Personal revolution on Tour de Ring

Some felt it in their hearts, some read it on their heart rate monitors.

But more than 8,200 people found their own sense of personal achievement on crossing the finishing line of the Ring of Kerry charity cycle.

There were old people, there were people with disabilities and there were blind people on tandems. There were people in jeans and old, heavy bikes breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the scenery. And there were the guys with top of the range carbon frames and lycra who desperately sought approval from the digits registered on their speedometers.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was there and said completing the 180km route was a personal goal he had set for himself at the start of the year. He was joined by his 17-year-old son Ferdia, Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan and Junior Education Minister Ciaran Cannon.

But the wonderful thing about it is that whether you are leader of the country or a struggling civilian, the hills treat everyone equally.

I took part in my fifth Ring of Kerry Cycle, with my dad doing his 10th. We were up at 6am with hundreds of others wheeling their bikes around the hotel lobby, checking everything was in order, stuffing their pockets with energy bars and filling water bottles. Nervous tension, excitement and a strong smell of Deep Heat filled the air.

We set off at around 7. The first 60km are a warm up really: finding your pace, getting over the nerves and having a bit of a chat along the way.

The hard work only really begins after the first feed station in Cahersiveen. This was a true example of volunteerism in action. Feeding 8,000 people is as credit worthy as cycling 180kms.

Shortly after the break comes the first climb, the Coomacista pass. The road begins to gradually drag before you find yourself tackling the steep hill. The view from the summit will take your breath away — if you have any left in your lungs.

Next stop was at An Siopa Dubh the pub in Castlecove which, to me, has the best atmosphere on the route. A few brave souls chance a pint out front where music is playing and people are cheering. Inside, a bike is turned upside down, being examined.

The lady of the house can usually give a breakdown of who passed at what time. The first person went by at 5.30am she tells me. Enda Kenny has not yet passed — there is a poster up outside to welcome him.

Not far before Sneem, I chat to a man who tells me he has done every Ring of Kerry cycle since 1985. There were only around 50 people then, compared with 8,200 yesterday.

It was a bit of a talking point along the way and at the finish line: Were there too many people in this year’s Ring of Kerry? It was great to see such a mix of abilities. But the down side of this was that it resulted in risky behaviour by some cyclists who neglected the fact that it was a charity cycle and treated it as a race.

Between Sneem and Kenmare, I was behind an English girl when a club came behind and started over taking on both the inside and the outside. One of them clipped her wheel and she wobbled before coming to a fall.

It’s strange that time goes by in a flash when you are happy on a bike, but something like a crash happens in slow motion. As she came down, I crashed into the back of her and was thrown to the opposite side of the road. I was not hurt but it was frightening, especially with a jeep coming down the road.

My spirits were soon back up. The good banter from other cyclists and supporters along the way is a great help. From Kenmare we slowly climbed up Molls gap. It is 10kms of pain. One man who met Enda Kenny on the climb took the advice of the Taoiseach who told him to put the head down and do the work to reach the top.

There’s great celebration at the summit. The worst is over and it’s down hill all the way back into Killarney, with stunning views of the Black Valley and glistening lakes. But the real party begins when we cross the finishing line. Our bodies might be battered and bruised but our souls are elevated. And that’s one thing the heart rate monitors and speedometers can’t measure.

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