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

Back in the days when vinyl was vinyl, and the single was king, proper bands did double A sides when they had loads of good material. Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out and Honky Tonk Women/You Can’t Always Get What You Want immediately spring to mind. Now I’m not suggesting that I’ve got too much material for the blog, far from it, but in this particular case, the first week of my 62nd year, I do have a couple of offerings that I’m basically too impatient to keep in the can. So I give you The Loneliness of the Long Distance Chugger, a remix of the old Alan Sillitoe ’59 classic, and Gone With The Wind, even older in its original form but given the two wheel treatment at the end of a brutally windy week.

To many of my social media mates, I am Yompa, the moderately eccentric geographically challenged long distance walker of the Highland March. To those same blokes, I am also Von Schiehallion, the self styled Black Baron of Highland March 10. I can also lay claim to be one of only two Field Marshals currently operating behind enemy lines. You see the Highland March teaches you stuff about going a long way, often on your own, in difficult conditions, in pursuit of something that you  don’t really have to do. Ever. I mean, why on earth would you choose to walk up to 200 miles in a week, year after year, to watch a game of football? You could go on the supporters’ bus. Or the train. Or drive. You don’t actually have to walk. Unless you want to….

I’ve walked about 1600 miles doing the Highland March to watch Inverness Caley Thistle. That’s quite a long way: it’s Lands End to John O’Groats both ways for a start. But it’s not even half of what I’ve already done on LifeCycle. This week sees the end of the 7th month, during which time I’ve clocked up 4116 miles. A quick calculation says that’s an average of 588 miles a month. The asking rate back at the start was 454 so I guess I’m over a thousand miles ahead of schedule which is quite reassuring.

But being on the road for three hours a day doesn’t half give you a lot of thinking time. I’m lucky because a lot of my most productive ideas come when I’m out on the bike but I often wish I could can them as and when they appear. Many, many times they’ve gone by the time I get off the bike. It’s the same with writing this blog. I have huge chunks of it written (in my mind) on the road, but then it all disappears as soon as I finish.

Gordon, my intrepid explorer biker mate from last year’s Whitelee extravaganza, challenged me to share what occupies my thoughts on the open road, so the bits that are fit for family reading are here in graphic detail…

First up, I curse the weather. I always curse the weather. I curse the weather because the feckin weather deserves to be cursed. Short and simple. If you’re a reading this and you’re a runner, you have my sympathies running into the wind. But I challenge you to get on a bike and try staying upright over the Fenwick Muir when it’s blowing at 50mph. That’s what it’s been doing these last two days. Bucking fecking bronco!

Next up I plan stuff. I plan lots of things: on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I think about particular bits of torture that I can inflict on the Stewarton Annick Under 14’s, all in the name of fitness. For my sins I’m fitness coach to the team and I try to instil in them a work ethic that says you have to be mentally and physically ready to do the job, any job, every time you step onto the pitch. You’ve come here to perform, and in twenty minutes, which is what I’ve got, you will. It seems to work: we outlast teams who are perhaps technically better equipped than we are, and we’ve started winning games.

I can guarantee that on at least two other trips in or out of work, I’m thinking about Cat’s 10K training: because of the complex nature of her availability, we have to be constantly agile in the way we approach the workload. Nothing’s ever easy and the plan is constantly changing but at least we have a plan of sorts. For the record, we’re currently working on alternate endurance weeks and speed weeks in search of an elusive 50 minute 10K.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the LifeCycle miles, and how an extra effort might bring the project to an early conclusion. That might come across sounding like I’m bored and I want this to end, but that would be untrue. I enjoy the challenge: I particularly like the slim waistline (back to 32” where it was twenty years ago) and I like being able to eat what I want whenever I want. But I confess there are days when I think “wouldn’t it be nice not to have to do this”? Whenever that negative vibe strikes, I deal with it swiftly and decisively: I think about Vanessa and Oscar. I think about what it would be like on a nice warm summer’s day, if they were cycling along with me, thinking how this is helping kids just like them. Then I’m sorted. The brain’s back in gear and I remember why I decided to pledge four years of my life to fighting Neuroblastoma.

I also think about the family. On the way into work, I often reflect on the fact that I’m gonna be showered and changed before the kids are even out of bed. Then I wonder if Jane has got up to make a cup of tea, only to be besieged by Dennis and Fluffers on her return to bed. Ten minutes to read her book? Nae chance: biff, biff, fuss please….

And I wonder, from time to time, how Ross would cope with all this. A fitness freak of the gym generation, he prides himself on his muscular fitness but LifeCycle demands fitness on a completely different scale: off it in fact. If you haven’t switched on to this already, get this: LifeCycle is fecking hard. Tired? Turn in: go to bed, even if it is only 9 o’clock. I’ve done it. I often have to leave the rest of the house watching X, Y and Z simply because I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. Yet on other nights, school nights too, I’m still wide awake at half eleven (note to self: not to be advised. LifeCycle on five hours sleep is not a good idea).

So I think stuff: I’m always thinking stuff…

And last night, on the way home, I asked myself “is this the toughest ride home of the winter”. I’m on a new bike, which I got for my birthday, and it has butterfly handlebars that allow endless configurations of hand grips. But most of them, from my early experience, don’t suit my posture and I end up with a sore back. I thought I’d seen the end of that when I configured my mountain bike correctly so there’s clearly work to do on that score. But last night was a beast of a ride home. 30 mph of wind cross and against, gusting to 40-50 basically meant that the home run became a 2 hour bucking bronco in which the challenge was simply to stay onboard. Angela (Jane’s pal) says she worries about me cycling in the dark in heavy rain. Angela, I have news: it’s not the dark you need to worry about (I’ve got a pair of 300 lumen spotlights that scare the daylights out of motors, and a lightshow on the back that half a dozen people have commented that they thought I was the polis), nor is it the rain (just stick on the wet weather gear – except for the Seal Skinz waterproof gloves that definitely don’t do what it says on the tin). It’s the wind you’ve got to worry about. If I worry about the wind (which I do) then you should worry too…

All of which brings me to this morning’s run into work. To put this into some kind of perspective, I used Strava to log all of my rides from August, when I started, through to Christmas. Then I couldn’t be arsed anymore because it was the same old route, there and back every day, and I thought I’d already set my PB’s all the down the road. PB’s are nearly always set going into work because that’s the way the prevailing wind blows. I used to operate a scheme whereby I would bite off one, maybe two sections of the route in, and give it laldy just to see how high up the leader board I could get.  Now to qualify this, I’m 61 and I have a competitive gene. But some weeks and months ago, I came to realise that chasing the leaderboard was no longer in sync with doing what I’m doing: it’s the volume of miles that counts, not the quality and speed.

Until today.

I was still mad with Michael Fish for last night’s gale force wind when I went to bed last night, and I also knew that lashing rain was forecast for 6am, just about the time I would normally be hitting the high exposed road of the A77. Well by luck, Dennis (Jane’s adorable wee cat) woke me up at 4am when he wanted fuss. The purring and tickling under the chin routine was much to his liking but unfortunately, it also meant I was pretty much wide awake by 4:15: and listening to the wind. “Hmm, no rain” I thought, and committed to give it another half an hour in the nest. Dennis meanwhile, determined to enjoy his comforts, plonked himself on my feet: so nae sleep. So I got up at 4:40am, scoffed (yet another piece of) chocolate birthday cake and headed out the door. Feck, it was wild.

The first three miles out of Stewarton I’ve dubbed The Six Hills, for no reason other than there are six hills, all of them up: 800ft of up. Those three miles are cursed with raging cross winds at low speed and believe me, it’s not pleasant at all. But I knew, just knew, that the moment I turned sharp left onto the A77, things would be very, very different: a cross tailgale!

At first I just enjoyed having an easy ride but when I went under the lights at Galston Road End and spotted that the clock was showing 5:53am, I thought “I wonder if I can make the motorway bridge at Kingswells by 6am”. That meant legging it. And that was me. Personal rule book out of the window (what window?) I just kept burning the legs for mile after mile in the surefire knowledge that I’ve never gone as fast as this along any section of this road. Overdrive!

It’s probably better if Angela closes her eyes at this point, or at least skips this paragraph, because you’ve got to remember that it was blowing at around 30-40mph from all directions, but as I came down past the M77 where the old road runs parallel to the motorway just before the Malletsheugh, the speedo was showing 37 point something. I couldn’t clock the extra digit because I was totally in the zone, pedalling as fast as my little legs would go, and hanging on to the bike.

When I got to work and uploaded the file, I had a shufty at the damage: 12 PB’s, one straight after the other, including short sprints and long end to end runs. Not one section missed in 15 miles. The average speed from Kingwells by the Eaglesham Moor Road, to Mearns Cross, about six miles, was over 25mph. So now this 61 year old competitive dad is in the top quartile of every leaderboard into work. Retirement from Strava!!! Well, for now…

I got into work at 6am, just as the rain was starting in earnest. I had bagged an early worm, served up with lashings of lactic acid. But by feck I was happy: Michael Fish had just taken another terrible beating….

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