, for whatever reason, this particular ride attracted him. And, before I knew it, we were both signed up to Lap the Lough on the 28th of August.

An eventful summer followed. At the start of it we cycled lots. In July we even did a mini-tour through scenic County Kerry. But following that I had some minor surgery. Consequently, I was off the bike for 4 weeks, and was cleared to cycle again only days before the event. Getting back on the bike after a month's absence, I had definitely lost fitness. But a couple of training rides later, I could tell that if I took it easy I could manage the ride. Lap the Lough was on!

Lap the Lough 2016

Now, in case I have not made it clear already, everything about this type of cycling event would normally make me nervous. But for better or worse, my husband has an animal-whisperer/ large dose of valium type of effect on me. And even though I should know by now to take his "ah, you'll be grand!" assurances with a pinch of salt, I fall for them every time. Hypnotised into an unnaturally lighthearted attitude, I hummed contentedly as we got ready the night before. The morning of, I hopped out of bed at an ungodly hour, chirpy and excited for the long drive. Sure, it would be grand!

On approaching from the west, we did not even need directions to the Dungannon start, so thick was the road with vehicles carrying bikes. In the car park, alongside many others, we stealthily changed into cycling clothes, whipped out our bikes from the back seat of the car, popped in the front wheels, checked that we had everything with us, and, along with a steady procession of other cyclists, headed toward the Hill of the O'Neill. Somewhere between all the commotion and Gary's mischievous grin, I forgot to feel nervous.

Lap the Lough 2016

The ancient capital of Ulster, the Hill of the O'Neill rises up sharply from the otherwise tame local landscape, offering an expansive overview of surrounding lands. In more recent times, the site has served as a British army base during the Northern Ireland conflict, complete with helicopter pad and bomb disposal garages. Access to the hill was barred to the civilian population throughout this time, until a decade ago the land was finally handed back to the local council and turned into a historical park, its castle ruins restored.

Considering this history, it was quite a sight to behold the hill now being "invaded" by hordes of cyclists and their bikes, rushing toward the registration pavilion. With our wrist bands and helmet stickers affixed, we took our place in the lengthy queue down the cobblestone hillside toward the starting line.

Lap the Lough 2016

I was surprised right away not only by the sheer number of cyclists still queuing up for the start (considering that many waves had already gone ahead in the fast group), but also by the variety of Irish, English, and even continental European accents I could hear all around us. This was not a locals-only sportive by any means! Did I mention 2,500 people were taking part?

The event start was staggered, so that the fast group (17mph+) would take off first, the medium group (14-17mph) second, and the casual group (10-14mph) last. And within each group, the start gates would open to let 20 riders out at a time, with pauses of several minutes in between each "release." This made for a rather drawn-out, but remarkably un-chaotic start to the event, with plenty of space for everyone and no need to jostle for position. Having arrived on the late side, we set off at the tail end of the medium group, with plenty of breathing room to get our bearings as we followed the road markings out of town in a civilised cluster of cyclists.

What happened next was very interesting, as I had never experienced such a thing before. Without any overt communication having passed between us, there seemed to be an unspoken consensus in our group of 20 riders to:
(1) immediately form a non-rotating double-paceline,
(2) crank up the speed steadily, until we caught up to the group in front of us.

And once we did catch up with that group, it became clear that they had done much the same, as had the group in front of them. So in fact, we merged not only with the 20 riders who had immediately preceded us, but with an enormous echelon.

We sat in this group for a while, in a remarkably neat double paceline without anyone changing positions. And when I use the word "sat," it seems apt, as it did not feel like we were doing any work at all. I looked down at my computer, and the speeds that were registering were just surreal, especially considering that I was mostly coasting.

After a while, and once we were out on wider open roads, the nature of the echelon started to change: A third column of riders began to form on the righthand side, and in single-file procession to slowly but steadily overtake the two columns on the left. We fell in with this faster stream, until we had emerged along with them from the main echelon and formed our own, smaller bunch, that surged on ahead.

In this smaller group we then plowed on ahead until we caught up and merged with the next large echelon. And then the same same thing would begin again - the echelon forming slower and faster "streams," the latter of which would eventually separate and surge ahead to catch up with the next larger group. It was like some organic process of cell multiplication/ mutation, except with bicycles. And my one regret on this ride is that my handling skills are not good enough to have snapped a photo that shows what it's like to be a part of this organism.

Lap the Lough 2016

Somewhere in the midst of this, and once the novelty of the situation began to wear off, it suddenly dawned on me that we were moving ahead through group after group at a rather fast pace. Was this a good idea, considering the milage still ahead of us?  I should mention perhaps that Gary had never done a 100 mile ride before, 60 being his previous limit. Me, I have done many 100 mile rides, but was out of shape from a month off the bike. When I first suggested we should perhaps slow down and just stay put with a steady group, the husband smiled and winked in a que sera, sera sort of way. Falling for it yet again, I kept pedaling.

If I have to trace when the trouble began, it was when we both had to pee some time after mile 20. The rest stop would not be for another 10 miles and we agreed we would not be able to hold it in. So we pulled over at a service station. We were very efficient. We peed, and were back on the road in no time. Still, the stopping meant we were now well behind the group we had separated from. The reasonable thing to do would be to wait and fall in with whatever group came along next. But the husband had this brilliant idea that we put in some effort and attempt to catch up with the faster group. And, like an idiot, I agreed.

It took us some time and effort, but we did catch up with the faster group. And when we finally did (in a headwind, no less), I was so spent that despite the drafting benefit I had hardly the strength to stay with them. By the time the first rest stop came along, it felt like I'd spent all the reserves of energy I had for the entire 100 mile ride, on those first 30.

Lap the Lough 2016

At the rest stop, I pulled Gary aside: "Listen. I can finish this ride one of two ways. Either we both slow down. And I mean, way down, I'm talking 14mph, not the 19mph we are doing now! Or you go on ahead with a fast group, and we do the rest of the ride separately. Who says we have to ride together anyway? We can meet up at rest stops and share impressions, it'll be fun."

With a mouthful of banana he was straight out laughing at me.

"Look I'm wise to your tricks by now. You don't like to suffer and you pull this stuff at the slightest hint of discomfort. But you're fine. You look fine! There's no way we're doing this separately; you are my fast group."

My head nearly exploded. "You're wise to my tricks? It's you who tricked me. We said we would take it easy, have picnics. What the hell is this?"

"We'll have a picnic at the lunch stop," he said, planting a banana-smeared kiss on my cheek. "Come on, it's only 20 miles up the road!"

Lap the Lough 2016

What can you do with a fellow like that? For the next 10 miles my legs were propelled by sheer frustration. Then suddenly the frustration flipped to uncontrollable laughter. We rode in a very tight bunch for this stretch, along back roads, and the sun was beating down on us hard as morning transitioned to noon.

There was something surreal to finding myself in this situation - the tight echelon, the fast pace, the mere fact that I was riding a friggin' sportive! - and suddenly I was able to enjoy it all despite putting in what felt to be an absolutely unsustainable level of effort.

For the first time since the ride's start, I even caught glimpses of Lough Neagh once or twice along this stretch.  The Lough, we were lapping it!

Lap the Lough 2016

The lunch stop in Antrim Gardens was lush and inviting, in a forest clearing type setting. There had been a tent put up, and remarkable amounts of hot soup on tap, since the forecast had promised rain. But as instead the day was scorchingly sunny, most riders were sunbathing on the grass in various states of undress and guzzling water while waiting for their soup to cool.

Some riders' families had arrived to meet them here and cheer them along, and family picnics - complete with Frisbee games, cooing babies, barking pets, and the like - were in progress throughout. I should mention here also, that all through the ride there were, here and there, spectators cheering us on along the roads, with noise makers and balloons! And while some of them were clearly family members of ride participants, others seemed to be local residents whose houses happened to be along the route. I have never experienced being cheered along on the bike before, and must say it is not entirely disagreeable!

Lap the Lough 2016

After having a rest and some soup, I actually felt as if I'd recovered a bit. And we both agreed not to dawdle too long at the lunch stop, lest our bodies get used to all this lounging about and refuse to go on! We refilled our water bottles, used the fine portable toilet facilities, and set off as marshals directed us out of the Gardens back on the main road.

Lap the Lough 2016

"And how are you feeling," I asked before we went on.

But I could see without him having to tell me that the 50 miles had hardly made a dent in him. He had trained for the event by doing short, intense rides, and clearly this tactic worked well for him.

By contrast, I had "trained" for the event by not cycling at all for 4 weeks, then doing two moderately paced rides at the eleventh hour. But I tried not to dwell on this as we continued around the lough.

Lap the Lough 2016

Technically more than half of the way through at this point, we expected to join with a well-paced group once again and enjoy that "moderate tailwind," that the weather forecast had promised. But the character of the ride had changed somewhat on the return leg.

Firstly it seemed that a good portion of riders were starting to tire at this point. There were cyclists pulled over at the side of the road every few miles, just sitting and resting. The promised tailwind turned out to be a headwind. And the mild, but not infrequent climbs that began along the return leg also had the effect of breaking up groups. As a result, groups grew smaller in size, and were strung out far apart.

We found it quite difficult to get in with a bunch of the sort we were able to take advantage of on the first leg of the ride. Every time we would join a seemingly large, steady group, a hill would come along and half the group would be gone. Then a cyclist or two would pull over to the side of the road to rest. And suddenly we'd find ourselves in a cluster with 2-3 other riders battling a headwind. We would then all do our best to catch up with another small group and join forces, only for the newly-formed bunch to implode in the same manner.


And so for the next 30 miles we spent much of the time riding either alone as a pair, or in very small groups. And although the rest stop on the return leg helped, I was not immune to the effects of the headwind and hills. I was clearly not in good enough shape to tackle this ride at the pace we'd attempted to do it in, and as a result I was now suffering pretty badly. How the event photographer [credit: Industry Image] managed to get this shot of me grinning, I honestly have no idea. I assure you that I was having a terrible time of it at this point. Terrible, I tell you!

To my credit, I did hold on a good long while past that point, at mile 30, when I first declared that I couldn't sustain the pace. But somewhere between mile 80 and 90, my body finally gave up. It was no longer a mind over matter thing. The mind had checked out long ago and left the body alone. But despite their best effort, my legs simply couldn't turn the pedals anymore. I slowed down considerably. And then I slowed down some more. Until, with 7 miles to go, I was barely churning 12.5mph into a headwind despite putting in every grain of strength I had left.

And then the climb to the finish began.

While most of the Lap the Lough route really was comparatively "flat," by local standards, the final 5 miles featured a sustained, at times quite steep, climb into Dungannon, culminating in a cobblestone(!) section straight up the Hill of the O'Neill. While for those of us "lucky" enough to live in the northwest of Ireland, the climb was really nothing unusual (and really a rather fine way to end a 100 mile ride, if you ask me!) others were quite taken aback by this twist to the plot at the end. A few people got off their bikes and walked. Unprintable words were uttered.

Me, I just got into my lowest gears at this point, tried to turn my brain off completely, and resigned myself to fate, as Gary surged ahead for the final stretch and waited to greet me at the top. The final cobblestone section was brilliant, as I'd never ridden on that sort of texture uphill before.

At the end, there was much hormone-induced weeping and hysterical laughter, in rapid succession. And some delirious lolling about on the grass, before we finally calmed down.

Lap the Lough 2016

On the ancient hilltop a brass band was playing to celebrate the finish. And apparently, medals were being handed out - although we'd somehow managed to miss this in our dazed state, and returned home empty-handed!

Aside from sore leg muscles and some saddle-induced skin abrasion, I cannot report much bodily damage (I was fine to commute on my upright bike 15 miles the next day). And there seems to be no damage at all to the husband... unless you count a sudden desire to ride more sportives (oh god help me!).

As far as logistics: Our overall moving average was 16mph, over 96 miles with 3,500ft of elevation gain. This may not be impressive by roadie standards, but for me it is unprecedented to sustain that speed over that kind of milage, and I couldn't - simply wouldn't - have done it without Gary's influence. Now, whether it's a good or a bad influence, I still can't decide!

And as far as Lap the Lough 2016 in of itself... Well, they don't call them sportives for nothing. It was not a leisure cycle, and not a parade, but an all-out athletic event. Most of the participants were quite fit. The majority rode carbon fibre racing bikes. Many treated the ride as an unofficial race. It was basically like a club run, on steroids. And with food stops, roadside cheerleaders, marshals, support vehicles, plentiful road markings, and a festive vibe. So, as far as sportives go, this was an overwhelmingly fun and friendly one. And a safe one, with all the riders attracted to this particular ride apparently being endowed with excellent handling skills and knowledge of group ride etiquette. I should also stress again how comparatively "flat" the route was, for what you'd normally get in Ireland, and in that sense it is a good choice for cyclists of all abilities. No doubt it is for all these reasons and more that the Lap of the Lough is such a cult-status event, with 2,500 cyclists eager to circle a largely invisible lake!

From a personal viewpoint, perhaps the most satisfying part of the event for me was how much my husband enjoyed it, and how amazingly well he did on his first 100 mile ride. Gary absolutely loved Lap the Lough; he is already planning next year's event, telling his friends. It melts my heart to see him enjoy cycling on his own terms.

Me? To be honest, sportives really are out of my comfort zone, so perhaps once was enough. Although who knows! Admittedly, being out of my comfort zone isn't all bad.

The Lap the Lough event is run by the Upbeat Agency - a non-profit organisation aiming to increase cycling participation and improve conditions for cyclists throughout Northern Ireland. These folks are also behind projects such as the Fred Festival. Profits from Lap the Lough go toward future cycling events and activities.

With thanks to the Lap the Lough organisers, designers (check out Victory Chimp and Donard.CC), volunteers and participants for a wonderful day. And, as always, with thanks to you all for reading.



53 comments:

  1. Great report. I think the event was on open roads. Any hassles with cars getting frustrated by large groups of cyclists or did they largely avoid the route?

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    1. No hassles what so ever, as far as our experience.

      And yes, the event was on open roads. But for most of the route, drivers seemed to know to stay away from the roads we were on - I imagine there must have been signs warning to take detours. When there were cars, they behaved impeccably, and some riders even took advantage of their temporary presence to draft. On tricky intersections and on roundabouts there were nearly always marshals. Oh and PSNI on motorbikes patrolled the route, which probably accounts for much of the good behaviour!

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  2. I saw your tweets and was excited to read your report on the event. Looks like it was a great day for a long ride.

    My typical post-sporting-event evolution:
    The first couple of days afterward are, "what the hell did I do to myself?"
    The next few days are, "Hmm, that one part was kind of neat."
    The following week turns into, "jeez that was so much fun, I wonder when I can sign-up for next year?"

    Also, it is quite clear that you've turned your husband right into being a bike nut!


    Wolf.

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    1. In fairness, I re-turned him! He was a cyclist back in the day, but had lapsed for a decade.

      Considering how badly I felt at the end of the ride, I recovered pretty quickly, and the rose-tinted filter is already in effect!

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  3. Charming account and pix of you and the spouse whisperer-amazingly you've captured that mischievous smile. Hope we'll see more Team Lovely Bicycle! Thanks. Jim Duncan

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  4. At some point it seemed you had considered qualifying and preparing for PBP. Its actually much like what you experienced on this sportive, just three and a half days in a row...! 5000+ participants, riding up through the starting groups, seeing them pass again during stops, beeing cheered along the road, doubts and rewards, and the feeling of - one was enough, until a few days later you take the resolution to try it once more next time if circonstances 4 years down the road will still allow...

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    1. {cue Annie Lennox singing "Whyy-aahaayh-why-ooooh-why-oh-why!...." - in full cycling kit}

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    2. Sorry, I had no intention to trigger any melancholic feelings, but your nice narrative brought back many memories and interesting aspects from Paris, - my first big event ever - the brevets having a very different and confidential character.

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    3. No-no, I am only joking.

      Some day, PBP would be amazing.

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  5. Aside from the overexertion it sounds as though the event exceeded your expectations! Now knowing the event it will be easier and more rewarding next year.
    I equate this experience to your first timid steps into riding a road bike on organized rides or clipless pedals. You always start cautiously and build momentum. - By this time next year these rides will be Passé. - Mas

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  6. I have mixed feelings about large organized rides as well. I did my first century ride earlier this month (actually 111 miles, including riding to and from the event start). It was a much smaller ride than yours, about 40 cyclists maybe, but I did find it a bit intimidating. Almost everyone else was on carbon fiber racing bikes, and I was certainly the only person riding a vintage steel road bike with cloth bar tape, a Brooks saddle, and platform pedals!

    My average moving time was 13.5 mph, which was right in line with my usual speed for long rides, and seemed respectable given it had more climbing than any previous ride, but I was dead last, and came in after the last rest stop and the "afterparty" had closed down.

    I felt fine afterwards physically (even though my previous longest ride was only a metric century), but it's a little undignified to be reminded all day long that you are the slowest rider by far, and I came away feeling like maybe I should have just done a hundred miles solo and I would have felt better about it. Perhaps I'm just an antisocial rider!

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    1. {To the commenter that had replied to this earlier - I am sorry, but disparaging remarks and digs about peoples' equipment are against the moderating rules. Please read them.}

      I have done group rides on a variety of bikes over the years. Vintage, modern, heavy, light, steel, other. In my experience, it is surprisingly easy to feel intimidated no matter what you're riding. There will always be cyclists who look like they are more advantageously equipped than you - whether in terms of physique, equipment, group affiliation, or even the sheer confidence they exude.

      One thing that I have found particularly dispiriting in the past, have been the folks who deliberately arrive on bikes designed to make the ride more challenging for themselves, as otherwise they would find it too easy! On the Boston brevet scene in particular there would be fellows who'd arrive to do a hilly 100K on an upright 3-speed, or on a cargo bike with their kid, and finish in the lead group, while I'd be struggling at the tail end on my "fast" lightweight bike.

      Until fairly recently, my average speed on long rides was 12-14mph, depending on the amount of climbing involved and how heavily I'd load my bike. This is a fairly typical range for lots of non-racy cyclists I know. Some are simply not interested in going any faster.

      I have come in last on a few dirt road events back in Boston. No one was mean to me about it. And it didn't bother me. Any time that you do come in last, just remember: you finished, and you finished on your own terms. There is nothing undignified about that.

      Remember also there are many riders who start out fast and abandon the ride part of the way in. You might see them wiz past you at some point and feel bad, never realising that, in the end you were able to handle a distance which they could not.

      In a bizarre way, the human mind has evolved so that we always compare ourselves to others and manage to find ways to feel bad about ourselves. But accomplishment is really a matter of perspective. You completed your first 100 mile ride, and coped with the social discomfort of feeling "slow" rather than quit. That is a pretty great accomplishment, in my book.

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    2. +1
      worthy of its own post, this

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    3. Jessie

      That should never happen. Closing rest stops while there is still a rider on course who will clearly finish is not cricket. Something unusual was happening that day, I have not seen a century ride with only 40 participants since a cold wet day in 1970.

      I have done maybe a dozen centuries accompanying first time riders, the usual elapsed time ( on and off bike) is ten to twelve hours. That's all on very flat courses. Never saw a closed rest stop. A couple times had the sag wagon right behind us, because it was getting dark. But the sag crew only encouraged us. My personal fast time is four hours flat, for a 101 mile route. Ten hour centuries are much much harder than four hour centuries, just can't imagine slighting anyone who accomplishes that.

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    4. Oh I have been on rides where rest stops closed with riders still on the course. Someone in the crew would still keep track of the riders' whereabouts, but the stops would be dismantled after a certain window of time.

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    5. Jesse- I have been on a couple rides that had "closed" while I was still on the course and that was when I was still in my "trying to be fast riding a racer bike" phase, I have since come to the simple truth that if you are on a bike and it puts a smile on your face that is really all that matters. Chapeau on not only finishing a 100 miler but doing it on style on a Vintage bike!

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    6. 1.Announce event. 2. Inform participants there will be rest stops. 3. Collect registration money. 4. Close rest stops before registered participants use them.

      That scenario is horrendously rude. I have see plenty of rest stops that were down to one person, one small table, and a shade tree. Whoever has perpetrated what Jessie and V are reporting should be ashamed.

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    7. To play the devil's advocate here in defense of event organisers (who, I suspect, almost NEVER sit there laughing and rubbing their hands while collecting money for closed rest stops... well, maybe sometimes... but surely only rarely?) - here is how I see it:

      Every organised cycling event is designed around certain parameters. It is the responsibility of the event organiser to make those parameters crystal clear in advance of registration. Including: expected average speeds of participants, and, if the event is advertised as supported, time frames during which this support will be available. It is then the responsibility of the potential participants to decide whether those parameters are suitable for their level of ability.

      Now, if, once the event is underway, the parameters deviate from those in the description, by all means the organisers are to blame. It is irresponsible to create a set of expectations among participants, take their money, and then not meet those expectations.

      If, on the other hand, the event happens as described, but a participant misjudges their ability to complete it in the manner it was designed to have been completed, I do not think anyone is to blame.

      In Jesse's case - I have no idea what happened. And I have certainly seen all sorts of scenarios play out. But in any case, with cycling events there is always a degree of risk that things will not go according to plan. Ultimately we cannot control the behaviour of organisers, other participants, etc. And so I would say that:
      1. being able to cope with being out of one's element, and
      2. being self sufficient, and/or having a plan B in case things go awry,
      are musts when taking part in any organised event. Expect the unexpected and be pleasantly surprised if all goes well!

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  7. I've seen that smile before, and then heard you say you weren't having fun at the time. I don't believe you for a second. That smile says it all!

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    1. Clearly I have a crazed compulsion to smile when cycling, no matter how I am actually feeling!

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  8. Well done on making it through, even with the bonk at the end.

    Seems the link for "we even did a mini-tour" isn't working.

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  9. The picture from Industry Image was taken at the 40 mile mark that's why you're still smiling.

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    1. Aah! Well, not to worry, I was already feeling crap at mile 40 : ) There are other snaps throughout the ride, including at the end, where I am smiling. Possibly a habitual means of convincing myself I am NOT in pain!

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  10. Great read, you captured the event brilliantly. Soup in the heat and sunshine! The tailwind lie! And we did not get any medals either, too knackered to notice anything after that killer climb!

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    1. I think we were meant to go back inside the pavilion where the registration too place, but it didn't occur to me at the time. Maybe the organisers could put up a sign next time, for the out-of-it riders!

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    2. Yes there was a wee medal and a cap aswell. The finishing point was actually on the Hill of Neill hence why 601 Strava apps registered the first half of the sportive and only 71 in the segment for the whole event. The finish had the registration area decked out with tables and chairs and there was coffee and wraps and more importantly a chance to relax.

      Truth be said there was a tail wind once you were heading to Ballyronan. It was only when you got past Randalstown and were making your way around the top of the lough that you got the blustery wind sapping your strength.

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    3. Oh we made it through the finish line at the very top of the hill. Just didn't walk into the registration tent! You can lead a horse to water, and all that.

      It was lovely though to sit on the grass, surrounded by over a thousand parked bikes, and listen to music while gazing at the panoramic views.

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    4. Ahem. Maybe if you weren't so busy smooching you would have noticed the tent ;oP

      I enjoyed catching glimpses of you and your partner on the road. You looked as happy in person as you do in the photos. All the best to you both!

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  11. Me? I think you're nuts! But very well done both of you, and I love the enthusiastic, happy vibe of this post which shines out through the lovely photographs!

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  12. Sportive = a bike ride
    Surreal fast pace = what happens on spirited group rides
    16mph average = what happens after a few years on the bike

    That husband of yours was a somewhat dark and mysterious character when first introduced in this saga. As a literary character he just keeps getting better. You are both smiling in that photo. Deserved rewards.

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    1. Thanks. I think G will enjoy the idea of himself as a literary character!

      I did accidentally document our first meeting here, after all.

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    2. LOL I knew you didn't move to Ireland for the weather!

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  13. That looks like it was a lot of fun. Hard fun, perhaps, but fun. The description of the echelon sounded great too- I heard that paragraph as a narration. (no subtitles, though. ;) )

    And the table full of cakes. Yeah, I would have been happy there.

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    1. Cakes and cakes were everywhere and not a crumb to eat! Sweet stuff makes me sick on long/intense rides, so I must sadly avoid those delicious spreads.

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    2. I do better with savories myself, but love a good small helping of something baked. And coffee, no sugar.
      |One of the things that sold me on the idea of riding That Big Italian Vintage Bike Fantasia (trying to Grant Petersen-ize it, how'm I doing?) is the warm hard-boiled eggs that get served at the rest stops, along with Parma Ham and coffee.

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  14. That picture of you on the bike says it all. Your husband was right, you are not even red in the face! The suffering is all in your head, you can obviously go harder than you think.

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  15. ("We refilled our water bottles, used the fine portable toilet facilities..." ) is there such a thing? The first time i ever used a porta-potty, it had a hand sanitizer dispenser inside, so i assumed all of them were liked that. I never saw one again after that.

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    1. Admittedly my expectations are low when it comes to said facilities. So in this context, fine = not outrageously filthy. Also, the queue moved along very quickly.

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  16. Ah to be young again! Your begrudging enthusiasm is contagious, dear author!

    In my own 20 years experience.... these events can be really good, or really terrible. You are right to be cautious. Do your research and you will know which sportives have a good reputation and which are known to be dangerous. Most of all, cherish cycling with your husband. A spouse who is a willing cycling partner is a precious gift!

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  17. Very enjoyable read.
    The young boy resting on the grass in one of the photos is my son Jonnie (age 12). He rode behind me for 95 miles and then sprinted up the hill past me at the end when I had nothing left in the legs. I need to reassess my tactics for next year!

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    1. Kids, couldn't watch them! Hope you both enjoyed the day.

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  18. Nice bike, a new SEVEN titanium / carbon perhaps?

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  19. I recall from your instagram feed that you both carried bags on your bikes? How did others setups compare, and would you do it differently next time?

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    1. That's right, forgot to mention this in the post. The ride was fully supported. Still, we carried tools, spare tubes, pump, etc., our own drink mix, as well as jackets (which we never needed as it was boiling), and I carried my camera. I had a medium saddlebag; my husband a small frame bag. In retrospect carrying the camera was pointless as we hardly stopped and even at rest stops I was really too tired to take proper photos; my phone would have sufficed. The rest of it, I can't really see doing a 100 mile ride without. So no camera next time, but otherwise much the same. Most of the other cyclists seemed to limit themselves to tiny saddle wedges, but to each their own.

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  20. disposable water bottles instead of bidons?..

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    1. At the lunch stop, we were given bottled water. At the other two rest stops, there were large communal containers with taps.

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  21. Ache, you're inspiring me to get out and ride a 100 on my next weekend, even though I'm a little less fit than usual for that sort of thing. But I should. I want to.

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  22. Great report thank you. I have been pondering about riding this since I moved here.
    Something specific to Lap the Lough which is the requirement to get to the start... Which would seem normal but given the way Lough Neagh dominates N.I. I have thought that two start points, e.g. Dungannon & Antrim would reduce the carbon footprint of the event or allow more people to participate. If your from the north/north west it's quite a trek on to Dungannon.

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  23. "And my one regret on this ride is that my handling skills are not good enough to have snapped a photo that shows what it's like to be a part of this organism."

    It's funny how we embrace technology and then get frozen in time. You, the lover of fountain pens and film cameras embraced laptops, internet and wordpress, and made the jump from film to digital (Remember how digital was scorned by "real" photographers not that long ago?) But time has moved on again...

    Today's kidlets have adopted Go-Pro cameras affixed to helmets , chest straps or whatever to get the kind of photos too hard to take with a conventional DSLR or prosumer P&S. And it even opens up the possibility of video clips or stills every five seconds.

    For many it is gadgets for gadget sake, but for you it might address your one regret.

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  24. Super report and very accurately captures how I felt too; not seeing the lough, initial high speeds with a slowing down as we progressed, initially saying never again and a few days later pencilling in dairy for next year.

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