Beyond Limits

Updated: Sep 28

WORDS | PAUL WAINWRIGHT

PHOTOS | TOMÁS MONTES, NICK ARCHER


After coming joint second in 2021 alongide Chris Pitblado, Paul Waintwright was determined to push himself even harder in this years Pan Celtic Race. This is his story, in his own words.



“You’re the favorite for this year's race, aren't you.”


It was 4 weeks to go at the Pan Celtic Gravel Rally. Although I had utilized the event and rode the brutal route in fierce weather to fit my training plan, I had enjoyed the weekend, yet that casual remark from Pan Celtic co-organiser, Rebecca Ryan changed things a bit.


Alex Boswell was also at the Gravel Rally. We rode most of the route together and had become good buddies after meeting at the PCR in 2021. He has been a massive help supplying me with some awesome custom wheels from Altcycles.cc. However, Alex Boswell was the competition, a known entity, definitely targeting the win in 2022, so he became the personification of all the competition I might encounter; the known entities and the unknown ones too.


Alex and I at the Start Line. (Photo: Tomás Montes)

It's fair to say that when we met up at registration at the PCR starting line at Celtic Camp, Pembrokeshire in South Wales, he was greeted by a Paul Wainwright with his game face on. A wall was up, I was focused and not giving anything away. At this point I couldn't pretend that just giving a good performance for myself was all I was thinking about. I was contending for the win.




Alex had remarked upon it after the race and I tried to persuade him that my attitude towards him at that time was a compliment. He is a top man and I believe he is truly happy that I got the win, and on his wheels, but back in May 2022, after Rebecca'S innocent comment, I had had a realization that had galvanized my resolve to win: maybe there was a target on my back.


THE MONTHS OF TRAINING


In January 2022, my PCR entry was in, but I had been struggling with a bad back for months. It nagged at me every day but fortunately wasn’t affecting my training as once I was on the bike it didn’t seem to bother me. I had settled into another year of increasing volume on the bike, finding time where I could. I generally rode alone in the early hours, completing a 3hr cycle commute before 8am before anyone else in the house was even up. I would fit the many hours of required riding around family life as best I could.


It soon become a standard thing that during a family trip Daddy would cycle there and we would meet up in the car park or hotel, even if the trip was 300 miles away.

When staying at the Marvel Hotel at Disneyland in February I would be out at 6am for a couple of hours training, I didn’t see anyone else from the hotel up at this time! I guess it's normal for us Wainwrights now; this is how I fit my training in every year. At times it tends to worry me how my training affects family life, when there is a bike in nearly every photograph. That said, my gang never seem to complain about it.


Training was going well but by May 2022 it is clear to me and my partner Kayleigh that I am putting high expectations on myself to perform in this year's race. It was an internal thing, the pressure comes from within. The success I aim for is to just get the best from myself. This is not unusual, I put this pressure on myself with most challenges I set myself.


I have done this over the years and Kayleigh, my incredibly supportive partner whom I’ll talk about later, has come to recognize the focus forming.


SOFT-PEDAL & HARD PLANS


It’s Saturday and although it was the official start to the Pan Celtic 2022, the 27 mile soft-pedal to the ferry at St Davids was largely irrelevant. I used the time to set myself up for the true start in Rosslare, Ireland.


This was very important; I had a plan.

The ferry to Rosslare

I would ride towards the front of the group going through Pembroke in order to get to the supermarket first and minimize faff with the other competitors. I would buy lunch and an evening meal to have on the ferry, fill the water bottles, then get on the ferry as quickly as possible.





I would only briefly socialize on the ferry, finding a quiet spot where no one would bother me. 4 hours of rest and, hopefully sleep, before a dose of coffee would put me in good stead when the ferry reached port.


Upon disembarking in Rosslare around 7pm, I was looking to ride for 30hrs with minimal stopping time.


THE RACE TO THE TARBERT FERRY


I had put a fair bit of thought and mental preparation into this first half of the race. In my tactical mind, the Tarbert ferry had the potential to be a decisive point. Whilst I thought it unlikely that anyone, including myself, would get there before the last crossing on Tuesday evening, I did consider it possible and was willing to follow anyone who tried. My aim was to get as close as possible to the crossing and get a decent rest before the 1st ferry on the Wednesday morning. I imagined that there would be some regrouping there and wanted to be the freshest on the boat.


As the ferry’s ramp lowered in Rosslare and myself and Alex shot off as soon as we were able, I wasn't sure who would follow at the pace we were going. Very quickly we flew past the women who had started before us and raced along on rough roads. A beautiful tail wind carried us for five and a half hours, ticking off a swift 100 miles.


Night fell and the as the sun came up, I ended up riding alongside a guy called David. He was young, traveling light and aspiring to catch the Friday morning ferry from Dublin, I made a mental note, “I don't want to be in a sprint for the finish with this guy!”


Mally stamping my Brevet Card at Checkpoint 1. (Photo:Tomás Montes)

I wasn't worried about Alex being up front for now. I was moving fast too, and I kept seeing him at filling his bottles at petrol stations. I was rolling in a few mins after him every time. In the afternoon heat on Monday, I finally passed Alex, David was nowhere to be seen anymore and I had no Idea who else was around. My phone had been off since leaving the starting line at Celtic Camping.



I was first to hit Checkpoint 1 and didn't hang around, purposefully keeping the pressure on those following, only just seeing Alex coming up as I descended.

Passing Alex at CP1 (Photo: Tomás Montes)

I rode deep into the evening over some amazing climbs and after descending from the Healy Pass, spotted a place to sleep. By now, I had ridden 371 miles from Rosslare. Determined to stick to my plan, I had a 4-hour sleep knowing that would give me enough rest for another long ride the next day.


Early Tuesday morning I was back in the saddle by about 3am still with no idea where other folk were. It didn’t matter. I just stuck to my own game. About an hour into my ride, I saw Alex climbing out of a hedge at the bottom of Molls Gap. I said “Hi” but just sailed on by. I had a good amount of food and full bottles so knocked off another 100 miles or more without stopping. I was really starting to like the Irish folk. Every one of them would say ‘Morning’, water bottles were always filled and the hot breakfasts in the local stores went down well, even after they had been stuffed in a cycling

short cargo pocket first.


I hadn’t seen any other riders for a while by the time I got to Checkpoint 2 in Dingle. It was here I managed to look at a laptop and, for the first time take a look at MAProgress. I was in first place, Alex was close, but there was another name not too far behind him, Ceri; who was this? I knew I couldn’t hang about, so got water, some bread and butter for my hungry cargo pockets and left.


I left CP2, and the loop around the Dingle Bay was nothing short of spectacular but I encountered headwinds for the first time. I was back in Dingle by late afternoon and my plans for getting close to the Tarbert ferry were looking good. I resupplied for the evening and next morning before leaving the town. On the road, I contacted a B&B to check that a late arrival for that evening would be okay.


I took a lot of care descending Connor Pass as the wind was literally blowing me across the width of the road. Fortunately the bottom was flat and after brief chat with Toby Willis, who had popped up in the English Consulate, I could really crack on.


At just after midnight on Tuesday, I was at the B&B tucking into concurrent bowls of cereals and looking forward to a bed knowing that I didn’t need to get up that early. Between mouthfuls I had a look at MAProgress to see what the state of play was. I had covered 300 miles and was I was now feeling pretty confident that I could do some damage to any competitors the next day. From where they were on the map it was clear that I was going to be the freshest on the boat.


A letter from Isla

I hadn’t engaged with my phone at all in this first half of the race, but in the comfort of B&B, I took the opportunity to scroll through my various inboxes. Supporters and dotwatchers were following me, a WhatsApp group with old school friends kept pinging showed that they were watching me night and day, and MAProgress was a permanent feature on the school class room boards of my daughters Isla, 9 and Ona, 6.


At the finish line, when I would look at my phone properly, I would I discover the full extent of support from family and friends, but that night, there in kitchen of a B&B in Ireland, my phone came alive with something that would motivate me to keep pushing through; a photo of a letter from Isla.


I got 5 hours solid sleep that night, and the Landlady insisted on getting up to cook me a breakfast. I left at 6.15am on Wednesday morning and to my surprise, it wasn’t long before I was joined by this mysterious new competitor, Ceri. We soft pedaled to the 7.30am ferry together in Tarbert where, at the dock, we were joined by Alex.


THE BATTLE FROM KILLMER TO DUBLIN


That morning I had a relaxed cruise of only 10 miles after a cooked breakfast. By contrast, Ceri and Alex had had to cycle through the night to get to the Tarbert Ferry, yet here we were together; after 680 miles, the three of us were in equal position. I didn’t relax on the boat, instead taking the opportunity out of the saddle to do some admin; lubricating the chain, sorting through my kit and having a good stretch. The moment we landed, I shot off the ferry and pedalled furiously along the endless lanes throughout the rest of the morning. Although it cost me a bit of time, I stopped for a good lunch and resupplied. I saw both the guys come past, but I wasn't worried; I had hatched a plan to go into the night, sleep short and try to create a gap.


I am a man who likes to sleep. Now, although I had had a decent amount up until now, at least in racing terms, I knew that the next stage of my plan could be risky. For it to succeed it was a tightrope that needed to be walked. By my estimate everyone else had put in more time on the bike in the last 12 hours then I had, but in doing so, they had been constantly awake, In theory, I was much more fresh.


If I were to power through for the next 20 hours, sleep for 2, and then go for something similar the day after, then I would either bonk or split the field of front runners,


It was a bit far from Dublin to say if this would all work out, but the promise of a Friday night ferry was dangling carrot too tempting not to try for.

I passed Ceri and Alex on the road soon after my lunchtime stop. I didn't slow to talk much, some passing pleasantries at the most. I noticed that Alex didn't look too good, and as it turns out he wasn't feeling too good either. I got a message from home later explaining his situation. I was sad for him losing ground but he was safe and I imagined he would just need a bit of time to rest. I didn't count him out as just missing a ferry at Dublin would give the next people on the road 12 hrs to catch up. I knew Alex would keep the dream alive with this knowledge.


I was now becoming concerned about the threat of Ceri; he seemed to have batteries that just wouldn’t run out. I cycled 260 miles on that Wednesday and did eventually manage to pull away enough to form a 50 mile gap between us and rewarded myself with the 2 hours of sleep that I had planned.


By racing through the night, you tend to miss things in the dark, like the gorgeous Irish scenery you’d otherwise appreciate in the daylight. However, what you lose there, you get back tenfold in the form of incredible sunrises like one I was blessed to experience that morning in Connemara. It was a freaking amazing place, and I can’t wait to get back out that way.


(Photo: Tomás Montes)

Despite the inspiring start to Thursday, my brain was on a bit of a go slow. I rode on, doing nothing but taking in the scenery. It was only when I found breakfast and started to wake up that I started doing the math. Working it over and over in my mind, I calculated an ETA to Dublin 450 miles away. My short-term memory and mental agility had been somewhat affected by the lack of sleep and rest, and constantly concentrating on forward progress and minimizing unnecessary stopped time since leaving Rosslare four days ago.


On the Achill Island there was a familiar scene. A film crew and a drone started to follow me as I struggled up a particularly steep hill. Later a camera stalked me around a supermarket in the same manner as the PCR 2021 race movie. I had not seen anyone familiar for two days and it was nice to see the guys. I remember shouting out to Toby that I was literally counting every five mins of progress towards Dublin, aiming for that Friday night ferry. He seemed genuinely excited.


I got back on the road and fell back into the repetition of pushing onward. Pedal stroke after pedal stroke, I kept crunching the numbers. It dawned on me that the perfect situation was starting to form. I was 300 miles out from Dublin and could potentially arrive at the port with two hours to spare. If Ceri couldn’t close the gap, then he wouldn't be on the ferry with me.


The only problem was that there a very good chance that Ceri probably could close the gap; I really needed sleep.


I had one voice in my head telling me that he probably did too, and another suggesting that, thank to those seemingly inexhaustible batteries of his, he could go without.


Thursday evening drew in and I took the time to form a new strategy. There was a hostel in a place called Easky on Booking.com with a bed in a shared dorm for only 25 euros. I knew I wouldn't be there long but I needed a target for the rest of Thursday, and a distance to calculate Fridays schedule from, the bed was extra to this. I worked the maths and decided that regardless of the time I that arrived at Easky, I would be leaving on Friday morning at 1.15am with 220 miles to cover.


Having done 260 miles, I arrived at about 11pm. It was self service entry and the bike was stored in the kitchen while I filled the bottles and ate some complementary cereals. I set three alarms so I could not possibly sleep through them. I woke before any of them and was on the road on schedule.


I checked MAProgress at some point in the morning. The 50 mile gap between Ceri and I had had grown a bit, but by lunchtime it had shrunk a bit. I was confident of reaching the ferry on Friday night, but I wasn't sure that I would be alone. There was nothing I could do about Ceri, I just had to wait and see. I was consistently doing the miles in the time I needed to and was actually managing to buy a bit extra. My legs were doing fine but the eyes were getting heavier.


It was a struggle to complete the final 75 miles in the blistering afternoon heat and I was in a bit of a delirious state by the time I arrived in Dublin.

There seemed to be a load of cyclists having a street party at the port. It turns out they were fellow riders, doing the short route who had been kicking about ages. They were fed, in much better shape than I was and seemed excited to be with me. I relaxed; it was very nice being back with the clan after days of solitude.


I treated my myself to McDonalds and looked see where Ceri was. He had stopped and was definitely not able to make the check in time.


I not only had my first finish line, but the energy to get me there too. I had made it.

A VERY WELCOME SIGHT


I slept on the ferry, and when it docked, I wasn’t racing to get off. I was no real rush and happily watched the short route guys pedal off ahead of me. Once I was back on the bike, it took a good while to get the legs moving again. I think that they were kind of saying to me, ‘We don't need to work too hard now, so we are not going to bother’.



A mate who lives on the route came out to see me as I rode by, so I had a good 20-minute chat with him. The film crew were following me, so I had a chat with them too. It wasn't just the legs that were taking their time to wake up, the brain was in a lower gear too; I am not sure what I was talking about to the filmmakers, but I hope that they got some decent footage to put some music over!


My welcome party

As I finally entered Llandudno, I saw my car and in it were my three loyal supporters. The girls had got up out of their comfortable hotel beds at 4am to see me at the finish. The sight of them re-energized me; I needed to get it done. They went off towards the Pan Celtic HQ and I set off for my loop of the Great Orme. With the sun rising lazily to my right, I completed the final ride around the coastal road, dropped back down into the town and across the finish line.


Here were the best hugs ever and maybe a little leak from my eyes. Job done.


It may have been me who had turned the pedals and maintained the focus, but there was a team with me the whole way, my girls and, of course, Kayleigh.


Team Wainwright

I don’t have the words to express how much it means to me to have her support, and we are not talking about the general acceptance that I take on these personal challenges, ‘Yes dear, get off and ride your bike”. It's the endless conversations that occur in the weeks running up to the event. At one point we had an A2 size paper out with a flow chart drawn detailing the scenarios and possible outcomes of the first 500 miles to the Tarbert ferry. She always fully engages with me and helps me think things through.


She could probably do without it, but she helps me anyway. In the week before the race that I had taken off work, I was in a Pan Celtic daze. The bike was serviced, bike bags and kit were packed and repacked, I would be sitting with a coffee with google maps open zooming in and out on Ireland and the route I would take. I was constantly mentally preparing and planning, and during this time, someone did the school runs, the kids clubs and the shopping. That person was Kayleigh.



FROM BEING THE DOT TO WATCHING THEM


The best thing about finishing early in these events is that you are then able to greet the other riders as they come in and listen to their stories. Of course, it's nice to be asked about your own winning tales, but you were there for that and other peoples adventures are more interesting. The Pan Celtic finish line is an awesome place; Rebecca greets you with a hug, with coffee, beer, or cake and even a cute dog for your children to play with. It's a unique, relaxing and a place where we are all equal. Riders, Family, Supporters, Event Crew, Cake Makers, Winners and Scratchers. We have all traveled to that place therefore we all have stories to tell.



It’s not possible to stay there indefinitely though. I had to make my way home and back to real life. I watched the dots for the rest of the week, enthralled by the incredible efforts of people that had kept going, right into the following Saturday, a full seven days after I arrived at the finish.


Chapeau to the Lanterne Rouge group!


@paul.waitwright.121

@arrieredupeloton

@pancelticraceseries

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