Disappointed that the 40th Great North Run was postponed subsequently postponing the planned Rugby ‘Try’, another challenge was born. A group of 11 made up the peloton cycling 410 miles round Northern Ireland over three days, called ‘The Long Weekend’.
Some of the group have lost friends and family to MND so despite the pandemic the group were determined to make the event happen. The hotels booked for both nights remained open and were looking forward to welcoming the group.
We left the Royal Belfast Golf Club at 6am on Friday 16th October heading to Castlederg, but the group was nearly down to 10 after 1 minute! The most prepared in the group, Jeff had his bike serviced that week, but a technical fault after 5 metres meant he had to utilise the spare bike. The spare bike lasted a further 5 miles before Jeff was ready to throw it into Belfast Lough. A very understanding wife managed to get his original bike repaired and the van collected this from Ballymena. The group left Belfast and headed to Carnlough for the first stop of the day, on our way just behind schedule we stopped for lunch at Royal Portrush Golf Club for soup and sandwiches before back on the bikes heading West towards Derry / Londonderry where we re-fuelled for the ‘short’ 30 mile cycle into Castlederg. We were welcomed by the hospitality of Olga at the Derg Arms where a Guinness or two waited for us.
The Saturday started at 7.15am where the short ‘kicker’ climb was forgotten with the welcome sight of a wonderful sunrise over Fermanagh and the Lakes. A couple of short coffee breaks before we stopped off at Lisnaskea for lunch. The planned route was revised to avoid Monaghan Rugby Club as we felt that if we stopped for a quick coffee a Guinness or two might have appeared, so we headed for a short incline into Keady. Many of the group were taking the flack for the route change as the climb nearly broke many of the peloton! We temporarily ‘lost’ Stewart Porter, but we found him ‘off route’ no water and needing some food. Back to a full quota of 11 we arrived at Warrenpoint long after dark and slightly concerned the bar had closed. Thankfully, the van driver and Michael had 33 pints of Guinness lined up!
The lack of sleep due to a container ship being loaded all through the night and a slight winter shower did not damper spirits as we started day three at 7.25am. Following the coast into Newcastle and via Ardglass we arrived at Strangford to discover the ferry had a technical fault and was not sailing. Thankfully, they managed to get the fault repaired and after some lunch we landed into Portaferry for the ‘ceremonial’ 45 miles up the outside of the Ards Peninsula. The first fall of the weekend on a tight corner required some first aid but both riders dusted themselves down and we were on our way again. Determined to get the planned miles we took a detour over Craigantlet Hills before arriving back at Royal Belfast in glorious sunshine where some prosecco and chocolates were waiting for the team.
Many of the group only met the previous week and although we left as strangers we arrived back as friends with great memories, stories and a sense of achievement all for a great cause. Our small part to help raise awareness and funds continues.
Stu Thom (Organiser)
Age 49. From Edinburgh, Scotland but living in Belfast since 2015.
Cycling & Rugby. Walking or running with our two dogs. Reading sporting autobiographies.
Chief Executive of Royal Belfast Golf Club.
I have been a supporter of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation for three years. Originally from Melrose in the Borders hence the connection with Doddie.
Always like to push the boundaries for the events I plan. This will be a great way of seeing more of Northern Ireland and enjoying the ‘craic’ along the way.
Age 51. From Bangor Co Down.
Cycling, road biking and mountain biking member of North Down cycling club.
I love spending time doing all sorts of exercise which could be a trip to the gym or swimming in the cold sea around the Ards Peninsula. I don't mind as long as I get my fix!
We have to recently brought a renovation project and this has meant that I have spent a lot of time recently on bringing our Old Victorian property up to the twenty first century, and it’s always good to spend some quality time with my family and our dog.
I am currently a regional manager for Arcadia overseeing stores in both NI and Eire, which involves a lot of car time travelling around Ireland. I enjoy seeing this fantastic country at a slower pace on the bike rather than speeding around in a car.
I participtaed in the Mizen to Mallen challenge last year which I thoroughly enjoyed although the legs told me a different story for a few days after. Always up for a challenge and keen to meet new people whilst doing what I love.
Aged 61 from Bangor Co Down
Cycling, MTB/Road. Rugby. Keeping Fit.
Retired. Work part time as a fitness instructor.
Started cycling approximately 5 years ago. Completed a couple of challenges including Edinburgh to London. Looking forward to the challenge that the Long weekend represents and getting to know the rest of the Peloton.
Age 62. From Comber, County Down but originally from County Fermanagh.
Soccer - an ex Irish League Player and recently retired as Chairman of Ballinamallard United FC, Presently Vice Chairman of the NIFL Championship Committee. Past Captain of Donaghadee Golf Club. Member of Killinchy Cycling Club since I commenced cycling at the start of 2019.
A retired banker and worked in my latter years in education for those involved in the financial services sector. Now a busy grandad!
In June 2019 I participated in a Marie Curie, Malin Head to Mizen Head fund-raising cycle and that event whet my appetite for cycling. My longest cycle to date is 110 miles so this event will be a real challenge for me. My brother in law passed away 14 years ago after suffering from MND for 2 years and the opportunity to raise funds and awareness of this dreadful disease is dear to my heart and when I heard about it I was determined to support the team participating.
I look forward to the challenge, to seeing NI in a way I`ve never seen the country before and to good company and craic over the weekend.
Aged 57 from Belfast. Scotland, Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Ulster, Malone, and the variety of other clubs in England, Scotland and Ireland who would have me or let coach.
I had the pleasure of touring New Zealand with Doddie and subsequently playing with and against him. In recent years I have also sadly learnt of others, including friends, suffering from, and dealing with MND. It is a privilege to be part of this peloton, taking up this challenge and both personally and on behalf of others, helping to raise awareness and funds into MND research.
The day job is providing: Secure document storage, management, scanning and destruction. Promoting BIG heat pumps delivering zero carbon district heating and cooling solutions and ISO Standards consultancy and auditing services – therefore plenty to discuss if having any difficulty sleeping.
On a lighter note I help coach at Campbell College, I am still playing for The Perennials R.F.C a veteran’s team, focused on fun and enjoyment, in raising funds for local causes – with the motto:
“rich in decaying matter”.
I am also part of a recently established Mixed Ability Rugby Team the “Malone Tornadoes” providing adults, with varying degrees of physical, mental or learning differences, the opportunity of playing full contact rugby, being part of the club a team and treated as just another rugby match.
Excitingly both The Great Doddie Cycle around Ireland and the Mixed Ability World Cup have been rearranged for 2021
Aged 53 from Helen’s Bay.
I am a very enthusiastic cyclist and have been involved with NDCC for 10 years. I am also a keen endurance runner and open water swimmer.
I am currently training my body to train for an endurance triathlon of note.
I am currently between jobs having sold my business earlier this year. So, I should not have any excuses for being unprepared.
I have been motivated to get involved in this event for 2 reasons.
My good friend and fellow cyclist / golfer / rugby teammate Steve Bell sadly passed away last year having succumbed to MND.
Another good friend and golfing partner, Paddy McGreevy, lost his life 10 years ago also to this horrible disease.
Finally, having played rugby for Bangor during the 90’s I watched in awe as Doddie Weir ran rampantly through meagre Irish defences for the best part of a decade.
Age 52. From Ballymena, via Orkney and Melrose.
Any form of fitness - Cycling, Running, Gym & Boxing being the main ones. Coaching Youth Rugby at Ballymena and Athletics (Hurdles) at Ballymena & Antrim Athletic Club
Dentist at Galgorm Dental
Stu’s brother, and like him, I have been a supporter of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation for three years. Lived most of my childhood in Melrose, hence the connection with Doddie.
Did the last two legs of the first Great Rugby Cycle 2019 and the Mizen to Malin Challenge in October 2019.
Competed Internationally for Scotland & N. Ireland at Athletics (400m Hurdles). Played rugby for Ballymena & Melrose
Age 41. From Edinburgh, Scotland (but raised in Cheltenham and via Oxford and Bath ending up in Belfast)
Being active, playing / watching most sports
Private equity fund
I have had 2 injury related false starts at joining Stu on these amazing endeavours over the last few years so ‘looking forward’ to this one. My legs and backside might not be as enthusiastic given I have done less miles on the bike over the last 3 years than we are now doing in 3 days but should be a good challenge and for an incredible cause. I never played a rugby match with Doddie but have had the good fortune of being in his company on a number of occasions, most recently sharing a lot pints at a Borders reunion in 2019; an incredible human being whose courage and outlook on life is truly inspirational.
Age 61 from Bangor
Cycling (member NDCC), running (member NDAC) and swimming and sport in general.
I retired - in 2018 to allow time for triathlon training!
I previously trained as a nurse in general and paediatric nursing. After a break to raise the family I then worked as a Practice Manager in General Practice for 15 years.
Qualified and successfully competed in Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii 2019
I love challenges - I think this “Long Weekend” is going to be a big one!
Enjoy doing anything to help athletes or sports people who no longer can participate through illness or injury.
Age 43 from Helen's Bay
Anything sports related. Mostly Golf, Rugby, Football and Triathlon. (in reverse order).
Proprietor of Asap Cargo Ltd.
A committed juggler of time! Which involves raising 4 active young boys. Managing an ever-growing business and fulfilling an unhealthy addiction to long distance triathlon racing. Oh, and throw in some golf. If that is not enough; why not drop in 410 miles of cycling in 3 days. Loving life and would not have it any other way.
Very happy to be raising funds and awareness for Motor Neurone Disease.
Age 51 From Bangor, Co. Down
An enthusiastic BMX Racer in my early teens, I took a 25-year sabbatical to explore remarkably mediocre pursuits in rugby, golf, and laser dinghy sailing. Back cycling and racing bikes again for the past 12 years (this time mainly on the road).
Chartered Accountant. Principal of Webb and Co. Forensic Accountancy.
MND is unfortunately a subject close to my heart with my lifelong friend and cycling buddy Steve Bell having recently lost a massively brave fight against this cruel disease.