Earlier this year, Johnnie Bland cycled 250km across Ireland with his brother. As if that achievement weren’t impressive enough, they then took part in a bike race. Here he tells his own story.
“My brother and I travelled by bike from Dublin to Cork at the beginning of June. It was a great experience for us both us and made us appreciate the toughness and mental strength it takes to ride continuously for several days and then do a race at the end of it.
We began our journey at London Euston and travelled to Holyhead by train. Once we had taken the ferry to Dublin we had about 15 minutes to get to our meeting point at Trinity Dublin with the other member of our party, the sole Irishman on the trip and keen triathlete John Reidy. We cycled for 90km on that first day and once we had left the outskirts of Dublin the landscape changed dramatically, with lush pastures and grazing cattle creating an idyllic image for us on our bikes. The first day was tough for us all, but especially for my brother, with his old weighty road bike which we christened ‘the tank’. By the time we arrived at Carlow late into the night we were pretty tired and collapsed into our rooms.
The following day turned out to be the toughest of all: we cycled a mammoth 150km (owing, in part,to a wrong turning), which left us physically and mentally drained. On the plus side, we saw some unforgettable scenery and it made us really appreciate the kind hospitality we were given as we came in to the Tierney farm near Dungarvan. Our energy was restored with a delicious Irish stew and we were schooled in the rules of the highly dangerous yet incredibly enjoyable game of hurling.
The final day of riding took us from Dungarvan to Cork and gave us our first sight of Cork Harbour. We were all feeling fatigued and very stiff by now but we were still able to appreciate the beauty of the inlets we passed and the pristine beaches which seemed to go on forever. Moreover, the proximity to Cork was definitely a motivation to keep going at a decent pace.
We arrived just outside Cork by late afternoon and were given a room for the night by the genial captain of Trinity Dublin running team. We were then given our bib numbers and, after getting some information about the race the following day, we headed quickly to bed.
The big day arrived and although I was feeling some nerves I figured that if I had done 250km of cycling in three days a five-mile relay run was nothing to get worked up about in comparison. I arrived at the start line, as I had the honour of running the first leg for the team. We were arranged in order of our best times and given a countdown to the start of the race. I could feel my heart thumping as the gun fired and we were off! The race began at a fast pace: I settled into my rhythm early on and luckily the stiffness seemed to have mostly weared off. The course took us through the impressive docklands and led us right through the heart of the city. I was lucky enough to start near the head of the race and it was amazing to be clapped on by some of the marathon runners as we passed near them on our route. I found the whole experience unforgettable and the highlight of the run for me personally was when I managed to catch up with a runner in an Ireland vest. Although I was told he was coming back from injury, I was still happy to have caught up with him!
The whole experience was something I certainly want to do again in the future and I have now well and truly become hooked on Ireland as a result of the generous hospitality of the people, the beautiful scenery and the importance they give to their culture.”