Happiness

It’s not unusual to arrive at Thursday night and have no idea what the theme of Friday’s LCFN blog is going to be: the journey has been a heady brew of 90% perspiration/10% inspiration since day one so I’ve kind of got used to making it all up on the hoof at the proverbial eleventh hour.

This week has followed that pattern right from the off: it didn’t matter in my head that I’d managed to smash 1,050 miles in January, against all the odds and in the face of some atrocious weather. I’ve become a little blasé to such milestones if I’m honest, not because I don’t think they’re right out there – because they are – but because I know I have it in me to go out there and do it all again, better and bigger, if I want to. I’ve kind of adjusted to the ongoing demand and my body now expects to have to deliver more, week on week, month on month, year on year, all around a full time job.

But first of all, I want to reflect on last week’s effort: 99 Pink Balloons. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the most memorable bike rides have been the hardest ones: setting off to cycle into work at 3am in winter to pick up a laptop just so I could work from home to avoid 70mph winds later in the day; changing my route to try and find gritted roads at -9C at 5:30am to maximise my chances of staying onboard; and perhaps the daddy of them all, standing on the pedals in the granny gears just to keep the bike moving forwards at 2mph in lashing rain in the teeth of a gale in the pitch black on the Fenwick Muir.

99 Pink Balloons was one of those stories that’s desperately difficult to write: pitch it wrong and you can destroy some vulnerable souls at the very worst time in their lives. But get it right and you can give them strength. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and judging by some of the comments on social media these last few days, I think the effort was worth it and I’m pleased that it brought more than a just a tear of sadness to the eye. In compassion lies hope.

But the real key to this week’s story appeared unexpectedly on my Twitter feed late last night: Jackie Barreau is an amazing person to have on this journey. Our paths crossed while our family was holed up in a hotel room in New York in July 2015 watching the women’s World Cup football final between England and Japan: Jackie, ironically, was in Adelaide. We got involved, quite randomly, in a Twitter exchange on the US style of commentary being employed on the networked coverage (“the ball has just crossed the end line”), and that led, in turn, to each of us doing some research on the other, outside of the Twitter convo. I discovered that Jackie lost her son to neuroblastoma in 1998 and she discovered that I was riding a bike on a special journey. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jackie feeds me stuff all the time, and last night she copied me in on a story about Michael Crossland. Michael Crossland is as important to Australia as Jimmy Harrington, it’s just that Jimmy hasn’t endured the personal challenges that life has thrown at Michael, and Michael’s probably got twenty years on Jimmy. But apart from that, they were probably case from the same philanthropist mould.

Yesterday, Michael carried the Queen’s Baton on the Commonwealth Games relay to the Gold Coast as it passed near his home. It marks him out as a special person, although in reality I would suggest that he might beg to differ.

When you’re done with the words this week, please come back to this point and click on this link: these eight minutes might just change your perception on life:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5QUI9bD5Pg

Michael is a neuroblastoma survivor, but more than that, he’s possibly the most sought after inspirational speaker in Australia today. When Michael speaks, people listen, and they too get inspired. The first time I watched that video (yes, I’ve watched it more than once), something clicked. For the first time, I understood a little better why I do this, why I attempt to ride my bike for three hours a day, 365 days a year. Michael Crossland put into words something that has been going round in my head for a very long time: it’s about why you do stuff: why you get up in the morning with the sole ambition of making someone’s world a better place. Without me realising it, Michael explained why I went to Layla’s funeral and penned 99 Pink Balloons on the back of it: I didn’t see that train of thought coming but it hit me smack between the eyes when it did..

But just when you think Michael’s story couldn’t get any more heart rending or any more gut wrenchingly dramatic, he became a father (just a few weeks ago) and this happened:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fb03td-5pbQ

I think every challenge that I’ve ever faced, either as an adult or a kid just paled into insignificance. Michael Crossland has been there and seen it all. I can hold up septicaemia twenty nine years ago as perhaps the pivotal moment in my adult life, because you’re not supposed to come back from that. I got proper full blown flu six weeks after, while I was still in recovery, and that floored me for a second time. Back in ’89, I had three Cumbernauld Marathon Walks under my belt, and no one had ever won four, so I made it my ambition that year to come back from the proverbial dead after a three year absence and give it one more go. Six months after spewing up bile on a trolley in a corridor at Monklands Hospital because they didn’t have a bed in the isolation ward, I got that coveted fourth crown. But it was never about anything other than proving to myself that I could come back and do it one more time, before it was too late, before that chance was taken away from me.

My sporting life is full of regrets: I regret not breaking two hours thirty for the marathon. Off the back of several 71/72 minute half marathons, it should have been a tap in, but I was a bloke with a passion for life rather than a passion for a performance so planning was ultimately my downfall: not so this journey: I now allow each lapse, each hurdle, each fall by the wayside, to morph into a new focus to go where I’ve never gone before…

I’m about to come up against the two year anniversary of when I crashed on black ice at half five in the morning and wrecked my thumb. Wednesday February 10th. Apart from not being able to hold a pen in my writing hand, I rode home that night unable to change gear or brake properly. That accident ended a run of 36 two hundred mile weeks, a stat that will stand head and shoulders above all else once I’m done with this bike ride. But I wanted a full calendar year and I was denied. The disappointment was colossal.

History shows that I lost my job five weeks later and that I would have fallen short in any case, but that is really missing the point. I was eleven days off the bike after that crash, and even when I got back on I was struggling to change gear or use the front brake. When Michael Crossland stands in front of an audience, he talks not about the knockdowns, but the pick me ups. It’s the way you deal with adversity that ultimately defines you. Those first three weeks back on the bike, in pain and with a compromised grip, were 271, 224 and 240.

The second longest run of double hundreds started back in September last year in Go Gold month: that one ran to eleven before work took me down south and away from the trail. The run that I’m just now will stretch to seven this weekend and already I’m starting to get a sniff, just a sniff, of a three month roll. Believe me, any old fool can knock off a few long runs in the summer, but repeating that in the depths of a Scottish winter is a whole different ball game. Right now I choose daylight when back in the day I saw none for five months in a row. But that is my only concession. Going out at a time of my choosing in winter brings with it a whole new challenge because whereas before, I had to do it, now I have time to ponder, and banishing negative thoughts is many times more difficult than spending three hours on the bike in near freezing conditions.

Michael Crossland nailed it when he said “it’s amazing what you can achieve when you shape your life purely around happiness” because now I understand much better why the space that I’ve been in ever since I fell, quite unexpectedly, off the corporate bandwagon, has been the most productive of my entire life.

The moral is simple: refocus your life and invest in your happiness….

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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