The English Patient

Remember that old (Harold Wilson) chestnut about a week being a long time in politics? Well it’s a long time in this game too. My attempt at 200 miles in January was well and truly scuppered by a violent storm last Friday and this week, despite succumbing to other issues which I’ll come to shortly, has been even more woohoo than last week. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we had so many wild days in such a short space of time. Winter draws on…

Back at the end of October, when the clocks went back, I coined the phrase The Hundred Days Of Hell. It was designed to give me light at the end of the tunnel, light in which I would be able to see the back end of winter and the beginning of spring. What I didn’t know back then, and how ironic it is that it’s turned out that way, was that on days 58 through to 100, I wouldn’t be on the bike at all. In a sense, spring has sprung early, albeit that the weather’s still rubbish.

The reason for the sudden interruption, and I have no issues with the timing because I wouldn’t have had it any other way, is that I had my long awaited hernia operation on Wednesday. I’d managed to accumulate over 5,000 miles since I first noticed the first dull ache in my groin back in July, but there was no way that this was ever going to get better on its own, so the timetable of GP referral in September, Consultant appointment in December and surgery in January was as good as it could be in the circumstances. For the record, lifting heavy stuff is probably not a good idea when you spend 200 miles a week straining every muscle of your lower body on a bike, and it’s certainly something that I won’t be doing again in the future. It’s what sons are for: plural.

Being the competitive sort (there isn’t one male in our side of family who isn’t, by the way) I’d kind of hoped to get to the halfway point of the 25,000 mile challenge before the surgeon got his scalpel out, but that wasn’t to be. This was his timing, not mine. However I was damned if I wasn’t going to take it to the wire so despite the weather on both Monday and Tuesday being spectacularly horrendous, I still managed to bag 87 miles before conking out on the slab on Wednesday lunchtime. That made me feel good. It kind of gives you a point of reference when you can say to the consultant registrar that despite you being in there to get patched up, you were out last night, toiling for two hours uphill into a 35mph headwind, giving it everything you’d got.

I’d to be at the Day Surgery Unit for 11am: I was there at 10:45. I don’t do late. After I’d filled in my forms and signed my life away if anything went wrong, I got changed into all the gear, and went off to read my book in the patient’s lounge. The book is kind of bike related in that it’s written by Gary Imlach, the ITV4 presenter of the live coverage of the Tour De France. The book is called My Father And Other Working Class Football Heroes, and it’s written from the perspective of a son who grew up in the lifestyle, privilege and shadow of a dad who was a journeyman professional footballer turned coach back in the 60’s. And the reason this book is so apt at this time is because it wasn’t until after his father passed away that Gary Imlach realised how little he knew about his father’s achievements in the game. As a result, he had to go digging in the past to understand how it all came about and what drove his father on. There’s more than a passing hint there for my own three…

Anyway, I digress. I’m in the waiting room with all my clobber on, which included a pair of what I might call Grandma tights (which I’m still wearing by the way): they’re designed to minimise the risk of DVT post op, and they look like a pair of John Terry jobs without the shin pads, a sort of Full Kit Wanker outfit without the full and without the wanker.

So the registar comes in for a chat, to explain how it’s all gonna work out, and we get on swimmingly. She’s a lean, athletic looking black woman with a handshake that shouts “I’m good at my job”. I took to her immediately. I asked her how strong the repair would be, knowing in the back of my mind that I was going to be putting a further 13K miles on this as soon as I was able. “Think of it like a mosquito net” she said. “It’s a gauze matrix with very little strength of its own at all. All of the strength is derived from the scar tissue that forms over the top of it”. And in an instant she’d sold me on the remaining 42 days of the one hundred days of hell. They would indeed be spent on my backside. I remember thinking, “Jane’ll be happy, but so will Leona”. Jane definitely knows how impatient I am to get back out there and via six months of weekly tales of toil, I suspect Leona has a pretty good idea of it too. But the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. I am under no illusion that if I come back too soon and burst the net, square one will be a lot further back than that. So 42 days it is, six weeks if you like, and I’ll just have to count down the days, exactly as I’d planned to do as the nights were drawing out.

The operation itself, I’m led to believe, was pretty straightforward. Forty five minutes of cutting, poking about and stitching resulted in me being out cold for two and a half hours and waking up with a raging thirst at three o’clock. The weirdest part was that they wouldn’t let me go home until I’d done a pee but I knew I was dehydrated because (a) I’d had nothing to drink since 10am, and (b) the hospital was roasting. I felt like Wiggo in the testing centre at the end of a long hot day in the saddle and knew straightaway that this wasn’t going to be some five minute miracle. Four cups of water and two cups of coffee later, I was not only the last man standing in the ward but I’d to send Jane home to come back later after I’d produced the goods. So it was with arms aloft that I emerged triumphant from the gents at half six, safe in the knowledge that I could finally go home.

But there’s another benefit to being off the bike. I had to rummage back through the weeks to find out exactly when this happened, but on the morning that I went over the handlebars in Pollok Park in the dark, after an argument with a fallen tree, I knackered my upper arm. I landed in a kind of superman pose on my left hand side and I knew straightaway that something was up, but as it wasn’t leg related, and it didn’t stop me riding the bike, I just ignored it. Except I couldn’t. Three months down the road it’s no better than it was on that morning, so the moment I got my date for the hernia op, I made an appointment to kill two birds with one stone up at the doctor’s. That was this morning. Of course he knew that I’d had my operation, and was expecting me so was somewhat surprised and confused to learn that I had another reason for a visit. Dr Google had already advised me thus “The clinician should have a high index of suspicion when the mechanism involves a fall onto an outstretched arm and there is resultant elbow extension weakness along with pain and swelling”. That’s the definition of a triceps tear and it’s also precisely what my own GP confirmed. The problem with riding a bike, particularly when you have to negotiate 2,000ft of climbing every day, is that you are constantly pulling on the handlebars and the injury has had precious little time to rest since October. So cue 42 days of rest, no heavy lifting, and a chance to come back 99% sorted. This timeout simply could not have come at a better time.

For all of that, I now have to get my mind around the fact that the second half of LifeCycle is now going to be a mirror image of the first. There will be no going straight back into 200 mile weeks, this is going to have to be planned by listening to my body, listening to my stitches, and taking each day as it comes. The legs will be fine, and so will my endurance. You don’t lose 18 months of 200 miles a week in the blink of an eye. Yes, there will be some confidence issues, and I’ll probably be super sensitive about every tiny niggle in the affected area, but I do plan to build the miles back up to where they came from over a period of weeks, and be hitting the big numbers again in the summer. Whether I’ll be in shape to do Highland Bike this time around is highly debatable so that’s a decision I’ll park until much nearer the time. I suspect the issue there won’t be the groin, it’ll be whether the legs can take 200 miles in 24 hours.

So the challenge now is to fill five weeks of blog space with five weeks of stuff of interest. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that the weather will feature large in that somewhere, and I know right now that part of me wants it to snow like the clappers and hang around for a while, just to make me feel better.

For at the end of the day, and another forty odd days, I’m just The English Patient.

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