Mind Over Matter

A long time ago, when I used to run in the hills at lunchtimes and race ultramarathons for fun, I used to wish I had a machine that could pummel your legs so that they could/would feel like they’d done fifty miles, whereas in fact they’d only done five. There are two aspects to that dream: endurance training takes ages, and time is money, and the sheer agony of dealing with screaming muscles, empty on fuel, is something you can only learn through experience.

For running 35 years ago, read LCFN preparing for the Ride 2 Cure tour. My legs are in the screaming red zone.

But to explore why that is, we need to turn the clock back two weeks. I came into April on the back of a nagging knee injury, the same knee and potentially the same injury that I damaged when I crashed my mountain bike in the Corrieyairick race twelve years ago. I had it operated on in 2007 and the internal damage that it suffered when I smashed it into a rock ultimately finished my running career.

The 1st of April, fools day, was a Sunday and I had a trustees’ meeting to attend in Aberdeen for the Eileidh Rose Puddles Project. I had intended to get out on the roads at 4am before heading north but wee Dennis had been fighting on the Saturday and I’d been up nursing him half the night so 4am came and went: I bagged a #ForeverFive around Stewarton at 10pm on my return instead.

Because the old war wound was sore, I’d decided that April would be a month spent on rollers. I have a turbo trainer that I bought 25 years ago to train for the Manchester to Glasgow in a day jolly when Ross was wee. I still have those turbo wheels so I’ve mounted the Gold bike on the trainer and it sits in the garden shed. If it’s nice, it comes out and the miles get done on the patio, but if it’s pishing doon, the miles get done amongst the garden spades because the back wheel slips on the turbo roller in the wet.

I get through the turbo sessions by virtue of a Solving Kids Cancer mp3 mix that I put together for the long drive down to Landan for the parents’ conference last November. Today, I got through the whole mix, all 70 songs, before I’d finished the session. That was a first: the session was a long one at 100km, all done at 18mph, or 160 watts of power if you prefer. Either way, it was three and a half hours of total slog.

Riding on the turbo is infinitely harder than riding out on the road. For a start, if you stop pedalling, the bike stops very quickly: there’s no freewheel option on a turbo trainer. Then there’s the fact that the solid Tannus tyres that are on the Gold bike are the equivalent of 75psi so even though I’ve got the turbo set up to take the lightest possible contact with the back wheel of the bike, it’s still really, really hard work to maintain momentum: and through hardship, comes endurance and long term power. There is indeed method in the madness.

But back to that blog of two weeks ago, somewhat aptly named Friday The 13th:

“The objective now is actually a balancing act of deciding when to call off the attack dogs of endurance in favour of the rather more tapered dogs of the home straight. The hammer is definitely staying down for the rest of April but I may give up on a fourth straight thousand mile month, despite the fact that I’ve never achieved that and despite the fact the weather finally looks set to relinquish its winter coat. I’ve a gammy knee to nurse to the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. My thinking is that taking my foot slightly off the gas at the end of May will somehow enable me to coast along through some sun baked days of the cricket season before we finally board the plane.”

Whilst I’d managed to keep the run of 30 mile days intact, and with it the 200 mile weeks, by the time I wrote that blog, I’d only accumulated 366 miles. Extrapolating that up comes to less than 850 miles for the month and that was basically what made me own up to the fact that I’d blown it for the fourth straight thousand. The picture was really no better by this time last week but by then there was another cloud on the horizon: this is from last week’s blog:

“Sunday will bring up the 18th consecutive 200 mile week of the LCFN journey. I used to go on about the 36 weeks I managed back in 15/16 that was set for a calendar year until I crashed on black ice at 5:30am. But that included holidays so the real consecutiveness was actually only 24. This run won’t get to that because I’ll be down in Liverpool with my work within the next couple of weeks but given the winter we’ve had, it’s been a fabulous run, and one that I will never repeat in my lifetime…”

Another epic run of bloody minded hard work about to come to an end: or so I thought. It was very much on my mind when I wrote that that it might actually end at 18 because this coming Sunday, two days from now, I have another trip up to Aberdeen for the Puddles Project. The Aberdeen trips necessitate 14 hours out of the house which leaves precious little time for owt else and this one is no exception : indeed it’s actually worse because I’ve booked the 8am bus from Glasgow so I can find a pub to watch the Celtic-Rangers fisticuffs before the meeting starts. Losing a day from the week piles the pressure onto the other days and you don’t have to be maths graduate to realise that 200 divided by six instead of seven means that every day is pretty much full on.

So when I got on the bike, in the shed, in the rain, at 6:30am on Monday morning, it was to defend those 200 mile weeks. The record fourth consecutive thousand mile month was but a mere pipe dream, 351 miles down the road and only a week away. I’d parked that one.

But a challenge is a curious motivator: and there’s nothing to beat a bit of experience, even if it was 25 years ago, to help set the scene. My focus was 100% on bagging 200 miles by Saturday (that’s tomorrow) so I could take Sunday off. I’d done the maths: 35 a day was enough, so Monday was 35. All done and dusted by 9am.

Tuesday was where things started to liven up. I got to 30 miles and was still feeling perky: so I decided to bag 40 instead of 35. But 40 ended up being 50… no big deal, all I’d done was forward load a few miles to make the end of the week a wee bit easier in case the weather was rubbish and the spirit was on the wane.

On Wednesday I was tired. I paid for Tuesday, and some, and even though I’d had this notion that it would have been nice to bag back to back 50’s, my legs had other ideas and I bailed out at 42. No sweat, that was 127 done and dusted in three days and the 19th double hundred was on the slate, awaiting collection.

Then I did the sums.

776 for the month and five days left in the month, including Sunday’s trip to Aberdeen.

It’s not really on, is it, as in ‘really on’”?

224 miles in four and a bit days. Then I started thinking in earnest about what lies ahead in Australia: 100km days, twenty one of them, with about ten hours of daylight to play with. Those miles I’d been doing on the turbo were all at 18+mph, way in excess of anything I’m likely to face on the Ride2Cure so my thinking going into yesterday was here was a chance to kill two birds with one stone: let’s see how far into the fifties I can take the ride, and then at the end take a rain check on the April target. My legs were falling off at 50 miles but I managed to hold on for another seven before calling it a day. I’ll tell you how tired I was when I got off the bike: I forgot to disengage the turbo so when I got back on today, there was an indentation of the tyre that presented itself as a thump every time it hit the turbo flywheel. After ten minutes it was pretty much back to normal but forgetting to release the turbo was a very silly mistake.

And so to today…

Even before I got onboard, I’d decided that by hook or by crook I was doing 100km. That’s near enough a four hour full on session with short breaks to rest the numbness in the nether region every hour or so. The miles between 15 and 40 were a killer. For a start, I wasn’t sure I was physically up to it after yesterday and the two days that had gone before: but around 25 miles, when I took a break, I thought back to the first hundred miler I ever rode: in my kitchen in East Kilbride: and my third: outside Safeway in Stewartfield (a fundraiser for Action Research for Children). And I knew, I absolutely knew, that all I had to do to achieve that 100km goal was to hope that the next song was a fast one, and to keep turning those pedals.

The playlist ended just two miles short of the finish but by then the damage was done in terms of the objective. The first real bunch of simulated long runs ahead of the Australian outback, 400km in the bank since Monday, and maybe, just maybe, a realistic chance of achieving that elusive fourth thousand.

LCFN: mind over matter.

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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