Man on a mission

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“Last Saturday I drove 150 miles to Ballinrobe, did a 170k cycle, drove 150 miles back home and went to sleep for a couple of hours before getting up to do another 120k on the bike.”

So says Jim Doyle on his preparations for September’s Race Around Ireland.

Given that it’s one of the one of the toughest endurance races in the world, there’s nothing unusual in that.

Except for the fact that last Saturday was Jim’s 50th birthday. Many happy returns.

The Derry driving instructor is starting to step up his training programme for the race in which he will cycle 1,350 miles in just five and a half days.

And the true enormity of the challenge facing him is now beginning to dawn.

“I’ve no regrets about entering, none whatsoever,” he says.

“There is an element of fear, but it is a fear that you won’t finish the race.

“To do something like this you are searching for something in your life but you are not sure what it is.

“It’s about testing yourself and setting challenges that at first seem unreachable, but then being gratified to be able to reach them.”

The bald statistics of the Race Around Ireland are daunting enough.

It covers 1,350 miles with a time limit of 132 hours. That works out at 245 miles per day at an average of 10 miles an hour – if, that is, the rider doesn’t stop at all for the entire five and a half days’ duration of the race.

“Sleep deprivation is tough, but it’s amazing how little sleep you can get by on,” says Jim.

“At the minute with training around 20 hours a week and working full-time I’ve found out that you don’t need as much sleep as you think you do.

“That weekend of my birthday I went about 40 hours with just those two hours’ sleep, so the sleep bit shouldn’t be a problem during the race.

Roughly halfway through his gruelling training programme – the race is now only 12 weeks away – Jim is stepping up the intensity of his training.

He’s planning a 24-hour training session with his back-up team in a couple of weeks, beginning where the actual event will begin in Navan.

“We’ll go from there up to Belfast, to Donegal, up to Malin Head and then down to Sligo,” he explains without a blink.

“That’s about 470 miles. It takes around 11 hours to do 200 miles and they you think ‘I’ve go to keep doing this over and over again’.

“It’s only then that you get a concept of how hard the whole thing is actually going to be.”

Following that there will be a 48-hour trial.

“If I had the time and could afford it, I’d do the whole race distance because that’s the only way of knowing where you are going to have problems,” he says.

“But even then in the actual race you could hit a flock of sheep in the road, or find that the road has been dug up and the support vehicles can’t get through.

“Last year a stag stopped in the middle of the road and wouldn’t let anyone through so you can never tell what is going to happen!”

For obvious reason September’s race dominates Jim’s life at the moment, but he still has to put in the hours at the day job as one of Derry’s leading driving instructors.

He established his driving school after returning to Derry after an 11-year spell in London in 2000. He first started teaching on motorbikes in 1978 and then, after a short spell lorry driving, he began teaching in HGVs.

He estimates that in the past 30 years he has taught at least 500 driving instructors on anything from cars and buses to fork lift trucks and heavy plant machinery. Overall the people he has taught runs into thousands.

Yet sport has always been his abiding passion.

“I was thinking about this just the other day when it occurred to me while I was out riding that I’ve never been involved in sports like football, rugby or cricket,” he said.

“The things that attracted me were running, boxing, kung fu and now cycling. Sports where it is about individual achievement - in other words, something which means you don’t have to rely on anyone else.

“Cycling also gives you plenty of time to think and when I’m out on the bike I can have everything sorted out in my head which, at the minute, is all about the race.”

The decision to take on such a huge challenge only came about earlier this year.

“My friend Joe Barr did the race two years ago and after I watched the riders coming through in the race last year I had no idea that in a couple of months’ time I would be starting out to compete this time.

“But I asked Joe if he thought it was possible for someone like me - who hadn’t been involved in the sport at that kind of level - to train and compete in the race, and he said he thought it was.

“The idea of doing something that is beyond normal has always appealed to me.

“If it was normal, or too easy an achievement, I wouldn’t want to know.”

As Jim has stepped up his training in the past month, he’s had to endure one of the wettest, coldest and windiest Mays there’s been in years.

And that does not auger well for the race proper, with its strict 132-hour limit, as Jim explains.

“Historically May and September are always very similar in terms of the weather. In 2009, when Joe won it, they had perfect weather, but last year they had horrendous weather with winds and storms, so it’s not looking good for this year.

“Even in training it’s not pleasant. When you get wet in the first ten miles, you know you are going to be wet for the whole 100 miles or however long the session is going to be.”

Jim has lost over a stone and a half since marking on his training regime – even though he’s eating five meals a day, including two breakfasts.

After an early morning training session he eats porridge, three eggs and four pancakes with jam for breakfast number one followed by fruit, yoghurt and fig rolls at 11am for the second. He has pitta bread and tuna with salad for lunch with more yoghurt, tuna and rice in mid-afternoon. High energy bars get him through his second training session of the day and he has a light meal to finish around 9pm.

“On the bike I burn about 1,000 calories an hour,” he reckons, “so it’s difficult to have the time to eat enough to provide all that energy.

“At the minute my body fat is about nine percent and it will go down to six percent before I start to build it up for the race.

“Come for a spin with me and you will lose weight!”

Jim will be raising money for Children in Crossfire and is now in the process of planning several events in the run-up to the event.

There will be a fund-raising night in the Delacroix, with details to be announced soon, and other fund-raising activities around the city.

But training is still the priority – even with a family holiday to Portugal to come later in the summer.

“Not that its going to be much of a holiday for me,” says Jim.

“We’re all going but I’ll be bringing the bike with me and while they are relaxing on the beach, I’ll be up there cycling in the Portuguese mountains for ten hours a day.”

Details of Jim’s fund-raising events for Children In Crossfire will appear in the Sunday Journal when they are finalised later in the summer.