Kevin Dooney embarked on a new challenge over the festive period, cycling 500km over eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

The comedown from big races and the end of the season is always tough to navigate. The end of this cross country season was no different.

After working for the better part of six months towards the European Cross Country Championships it was hard to know what to do once they had come and gone. With no races for six weeks and the festive season to get through it would be tough to keep some semblance of routine in my life, which I find very important to keeping myself on an even keel.

In the absence of any running goals to immediately work towards and recognising that I couldn’t simply go straight back into miles and tempo runs I decided to embark on a new challenge.

I had heard of the Rapha Festive 500 (cycling 500km over eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve) before, but never seriously considered it until jokingly mentioning to my brother Conor at some point in November.

We went back and forth on whether it was actually a good idea or not, ultimately deciding that it would be worthwhile taking on.

Realistically this form of recovery was something more needed for my mind than my body. I knew that whenever I started training for the next phase that would be it. Running would become the all-consuming priority again and there’d be little room for much else.

I equally knew that in mid December I wasn’t quite ready to take this dive just yet. So over the course of the past week, I decided to give myself a new test, something not defined by running. A task to accomplish where performance wasn’t measured just a journey to go on and enjoy the scenery along the way.

On our bikes we went

Starting out on Christmas Eve the goal was simple, log 500km on the bike between then and New Year’s Eve. Eight days, 500km, an average of slightly over 60km per day. Before the month of December, I hadn’t used the bike for anything more than getting to work and training or running errands.

After a relatively easy 82km on the first day I figured the whole thing would be very manageable. This attitude changed rapidly the following day when half way through a cycle in the Wicklow Mountains I began to question every decision I have ever made in my life that has led me to that point.

Spending my Christmas Day grinding up a hill in my lowest (but still not low enough) gear, with a driving headwind and misty rain making visibility close to zero was a battle unlike anything I have experienced before.

This wasn’t about how long it took; it was simply about getting over the hill with a back that was tightening up with every pedal stroke.

I was quickly realising that while the second hand road bike I bought when I was sixteen was a great purchase, the optimism of the man in the shop who said I would grow into the frame was greatly misplaced.

The bike remains about two sizes too big, something that only added to the fun of the whole journey. Conor sensed my anguish, probably because I kept complaining about it, and was good enough to let me ride his new bike home while he took over my bike. He also knew that me completing the cycle on my machine could have been the end of my Festive 500.

We were kinder to ourselves the following day and stayed on flat roads but also taking in parts of Dublin and Kildare I had never visited before, something the bike gives much more scope for doing than running.

A ride in the dark was necessary on the 27th given our work and other commitments, but watching the sunrise over Dublin Bay from the Summit of Howth is another opportunity I’m very thankful to have experienced this past week.

Then there were four cyclists

The next day was one that really made me appreciate all that is good about sport and the possibilities it can create. While doing our S&C session in Sports Med Ireland in the morning, Donie our physio put us in touch with Olympic silver medallist in sailing Annalise Murphy who was also attempting the Festive 500.

A brief exchange of messages led to a 12:30 meet up in Enniskerry being set up. Annalise was cycling with Olympic triathlete Bryan Keane, and so the two groups not knowing each other beforehand combined and set off into the hills.

Over the next three hours, Conor and I were able to listen to and share stories with two people who have competed at the absolute highest levels of their sports, all while sharing in a passion that is not a speciality for any of us. As we cycled deeper and deeper into Wicklow eventually it was decided that after our coffee and cake stop we needed to turn for home.

With over 100km completed on a day where we probably planned on doing half the distance the power of company really shone through.

Having the opportunity to share in a sporting community other than a running one and learning along the way is something I will remain incredibly grateful for.

The challenge was rounded off with a handy 80km around Waterford and finished at the pub for much earned celebratory pints. Despite new pains in my back and quads, the change of scenery from running was just what I needed. As the old saying goes, a change is a good as a rest.

Now, after a week off the feet and in the saddle, I feel fully ready to head into the new year of running. There are some big changes coming up and hopefully many more challenges to overcome along the way.

And so here ends my blog writing for 2018. Thank you to those who have followed along throughout the year and & to Fast Running for giving me the platform to share my stories.

I’m sure I’ll continue the writing in 2019 and hopefully find a place to share it with whoever cares to read. Until then have a happy New Year.

Kevin Dooney features in the ‘Fast 10: class of 2018’ and over the course of the year will share his running journey. You can read Kevin’s previous posts here and further information about the ‘class of 2018’ can be found here.

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