Imagine entering a gruelling cycling race where new competitors have a 90% failure rate, being a newcomer, and still finishing in second place overall.
This is what Clara man Jim Fitzpatrick managed to do in the 1,356-mile Race Around Ireland earlier this month, and he still can’t believe his luck.
Well, it wasn’t all luck, of course. He did train some 19,000 miles for the event.
The race is part of the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association World Cup series, which includes other huge endurance races such as The Race Across America – and the Irish race is ranked as the toughest bike race in Europe and the second-toughest in the world, Jim noted.
That is in part because of the distance, and also because of the treacherous climbs involved, the weather and the condition of the roads, he said.
Despite a 70% failure rate for entrants who have attempted the race before, and a 90% failure rate for those attempting it for the first time, Jim managed to complete it on his first go.
“I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to be part of the 90%,” he said.
The idea of taking up the Irish challenge came to him after he took part in the 1,200-kilometre Paris-Brest-Paris race in France last year. “When I finished that I thought, ‘Well, I’ll tackle this next’,” he said.
He started out the Irish race on September 9 at 7.45am, seeded in the worst position. The route began in Trim, County Meath and went north through Drogheda and Dundalk up to the Giant’s Causeway and Malin Head, then down through Sligo, Clare and Limerick, the Ring of Kerry and Mizen Head. It continued through Cork and followed the coastline, through the mountains at Dungarvan, Waterford to Wexford and Mount Leinster, and up the major climbs of Wicklow before finishing in Navan.
The solo participants had 132 hours (five and a half days) to complete the course. Jim finished it in four days and 19 hours.
Fourteen cyclists were originally due to compete, but one had to drop out after breaking his hand. Only five of them finished, though, and Jim placed second.
So how did he do it?
“I raced my own race,” he said, “and I had a plan.”
This included a crew of eight people, including a camper van, following him around the clock through the race.
After a few days’ rest following the finish, he was still trying to get his head around the experience.
“I feel fine now, but I am still finding it hard to believe that I actually came second,” he said. “These guys would be the best cyclists in the world over long distances.”