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31 Sport Cycling: Manx End2End Challenge

P.J. O’Brien explores the ability to push oneself, as he details his excursions with mountain biking under hardcore conditions.

Around Christmas time last year my Dad set a small challenge for me; to do a marathon or endurance style mountain bike race in the Isle of Man. Not to let his challenge be something which I couldn’t achieve, I decided to take him up on it. There were no bets on me finishing it or anything; instead it was more of a challenge to see what sort of stuff I’m made of! At the beginning I didn’t realise

how serious this race was, but then I saw all of the big names on the list, they were pro mountain bikers, ex pro’s, then the seriously hard- core guys and then there was me, someone looking to push himself to the limit and this race going to do that.

Now for those who know nothing of this race let me enlighten you. It’s a pretty hardcore race from one end of a country to the other, north

to south, across all sorts of terrain against close to 1,400 other riders. So when all the stuff that needed to be sorted was done, I set about doing a bit of training and on Sep- tember 11th of this year I landed in the Isle of Man along with my bike. The race this year was on September 12th so I had the guts of twelve hours to get my race num- ber and calm the nerves.

After an early rise on the morning of the race day I managed to make my way to the start line at the most northern tip of the Isle of Man. It was there that the size of this race really hit me. The commentator on the loud speaker at the start line had got news that just under 1,400 people had made it to the start line and not only that, some of these racers were from all across Europe, Israel, South Africa and there was even a person from Australia, and

there I was thinking that I had made a savage journey to get to this little country in the middle of the Irish Sea.

Once the race began and the near 1,400 racers had left the start line I realised how serious this thing was. Within the first two kilometres there had been a number of fairly serious crashes, which thankfully, I avoided, but was unfortunate enough to get held up by one which had happened just in front of me. Once the field had spread out a bit by the fifth kilometre into the race things started to calm down a little and people began to group up and work as a team. For those un- fortunate enough to not find a group, it must have been one hell of a lonely race because everyone in the group helped to keep one an- other sane when the tough bits of the race came, which there were plenty of.

As I made it to the top of one of the first major climbs, a torturing eight

kilometres to the top, most of my group had fallen victim to the climb but there remained myself and two other guys’ one of who I spent the entire race with, while the other ended up retiring from sheer exhaustion. For the entire race, adrenaline was pumping through- out my body, which is probably the reason why I was able to get up from my crashes, although only one from the four of them was se- rious.

All of the major climbs were equally difficult as they all had their own unique obstacles. After all, I was riding cross country so it was natural terrain that I had to ma- noeuvre my way through. Probably the most difficult aspect of the race for me was trying to keep my legs moving as at many stages towards the end I just felt like they would not turn the pedals even if I wanted them too. When I reached the final two kilometres I was met with a horrible sight of the finish line flags blowing in the distance on the top of a seriously steep hill. As I began climbing this last obstacle between me and a magnificent sense of achievement, I used up

September 28th 2010

every last ounce of energy that I had inside me to race to the top of this hill. The atmosphere was in- credible. The finishing stretch was lined with people cheering for you to give it all and make your way to the end at the most southern point of the Isle of Man.

Finally I made it and the feeling was incredible. I had just cycled from one end of a country to the other, across all sorts of terrain. The 75km’s of the Isle of Man End2End Challenge were the most demanding and torturing things of anything which I had ever done. I was proud with what I had accom- plished and although I didn’t beat Olympian Nick Craig to the finish line, who won the event, I did man- age to finish inside the Top 1,000 Overall classifications. These were mainly dominated by professional and ex-professional mountain bik- ers and cyclists towards the top end of the classifications. I also achieved a good 17th place in the MENS U23 Category. One thing is for sure, I have never been so chal- lenged in my life, but I can’t wait for next year’s event.

UCC Canoe Club in the Alps

Thomas Collins recalls an epic journey in June, as the Canoe Club battled all the Alps waters had to throw at them.

Paddlers, including men and

women, ranged from fresh-faced first years with mere months of kayaking experience to those with over a decade of kayaking under their belt. Cars and purple trailers were heaving with boats, cooking gear and tents. We left Cork at 10am, with our destination, the Sesia valley in the Italian Alps, lo- cated some 1400km away. After a gargantuan journey by land and sea, we arrived at our campsite in the early hours of a cool alpine morning. It was my first time in the Alps, the scenery and clear alpine water was nothing short of amaz- ing.

For our first day of kayaking we eased ourselves into the whitewa- ter action we had come for. The lower Sesia was a good warm-up river. Bouncy rapids held every- body’s interest with breathtaking views to admire when the river flattened out. Day after day, we paddled new rivers. Our group, as mentioned, consisted of kayakers varying in skill levels. Italy, thank- fully, catered for all.

When kayaking duty was finished for the day, we all gathered around the campfire and had the banter with other universities. Some great sing-alongs were had, with some- body always bashing away on the guitar. On occasion, we would be joined by the legendry campsite owner, Alberto.

Every evening we cooked a com- munal dinner. My expectations of the culinary skills of the group, to be honest, were low. Over the course of the holiday I was pleas- antly surprised, meals were varied and tasty.

After an exciting week of paddling and camping, we set off for the Ju- lian Alps in Slovenia. Of the places I’ve been to in my life I can safely say that the Julian Alps are the most breathtakingly beautiful. Even in deeper parts of the Soca River, one can see the river-bed perfectly. Drinking the cool alpine water as you paddle down a water- course is a wonderful feeling. Our time in Slovenia was relaxed. Pos-

United together under harsh conditions, the Canoe Club take time out to pose a photo.

itively, the Soca River was a great river for mixed-abilities. Our first day on the river started with a flat paddle before entering the canyon section which had some nice shoots and drops. The canyon opened up shortly downstream with some bouncy rapids, before bringing us right back to the camp- site.

There was plenty to do in Slovenia apart from kayaking. In this re- gard, a definite highlight of our time there had to be canyoning. Canyoning involves abseiling and sliding down a series of drops in a

Photo: Canoe Club

narrow canyon, an absolute treat. Some of the group, however, en- joyed the heights more than others! The weather was also amazing, warm nights paid host to parties around the camp fire. In addition, a series of pranks were played on the NUIG kayaking club as pay- back for their tent sabotaging ac- tivities in Italy.

We left Slovenia in the early hours for a night-time drive across Italy to Briancon in the French Alps. Water levels were high in France making the first few rivers we did interesting to say the least. Your

heart was pounding as you looked at the river and was pounding faster as you kayaked down it.

The campsite in L'Argentière was ideally located next to a local slalom course, an ideal whitewater training ground. The site itself was full of university clubs creating a great atmosphere in the evenings with dozens of kayakers crowed around yet another welcome camp- fire.

From a personal perspective, the holiday was an experience of a life- time. It has been a highlight of the three years I have been involved with the club. Great rivers, great people and amazing places really made the holiday. I’m confident the rest of the group has similarly fond memories.

UCC Canoe Club takes on new members all year and all equip- ment is supplied free of charge. Our yearly Alps trip is one of many trips we organize throughout the year. Remember, no kayaking ex- perience is needed. Visit www.uc- for more details.

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