The Dirty Dozen

I never envisaged writing this story two weeks ago. But then I never envisage much on this adventure till I get out the door and feel which way the wind’s blowing. These days I just make it up as I go along, every day.

I don’t like going out late (that’s anything after two o’clock): it feels like I’m pressurising myself because anything decent is then running into tea time. Early is good: early is relaxed: early makes it feel like you have all day. I like early. It costs me timewise of course because when I’m out on the bike, I’m not sat at a computer and hence not earning. But hey, there’s more to life than money, just so long as you’ve got enough to get by. There’s life itself and that’s precious.

You wouldn’t believe the rubbish that goes through my head while I’m out on the road, but if I’m in a positive frame of mind, some really creative stuff inspires the grey matter when I get back home. There’s something really therapeutic about pouring over the issues that are challenging me workwise while I’m out on the road, and I invariably come back with a different take on the various problems, which is good. Even when I was working for an employer, I used to say that they should pay me to go out on long walks and bike rides. It’s where my best ideas come from.

Anyway, back to two weeks ago. I’d recently come off the back of a 200 mile week, my first for six months, and it was making me feel a wee bit frisky. LCFN winters can really get to you and as this was my first non-commuting winter, it was often difficult to motivate myself to go out and do anything (what I would call) useful. 20 to 25 had become the norm: even the odd teen miles. Who was I kidding? Myself. I needed a right good kick up the arse and I got one a fortnight ago: the weather was gorgeous, it was suddenly warm (22C is warm round these parts, believe me) and I made hay while the sun shone. And I enjoyed it.

So just as one longer day became two, so two became three. And then four. Four became five. Repeat…

By now the weather was back to being traditional West of Scotland: basically shit. Strong winds, westerly or prevailing westerly, grey cold and intermittently wet. 12C on a good day. It’s the way we roll in Ayrshire. So if you wanna get anything decent done, you’ve got to be prepared to fight for it. And that’s where the connection to Eileidh comes in. I haven’t seen her for six months, basically because the two times that I’ve been up north since October, I’ve been full of the lurgi, and you don’t go anywhere near a Princess when you’ve got the lurgi. But that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t think about her. She inspires all the tough rides, the ones where it would be dead easy to take a wee shortcut and head back to HQ. My self imposed, unwritten rule is that when I really don’t fancy it, I remind myself what she’s going through and I go the long way instead. Eileidh won’t know. Gail won’t even know. But I know and that’s good enough for me.

So that’s how the dirty thirties got started: a couple of nice spring days and a load of rubbish ones. I got home after about four of them and checked Strava to see when I’d last done five in a row. That’s how I knew I was back on it. When athletes are checking the stats, they’re on it, believe me. A lazy athlete doesn’t wanna know: a hungry one does, and then sets goals to rewrite the record book. That’s precisely where I was last weekend.

The thing is, right, I knew there was a finite limit to this, because tomorrow I’m off on a stag weekend. I haven’t been on a stag for over twenty years: since my own. It’s like a stag is a young bloke’s game. But this is no ordinary stag. It’s Ross’s, and Ross is my eldest. All the Taylors of drinking age will be there: and it’s an aeroplane job. I cannae say tonight where we’re going cos there’s a fair chance that Ross knows there’s a blog coming out and he doesnae know. Well, not officially anyway. He’ll find out tomorrow morning.

So I’ve been pushing the boat out these last two weeks knowing that there was a wee rest just around the corner. But check this: I’m gonna pack some cycling stuff on the offchance that I can find a bike hire place and bag a few international LCFN miles. As long as I don’t get wrecked on day one, I suspect that LCFNing is a better idea than spending all day on the bevvy. We shall see…

So, back to the storyline: the most consecutive 30 mile days that there’d been since I started was seven, and that was courtesy of the Highland Bike ride from Forres Mechanics FC to Celtic Park in May ’15. The weekend that we did that bridged the gap between two normal commuting weeks. Back then I used to take every weekend off because I needed the rest. Recovery is as important as being out on the road. Seven seems like a pittance, an embarrassment almost, but to anyone willing to point a finger, I say this: go and ride for three hours, then do it again the next day, and the day after that. Experience the weariness that sets into your muscles after each successive day.

If last week was the aperitif, then this week was the main course. And it totally screws yer legs. If it’s not the distance then it’s the time in the saddle. If it’s not the time, it’s the relentless climbing. And if it’s not the climbing on its own, then it’s all of the above. In the days when LCFN was a twice a day jaunt into Glasgow and back, daytime was dedicated to replenishment and recovery. Back then, every ride was two hours max. These last two weeks have been pushing three, and that extra hour makes a real difference. My glycogen limit is just over 1800 calories of fuel, dictated by my metabolism. And every hour that I spend on the road gobbles up 600 calories. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to do the sums. Every day that I come back from a 30, I’m low on fuel. And any day that I don’t replenish properly, the next day, for sure, is guaranteed to be a bad one: and as every bad day feeds directly into your confidence (or lack of on days like that), you very quickly end up fighting a vicious circle.

But I learnt all this fuel stuff a long time ago. Putting it into practice was commonplace until a year ago: but three hour rides are to be respected. I go out, I ride, I come home. I don’t bother stopping for refreshments, I just do my thing. The aim, always, is to have maximum confidence that I’m gonna get home in one piece. Which brings me to last Saturday…

A bright sunny day, I’d gone to Kilwinning and then on to the Beach Park at Irvine. Heading back from the Gailes Hotel, there are a series of roundabouts. The first one’s a right, the second one’s straight through, the third one’s a left and the fourth one’s another right. The easy one should have been the second one, but it’s a big roundabout over the six lane A78, with two lane slip roads on and off. Not much traffic uses that roundabout, known locally as the Newhouse Interchange. I came onto it with a tail wind and nothing to my right. I was probably doing 20mph. Over the main road underneath, I could hear the revving of a car engine and I was pretty certain that it wasn’t behind me. No, this was on my left. Something was flying up the slip road. From the road below, the slip road is bordered by gorse bushes and it’s not until you get about ten yards from the roundabout itself that you have visibility of ongoing traffic. I was wearing red in place of my normal fluorescent yellow. Mistake. The car, a silver Range Rover, came straight out onto the roundabout: the driver, a single male, hadn’t seen me. Then he did. A squeal of brakes and rubber on the road left his motor in the middle of the inside lane in front of me. I had just enough time to swerve past his now stationary front bumper. Another of my lives used up. It can’t go on like this: too many near misses for my own good.

Undeterred, I just ploughed on the rest of week, pushing the boat out further and thinking of Eileidh’s own fighting spirit. Today, despite a broken pedal which sheared clean off its spindle ten miles from home (it had done around 16,000 miles), I added another onto that run of 30 milers. That makes twelve, and it will probably be the last:

The dirty dozen.

Author: Von Schiehallion

I'm an old endurance athlete who's pulled a few tricks in his time. I ran my first marathon at 19 round a grass athletics track, ran/hobbled 100 miles in a day at 30, cycled from Manchester to Glasgow in a day at 40, kickstarted the Highland March at 50 and now, at 60, I'm doing LifeCycle. Life's too short to sit still for long. I like doing stuff that just seems impossible...

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