Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle Race Report

On Saturday, July 4th, I took part in the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle for the second time. This event is one of the largest mass participation sports events in Ireland, with over 11,000 cyclists taking part this year, ranging from Team Sky-clad Chris Froome wannabees on the latest ten grand carbon fibre racing machines, to OAPs with baskets on the front of their utility bikes. This event has been running since 1983, and last year alone more than €1.2 Million was raised for charity. Event entries were like gold dust for the past few months. I was taking part to help raise funds for the Kerry Hospice Foundation.

The route, the 112 mile Ring of Kerry, is one of the most beautiful roads in the world, with truly breathtaking views, even for those of us who have grown up looking at them. The downside of this is that there is quite a bit of climbing – including two very tough climbs, Coomakista, and Molls Gap.

I had a feeling I was going to find it tough this year – I had absolutely no training whatsoever done for it, and, in fact, hadn’t been on the bike since this event last year…..

I was doing this with a small group, Catherine, Anne, and Marian, and, after parking in what seemed to be the world’s muckiest field outside Killarney, we cycled in to town to the starting line just before 6am.

It didn’t take me long to discover my first problem – on the mile or so into town, I found that my rear gears weren’t working. Uh Oh, probably should have checked them before I left home. This was going to be tough enough – doing it with just two gears was unlikely to make it easier.
Fortunately for me, O’Sullivans Cycles had already set up a bike repair station at the startline, and the very helpful bike mechanic (who’s name I unfortunately can’t remember) did a brilliant job, and got my gears working perfectly in no time at all.

After this little hiccup, we set off. The first few miles between Killarney and Killorglin were like rush hour in Amsterdam – a miles-long procession of bikes and cyclists of every shape, size and colour, as far as the eye could see. From guys wearing jeans cycling rusty old mountain bikes, to chains of lycra-clad club racers whizzing by in tight draft formation, and even the odd tandem, it was an amazing sight. I found the road much busier this year – although the organisers had given suggested wave start times, it seemed that a lot of participants ignored this.

I was surprised at the amount of people who were out on the roads to cheer on the riders at this early hour, well done to them.
After 14 miles or so, we arrived in the town of Killorglin, famous for Puck Fair, and, after climbing up the very steep main street, we turned south-west, and, after a quick stop for toilets and water, headed for Cahersiveen, around 25 miles away, where the first food stop was located.

The road between Killorglin and Cahersiveen is undulating, but without any major climbs, and has some fantastic scenery, especially on the stretch overlooking the Atlantic between Dooks and Kells.

We found some stretches of the road very crowded, and it felt a little dangerous at times, with some cyclists swerving across lanes, overtaking on the inside without warning, or deciding to suddenly stop in the middle of the road to take a drink, or take a selfie, or just look at the view.

We made it as far as Foilmore, a little over halfway between Killorglin and Cahersiveen without too much drama, but, as we came down a gentle descent, I heard a shout just behind me, followed by a loud bang. I looked around to see where our group was, and could see everyone except Anne, so I pulled over at a junction, along with Catherine and Marian. No sign of Anne. We could see that there had been an accident behind us, and eventually spotted that one of the people involved was Anne.
While stopping, Catherine unclipped at the wrong side, and ended up on the floor as well, but escaped with a cut knee (and bruised pride).

Anne had gotten tangled up with another cyclist, and both had went down hard.
Anne was cut and bruised, and the other cyclist was worse. Medics were on the spot very quickly, and we eventually got Anne going again, only to discover that her large chainring was bent, so she could only use her low gears. We decided to press on to Caherciveen, where there was a bike repair station.

Anne showed great guts to get going again after her accident, and it was obvious she was in a bit of shock. I hope the other cyclist was OK as well.

We arrived in Cahersiveen without further incident, and were glad of the break. The Cahersiveen food stop was in the local school, and there was thousands of cyclists there refueling, repairing, and swapping stories.

At the Cahersiveen stop; Catherine, Anne, Marian, Me.
At the Cahersiveen stop; Catherine, Anne, Marian, Me.

We joined the queues at Coláiste na Sceilge (try pronouncing that if you’re not Irish!), which moved quite quickly – great work by the organisers – and grabbed sandwiches, biscuits, and coffee. After we’d eaten and chatted with a few people we knew, Anne got her bike fixed by one of the volunteer bike mechanics, and we were good to go.

Time to head the 32 miles or so to Sneem, for the traditional Sneem ice-cream stop. But on the way there was the dreaded Coomakista, one of the two big climbs on the Ring of Kerry.

The road to Coomakista was a mixture of relatively tough inclines, and nice fast descents, and again there was no shortage of wonderful scenery.

Coomakista came soon enough, and the road began to climb. I was expecting this to be very difficult, and I was not disappointed! It was tough, though I seemed to do better than some, as I passed quite a few people who decided to get off their bikes and walk it – this caused a few close calls as faster cyclists came up behind them and had to swerve to avoid them.

I put my head down, dropped into my lowest gear, and just got on with it. I was pleasantly surprised that I had a fair amount of strength in my legs – there’s obviously some crossover between running and cycling in terms of muscles. I pulled in once to a layby to give my legs a quick rest, and get a drink, and saw my Born to Run teammate Ted banging away on his drum with his band Samba Cuisle encouraging the cyclists on the last stretch.

Finally, with my legs burning, I reached the top of Coomakista, where I stopped for a breather, and to take some photographs.

Coomakista, Looking South towards Deenish Island and Scariff Island.
Coomakista, Looking South towards Deenish Island and Scariff Island.
Coomakista, Looking North.
Coomakista, Looking North.

The best thing about getting to the top of Coomakista (aside from the great views obviously) is that there is a very long, very fast descent – my favorite part of cycling! I loved coming down here, and let the bike go as fast as it would. It felt crazy fast at times, and if I’d had to stop, it wouldn’t have went well.

10390091_1122761014402176_8787556786619962676_nMost of the 16 miles or so to Sneem were easy enough, with the exception of one or two relatively minor climbs, and we made fairly good time. The last few miles did feel tough enough though.
There were quite a few accidents on this stretch, and we would continue to see them for the rest of the day unfortunately. Along the way we passed through some beautiful little villages, like WatervilleCaherdaniel, and Castlecove.

When we got to the lovely little village of Sneem, it was time for ice-cream, and a pause to refill water bottles and a quick trip to the toilets. I realised that tiredness was creeping in when I tried to fill my water bottle with the top still on.

Ice Cream Time
Ice Cream Time

We were soon on our way again, headed for Kenmare, the last food stop, and the final stop before the big test of Molls Gap.

I found the 16 miles or so from Sneem to Kenmare very tough, as I had last year. It’s not that there’s any particularly bad climbs – it’s mostly just undulating – but it’s probably the least visually interesting section of the route, and tiredness seems to set in here. I struggled on, making poor time, but eventually got there, and was very glad to park the bike in Kenmare.

My sister Gillian was one of the food station volunteers in Kenmare, and she and the other volunteers made sure we were well fed and watered. There was a lot of weary and sore people sitting and lying around in Kenmare – and the thought of the final climb up Molls Gap was never far from our minds.
We caught up with a good few people we knew here, including my other sister Hazel, who was supposed to start at the same time as us, but who had, true to form, shown up late!

Feeding time in Kenmare
Feeding time in Kenmare
Me, Catherine, and Hazel just before leaving Kenmare for Molls Gap
Me, Catherine, and Hazel just before leaving Kenmare for Molls Gap

After we had eaten and drank our fill, it was time to get saddled up again. By this time I was feeling fairly sore – my arse, back, and arms were all aching, and I was looking forward to reaching the finish line in Killarney. When I sat back on the bike, I thought I would have to stand up on the pedals all the way home my arse was so sore, but it seemed to get a little better after a mile or two.

The climb to Molls Gap starts almost as soon as you leave Kenmare, and there was going to be no respite until we got to the top.

I had been surprised last year by finding Molls Gap to be easier than I had expected, and it was the same this year – I think I build it up to be so bad in my mind, that the reality of it is that bit easier – must try that with my next marathon.

It took me a while, and I lost the rest of my group who pulled far ahead, but I kept it going, and eventually reached the top. What a relief it was, and what an amazing view. As far as the eye could see in both directions, cyclists either straining up towards the top, or speeding down off it.

I paused long enough at the top to refill my water bottle (which would soon have a bit of an adventure of it’s own) and then set off down towards Ladies View, and the finish line in Killarney, 14 miles away.

The route between Molls Gap and Killarney is not all downhill, but most of it is, and it is quite a steep gradient, so I went very fast on some sections. As I sped through a particularly fast section near ladies view, a cyclist I was overtaking decided to make a sudden overtaking manoeuvre of her own, without any warning. I had no choice but to dive to my right to avoid both of us being taken down, and I hit a cat’s eye on the road as I did so. My bike lifted several inches in the air, and my newly-filled water bottle jumped out of it’s holder, missing the offending cyclists head by inches as it flew by. By pure luck, I managed to stay on the bike, and cursed the other cyclist roundly. We had been going at such speed on a steep descent, that if we had tangled, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

I kept going. A few miles outside Killarney, near Muckross, there was a sudden downpour – it was one of the heaviest showers I’ve ever seen, and I was drenched to the skin in seconds. Lots of cyclists pulled over to shelter under the trees of the Killarney National Park, but I decided to keep going, as my group had said they would wait at Muckross so we all came in together (as it happened, they didn’t!).

I was soon coming in to Killarney, and there was lots of spectators out on the streets to cheer the riders in. I was delighted, and relieved, when I finally crossed the line, for my second Ring of Kerry Cycle. My group came in just a few moments before.

There was a huge crowd, and a great atmosphere at the finish line, and I met lots of people I knew. There was just enough time for a quick chat before we had to rush off to get ready to attend a post-race meal that had been organised – I did not enjoy the cycle back to the field where our car was parked!

Well done to all who completed the Ring of Kerry Cycle, to the organisers, and to the huge number of volunteers who made it possible.

The event grows every year, and this year felt noticeably busier on the road than last year – and consequently, through no fault of the organisers, it didn’t feel as safe to me, something quite a few others said as well. I wonder if it’s time to cap the numbers, or come up with some other way of easing the congestion – timed starts, where your estimated finish time decides your start time perhaps? I think something will have to be done to ensure that the event stays safe and enjoyable.

An amazing day out, on what must be the most beautiful road in the world.

Eoin and Gill
Eoin and Gill
Emma, Fiona, Gill, and Gerry.
Emma, Fiona, Gill, and Gerry.

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