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An Ultra Cyclist from Ennis recently completed his fourth annual Joe Barr 800km cycle in 31 hours and has championed the mental health benefits of “disconnecting from technology during training”.

Now six years into his ultra-cycling career, the Element Six night shift worker has shaped his lifestyle to optimize a consistent training schedule, which has led to a number of personal bests. Working four days on, four days off, Noel Cusack trains for 18 hours per week, in blocks consisting of five to six hours and covers a distance of 550km. He trains for six days and then takes two days off. The night shift work in Shannon suits the nature of ultra-races, “that go through the night.”

His first race six years ago took place on the Isle of Wight, taking the form of a 24-hour non-stop cycle. Caught in a storm, Noel managed to place second, and finish joint first with the leader, losing out due to his opponent completing an extra lap. Four others were unable to complete the race due to the storm. From then on, having completed 11 ultra-races, he has “liked the thought of pushing the body a bit further”.

Noel enjoys the process of self-improvement and despite numerous polling finishes, does not fixate on being yet to finish in first place. “I have to concentrate on myself. I can only beat myself on any given day. I can’t worry about others and don’t fixate on the win, just beating myself each time.” The Joe Barr 800km race run by the World Ultra Cycling Association is a testament to the benefits of Noel’s hard work on the roads. The race goes from Donegal to Derry and then back again. In the last four years of the race, his finishing times have been 44 hours, 42 hours, 36.5 hours and now 31 hours and 46 minutes. The marked improvement is down to “being consistent and sticking with my training schedule”.

Focusing on 800km races for now, Noel is looking ahead to a World Championship race in four weeks’ time, starting in Dingle’s Slea Head to Wicklow Lighthouse and back again. Labelled as a “unique race”, Noel added that the extra challenge presented is due to the race being in a straight line, compared to the usual “looped course.”

“A loop is easier than a straight, as with the loops, you are always seeing new sites. When racing a straight, you know that once you pass a downwards hill, that you have to return in the opposite direction on the way back and possibly against the wind too”.

His ultimate ultra-racing goal is to complete a race across America but settling for a more realistic near-future challenge, he is looking ahead to completing a 2,300km race around Ireland. Despite the goal becoming bigger each time, his training regiment stays the same, and infuses “passion.”

“I have great support from volunteers during races and you meet great people within the sport. The best thing about cycling for anyone is that it clears the mind. There are no phones or no technology out there. We are always stuck on computers or phones in our everyday lives now, I know this from work. The bottom line is, I love being out there on the bike,” he concluded.

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