by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Anecdotally, cycling has overtaken golf as the sport of choice for the C-suite. The corporate world has figured it’s less personally humiliating to be a sluggish rider than an useless hacker. After all crowds don’t stand and shout “get in the hole” as you throw your leg over your all-carbon fibre Trek the way they watch with pregnant, expectant silence at the tee box on the first hole. Plus with road biking you get to let it all hang out and wear the lycra and corporate types, clearly, have developed a fondness for its firm synthetic feel.
So if you’re a corporate type in lycra and want to break the 100k in a day and elevate your riding to new heights then think about tackling the Ring of Kerry. The official Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle (Saturday, July 1) is well sold out by now but your PA might just be able to rustle up a registration through your extensive network. Here’s an account, in the first person, of what it’s like.
Killarney Park Hotel – 04:00
A thin frame of bright light leaks out in the gap between the heavy drapes and the wall of the room. You reach for the phone. 4:30am. Too early. Far too little sleep for what lies ahead. You turn from the light. Then back again. And again. By 5am you’ve admitted defeat and you rise.
You’ve laid out your kit already like a warrior preparing for battle. Getting into lycra is a challenge at any time but in the dim half light when you’re trying not to wake the Sleeping Beauty it’s damn near impossible. You abandon operations and head for the lighted loo. Soon you’re set.
06:15 Killarney Town Centre
At 6:15 Killarney it’s busier than Dublin airport on a Monday morning. While the official start isn’t until 7:30 hundreds of lyrca clad men and women, many sporting the official shirt, are already passing under the start sign and embarking on this monumental 180km cycle. Spirits are high and chat flows easily as crowds freewheel through the brightly sunlight town, heading out past Pugin’s splendid spire into the magnificent mystery of a scenic circuit that has delighted millions including Queen Victoria herself.
It’s pleasantly downhill as far as Killorglin. The mountains are harmlessly resplendent in the rising sun, betraying no sense of how, shortly, they’ll tame your hubris and cure you of any false belief that this is an easy ride. You take the steep incline through the heart of Killorglin and experience the first pangs of pain. You drop quickly to the granny wheel pretending it’s all so easy and push on to Glenbeigh as the skies grow grayer.
08:00 – somewhere out there
50km and you’re still buoyed up by the sense of occasion. You relax into the moment and take in the awesome scenery. The gifts of the Holy Spirit come into your mind. From confirmation class, more than 40 years ago. “Wonder and awe in God’s presence”. That’s what this scenery inspires in you. The purity of that thought, however, is quickly supplanted by another. A baser consideration prompted by physiological needs. Adrian admits he never knew orange juice was a diuretic.
By Cahirsiveen you’re all ready for the full Irish. The foreign waitress at the Ring of Kerry Hotel recognises you from last year and 3 middle aged men, evenly balanced both sides of 50, light up like 16 year olds. You eat greedily, your body craving calories. Over 70km done, only 110km to go. Time to move on.
About 10:30 – heading for Waterville
Joining the oncoming bike traffic is like merging at a busy junction on the M50 such is the volume and intensity of the flow. This year over 10000 have officially registered and that doesn’t include the “squatters” who don’t register.
The way up Coomakista is rendered shorter thanks to a lovely conversation with a great character from Killarney. Before long you’re half way up and feel no pain. It’s satisfying to look back and see the spiral path up the side of the mountain. Now it’s misty and you’re glad you’re wearing two layers against the chill of the climb. You reach the summit and keep going, delighting in the easy freefall on to Derrynane. Under grey and gloomy skies the monochromatic scenery takes your breath away, all mystery and magic like a vintage black and white photograph.
Then it’s a blur into Sneem as the peaceful easy feeling of free fall gives way to painful hard labour on that final, nasty drag before the village. Nobody is saying anything now but the intensely irritating cycle clubs continue to weave past you with the ungracious arrogance of snowboarders on a ski slope. Sneem is magnificently chaotic with thousands of tired riders resting and refuelling . Spirits are rising again with 3/4 of the circuit complete although we’re apprehensive about being fried on Moll’s Gap as the sun makes its first appearance since early morning in Killarney.
About 14:00 – sun up again
From Sneem onwards you’re saddle sore and road weary. It’s the part you least like but you chat with Martin and the kilometres roll gently by. You reassemble in Kenmare and make final preparations for the the climb to Moll’s Gap. The sun is back and lights up the landscape like a garish John Hinde postcard from the 60s.
You crawl upwards feeling the full impact of having endured 150km in the saddle. Not a word is spoken except for occasional words of encouragement. You round the corner and see Moll’s in the hazy distance, a target that now you believe you can reach. Strength comes back to you for the final kilometres and you reach the summit relieved but exhilarated.
Moll’s to Killarney is always more difficult that you imagine. After the initial rush downhill there are a couple of uphill drags and you feel them on your calves. You reassemble above Ladies View and take the picture that paints a thousand words.The endorphins rise to greet a gracious vista that has beguiled men and women for centuries. All pain goes away as you attack the long and winding road that leads you home.
The finish line is in the town centre and the final kilometres along the Muckross Road feel like a lap of honour. Musicians are positioned on the Laune Bridge and there’s a great Samba band at the finish line. Great event planning ensures you can park up your bike, get your certificate of completion and, importantly, eat some barn brack, a traditional staple of the Ring of Kerry. You head back to the Killarney Park and laze in the sun filled garden enjoying a long cold pint of Bulmers.
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training.