Jim on his marks for an insane Irish adventure

Jim Doyle
Jim Doyle

For a man about to embark on the toughest challenge of his 50 years, Jim Doyle is remarkably relaxed.

One week today the Derry driving instructor sets off from Navan on the Race Around Ireland - a non-stop punishing 1,300-mile endurance marathon which will push his body to the limit.

And although he’s still recovering from the effects of an ill-timed bathroom tumble, it’s the mental challenge of racing the entire perimeter of the island inside a 132-hour time limit which is foremost in his thinking.

“I was talking to a friend of mine, Donnacha Curtis, who was the first Irish guy to do the Race Across America,” he says.

“I told him I was concerned about as the race goes on mentally looking for a reason to get off the bike.

“He said that I needed to look for the will to stay on the bike.

“In effect the will to stay on needs to be stronger than the reason to get off.

“Then my daughter Aoife came up with a brilliant idea. She said I should tape myself saying things like ‘you knew you were going to get to this point and you knew you were going to start breaking down, but there are a lot of people relying on you to finish the race and you are raising money for charity’ and that sort of thing.

“Then the crew could play it to me over a loudspeaker if I needed it.

“Just imagine that’s it’s three o’clock in the morning and lashing down with rain on the top of a mountain in Kerry. That’s going to be just enough for me to say to myself, ‘c’mon, get your act together’.

Jim’s preparations for the race - which he calls ‘My Insane Irish Adventure’ on his website - were hit by that freak accident a few weeks ago whilst on holiday in Portugal.

He slipped coming out of the shower and managed to crack a rib. His doctor told him he needed up to eight weeks rest from cycling.

“But he said ‘You’re not going to take a blind bit of notice of that, are you?’.

“Needless to say I didn’t, and I went off and won a race last week, so it can’t have been that bad, now can it?

“Under normal circumstances I might have taken it a bit easier but given the schedule I’m on, you just have to take a few painkillers and get back on again.”

The accident did curtail Jim’s plan for that week’s break in Portugal which was never going to entail much time spend lounging by the pool.

Instead he intended to spend his time cycling up and down the mountain of the Algarve.

“I did go for a ride of about 100 miles up a mountain the day after the accident and then I started to realise that it wasn’t such a good idea after all,” he says.

“So in the end I ended up missing five days on the bike and missed about 700 miles of the training I had wanted to do that week in Portugal.”

Normal service, though, was resumed on his return home when the countdown to the September 11 place on the start/finish line in Navan began in earnest.

Jim’s plan had always been to ease down on the marathon stints - including one 24-hour non-stop ride - in the run-up to the start in favour of shorter 60 to 100-mile runs.

But the day long exercise around the north west coast proved an invaluable experience.

“I rode to Sligo on my own and then the crew followed,” he says. “At one point it rained solid for about ten hours and we ran out of clothing because everything kept getting drenched and it helped put in perspective what sort of thing we can expect.

“It was around midnight that I was given some pasta to eat and I then spent the next few hours throwing up.

“Now riding a bike and throwing up at the same time is just not pleasant at all.

“What we discovered was that although I had done sleep deprivation training - being up for 50 hours at a time - I wasn’t eating at night as part of that training.

“What I should have done is eat at the times that my body was expecting food and not just because I hadn’t eaten for so many hours.

“If that had happened during the actual race, then that would have been it all over.”

As for the race itself, Jim’s meals will consist mainly of a diet of cheese and nuts.

“It might seem strange to think that you can cycle the whole way around Ireland eating nothing but cheese and nuts, but that’s what I normally eat when I am on the bike and that’s what sustains me,” he explains.

“But if you have enough of them there’s enough salt in the cheese, enough fat, enough protein in the nuts so all you need then is some carbohydrates in the form of a drink and you have enough to sustain the body.”

He’ll probably be giving the pasta carbonara a miss, then.

If money and time were no object, Jim would have already completed a trial run of the entire race in his preparations.,

But then, he says, part of the attraction of the event is that it is impossible to do that and experiencing the event for himself at first hand in racing conditions it part of the attraction.

He has been in training for a good six months and knows now that he can’t be in any better shape - his healing rib injury apart - than he is now.

So it is the mental aspect and his approach to the race which will now be the key.

“The other thing I worked out on the 24-hour run was that you cannot set out with a strategy in mind,” he says.

“Initially I thought I would go so far and then have a rest but the problem with that is that you don’t know when it is that you are going to get tired.

“You can’t sleep or rest if you are not completely tired out because your brain is still going to be working overtime.

“So now the plan is to ride from the start in Navan on the 11th for as long as we possible can and when I’m falling off the bike, then the crew will put me to sleep.

“After that we will break it down into a series of targets and goals.

“Two different riders are going to have two very different races around Ireland because you never know when you are going to need rest.

“I could do 100 miles and have back pain and need a ten minute rest or I could do 400 miles and feel great.”

The race circuit - which heads north from Navan towards Belfast and then swings round the north coast to Derry before heading down the west coast - has a series of waypoints between 40 and 80 miles apart that each rider must pass.

“We’ll use the time stations as goals or targets so we’ll try to get to the next one and then see how we feel,” says Jim.

“After that it will be about getting to the top of the next hill or around the next corner.

“You need goals and targets because if you think about the whole race as one thing then it just becomes unmanageable.”

As well as preparing mentally and physically for the challenge head, Jim has been busy raising money for Derry charity Children in Crossfire as well as making the necessary background preparations.

He’s already raised more than £1,500 for the charity with more to come during the race itself and afterwards.

Raising the cash just to be able to compete in the race and putting together the crew has been a tougher challenge.

“We started out with about 23 people interested and now we are down to eight people, but they are completely dedicated to what it is going to take,” he says.

“In the past six months I’ve sent hundreds of e-mails off looking for help and support and sponsorship for all sorts of things and I haven’t heard a thing back from most of them.

“Just the other day I had to bite the bullet and sell my best bike on e-bay to get together the money to pay for the diesel for the support crew.

“But then I bumped into an old friend of mine Chris McIlvenney, who I hadn’t seen in years and he handed me an envelope full of money to help out.

“There have been a lot of lows along the ways, but high like that outweigh them all.”

For more on Jim’s race visit http://www.racearoundireland.com/jim_doyle_2011.asp