a type of long-distance road cycling event in which participants must navigate a route within a specified period of time.
When I first heard about the Wild Atlantic Way Audax in the autumn of 2015, it seemed like the next (huge) step challenge for me, since I had gone about as far as I could in a day (a 450km ride round all the lakes in Northern Ireland, passing through all nine counties of Ulster). A multi-day challenge, testing stamina as well as strength, while cycling through beautiful and wild landscapes, it had so much to offer. Despite lacking the criteria necessary for entry (having completed a multi-day audax of 1200km), my entry was accepted. I was in!
I started training in earnest in January, tackling my first 200km ride of the year on 11th, and notching up 800km that month. I continued training as Easter approached, but by the end of March, during which month I rode 1600km, I was properly tired. Yes, I could get on the bike and ride, but I didn’t feel the reserves of power that I normally experienced. In addition to this, I was no longer enjoying my cycling.
At the end of March I did two audaxes of 200km on consecutive days, to see how the stamina was going. It took quite a lot out of me, more so on the first day, when I rode the first part of the route too fast in the company of another cyclist, and then completely ran out of energy half way round. It seemed that I still had a mountain to climb to get anywhere near the stamina levels I would require to ride in and complete the WAWA.
This constant tiredness, together with the thought of how much better I still needed to be, combined to produce a toxic negativity in my head, to the extent that the Tuesday morning following a 200km audax in April I wrote to Eamon, the organiser, to signal my withdrawal from the event. I subsequently went out and really enjoyed a 100km ride which took in several thousand metres of climbing. The penny dropped as to how much the enormity of the WAWA challenge had got into my head.
In his wisdom, Eamon didn’t accept my withdrawal on the spot, but suggested I wait and see how he and four others got on when they rode the WAWA a couple of weeks later. Work then kept me off the bike for several weeks, and so gave my body the time it needed to recover. By the time of my next audax at the end of the month my head was back in the right place and I was good to go!
Watching Eamon and the others riding the WAWA on a live tracking website was another eye opener, since I had calculated in my mind that I could get 6-7 hours sleep a night if I got my speed right. These vastly more experienced Randonneurs were only getting 3 or 4 hours! How was I, who normally likes my eight hours, going to cope with that little sleep? True, I was getting more used to waking at 4am to drive to the start of an audax in the middle of Ireland somewhere, but that was just for one day, with time to recover afterwards. Another doubt entered my mind, but not enough this time to make me pull out.