LifeCycle For Neuroblastoma

LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma Brand

 

Welcome to LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma, the home of the LifeCycle challenge in aid of Solving Kids Cancer.

I’m Steve Taylor, aka Von Schiehallion, the LifeCycle man.

Solving Kids Cancer helps families affected by the childhood cancer, neuroblastoma. In most cases neuroblastoma is only diagnosed when it has already progressed to a late ‘high risk’ stage. Even when children are tested clear of neuroblastoma after initial hospital treatment, a high percentage of children with high risk neuroblastoma will relapse and some children will not respond to therapy.

LifeCycle is an extraordinarily difficult challenge meeting an extraordinarily difficult disease head on.

Here’s the deal: The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,902 miles. The LifeCycle target was 25,000 miles of commuting to and from work in 4 years. That’s the same as cycling from London to Manchester every week: but there’s also a thousand feet of climbing in each direction. That’s equivalent to climbing Ben Nevis twice a week on a bike. The route passes by Europe’s biggest onshore windfarm at Whitelee. There’s a windfarm on the Eaglesham Moor for a very good reason… And as if all that wasn’t enough, I was 60 when I started, and just over four years from retirement. The only way to complete this challenge was to never give up. I didn’t: I completed it in six weeks short of three years, then just kept going. Think “Forest Gump on two wheels“.

This is LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma.

The full ongoing story is here in the blog. You can become a supporter and get involved, at either

https://heroix.everydayhero.com.au/event/NeuroblastomaAustraliaDonate/donate

to support laboratory research, or

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma

to support clinical research into the disease.

If you’re on Facebook, then please have a look at the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma group. It’s full of the latest news, photos and various bits and pieces from the LifeCycle Twitter feed.

Here are the LifeCycle miles

And here’s the story so far…

NOVEMBER 2017

Change Is Gonna Come

Destiny’s Child

Oi Mush!!!

OCTOBER 2017

A Change Is As Good As A Rest. Not…

Goldielooks And The Three Bears

Ultrasonic

King Puddles

SEPTEMBER 2017

Every Day’s A School Day

I’m Not Like Everybody Else

Stewarton Wednesday

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Going For Gold

AUGUST 2017

We Are All Tommy Melly

Made My Bed

Could Do Better

JULY 2017

The Mirror Man

Imagine

Eileidh’s Legacy

Relight My Fire

#ForeverFive

Puddles Of Tears

JUNE 2017

The Lord’s My Shepherd

El n Hazz’s Big Bash

Two Weddings And A Funeral

The Longest Day

The Show Must Go On

MAY 2017

The Big Cup

Shock And Awe

The Road To Lisbon

Empty The Tank. Refuel. Repeat.

APRIL 2017

War Of Attrition

Eileidh’s Army

Spoke Too Soon

Clogging It

The Dirty Dozen

MARCH 2017

Eight Days A Week

Everest

Don’t Look Back In Anger

Eil’ Drink To That

Down Under

FEBRUARY 2017

Ode To Joy (Puddles Remix)

We Shall Overcome

After The Lord Mayor’s Show

The Bucket List

#ChooseLife

JANUARY 2017

When Tomorrow Comes

The Journey Fae Hell

It’s Now Or Never

The Next Time

DECEMBER 2016

Why

TCNGC17

If It Disney Work, Just Keep Trying…

A Stroke Of Luck

The 2016 LCFN Awards

NOVEMBER 2016

Wum Story

Frozen Puddles

Got My Mojo Workin’

The Italian Job

Flagless And Fancy Free

OCTOBER 2016

United In Adversity

Baby Dennis

How Long’s A Piece Of String?

Quad Bike

SEPTEMBER 2016

The Hardest Words

Living Puddlian

Beautiful, Beautiful Eileidh

113 and a miss

Goldfinger

AUGUST 2016

Frazzled

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

On The Road Again

Out And About In Puddleshire

JULY 2016

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

The Oven Bucket Challenge

Timeout

JUNE 2016

About A Girl

My Way

Reflections

Freewheelin’

To Puddles With Love

MAY 2016

Around The World In (500 and) 80 Days

24 Carat Gold Cake

Oscar 2 Eileidh

APRIL 2016

Relentless

The Fightback

To Infinity And Beyond

The Land Of Make BELIEVE

The Times They Are A Changin’

MARCH 2016

When I’m Back On My Feet Again

Slange Var!

The 39 Steps

FEBRUARY 2016

1999

No Pain, No Gain

Buy One, Get One Free

Black Ice Ops

Hoo Ha Henry

JANUARY 2016

Gertrude, Sister Of Bawbag

Shirley Knott

Ice Station Yompa

Wee Kian Do It

DECEMBER 2015

The LCFN Awards 2015

The Very Best Of 2015

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

The Wheels On The Bus

It Never Rains But It Pours

NOVEMBER 2015

Something Inside, So Strong

When The Going Gets Tough…

The Princess And The Magic Garden

When You’re Going Through Hell, Just Keep Going…

OCTOBER 2015

LCFN Goes Platinum In October For Children With Neuroblastoma

The Hundred Days Of Hell

A Question Of Semantics

Because I Can

When September Ends

SEPTEMBER 2015

New Gold Dream

The Sky’s The Limit

Never Give Up

Going For Gold

AUGUST 2015

Awareness, Awareness, Awareness

Planting Seeds In Fallow Ground

Bad Things Come In Threes

Our Father

One Day At A Time

JULY 2015

Here We Go, Ten In A Row

I’m On A Train / London Calling

Double Puddles

Puddlemania Hits The States

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Kids In America

JUNE 2015

Fire Tiger

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Super In Love

Puddlemania

MAY 2015

How A Walk Became A Cancer Crusade

The Anniversary Waltz

Forres Gump

I’d Ride A Million Miles For One Of Your Smiles

Take It To The Limit

APRIL 2015

C’mon Eileidh

Ecstasy, Passion And Pain

Monday The 13th

The Spirit Of Walfrid

It’s All Downhill From Here

MARCH 2015

Halfway To Paradise

Sugar Sugar

Boom And Bust

Gimme Closure

FEBRUARY 2015

Patience Is A Virtue

Cause Or Just Impingement

Off The Cuff

A Retirement Home

JANUARY 2015

King Commute

Just Another Day

The English Patient

Rainspotting

On The Road Again

DECEMBER 2014

2014’s Greatest Hits

12,000 Miles – A Christmas Song

Riders On The Storm

Sometimes, Words Are Not Enough

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

NOVEMBER 2014

Live Every Day Like It’s Your Last

Everything In Perspective

Back From The Grail

The Holy Grail

OCTOBER 2014

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Whole Lotta Love

I Don’t Like Mondays (Except This One)

The Bucking Bronco

Frauday Morning

SEPTEMBER 2014

Give ‘Em Both Barrels

Back To The Future

My Body Is Revolting

Ma Wee Sair Knee

AUGUST 2014

Rest If You Must But…

The Third Man

The Bike Hospital

King Of The Mountains

The Carnival Is Over

JULY 2014

End Of Term Report

The Three Seasons

Advance To Glasgow – 200 Days Since Passing Go

The Lesser Spotted Pot-Bellied Lycra Man

JUNE 2014

And I Would Bike 500 More…

Getting Yer Angles Right

Playing Injury Time…The Wizard Of Oz

MAY 2014

Mega May

Vastus Medialis – Injurus Crampus

One Undred An Eighty…. Two

Keep Right On To The End Of The Road

It Might As Well Rain Until September

APRIL 2014

The Long And Winding Road

Magical Mystery Tour

A Case Of Pineau De Re

Permalactic Legs

MARCH 2014

Wanted – A Magician

Bonus Track – Hey Paula

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Chugger/Gone With The Wind

Under Pressure

Fuel For Sport

FEBRUARY 2014

The Ten Commandments Of LifeCycle

Ultrasound and Intervals

Hail Hail, the Spring Is Here!

A Lighter Shade Of Pale

JANUARY 2014

No Regrets

They Think It’s All Over – It Will Be In July 2017

The Impossible Dream

LifeCycling – The Movement

Into The Groove

DECEMBER 2013

Groundhog Day

The Battle Of Wounded Knee

That Darned Competitive Dawg

Paul McConville

NOVEMBER 2013

Fuel For Thought

Bonus Miles

Kick Off

Change Is Gonna Come

Never forget how difficult it was. Never forget how you felt in that moment, when you thought it was all slipping away. Life has a habit of doing that to you, often when you least expect it, and your response defines you.

I want to take you back to the morning of 16th March 2016.

It started out like any other LCFN day: 5am, out the door, just under 30 miles into work, got changed, got fed and got piled into the work I was doing to automate the bills of material for one of our sister companies in North America. It was all going swimmingly until about 11am when I got an instant message through the corporate messaging system (the one that’s faster than email), inviting me along to the thick pile carpet end of the floor where our open plan office was: the director’s suite. I’d been up that end of the floor many times: usually for meetings that matter and/or made a difference. This one was no exception.

I walked into the Head Dude’s office and there was a bloke sitting in the corner who I didn’t recognise. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. This didn’t feel like it was going to end well: it didn’t. Ten minutes later, I was out the door. Made redundant in the blink of an eye after 25 years: “The company doesn’t need your skills going forward”.

In Adrian Mole terms, I was 62 and 364/365ths: in plain English, it was the day before my 63rd birthday. I went back to my desk, visibly shaking, and announced to my mates, some of whom I’d worked with for a quarter of a century, that I was out the door. But before I left, I went downstairs to see Anna and Fabiana. They had been my mentors in all things positive thinking ever since I ran the Wellbeing course for Weir Pumps back in 2010. Hugs all round, they said to me that being released from the chains of SPX would be the best thing that ever happened to me. I love those girls for the way they see the world…

The LCFN bike ride home was as thought provoking as it was direct. No frills, no extra miles, just get home and try to come to terms with what just happened. And make some phone calls.

Six hours later, after a bit of networking, I got a phone call from Liverpool:

“you do Excel programming, don’t you?”

“I do”

“And you’re looking for work?”

“I am”

“You’re hired”.

That was it. No interview as such. I needed work and they needed a punter. I got a three month deal, enough to bide me over while I looked for something in the shelf stacking line, which is basically where I saw myself for the last two years before retirement. IT is supposed to be a young man’s game and I guessed that my time was up.

The job was working from home developing spreadsheets for auditing GP practices. I’d been programming Excel (in VBA) for the previous ten years so this was water off a duck’s back to me. I quickly realised that not only could I deliver what they wanted, but I could take the functionality to a new level. Business rules and dynamic picklists (based on selections already made) in Excel: they’d never seen anything like it.

After two weeks, my deal was extended to twelve months.

It didn’t take me long to discover that the Read Codes, that have kept the NHS on its feet for the last 25 years, are being phased out and replaced by SNOMED-CT. If I can put this into some kind of perspective, the Read Codes are our ICL to the rest of the world’s IBM. Yet another piece of Britain’s crumbling empire gone, replaced by a foreign, albeit international power.

SNOMED-CT is a beast. It’s a relational database (and an expression language) of millions of related clinical terms. It’s a database with a medical slant. I’m a software guy with hee haw background in the clinical stuff. But it was clear, twelve months ago, that if we wanted to futureproof our business, then we had to embrace SNOMED-CT. And the clock was ticking. D-Day is April 1st 2018 (don’t laugh).

I put myself forward for the Foundation course: it was my new year resolution to get a grounding in the new technology. Three months later, I realised that I’d just seen the tip of the iceberg, seventy percent of which was still submerged deep below the surface. The day after I downloaded my Foundation course certificate, I applied to take on the bad boy: the advanced implementation course. A quick swatch at the course material suggested that if I could say on the course long enough, I might just get to the good stuff and get my hands on the software: in reality there is no other way: SNOMED-CT is only available through official channels, one of which is being deemed worthy through accreditation.

The routine was pretty straightforward: six modules, all done by distance learning, and each about a month long: an online exam at the end of each module, homework to be done separately in three of them, and a set of final exams at the end. Oh, and you’ve to achieve 70% or more in every assessment to stay on the course: one slip up and “you’re fired”.

I nearly had that slip up in June. I’d breezed Module A with 86% but then our mam died just before the Module B exam was due. I was trying to sort out her funeral arrangements (and all the other stuff) when I posted a 69.6% attempt. Re-sit territory. I gave myself a kick up the arse, had another go the next day and scraped 70.2%. I’ll be honest with you, if I’ve got kicked off the course at that moment, I probably wouldn’t have worried about it: I was not in a good place.

Three weeks after that, Eileidh passed away, and I stayed in that dark place a good while longer. Module C spanned the period either side of our family holiday in Naples so I had to take the laptop to get both my assignment and my assessment done. I came through both.

Having made it halfway through the course, I started to get a sense that I might actually make it through to the end. Nothing was ever easy, but as the coursework moved away from what I might term clinical bullshit to software development, I felt it coming my way. Module D wasn’t exactly plain sailing but E was a relative breeze. When F, the final module, came along, I inadvertently did the presentations way ahead of the exam so by the time that came around, I was rusty (I was too busy with the day job to do much revision so I winged it). Another scrape…

But into the finals!

I’m not gonna dwell on what happened next, other than to say that the 70% rule still applied. Despite what had gone before, even if your cumulative course total was already in excess of 70%, you still had to achieve 70% in the final exam to graduate. The exam was in three parts, each one hour long, and you had a maximum of three attempts in each. Your score in each part was the average of how ever many attempts you took. In part one, I got 69.2%, 74.3% and 77.2% for a combined average of 74%. So far, so good. One down, two to go.

Two weeks ago today, I sat part two, the practical: five questions, to be answered by doing research using an array of SNOMED-CT tools. Look, if you work in this stuff day in and day out, you get to know where all the tools are and what they do. I didn’t and I flunked it: 39%. That was my darkest moment. I saw six months of hard work going down the drain because I only had an hour to answer the questions. But at least I now had (a copy of) the questions. I made attempts two and three, having done my research offline, and I managed to get that 39% up to a more respectable, but still not good enough 66%. It all hung on the final exam, in which I needed 68% to pass the course. But secretly, I hunkered after something much higher than that, for 84.5% was going to grab me an 80% grade B pass overall.

I wanted that exam done, dusted and marked before I went down south for the Solving Kids Cancer parents’ conference last weekend.

I woke at 4am on the Wednesday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I got up at half four and made a giant cup of coffee in one of those Sports Direct mugs. Then I logged on. The part three exam was ninety minutes: eight questions. The first two were a piece o’piss. Nerves settled. Keep a focus, keep the heid and just let the brain do the rest. Half six, answers in, all done. Relax… and wait.

I waited a week.

Then on Tuesday night of this week, having logged onto my account every couple of hours since the weekend, there was a tick in my part three box. I opened it with trepidation.

I needed 68%

I secretly craved 84.5%

I got 87.5%

I had done it. I had fucking done it. Against all odds, I had somehow come back from that dark place two weeks ago today, and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

SPX: that one was for you. That was for your corporate accountants deciding that I wasn’t good enough for you.

Lee Panter and Neil Connor: that one was for you too. That was for having faith in me when it would have been easier to look the other way.

I have become only the third accredited SNOMED-CT developer in Scotland (and the 39th in the UK). I am immensely proud of having come back from the proverbial dead, but believe me, this is only the start.

For my next trick, I’m going to buy a beast of a laptop: I’m going to unleash the power of Excel VBA, Dynamic SQL and SNOMED-CT to go after disease. Top of my hitlist is kids cancer, but first I have to address Atrial Fibrillation, Heart Failure and Diabetes in order to repay the faith that Lee and Neil have showed in me these past eighteen months.

Disease, I’m coming for you…

Change is gonna come.

Oi Mush!!!

I apologise in advance if this week’s rant is a bit down in the dumps, but my brain is mush. I’m slap bang in the middle of my SNOMED-CT final exams and my head feels like it’s going to explode.

Let me set the scene:…

SNOMED-CT goes live across the NHS in April of next year (although it’s pseudo live just now through the hard work of some software vendors) and I want to pass this course in order to give some street cred to my development work in hunting down disease through what I’ve termed data detective work. In my day job, I do two things: I write software and I ride my bike (while thinking about writing software): in pretty much that order.

SNOMED-CT is very, very heavy duty gear, and this course, the (advanced) implementation course, is all about implementing software systems to use the de facto global standard in clinical healthcare. I’ve come at this from a background in software development with zippo experience of all the medical jargon.

The course has six modules, and to keep the numbers easy, let’s say there are ten presentations in each module. It’s all done by distance learning in your own time, and at the end of each module, you have to sit an exam in which you have to score 70% or more to stay on the course. I had one or two close shaves along the way, me having no medical background etc, but I made it through the final Module F exam on Tuesday, which got me into the playoffs for the big prize: a course certificate!

 

The collateral damage of being on this gig is that I haven’t been the easiest person to live with these last few weeks, and for that I apologise. This course has been as difficult as any that I’ve ever undertaken, and while a wee part of me is whispering “why are you putting yourself through this at age 64, another part of me is shouting ‘just keep the heid’…”

So to the final exam: it comes in three parts, and they count for 8%, 4% and 8% of the final course mark. But the same constraint that applied all the way through the course, that 70% benchmark, also applies in the final exam. You have to average 70%+ out of those three exams to pass the course. The fact that you actually made the playoff final in the first place is because you’ve proved all the way through the league programme that you can knock off these 70%ers, but this final hurdle comes with a special twist…

Each exam that came at the end of a regular module had 20 questions in it, and of course it covered just the material that you’d studied in the most recent block of the course: so you knew from the off that the answer to each question lay deep within one of those ten or so Powerpoint presentations that you’d sat through, and taken notes from (of course you took notes!). In every one of those exams (bar one, I recall), you had four hours to answer the questions, submit your attempt, and cross your fingers that you’d done enough. You always had the option of a re-sit if you failed to get the required 70%, but the rules of of the game have always been that your final attempt (of two) would be the one that counted. So in the case where you scored, say 72% and wanted something higher, you really were risking it for a biscuit if you did a re-sit because you’d know way of knowing where you’d lost 28% and 72% is way too close to the trap door to take the chance. So basically you took the hit and moved on the next round.

There’s one thing to remember from that wee story: 20 questions in four hours, based on ten presentations of source material.

Cue part one of the final exam yesterday: ten questions, covering the whole course, ie drawn from around sixty source presentations, to be completed in one hour.

Panic attack!!!!

I kid you not: I went out on my bike after the first attempt, in a state of shock. I reckon I must have spent a good two to three minutes per question, just searching through the source material just so I could make reference to the relevant theory stuff. And that was after I’d translated all of my notes into one giant spreadsheet so that I could do keyword searches to save time. I reckon I must have used up at least thirty of those precious sixty minutes hunting for stuff: so that meant I had to wing my way through half of the answers.

The result of that, of course, is that you can expect a truly rubbish score, which is precisely what I got (but nowhere near as today’s rubbish in the practical exam, I can assure you). But get this: you have up to three attempts, each of one hour, and your final score from that exam is the average of your attempts.

So… for the league programme (the six regular modules): twenty questions in four hours based on ten presentations. For the play-off final however, it’s ten questions in one hour based on sixty presentations.

Now do you see the fear in my eyes?

Strategy plays a massive part in this game: you get to see the questions in attempt one, and you screenshot them. You get a rubbish score because your eyes are constantly drawn to the clock when you should be thinking, and then you go away to do your research offline and come back for another go.

Remember you get a maximum of three attempts, and all you get at the end of each attempt is a score: you’ve no way of knowing which of your answers are right and which are wrong. It’s entirely down to your own judgement.

So suppose that in your first attempt, you get 60%. Remember you need to average 70+ to stay in the game. You go away, armed with the questions, change the answers that you think are wrong, then come back for another bite at the cherry. Say you get 75%. Now what do you do? You’ve already done your homework and changed a load of answers, but you’ve only gone up by 15% and your average is still under the trapdoor. Do you change some more, ones that you thought were right from the first time, and risk slipping back down a snake, when actually you’d like to climb a ladder? No, what you do is you get scared, change as little as possible and throw your well researched attempt back in again as attempt three. Defensive, but needs must. 60% plus 75% gives you an average of 67.5% which is in the relegation zone. 60%+75%+75% averages out at 70% which keeps you in the game.

The numbers were fictitious, but the strategy is not. This has suddenly become a game of survival and I’m not enjoying it one bit. It feels like six months of hard study has descended into a game of rabbits in headlights. If I fail to get the required 70% average from the final three assessments, I will fail the course: that much is simple. The fact that my cumulative score for the course overall is already above 70% counts for nothing.

If I was a football manager who was doing a press conference right now at the end of a game in which he disagreed with the way things had gone, I’d be saying “y’know, I think we were a bit hard done by out there today”. Anyone that knows me knows that I like to do my research, take my time, even knock up a spreadsheet or two, then state my case. If I’m right, then good, but if I’m wrong, I’ll take it on the chin and move on…

I don’t feel comfortable with a system that encourages guessing the answers against the clock, then playing catch up at your leisure. It feels fundamentally wrong. I would much rather the FIFA of clinical systems had given us the questions as an open book assignment and said “there you go, go away and do your research: you get one shot at the answers”. Or in the instance where they want to persist with the one hour rule (which is a joke because attempts two and three take five minutes because you’ve done all the work offline), then just take the final attempt as your score.

I may well fail the course, because of a wee clock ticking down in the corner of the screen, that I can do nothing about. But you can be sure as hell that between attempts one and two after today’s dismal showing, that I’ll be researching (and repeat researching) before I press the big submit button on the second take. I desperately want to stay in the game till the fat lady comes on stage.

But alas, tonight, my brain is pure mush….

A Change Is As Good As A Rest. Not…

You know that term “a change is as good as a rest”…. it’s bollocks.

I took charge of the new gold dream this week and basically swapped bikes: out with the old and in with the new. I should have known better. I know only too well from my running days (albeit 30 years ago) that you never change 100% from old gutties (running shoes) to new ones as a high mileage runner because your legs are used to the way that old ones work. You have the phase them in.

Ditto the new bike. Thought I’d get away with it: I was wrong.

Legs hurt.

Lower back hurt (yesterday until I made some adjustments).

But the back of my neck really hurts. And that’s not good.

A long, long time ago, in June 2014, I wrote a blog called Getting Yer Angles right: it was the story about how I’d swapped my old mountain bike that took the brunt of the Fenwick Muir during the winter of 13/14, for a heavy touring bike. That happened in March ’14. I then spent the next wee while tweaking stuff in order to find a comfortable riding position for my upper body. Back then, it took a couple of months to realise that I’d got the saddle maybe half an inch too high and it was killing the hamstring tendons in the back of my knees.

This time it’s taken just three days.

I’ve been messing with the geometry since I left Neil’s shop on Wednesday but it’s clearly not yet right. The good news is I don’t have a sore (lower) back anymore: that’s something I dread. I’ve had enough back problems down the years to last me a lifetime so this is not the time to start that game again. No, this is about getting the handlebars sorted in relation to the seat. I like riding with my hands on the drop bars (90% of the time) but the way the gold bike’s set up just now, it’s quite literally a pain in the neck. My guess is that I need more elevation from the stem. We swapped the original (new) one yesterday for something longer and higher but two and half hours on the road today told me that the configuration isn’t right. So I guess it’s back to basics: measure all the distances between the seat, the handlebars (top and drops) and the pedals to see where it’s different…

I could swap back to the old bike of course, but it’s in desperate need of a service. The gears change of their own accord, the tyres are totally worn out, and I need to change the brake pads. I’ve been hanging on for about a month until the time came to take the Goldie, thinking that I could maybe squeeze another five hundred miles out of it, but really, it needs some TLC in the pits. I could swap back for maybe a couple of days (and maybe I should) because I really, really want to nail another 200 mile week, the 92nd, and I’ve no intention of letting it slip now. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take the old wheels out and let the mind massage it through another 35 miles for old time’s sake. But it really does need to be in the workshop come Monday.

Back to the new wheels for a minute: there’s no other bike like it in Scotland. It looks gorgeous but that’s not the half of it. It’s the Rohloff gears in a gold frame that set it apart. There’s no rear derailleur: instead there are 14 gears hidden away in the hub. And if you decide to do a spot of freewheeling, then the whole world gets to know because it sounds like a diesel bike. Who needs a bell on the Irvine to Killie bike path when you come up behind the dog walkers: just stop peddling…

And it’s heavy: Not as heavy as the tourer that gave me a hernia back in 2014 when I was trying to smash KOM’s (King Of The Mountains) on a set of 33lb wheels but it’s not far behind: it’s all that metal sitting in the middle of the back wheel. I haven’t weighed it (I will, by the way) but I guess you won’t get much change out of 27 to 28 lb). Compare that to the 21lb I was on before: that’s what killing my legs.

C’est la vie…

But I’ve been here before (but hopefully never again because this will be my last new bike) and I’ll get through it. I have to.

Changing the subject completely, we had a bloke in this week to talk about pensions. I’ll be 65 in March and everything’s due to kick in. But there was something he said that really hit home and maybe it affects the long term future of the bike ride. He said that in his (long) experience, the years between 65 and 75 are your best retirement years: they are the ones where you have to do all of things that you want to do: before it all goes downhill. So here’s a question: do I really want to be cycling 200 miles a week for the next five years? Sure the exercise is probably doing me the world of good, and maybe it’s keeping my brain sharp too, but with his words ringing in my ears, I’m thinking that maybe one more year of the big time will be enough. Maybe 50,000 miles will be time to call it a day. Then just tootle about on the Goldie for pleasure instead of punishing myself. Enough may finally be enough…

Doing the sums, 2017 has produced the biggest bag of miles since the start: 8000 before the end of October for the first time. I don’t see me getting to 10K before Hogmanay for the reasons described above, but another 9K by this time next year seems very much within reach: that would take the clock to 44K. I think if I could close LCFN out at 50,000 miles inside six years, having originally set out to do 25,000 in four (and a half) years, that would be a decent result. And that would still leave me another nine years of quality retirement years before I lose my marbles.

And see that stuff about never giving up: that stuff about taking a step back when shit happens, and working your way through it: well that was yesterday. By 7am, I’d bricked my Galaxy S8+ by reading an article on LinkedIn then clicking on one of the comments. I wasn’t exactly in panic mode, but for about fifteen minutes, I was contemplating refunds and the like. That was before I logged on to the laptop and Googled ‘Galaxy S8 won’t power on’ or something like that, and I found out how to do a soft reset (as opposed to a factory reset): that got me up and running again. So you know what I did then… I went back to that same article, because by now I was suspicious (there is no bigger cynic in the world than me). I clicked on the same comment at the foot of the same article, and guess what: it bricked my phone again. Same recovery procedure. I didn’t do it a third time.

As if that wasn’t enough yesterday, I took Goldie out, intending to bag a day at the seaside, and instead happened across a famer cutting his hedge. I should have stopped and turned around: a schoolboy error. I foolishly assumed that with a brand new pair of Marathon Pluses on the bike, I’d be okay: nope, I got a puncture. Actually, make that two. Those bloody famers do my head in: sure, I know they’ve got to cut their hedges, but Shirley they should also be required (by law) to remove the shite off the road before they head for home. I was in Neil’s bike shop today and he was telling me that he’d had five cyclists in today alone, all victims of the dreaded thorns from lazy farmers. My resolution from hereonin will be to dismount as soon as I encounter a farmer’s minefield in future, and walk the wheels through the mines: or just pick the bike up and carry it: up the middle of the road and make the motors have to wait (in protest).

I kind of hoped that heading out on Goldie would have been a celebration of sorts: but it’s not turned out that way. I’ll be tinkering again tomorrow: I might even drop the seat by a quarter of an inch to reduce the stress in the back of my neck. And I suspect that when I get home, the measuring tape will be coming out in earnest: old versus new: just where are the key differences. Putting the Rohloff on the old bike wasn’t an option because of the big fat spindle that it comes with: it’s not compatible with the frame: so I guess I’ll just have to work through the transition instead.

They say that a change is as good as a rest: far from it…

Goldielooks And The Three Bears

See every time Lewis Hamilton wins a Grand Prix: the first thing he does is thank his team for all their hard work. Yeah, I know they probably get well paid for it but at the end of the day, he’s just the guy out there on the road putting in the miles. Back in the garage, and at Mercedes F1 HQ in Brackley, there are probably hundreds of guys who put in the hard miles to make his job easier.

I don’t have hundreds of guys: I have one: Neil Kinnaird. Neil is my technical designer, he’s my purchasing director, and he’s my man in the garage. He does the lot. Neil is the quiet man who keeps LCFN on the road. I had to look back at the log to find out when we first hooked up and it was in the summer of 2014 when I was on my third bike and sitting at around 8,000 miles.

We’ve been together for 27,000 miles!

Neil’s a thinker, and he’s always half a dozen steps ahead of me, or to put it another way, one bike ahead of me. I remember when we first got together, I was riding a still new Dawes Tourer. I got it for my birthday because I reckoned I needed something heavier duty than a mountain bike for the long haul over the Fenwick Muir in the winter. Heavier duty right enough: the Karakoum weighed in at about 35 pounds, and that was before I loaded it up with supplies every day. That bike was a workhorse.

But every time it was in his shed (as it was back then), he used to say to me “y’know, you could really do with something lighter. For the hills that you’re dealing with, this is way too heavy”. Neil wasn’t trying to sell me a new bike (although he does sell bikes), he was simply trying to tell me that as a mile muncher (I do love that term) I was making life hard for myself.

So the next birthday (back in those days y’see, new bikes only ever happened on birthdays – is that not a tradition anyway?) I took his advice and went for a road bike. Ultra light at 21lb, to me it felt like a Ferrari. I had a Flying Scot 25 years ago (mine was a replica – Jane had an original) and this gave me a similar kind of feeling on the open road: if you’ve never ridden a road bike (at speed), then you’ve not lived. Twitchy as fuck but exhilarating. Simple as that.

I broke that bike inside twelve months.

If going to Neil in the first place (to get bits replaced on a bike that was less than six months old) was a sign, then the failure of the road bike frame eleven months later was a real wake up call. But because the bike was still within warranty, Trek replaced the frame free of charge. The failure, and this is probably significant given the beating that LCFN gives its machinery, was that the screw hole where the derailleur hangs on the frame had wobbled loose. So many gear changes, so many potholes, so much shit coming up off the road: in less than twelve months, the (external) derailleur would no longer sit true.

The replacement frame has seen 12,000 miles of action, the longest served of all of the LCFN bikes. But the gears go out of true within a few weeks and then you have the choice of messing about with tools (and getting it wrong, putting the next day’s ride at risk) or living with it. By living with it, I mean clicking the rear shifter about three or four times and feeling it only shift once. Eff knows what gear I’m in half the time. It’s a serious issue if you’re halfway up a steep one and you go click, click, click and nothing happens, I can assure you.

That’s the downside of derailleurs. Cheap, easy to mess with, and even easier to go wrong.

Remember how I said that Neil was always a bike ahead of me?

He could see the rate at which I was going through components. New jockey wheels, new hangers, new chains, new complete drive chains. Been there, done that. That’s been the norm for about three years. Every time the bike goes in the workshop, it costs me a hundred quid. That’s the real life cost of LCFN: it’s not Neil’s problem: I’m a mile muncher and I break stuff.

Cue a conversation that he and I had around the turn of the year: ’16 going into ’17. “You need to consider going for hub gears. They’ll cost you upfront, but you’ve save a fortune in the long run”.

The only thing I know about hub gears is that my brother had a (new) bike with a three speed Sturmey Archer gear when I was a kid. Sturmey Archer were the name in gears back then: we’re talking 40 years ago. They had a three speed hub and five speed hub. I think our kid had a three.

The big advantage of a hub gear is that everything’s internal: everything sits inside the hub on the rear wheel and the shit cannae get at it. I’m led to believe that as long as you do an oil change every 3000 miles, the gear will run, free of failure, for 60,000 miles. I’ve only done 35K miles so you’ll get my drift.

So Neil and I bounced a few ideas around over a few months, but they were all expensive. I don’t do expensive. I do functional and get by: and in any case, I was still on a bike that that only twelve months old.

Then our mam died.

I was brought up to never ever buy anything unless you’d saved up for it. My folks never, ever bought anything on tick. If you don’t have the money, then you can’t have it. That was the message.

But our mam was a charitable old dear, and she would have approved of LCFN if she’d not lost her marbles to dementia. So I decided to invest the pennies that she’d earmarked in her will for her errant son in a bike that will see me through till I’m too old to do this anymore. Our mam was not a woman of means. Everything she earned, she’d worked for, and everything she’d earned, she put away for a rainy day. The day it started raining, she moved into a nursing home, and in a flash, all her money was gone. Except for the last few pennies that the Tories couldnae get at.

I’ve invested those pennies in the gold LCFN bike.

It was Neil’s idea. He suggested Rohloff. They’re a German company: a family run business: they make the Rolls Royce of hub gears. Guys who tour the world over extreme terrain in extreme conditions, thousands of miles from any kind of support, swear by Rohloff. Their marketing blurb says they’ve never had a failure out in the field. How Lewis Hamilton would love that, eh?

So my mind was set: a Rohloff speed hub it was. On a Gold cyclo cross frame that Neil had already got his eyes on. We were on our way. Again. But the Rohloff normally comes with a twist grip gear changer on flat handle bars and I wanted drop bars…

Cue another suggestion from the ideas man: there’s another company in Germany that do a traditional thumb shift changer for Rohloff gears: left shifter up and right shifter down. “I like that”. Let’s do it. So in the grand scheme of things, with Brexit supposedly just around the corner, we have:

  • Bike frame: Netherlands
  • Hub gears: Germany
  • Gear shifters: Germany
  • Everything else: probably China

I road tested the new bike today, albeit on mountain bike tyres. Neil offered it to me for the weekend but I didn’t want to get it dirty before he’s finished building it (we’re still waiting on bomb proof tyres and mudguards): how vain am I?

I had been hoping to have the wheels in the house at the start of the week because…

Gail, Callum and Cerys came for their tea!!!

When Finn (who’s a chef) found out the night before, he asked what I was making: “Spag Bol of course”. I always make Spag Bol. I’ve probably made Spag Bol two hundred times and never made the same one twice. “Dad, you need to use a recipe”. “Fuck that, I just make it the way I make it: every one different”.

Cerys and Callum went back for seconds: that’s all I’m saying. 😊

But before I started cooking, we all walked up to Neil’s bike shop (Cerys walked on the wall by the way – I think every kid in Stewarton has done that, on that wall), with Eileidh Bear riding piggy back on Cerys’s shoulders. Eileidh Bear has two sister bears, and each has some of Eileidh’s ashes in a wee pouch. And if you squeeze their toes, then Eileidh starts giggling. It’s as adorable as it is gorgeous.

So Eiliedh Bear went up to the bike shop and got to ride the Gold bike before the LifeCycle Man. Totally apt: Eileidh and I have been together for 25,000 miles, the same number that I set out to achieve when I started.

Y’see the future of LCFN is a gold bike: a bike of hope for kids with cancer everywhere…

Goldielooks and the three bears.

Ultrasonic

I’m going into my fifth winter: #ForeverFive

I actually had to work it out while I was on the bike today because I was convinced it was four. Nope: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Let’s do that that again: 17, 16, 15, 14, 13. Hell, it is actually five. Just two weeks until the Hundred Days Of Hell kick in for the fifth time, except these days they’re nowhere near as hellish as they used to be. If you’re new to the blog, or new to LCFN, the Hundred Days Of Hell relates back to the period between the two clock changes in the UK when I used to ride to and from work in Glasgow (for five months) without seeing daylight. Four thousand miles in the dark, in the cold, and quite often in lashing rain. Those were the days that gave me the mental strength to deal with days like today.

Wild, wet and windy: that was today. The kind of day when sane folk would ask why the hell are you going out on a bike. Because. There were a load of Stewarton Academy schoolkids heading down the main street when I went out and it was only when I got home that I discovered that my Joe was one of them. I didn’t bother asking whether he said “ooft, there’s my dad”. I think I know the answer.

Joe’s events been a bit of a theme this week. Last Saturday, he had an open day to go to at Edinburgh University ahead of deciding what he wants to do next year. Knowing how much I hate coming back from somewhere and having to go out and do miles, I went out at breakfast time instead. Hee haw on the road, just go out there and smash it was the plan. And I also had the added pressure of my flu jab up at the health centre to look forward to before we went out: you get that on the NHS when you’re my age. So I only had a couple of hours and I clogged it. I’ll let you into a secret, shall I? Clogging it at breakfast time is not a good idea. All your working muscles go on strike as soon as you get home.

Now because there were three of us heading out east, we decided to take the motor and do a park n ride job from Hermiston Gait. It worked out well, except for the fact that the bus got stuck in traffic – whatever happened to bus lanes?) and we were late getting into the city. We sent Joe on ahead of us old folk to get to the first lecture… If you know Edinburgh, you’ll know that there are some pretty steep hills heading up towards the Royal Mile from Waverley. I felt my calf go: shit! I know it was only a little yelp, but I have previous with that exact injury. Turn the clock back almost 35 years to the build up to the Balloch to Clydebank road race…

I should never have been a runner in the first place: slightly pigeon toed and an extreme over pronator, my running style is most ungainly. But once upon a time that gait was relatively fast over long distances. The Balloch to Clydebank race that I speak of used to be twelve and half miles back then: I think they’ve upped it to a half marathon since because that’s the fad with these things: 13.1 miles attracts more punters than 12.5.

But in the lead up to that race, because I wanted a good time (in the running sense, not the social scene) I was training hard and running 70-80 miles a week. At pace. I’d had a niggling achilles injury that had cost me the Glasgow Marathon the year before and when the pain from that made its way up into the base of my calf I was struggling. Back then I had a season ticket at the Sports Injuries Clinic at the Tryst Sports Centre in Cumbernauld (you think I’m joking?) and it was only the skill and care of the resident physio that got me to the start line of that race. I know that burning pain only too well, like someone holding a lighted match to the back of the bottom of your calf every tenth step (or tenth revolution if you’re on a bike).

I know the treatment that got me to the start line in Balloch too. So I knew the treatment that was going to keep me on the bike last Sunday going into Monday. For the record, that Saturday of the Balloch to Clydebank race was every bit as horrible as the weather was today. Wind, rain and as miserable as sin. But I always ran my best races in conditions like that: it just gave you something extra to run against. I was a decent runner back then: 67 minutes did the job: and injured. Afterwards, I took a timeout.

But timeouts are frowned upon in LCFN so by hook or by crook I was not for taking one last Sunday. On a bike, there are ways of dealing with these things: pedalling with your toes (clipped onto the bike) pointing down for starters. That reduces the strain on both the calf and the achilles at a stroke. It feels funny, but it gets the job done.

And one other thing: the key thing: the thing I learned from those physios every Monday and Thursday after the running club: ultrasound keeps dedicated athletes on the road. Why would you stop when you don’t really have to?

I should never have been a runner in the first place. I can still remember the intense pain of getting off the bus on a Wednesday afternoon after cross country. No specialist running shoes back in those days: pumps probably. I could barely walk: massive calf tension. Those problems have stayed with me for nigh on fifty years. But they didn’t stop me running 10K’s in 31 minutes and half marathons in 71 minutes back in the day.

My running career petered out in the mid 90’s when the calf injuries just wouldn’t leave me alone. But what I did do, to at least keep me going as an erstwhile jogger, was buy a mobile ultrasound machine. Okay so it’s not quite the same piece of kit that they used back at Cumbernauld, but think laptop to their desktop. This wee beastie still packs the same punch as the kit that they had back then, and at the first sign of a niggle since I’ve been on the bike, the ultrasound machine comes out.

So cue last Sunday: Jane poked about with my calf before I went out but that was just to get me out of the door. When I got home, thirty odd miles later, the machine came out. Twice: double dose. And again on Monday: before and after the bike ride. Thirty one miles. Tuesday: the same routine: thirty two miles. Wednesday: no pain: no ultrasound and everything was kind of back to normal. Same ever since.

Last Saturday was a close, close call. I could have lost a week, maybe two, and that translates immediately into five hundred miles, plus whatever you lose when you have to start again at half speed.

Let no one tell you that LCFN is a fit man’s game. It’s only a fit man’s game because you have to listen to your body at every turn, then give it a good talking to whenever it steps out of line. This one was a close call, but I got away with it. LCFN will always come first: I won’t go and play five a side (at age 64) even though I’d love to. Priorities, priorities, priorities!

But I can’t finish this week without looking forward to next…

On Tuesday, we are playing host to Gail, Callum and Cerys, albeit for a short while as they take a pit stop on their way to Blackpool. You never know guys, you might even get to sample some of my legendary Spag Bol if we can get the timing right. Jane will be working from home and Angela’s coming over too so you don’t score many bonus points for guessing how excited we all are. Also, I booked my place on the Solving Kids Cancer annual conference today: just the Saturday mind as the expense of a full weekend away is just a little too much to bear. I’m going there to listen and learn in the hope that I can turn the current research into some sort of advance screening tool in primary care: it’s like SNOMED-CT meets my passion for a cure. It’s a long shot, I know, but something tells me I’m on this journey for a reason (other than just being on the bike).

As ever, the pace quickens. It might not be supersonic (I’m far too old for that) but it is most certainly ultrasonic!

King Puddles

A Friday morning blog is as rare as a Scotland win in pink. Almost as rare, in fact, as three Scotland World Cup qualifier victories in a row. Some allege that you have to go back to 1970 to find the last time that that happened. Sadly, I don’t have to go back any further than the last few days to find the last time I got soaked three days in a row.

What happened to summer, or if I may rephrase that, what happened to our Indian summer cum autumn? These last few days, we seem to have shifted straight from summer to winter and skipped the middle bit. It’s been wet, it’s been cold, and it’s been windy. Very windy. I don’t care much for the rain but I hate the wind: detest it. I detest the wind even more than I detest the farmers at this time of year. There’s barely a route of mine that’s currently untouched by the dreaded hedge cutting machines. Tidy up after themselves? Not likely. The country roads are littered with thorns, just waiting to trip up the unwary life cyclist. To date, I’ve been lucky and fallen foul of only one, but it’s only a matter of time, and you just know that it’s gonna happen on a day when the rain is lashing down and I’m in the middle of nowhere! Grrr…

How quickly one’s mood has changed. From chasing records and bagging loadsa miles, I’ve reverted to winter type almost overnight and I’m finding the motivation a real strain once again. The weather does that to you. I was never going to keep those 300 mile weeks going, but I did at least think I’d get back into a 30 mile a day groove for the remainder of this year: nothing of the sort. Soaked and cold on Monday: did a runner at 22 miles. Soaked and cold again on Tuesday on a similar course: same runner for the same result. On Wednesday, I dusted myself down and hit the route in the opposite direction, hoping for some inspiration. I found it (sic) in the shape of a 29 inch deep puddle that must have been 40m long, under the railway bridge going down into KIlmaurs. “I ain’t going back: I’ll just get off and wade through it”. The water was over the top of my wheels. In a sense it didn’t matter because I was already wet from the rain, but there’s a difference between rain wet and wading wet: heavy, cold, wet shoes for a start. And feet like blocks of ice. 6C it was on Wednesday afternoon.

The interim result from that lot read like an England scorecard on a good day in an Ashes Test down under: 71-3. Absolutely not good enough, particularly when the innings has been delivering upwards of 300 of late. This one, sad to say, was destined for a paltry 150 and an inevitable follow-on when the heavens flooded the pitch on Wednesday.

Time for a team talk, one of the Fergie hairdryer variety. “LifeCycle Man, you haven’t come through 7,200 miles this year to chuck in the towel now. This team is better than that”. So yesterday I went out with a fragile resolve to do better. But it was so friggin’ windy! And those pesky thorns were getting blown all over the place. I encountered not one, not two, but three of those damned tractors yesterday on what I had assumed was a safe route, safe as in the official Sustrans bike route 7 out to Ardrossan. The wind was so bad that when I reached the turn out by West Kilbride, the Garmin was reporting an average speed of 11.8mph. I did that same route two Saturdays ago at 8am on a still day and recorded 15+. When the wind’s that strong, it saps your energy, both mentally and physically. Indeed, I’d clearly struggled so much heading out into it that I barely managed to claw 1mph back on the average on the return leg. But 43 miles stabilised the innings: for now. 71-3 has become 114-4 which is still pretty rubbish in the grand scheme of things. Geoffery would not be amused.

So now I have to go out and achieve something similar today. It’s bright, which is good, and the wind is much lighter, so therein lies an ample opportunity to make hay. Forty will get the innings up to and over 150-5, and an all out target in excess of 200 then seems more likely than not come Sunday: however tonight I’m out on the lash, and tomorrow I’m in Edinburgh all day so tomorrow morning at 7am, the LCFN wicket may well be taking some turn. Anything short of 25 at breakfast time tomorrow will leave the last batsman looking at substantial tail end score on Sunday to avoid an otherwise inevitable embarrassing outcome.

So what of other things?

Well assuming that one can avoid the follow-on, then Sunday will mark a quiet milestone: 35,000 miles. Should it come about, with the Japanese Grand Prix and the final round of World Cup qualifiers to look forward to, I’m sure a wee libation will be on the cards. 35K is not a total to be sniffed at. Next stop will be 40K somewhere around the time of my retirement birthday in the spring (except I’m not planning on retiring). There was a time when I thought that 40K would happen in Australia next year but a good hard working summer put paid to that notion.

The new bike is coming together, in bits…

The gold frame’s been in Neil’s capable hands for the past four or five weeks, and we’ve spent much of the time since then swithering over the revolutionary hub gear that’s going on it. To recap, I go through spare parts on the drive chain (that’s the front chain rings, the rear derallieurs and the chain itself) on a semi-regular basis, so Neil suggested going for an internal hub gear: that’s where all of the gears are nice and cosy, inside the hub itself. The fun part is getting the configuration right, because once it’s on, it’s on: there’s no going back. My current road bike has three front chain rings, just like a mountain bike, and a ten speed cassette on the back. So that’s thirty gears to play with, except you never run the chain big ring to little cassette, or little ring to big cassette. You’re always somewhere in the middle that doesn’t knacker the chain or the components.

The new bike has a single ring on the front, a bit like a fixed wheel bike, and a range of gears in the hub that will simulate most of the lower and middle gears on my current bike, with some of the bigger ones thrown in for fun. But the emphasis is very much on the lower end of the spectrum as I’m getting older (and speed is less important). The hub is in, and I’ve actually had my grubby mitts on it. It’s beautiful in a metallic red casing. The theme is going to be gold, silver and red. The frame itself and the front chain ring are both gold. Both hubs and the handlebar tape are going to be in red, with everything else in silver. I haven’t decided yet on the tyres: they’ll either be red or yellow: and solid tyres so I can ignore those pesky farmers. It will be a (custom) bike like no other. Oh, and part of the silver spec includes disc brakes in place of the traditional V brakes that you normally get on a road bike. I can get through a set of rear brake blocks in a fortnight so this is another ruse pinched from the mountain bike scene to try and cut down on the wear and tear of components.

On the work front, it’s been another SNOMED-CT study week. After sitting through 54 presentations, five web conferences, three homeworks and five exams, there are now just two presentations, two exams and a final webinar with my tutor in Denmark to go: and that’s scheduled for Halloween (!!!) with the exams to follow on soon after. SNOMED has been a long road, one that at times has been as hard, emotionally and mentally, as the bike ride. But one feeds off the other and as just long as you can keep turning those cogs in your brain, you’ll keep moving forward.

But I’ll leave you this week with the banterous, encouraging words of Gail. It was while whe were discussing the depth of the lake under the railway bridge in Kilmaurs, that she said that Eileidh would’ve been in there like a shot. “But she’d have needed a life jacket” said I. “That wouldn’t have stopped her” said Gail. “She’d have gone in, then called on you to come and get her out”…

It was at that point that Gail crowned me King Puddles.

Every Day’s A School Day

There’s been a bit of a theme running through this week. It started when I got a LinkedIn message from the Deputy Director of Sport at my old school: I think that was on Monday. I’d liked an article he’d shared and I guess he’s looked up my profile and thought “who’s this character”? Anyway, we got talking (well, I use the term loosely: we started messaging) and he’s asked me if I’d like to go back and address a special assembly about LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma. OMFG!!!

I went to Bishop Vesey in Sutton Coldfield. The school is 490 years old. It’s part of the fabric of society. At that age, you go where your parents send you. My folks didn’t have two halfpennies to rub together but my old man had it in his head that his kids were going to get the education that he never got. His mother died when he was 12 so his dad took him out of Moseley Grammar. The regret of that never left him, and as a waif, he turned his angst into wanting the best for his tribe. So he and our mam jumped over the boundary from Birmingham into Sutton Coldfield, just so we could get a better chance in life. People still do that to this day.

The problem for me was that although I passed the Eleven Plus, I was something of a dunce once I got to the grammar school. In a class of 30 kids, I found myself perennially fighting relegation in every subject. Not for me the A’s and B’s of the high flyers: my report card was strewn with B’s, C’s and the odd D. Standards were high and down in 23rd place, where I usually ended up, it was often difficult to keep my head above water. The problem with the grammar school, you see, was that the pace was fast: the pace was electric. We were doing differentiation and integration in Maths in 3rd year. These days, in Scotland at least, I think they teach that two years down the road. It was hard. I never, ever felt comfortable and turned my attention to football and trainspotting. Oh, and snooker and soul music. I was and still am a black American 60’s soul addict. You can knock me out with some Otis Redding.

Anyway, I digress: it was while I was at Vesey that I fell in love…

With cross country.

I was a tiny kid. I didn’t get to 5 foot till I was 15 (but Hazlegrove was smaller so I avoided the worst of the taunting) but hell I could run. Not well enough to get into any teams or anything, because I was so small, but once my folks put manure in my boots and I sprouted, so recognition followed. Mike Dann, about whom I wrote on Facebook recently, gave me my chance in 6th year and our team won the league. I was on my way.

The following year, after I’d left school, I wrote to the headmaster and asked if I could go back, for one day, and borrow the (grass) athletics track. I’d done the 25 mile Oxfam Walk round the Sutton boundary the previous year and I fancied running it this time around: they said no, so I went back to Vesey and ran 21 miles round the track instead. I was 19. That was my first introduction to fuck you, I’ll find a different way, a better way….

But see down in the relegation zone of class: those kids didn’t go to Uni. I scraped a C in Physics (after taking the O level three times) and a E in Maths, and that got me a place at North Staffs Poly in Stafford. That was where I found myself. That was where I found I could work for hours and hours on my own, reading this, studying that, and slowly making sense of it all. I emerged from Stafford with a 2.1 in Computer Science and I haven’t missed a day’s work since: 42 years and counting in IT. It was paper tape when I started, before the industry moved up market to punched cards then to dumb terminals on mainframes. I was getting somewhere at last…

Ten years in software engineering taught me loads: my formative software design years.

Three years as a consultant out on the road taught me survival. I wrote the Daily Record’s very first advertising IT system, the one that brought in the revenue that kept the paper afloat.

Both of those jobs ended in redundancy, the first because Burroughs merged with Sperry and forfeited our factory to pay for it: the second because the software house ran out of money. I spent three months earning a living on short term deals before I eventually found sanctuary at Weir Pumps. I was still a runner in those days so I used to get a lift into work then run back into town to catch the train. Get this: I would leave my desk to get changed at twenty to five and leg it the three plus miles to Queen Street to catch the train to Croy. The train left at 5:03pm: I rarely missed it.

It was at Weirs that I crafted my SQL skills: 20 years of working with Oracle came to an end when the company was facing closure and Jim McColl rode into town on his white horse and rescued the site. Reprieved. But his team had zero faith in our hand crafted, custom engineered software and they binned the lot. Everything that I’d invested 55 hours a week in (unpaid overtime and some) gone in the stroke of a pen. They brought in SAP: I re-invented myself in Excel: not the front end but the back end. Programming in VBA: the clever stuff: making the numbers work wonders through coding.

Then eighteen months ago this week, I got an instant message from the Head of African Game Reserve Photography, inviting me up to the thick pile carpet end of the floor. I was out the door ten minutes later. They called it corporate restructuring. It was the day before my 63rd birthday. Happy birthday, old man: here’s some money, now clear off. Devastated doesn’t even come close. I cycled home dreaming of shelf stacking…

Six hours later, I had a new job. On the phone, we talked about what I could do, not what I couldn’t. Imagine accepting a job without discussing the salary. I did it because I wanted the challenge…

I went in on a three month deal, which reverted to twelve months after two weeks.

That was eighteen months ago.

In April of next year, the NHS will revert from the clinical coding system that has served it well for the past 25 years, to a new, all singing and all dancing system: SNOMED-CT, the international standard. I saw this juggernaut coming down the tracks a year ago and I knew back then that it had the power to demolish our fledgling enterprise. So I asked to go back to the classroom.

I did the SNOMED-CT Foundation course in Q1 of this year and survived. So I enrolled on the advanced implementation course the day after. I thought to myself “I bet this is where the big boys and girls hang out”. I wasn’t wrong. Six modules, each longer and harder than its predecessor, with an assignment (homework) and an assessment (exam) in each: 70%+ required in each in order to progress to the next round. SNOMED-CT is a clinical system. I am a software guy. I struggled early doors. I really, really struggled the month our mam died and I only survived by 0.23% in the exam. But I survived.

This week, I sat the module E exam: subject matter Development. Tools of said development: SQL. Come to daddy! I will never, ever be a doctor but give me five million rows of medical data to play with and I’ll write you a system.

But see the best bit about SNOMED-CT? It employs a design so similar to the eClipse system that I designed at Weirs back in 2000 it’s untrue. The future of global healthcare is based on a data model that Jim McColl and his horse saw fit to lob in the bin. Sorry chaps but we were bang on the money: it wasn’t our problem that our futuristic design wasn’t appreciated.

I enquired of SNOMED International how many people have graduated from the implementation course in the UK in the three years that it’s been running: 37. Yes, you read that right: it’s not a typo: 37. And in Scotland it’s 2: hopefully I’ll be the third. Pause and think about that for a minute…

Y’see it’s all about believing in yourself, investing in yourself, and never giving up. The only person who knows what you are capable of is you. And that’s even before you get out of your comfort zone and start pushing the boundaries…

Talking of which: I’ve made a big play these last three weeks about attacking the LCFN records across the board:

The most miles in a week went last Sunday. The new mark is 361 miles.

The most miles in a calendar month went on Monday. The old mark was 1112 miles.

1200 miles went on Wednesday.

1300 miles went today.

55,000ft of climbing is the most in any LCFN month.

Tomorrow is the last day of Go Gold September: except that I’ve renamed it Go Puddlium.

My legs have given me everything. My body has given me everything. For the past three weeks, I’ve been on the road for four hours a day. I have learned so much about what my old body is capable of.

But hey…

Every day’s a school day.