Monday, August 27, 2012

3rd National Title!

Alright, my supervisor rather have me writing on me thesis, but I thought I'd owe you a bit of an update.

A few weeks ago I looked at the deadline for my PhD - 31st of October with Deans Grace, and at the events I was hoping to do - Ras na mBan and World Championships, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. I really really wanted to do the Ras na mBan and my selection to be on the Irish National Team with some very strong riders around me was pretty sure and I would have loved to get up that final step on that podium (I came 2nd last year). I love the race, I love Kerry, it was this race that got me into road cycling in the first place. Then the worlds - I had a pretty good case to be selected for the TT and road world championships this year and what an honour it would have been to represent my country at such a big event. But then there is also reality, which consists of my PhD funding running out for sure at the end of September and the pressure of getting my thesis finished before October 31st so that a) it will finally be finished and b) I don't have to pay fees for yet another year. For four years I have tried to combine both cycling and PhDing, and I am proud of what I have achieved in both, but it has always been a compromise on both parts and I was feeling eternally guilty on not giving either the focus it deserved. I knew with the pressure on in my PhD and such big events like the Ras and the Worlds I would not have been able to commit enough time and effort to both at the same time to put in a satisfactory performance. I sat down and did a lot of deep thinking and came to the conclusion that for me and my mind it would be best to get the PhD out of the way now so that I will be able to start the next cycling season without that weight on my shoulders and my mind.

So I took the hard decision to withdraw from the selection pool for the Ras na mBan National Team and the World Championships - for those who wondered why I am not on the selected teams (oh, and I am not pregnant and whatever other rumours went around!)

Anyhow, so I've been chaptering and paragraphing and tabling and graphing on my thesis and very little pedalling on my bike since. I managed to squeeze in a couple of rides here and there (sure, there's no point in sitting in front of your computer being unproductive if you can get out for a ride and come back refreshed!), but it's completely unstructured and fun only.

Anyhow, Ryan was always raving about the National Marathon Champs race in Ballyhoura. He was planning to do it, but got a call last week to replace a sick rider on very short notice to ride the Tour de Piemont in the Pyrenees. He was very sad to not to be defending his title in Ballyhoura, so I thought I'll do it and try to keep the title in the family. My gamble was that I would hopefully have enough fitness left after 3 weeks without proper training and that Ciara McManus, last years champion would still be tired from her Breck Epic adventure. Anyhow, doing the marathon champs would also be a nice break from the thesis writing.

Anyhow, Alan and I made our way down to Ballyhoura, where 75km of fireroads and single-track awaited us. The weather was pleasant too when we lined up for the mass start. When the gun went off, Ciara and I tried to stay with the faster men. I was wary not to go too fast at the start, as I didn't want to blow up later on, but also didn't want to be stuck behind slower men on the twisty and flowy single track sections. I assumed position as first woman, and settled into a good rhythm quickly enough. With the course so twisty, it was hard to see how much of a gap you had, so I kept riding a good tempo, looking back frequently to see if I could see Ciara in case I had to put the pressure on. The course rode amazing, especially on my Specialized S-Works 29er. The bigger wheels and the full-suspension were the perfect choice for this course. I don't get to Ballyhoura often, so it was a lot of fun bombing down those single-track sections. I nearly lost it a few times and managed to drop into a ditch on a hidden switch-back section, but apart from that I had no issues. The course was marked perfectly - thanks to Team Ballyhoura - I was impressed how they could fit 75km into such a compact area. Everything went well, my bike worked perfectly and I loved the race, flying along the single-track (I decided to take it easy on the climbs and put in the effort on the descents instead :)).

The first 65km flew by and were a blast, but the last 10km were tough. I think my body knew it was close to home and everything started hurting, my hands, my back, my neck, my legs and my arms. I'm not used to those distances off-road any more (I must have gone soft - in 2009 I did the XC race on Saturdays and a 100km XC marathon race on Sundays for the complete British Series in the UK)! I thought that last climb was never going to end, but then it was mostly downhill, hurrah! I finished in first place after 4hours and 8min, having loved every second of it, my 3rd national title this year. Unfortunately there were only 5 Irish starters in the Elite womens' category, so I don't get a jersey and Orla won't get a medal for her superb 3rd place, especially considering her much more eventful ride! Well done also Ciara for 2nd.

Anyhow, I really really enjoyed the race and it was great to finish off a fantastic year with such a great race and another national title. Thanks again to Team Ballyhoura for putting on this great event - it was such fun and well organized and deserved more entries than it had. Thanks to Alan for superb support as usual and thanks to my sponsors, Cycleways, ZipVit, Schwalbe and KCNC for their loyal support.

Will update post with results, links etc. later.

Right, back to the serious thesis writing now!