Why Mizen to Malin?
Mizen Head is the most Southerly point in Ireland and Malin Head is the most northerly. As the crow flies, the two points are 466 km (290 mi) apart but you end up covering around 600km sticking to the road network. Many cycling clubs use Mizen to Malin as a challenge to raise funds for charity and most choose to cover it over 3-5 days.
I am a member of a club called Annagh Wheelers and 20 years ago a group from the club managed to complete the challenge in just under 24 hours. We decided to try it again in 2018. Our main objectives were
- To cycle from Mizen to Malin in less than 24 hours.
- To get a group of 13 cyclists over the line safe and sound
- Get our support staff and equipment there safely.
- Take 10 x 10 minute breaks along the way.
- Average 27.5kph.
- Arrive as a group and try not to do too much arguing along the way
Annagh Wheelers is a very active club so any member signing up had plenty of miles in their legs. Our target date was June 03rd and most members had cycled 4000km plus for the first 5 months of 2018. We also did some long cycles, 250km+ during April and May and most weekends included a 200km+ cycle. Some members also did a small amount of night cycling. Personally, I had covered 5000km between Jan and May and had completed around five 200km+ cycles.
No special diets were followed. We all have work and families and we had to live life as normal. We did make sure to eat and hydrate well in the days leading up to the event. During the long cycles leading up to the challenge, I made sure to have food breaks similar to the ones planned for the challenge which were 10 min stops every 2 hours.
Planning and Preparation
It is easy to get a route plan for Mizen to Malin as many cycling clubs publish information online. This is the route we picked and you can see the location of the 10 food stops.
However, make sure you do some research in advance and watch out for planned roadworks or other events. We arrived in Derry to find that the city center was closed due to a marathon event. Not a lot we could do but we should have known in advance. Diversions or delays can be very costly.
Check the locations for your food stops and make sure there is enough space to pull in off the road and that you will have permission to do so. We had a stop in a school car park and we got questioned if we had permission to do this.
We set up a WhatsApp group which was useful for sharing info. All cyclists and support staff were added to this group. We also had 4 meetings which were well attended, a weekly meeting was held in the 2 weeks leading up to the challenge. Ideally, you should have a list of who is responsible for calling and chairing each meeting. It cannot be the same person unless someone volunteers.
Our plan was to do the route from south to north and we booked Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel & Spa months in advance. This was approx 30km from the finish. They gave us a great deal and the staff were super friendly. However, a week before we were to do the challenge the wind was forecast to come from the North and we made a backup plan. Found a hotel in Bantry and made a provisional booking. We finally decided on the direction to take 3 days before the event.
What You Need: Support Staff and Vehicles
A group sub-24hr Mizen to Malin cycle needs a lot of support. It can be just as hard driving and moving food boxes around as it is cycling. For our challenge, we had 1 van and 3 cars plus another van joined at the halfway point.
One support vehicle stayed with the cyclists at all times and had a flashing orange beacon plus warning signs affixed. This car also carried spare wheels, tubes, spare bike and toolkit. The other cars were used to ferry food boxes around and each had a driver and passenger. Support staff changed roles every 4 hours so that no one was stuck doing the same job.
Two of our support staff joined the cyclists at various times to provide some fresh legs to keep the pace up and they were someone new to talk to.
One thing to watch out for is that you may need to hire a minibus to transfer a large group of 10+. Most vans will only have 2-3 seats. In our case we had to hire a taxi to drop a group to Mizen and then collect them again in Malin. Make sure you factor this into your costs.
Test out your bike racking system in advance. We managed to fit around 10 bikes into a high roofed Transit. Othe bikes travelled to the start point on car-bike carriers.
What You Need: Equipment
Each cyclist was responsible for getting their bikes prepared. It was recommended that everyone fitted new tyres and this paid off as we had no puncture on the day. As well as a bike each cyclist was recommended to bring:
- Spare tubes (2-3 each)
- Spare wheels. As some bikes were disc and some were rim braked we went with a set per cyclist
- A spare bike. We did not need one for everyone and went with a spare medium and large framed bike.
- Mud guards (rear for rain)
- Night lights (front & back) – 2 of each, need spares !!
- 2 bottle holders & 4 bottles (2 on bike & 2 at stops – labeled)
- Track pump
- Power packs to recharging phones and Garmins.
- 2-3 sets of cycling shorts and tops
- Rain jacket and Gillet
- Arm and leg warmers
- Bike helmet, shoes with good cleats, gloves, sunglasses
- Sun cream and fly repellant. We did not bring the fly repellant which was badly needed for one food stop.
- Toliet paper
- I double wrapped my handlebars with bar tape and it worked well. A lot more cushion for my hands. Something I noticed on bikes participating in the Paris Roubaix cycle.
What You Need: Food
Each cyclist was assigned a clear plastic box and they were responsible for filling this. Each box was numbered and boxes were placed in order at the food stops. In our case, the weather was warm so we had to avoid certain foods which may have spoiled. I brought along wraps, cans of coke, biscuits, fruit, and sweets.
Support staff did prepare some warm food at certain stops and they also provided tea\coffee where possible. However, plan that each cyclist is self-sufficient and the warm food comes as a bonus.
You can not bring too much water. A local company sponsored 100 500ml bottles of water and we used them all 80% into the challenge.
Also, don’t forget to pack a few beers for celebrating at the end of the cycle!
Other Equipment Required
- Kitchen Roll, wipes, bin liners etc..
- Cutlery – knives, forks, spoons etc… Cyclists should have a spoon in their food box.
- Kettle, pots, bowls, pans etc…
- Hob and gas cylinder
- 20L drum of water (washing up)
- Fold up table x 2
- Deck chairs. One for each member of support
- Gazebo (3x3m). Optional, depending on weather
- Hi-viz vests
- Medical kits x 2
- Inverter x 2 & extension leads. Optional, we used gas for cooking and got hot water from services stations.
- Cooler for drinks
- Beacons \ warning lights x 2
- Loud bell for notifying cyclists that food stop is closing
We had agreed in advance that cyclists would cover all costs for food, equipment, and support. We decided on €200 per cyclist which was put into a kitty a week before the event. This cash was then used to buy what we needed and to cover costs like diesel during the event.
Saturday, June 02nd
- 10:30 Cars and support vans departed for Cork
- 15:00 Everyone met for dinner in Bantry
- 17:00 Arrived at Mizen Head
- 18:00 Cycle started
Saturday, June 03rd
- 17:23 cyclists arrived in Malin Head
- Stayed for an hour at Malin Head getting pics and drinking beers
- 20:30 dinner in hotel to celebrate
During the cycle, you need to be super efficient with the food stops. Our plan included 10 ten minute stops. We had a large brass bell which was rung when there were 2 minutes remaining and it was rung again when it was time to get moving. Any cyclist who was delayed had to work back to the group. We had one chaotic food stop around 10pm when the cyclists and support staff were surrounded by midges. The 10 minutes were spent running around trying to stop them biting. Maybe fly repellant would have helped.
Make sure you get through Derry at a quiet time
If you are aiming to complete Mizen to Malin in a quick time, make sure you get through the city of Derry during an off-peak time. There are limited bridges over the River Foyle which passes through Derry. We got it wrong and arrived at a very busy time with half the city shut down to cater for a marathon. We lost a fair bit of time and most of our support vehicles were held up for ages. For a fast time you really need to be passing through Derry early morning or late evening.
- Mizen Head
- Malin Head
Areas For Conflict
People get tired on events like Mizen to Malin and conflicts can develop. However, if you follow some basic rules you can avoid most of them. Try and avoid:
- Inefficient up and overs – accelerating & not rolling to the front
- Not staying 2 mins at the front. Our plan was 2 mins at the front and then roll over.
- Gaps at the front, middle etc.
- Surging and accelerating
- Half wheeling
- Not following the wheel in front, drifting all over the road
- Not calling potholes, loose gravel, car backs etc.
- Ignoring those behind you at junctions, roundabouts, the crest of hills, etc.
At many times during the day, cyclists started flagging. Very important that they let this be known so that the group could adjust. Don’t assume someone else will shout out on your behalf. If someone had continued to slow down then hope they have the maturity to hop into the support vehicle, thankfully we did not come to this stage.
We had a few unscheduled toilet stops. In most cases, the whole group stopped but for a few the cyclist stopped and then got back by following the support car. The same would have applied for breakdowns if the cyclist was strong enough they could cycle back to the group, if not then they would hop into the support vehicle, get sorted and get dropped out 2-3 km up the road
My Personal Top Tips
- Many cyclists do this for charity. I was personally fundraising for the Mayo Roscommon Hospice and I found myself really busy. My advice is that if you are going to fundraise be careful you don’t set too high of a target or else the fundraising will impact on your preparation.
- The start line is a busy place. Give yourself plenty of time to get togged out and get bike ready. Don’t forget to take a few pics
- Expand the WhatsApp group mentioned earlier to include family so that they can stay up to date on progress
- Don’t worry too much about average speeds. Have a time to aim for to get to each food stop but try and make up as much time as possible. If the wind is on your back, use it and cycle 30kph+. We had about an hour to spare heading into the last 50km and we really needed it
- Be efficient at the food stops. Priority is to feed and get your bottles refilled. However, you may need to fit lights and include a toilet break. I spent too much time fitting lights at one stop and ended up back on the bike without taking enough food on board.
- Always have a pack of sweets (wine gums) or something you can nibble on. If you feel an energy low they are handy to have
- Everyone will have a low point, battle through it as they are usually short-lived
- Change your bike shorts even if they don’t get wet. You feel a bit better after it
- Celebrate at the end, have a beer and take a few pics. It is not every day you complete the Mizen to Malin challenge!
How did we do….
The challenge was a success and we completed the cycle in 23 hours 23 minutes. All 13 cyclists who started completed the challenge which was a remarkable achievement. The video below shows the last 1km as you approach Malin Head.
I would like to thank my club members who participated in the event. We all helped each other on the day. A massive thanks too to all the support staff. Without them, it would have been a failure. The video below shows us reaching the finish line at Malin Head.
I did some fundraising in the lead up to the challenge. Main parts were an online donation link and I also ran a 25 card game. As of July 13th 2018, I have raised €8050 for the Mayo Roscommon Hospice.
If you want to raise funds for a similar challenge my advice is to not to depend on online activities only. Host a quiz, set up a turbo trainer outside a supermarket. Do something where people gather and use this to promote your online efforts.