Tour de Connemara

Do you remember the ‘golf widows’ of the 90’s? Well, I was still at school in the 1990’s, but I realised as soon as I had bought my husband a bike for his 40th birthday that I was soon facing the prospect of becoming a ‘cycling widow’. He would disappear off on a Saturday morning, only to be seen again mid-afternoon red faced, muddy, sweaty but very pleased with himself. Then came the onslaught of packages delivered to the house – damn internet shopping! It seems for every occasion there is a cycling piece of kit to be purchased, shoes, socks, undershirts, overshoes – I could go on and on. It had become an obsession – he was hooked, and I was to be left alone trying to keep the fabric of life and home together.


Of course, the inevitable happened, and conversation turned to, why don’t you get a bike? The only way to keep the little lady from complaining about how much time was spent in the saddle – was to get her involved too. Having taken up running a few years ago I was moderately fit, but the idea of donning the lycra and cycling round the roads filled me with terror. But the inevitable trip to the bike shop happened and I came out the other end only slightly perturbed.


Having the bike, I now needed likeminded people to get me on the road. That’s where ‘Ride & Speak’ came in.   A group of social cyclists who are welcoming, encouraging and – the best bit – leaves no one behind! My first few rides were terrifying – I hated the lycra, hated the helmet (what do you do with your hair?) and mostly I felt slow, unfit and ungainly. But bit by bit my confidence improved and I really hate to admit it – I was beginning to enjoy myself. The thrill of going downhill after a climb, the wind in your face – seeing parts of the countryside you would never appreciate in a car – why hadn’t I done this years ago? Then the big backwards step happened – removing my flat pedals and changing to cleats and those weird clippy clappy cycling shoes. Oh boy! The amount of time I spent in the hedges and ditches of Co Down was humiliating and I swore those shoes of doom were going in the bin. But again, the support and encouragement of fellow ‘Ride & Speakers’ was phenomenal and the bike and myself became partners again.


So, I had the bike, the lycra, the cleats – what was required next was a challenge. Some bright spark had the idea of a road trip to Connemara to complete the Tour De Connemara in May - with the choice of two routes 80 or 140k it sounded like just the ticket. So we signed up and I thought the 80k was enough to give me something to aim for. Christmas came and went, with the inevitable eating and drinking whilst my bike gathered dust. The New Year arrived and the thought of getting back in the saddle filled me with fear again. But what about Connemara? It wouldn’t happen without some serious training.


One Sunday morning the phone rang, it was the Ride & Speak Connemara training group – and I was to stop hiding behind the sofa and get back out on my bike. Nervously I joined them – could I keep up? What about the hills? What route were they taking? But how silly was I? This was Ride & Speak – no one gets left behind – regardless of whether it’s a novice group going out, or some of the more experienced riders. We spent the morning heading the back roads to Hillsborough – my good friend Lesley and I always bringing up the rear – but we didn’t give up and thoroughly enjoyed the day. And that was that – every Sunday morning the boys dragged myself and Lesley round strange roads, up strange hills (even one called Dree – I’m sure all cyclists will have heard of it) until the day came for the big road trip. Signing on in Connemara I was feeling good – so why were we doing only 80k? That was it – Lesley and I had put the miles in, we were doing the full 140k and no one was going to stop us!


The following day dawned with a heavy sky, this could turn out to be a very miserable day. We started off at a good pace, but I couldn’t help but look heavenwards nervously thinking if the heavens open I wouldn’t have the stamina to finish the course. But my worries soon dissipated, the sky cleared, the sun came out and I can honestly say that Connemara is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The mountains, beaches and sea are absolutely stunning – easy viewing for a worried cyclist. The miles rolled by, food stops came and went, hills went up and down and then came the most beautiful sight I have ever seen – a sign saying 5k to the end. Hurrah! Rolling down into Clifden I felt exhilarated, exhausted and proud – 140k in the bag!


So, the moral of the story from a reluctant cyclist? Your health is your wealth – sport isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but cycling has something for everyone. You don’t have to wear the lycra, you don’t have to go fast, you just need to get out there on two wheels and who knows what you might accomplish?


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