Discovering Wicklow 200 – Anna Stanton

Friday, March 6th, 2020

We recently caught up with veteran Wicklow 200 cyclist and inspiration to us all Anna Stanton who is preparing for her fifth event! Anna reveals how she got into cycling, how it has transformed her life after retirement and how she is preparing for the Wicklow 200 on June 7th.

“My name is Anna Stanton and on June 7th 2020 I will be participating in the Wicklow 200 challenge for the fifth time, all going well. The training at the gym has started. The bike is cleaned, oiled and all ready to hit the high roads of Mayo where I am now living.  For me the Wicklow 200 is a goal, a benchmark and a highlight on the cycling calendar.                                       

A native of Donegal I’ve lived in Burriscarra in Mayo since 1970, had five children and a full time career as a primary school teacher. Ten years ago, when I retired from teaching I moved to Dublin to look after my grandchildren. Life in the city was a complete change from forty years living in beautiful rural Mayo. How to make a life for myself? I joined the Dublin Ramblers, discovered the beauty of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, did a course in UCD, joined a writing group and embraced the cultural life of the city, cinema, music and theatre. A new life.  I loved it.

In the summer of 2014 a cyclist friend invited me to go on a cycling holiday. In all innocence I said yes. Remember, I didn’t own a bike and hadn’t been on one for many years, my only experience was on the family pushbike as a child. It was a baptism of fire, the only advantage I had was that I was fit, strong and could endure. The après spin was fun though. On returning home my competitive streak surfaced and bitten by the cycling bug I bought a road bike, my first bicycle ever. I was delighted with myself.

Stuck in a rut

On the downside the friendship with the cyclist didn’t last and there I was in the summer of 2015 with the expensive bike, no bike skills, nervous in the traffic and no possibility of venturing out in the city by myself.  With the help of Google, I discovered a big cycling club that was supportive of women members. I contacted Ann Horan, the women’s representative in the club at the time and much to her amusement asked her about the possibility of getting a personal trainer for the bike. She invited me to join a training course for new female members.  I joined and a whole new world opened up, a world of friendship, fun, new skills, support, confidence building and a whole new language, sprocket, cassette, derailleur and so on. Gradually the mystery of the bike began to unfold. At sixty eight years old I became a cyclist, lots to learn and still in runners, a cyclist.

The first sportive was The Great Dublin Bike Ride, I lost my group within five minutes but the camaraderie on the route swept me along. Next on the list was the Orwell Randonnée. The weather that day was awful; there was rain, snow, hail, sleet and fog. The rain started when going up Sally Gap, I couldn’t stop to put on the rain jacket in case I lost my group and by the time we got to the food stop I was shivering so much I couldn’t hold the cup of tea. My dad had a saying “Patience and Perseverance will get a snail to Jerusalem” and that’s what got me to the end along with my lovely group led by Leonard. We were the last, the burgers and sausages were finished but we had big smiles for the celebratory photo taken by Louise who waited for us.

With this ordeal under our belts the upcoming Wicklow 200 was going to be a doddle.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Preparation is the key for success. For that first Wicklow 200 I started a training programme at the gym in January and participated in the club organised training every Saturday. In this way all sections of the route became familiar, the ascents, descents and I learned the importance of pace.I will always be grateful to the club leaders for their patience, kindness and encouragement, who gave their time and were generous in sharing their expertise.While I did the training, both physical and psychological I would never have had success without the strength of the club behind me.

Before I set off on my bike I always meditate and visualize myself being successful and safe. Safety on the bike is paramount. It was raining when we assembled for the start. The atmosphere was amazing, a bustling crowd all geared up, colourful in their club kits, all shapes and sizes rearing to go. The waiting around was difficult, I was filled with an excited nervous energy and just wanted to get going. Then we were off. Very soon we were climbing the long hill. The rain stopped and we had an amazing day. In my head I had all the big climbs lined up and was glad as one by one they were ticked off.

There was a terrific sense of achievement at the end of a long day, and with great pride I wore the medal to the celebration party. It’s a beautiful challenging route, well organised, marshalled and with lots of food. I would recommend it to all the young women cyclists out there. Prepare, prepare, prepare and there’s nothing to fear.

For the rest of that year, my first with the club I did lots of cycling, said yes to all challenges and loved every minute. In my five years with the cycling club l I grew in confidence and got more ambitious with the kilometres, joined an Audax group and discovered the beauty of a hidden Ireland.

Now at seventy three I’m really retired, back in lovely Mayo, signs of spring all around me. It’s time to get the cycling gear on and get on my bike.”

Wicklow 200 ( 200km and 100km routes) takes place on Sunday June 7th 2020, you can register for the event here