‘BAD NEWS!!!’....... Not the WhatsApp message you need the day before the Joe Barr 200 mile solo race especially after months of training, sleep, food diaries, nutrition and hydration plans, WhatsApp's, calls and emails. The message from Sharon was followed by ‘Dave missed flight!’ This is never a good thing but when Dave is the sign language interpreter for Sharon and also the designated driver the blood drains out of you! He can change his flight but it’s crazy money so the crew of 2 is now halved! My message back was ‘not being funny but how the feck do we communicate???’. You may have guessed that Sharon is deaf and and my knowledge of hand gestures usually involves one or two fingers depending on how angry I am!. I’ve known Sharon for a couple of years, she lives to cycle and we planned her 1500 km Wild Atlantic Way cycle charity cycle last year and she asked me to be part of her crew for this endurance race as well as planning nutrition, hydration and sleep and I was very happy to help (I’m not so sure now!). Anyway we hadn’t a lot of choice at this stage and Sharon replied ‘We’ll be grand!’ This was the first of many obstacles over the next 24 hrs. The next was contacting my insurance to change over to a fabulous van very very kindly donated by ThinkBike in Rathmines - If you are in Dublin and you need a bike ThinkBike. (John you can use that slogan in your next ad campaign!). Seriously they are a great bunch and hugely knowledgeable about anything cycling. After a couple of rushed phone calls we established the insurance company who shall remain nameless and who will be changed at the next renewal said they only insured cars!!!. Sharon didn't take this news well!! but after a call to John it turned out I was fully insured once I had a full license (tick) and was over 25 (phew just squeaked that one!). Sharon was happy again!
We transferred all the equipment over in Rathmines, dropped Sharon's car off at her apartment and headed north or at least that's what I thought! Sharon had other plans and needed to pick up a helmet on the way so after a detour we were finally on the road. The sign on time was up till 5pm in Derry and the sat nav said we would be there at 4.30 (plenty of time) except for a few hold ups and then an alert saying a 15 min delay on the main roads take alternative routes. This ‘alternative’ route took us up and down back roads through little villages and was at least 20 mins slower than the main road!! (but we did get to see some lovely scenery!). I watched as the estimated arrival time got closer and closer to 5. But we need not have worried when we got there Jill could not have been more lovely and helpful. Sharon handed over the water stained paperwork (which I got the blame for despite not holding the bottle or resurfacing the roads in Northern Ireland!). Sharon needed her Wahoo aka WaFecknhoo after our experience with them, and again Jill was amazing and got one of the other lads to upload the route onto it. Richard - who I was also working with for the race and met for the first time in a hotel in Derry (despite him living in Waterford and me in Wexford!) got the bikes ready for inspection even though his dinner was waiting inside for him. We stuck all the required signs on, got the yellow flashing lights on the roof, yellow vests and headed for the inspection. The lads asked me to show the indicators, flashers and roof lights were working - no problem there but when he said put on your lights I had a blank (despite the lads in ThinkBike showing me) but because the van is a newer model the lights came on as soon as you started it (phew!! I did remember how they worked on the Saturday!)
All checks passed and sign on complete time for the briefing which was another big obstacle without Dave but one of Richard's crew (yes he had the luxury of TWO!) Jo had a great idea to download an app called ‘Talk to text’ which meant Sharon could follow the briefing. The WaFecknho was handed back and we headed for the accommodation (yes we got lost on the way) to get some grub. Half way there Sharon realised she had left her bag at the hotel! I wasn’t going back for it (I know it was very nice of me!) but again Jill to the rescue (this is becoming a habit!) and took it home with her. Sharon went off to put some logos on the van and I started to get the pasta, chicken and garlic bread ready. I eventually worked out the oven and whacked it up (culinary term!) high. Everything was going well until I opened the oven to put in the garlic bread and the fire alarm went off and mother of God it was loud I pressed a few buttons and it kept screaming of course Sharon didn’t notice and Richard was out the back doing something with his car (I asked him later did he hear it and he said ‘yeah’ he did!!! Thanks for coming in to save me!!!). I ran across the road to the woman who had met us and told us our rooms earlier and came over but admitted she hadn't a clue! She eventually got one of the neighbours who was able to stop the screeching and I got back to cooking. In my defense the woman admitted that the oven was probably never used. Anyway the grub hit the spot and Sharon and Richard got fed. Richard then told us he had problems with his WaFecknhoo and checked Sharon's and the route was not on it!!! Meanwhile I tried to download it to my phone but my Google pay is linked to a very old email and I didn't know the password. So at this stage neither the rider or the one crew member had the route!!! (for any non cyclists this is VERY important because without it we had no feckin idea where to go!!!) Sharon couldn't download the app because her bag was with Jill! I eventually cancelled Google pay, reinstalled it and got the route on my phone!). Sharon went off to bed stressed (not ideal with a big event in the morning!) and we agreed that we would go over early and someone would be able to help. After that day I needed a pint so Jo and myself went down to the ‘local’ it was only then I realised we were in the heart of republican Derry but I suppose it was safer having a southern accent to be here and not the other sides turf! We had a pint and a good aul chat realising we both knew some of the same people (small world|) and headed back the 2 min walk to get some sleep. Now I live in the middle of nowhere and the most noise would be cattle having a chat over a hedge so trying to sleep with all the noise of a city on a Friday night was not going to happen.
Saturday morning came way too quickly but despite lack of sleep we had to make breakfast, pack a cool bag, fill water bottles and get to the start. First job was to get the WaFecknhoo sorted. This was not as easy as we thought and poor Sharon was getting stressed. We spoke to Jill and our start time was put back to allow us to get sorted (Thanks again Jill!). Eventually it was all sorted but with Richards start time approaching his WaFecknhoo would not turn on (Sweet Jesus them feckin yolks!). Jo (one of Richard's crew, did I mention he had TWO!) is now fully trained to factory reset a WaFecknho!!! Richard who is one of the most organised people I have ever come across and had every single eventuality covered this was very stressful and despite having his start time delayed this was not an ideal way to begin a 200 mile race. Our 8.30 start arrived and we were off on our adventure. With 200 miles or 321 km ahead of us with some huge climbs and 18 degree heat this was going to be a very very tough day for Sharon and me! We were only a couple miles out and we had our first row! Sharon asked me to go ahead of her but with city traffic and very few places to safely pull in I had little choice to go further than I wanted too. I pulled in and realised that we would have no problem communicating! Sharon very clearly shouted ‘WAIT FOR ME’ I replied ‘I’M FUCKN TRYING’. We actually didn't have many other rows as we headed out into the country there was much more opportunity to stay close together except for the couple of times I wanted to let cars pass that I could see behind her and slowed down but she very clearly let me know with hand signals to get the fuck out of her way! She had a couple of bottles and snacks with her and we stopped regularly to graze on baby spuds, protein balls, date balls, rice cakes, sweet potato and peanut butter soup, bagels, bars and her absolute favourite cans of coke!
Sharon is an incredible athlete and she just powered through the miles. I was an expert by this time at checking the mirrors for her (most important because I didn't want to be telling her parents I lost her!!!) and cars, pulling in and out of lanes and laybys and looking out the front for tractors with trailers, slurry tanks and even a tractor wedding party with a bride and groom in them!, stray sheep, mad dogs, people, kids and bloody locals who had the cheek to go about their normal Saturday business without caring about our cycle, all the while checking the route, planning the next food stop, watching the whatsapp for updates and also trying to listen to the rugby on a crackly radio because the preset was not set for the Sperrin mountains! Despite being on the road for 14 hours it flew by. Poor Sharon was suffering with her back and we did a few yoga moves to try to ease it, not always easy when your yoga mat is covered in sheep shit! In fairness, except for a few other little niggles she was amazingly good. The blue line on the route map was turning red with every turn of the pedal and we were soon three quarters of the way around with the steepest climb done even though looking at her in the mirror you would think she was just out for a Sunday spin!!! Sharon pulled in in front of two houses and as I pulled in behind a jeep stopped in front of us a fit looking man got out and asked would Sharon like a massage?!? I immediately said YES without asking her because we were getting to the stage where the mind and the body start to disagree with each other about the sense of doing this kind of endurance and if he had have said would she like to learn how to juggle kittens I would have still said yes to take her mind off the cycling for a few minutes!!. Thankfully he didn't have kittens in the jeep and proceeded to take out his table and gear and sets up in front of the houses with one confused lady looked out at this circus and probably dialing the police! This amazing stranger turned out to be Peter Ferris MBE (if ye don’t be minding!) who has run 700 (yes 700) marathons and raised over £750,000 for charity! After this lovely break from the cycle we were back on the move. We did have a bit of a wobble at about 175 miles / 26 left but we had a heart to heart and Sharon's true grit, determination and mindset got her to the dual carriageway to Derry. Two of the brilliant marshalls came out to escort her in the last few miles while I kept her safe from the rear. We rounded the roundabout with the sign pointing to the hotel but the marshalls didn't take the turn and kept going straight!!! My heart sank and I can only imagine what Sharon felt as I saw her looking longingly at the sign as she passed. Thankfully it was only two more roundabouts and back into the carpark to Joe, Jill and the marshalls in a new 200 mile female non stop solo record of 14:05:28 which was 3 minutes faster than the old record. Jill had messaged me earlier that Sharon was on for this record but I honestly just wanted to get her home and forgot about it. Confession time….. I have to admit that Sharon was right (not something I say too often!!!) to only take 5 mins for lunch or we would missed the record!. I pulled in and asked Joe where would I park he said ‘Just leave it right there and get out I want to shake your hand after a brilliant job’ I was over the moon as a hand shake from Joe Barr is the cycling worlds equivalent (actually better) to a Paul Hollywood handshake to bakers! I did just abandon the van (safely John!) and ran to hug Sharon. Jill grabbed me and hugged me and said ‘You are her guardian angel’(I wondered if the guardian angel association would let me in knowing I wanted to throttle Sharon a few times?!?) before I could get to her but I did give her a huge hug. They checked the tracker to confirm that she had broken the record and everyone celebrated it. It was then in for the presentation and after Sharon got her well deserved trophy and medal Jill said I have a medal for you too I was not expecting that and she said not many crew get a medal so i will treasure it. The pint of Guinness and the glass of white wine for the record breaker never tasted so good!!
A 1106 km drive, good craic, new friends, a Joe Barr handshake and a medal this was a
fantastic event with an incredibly young lady and amazing athlete. Chapeau Ms Osbourne.