A Match Made In Heaven

Sunday night blogs are as rare as days taken off this year, although that’s not meant to imply that I’ve knocked out three in quick succession. This has been one hell of a busy week, with the result that only some cold, calculated bloody minded planning has kept the LCFN show on the road.

I’m defending a run of consecutive 200 miles weeks that stretches back to Christmas week of last year: I will never forget those wretched days of January, February and March but right now the focus is 100% on the Ride2Cure. I apologise to everyone who has watched the miles racking up these past five years but LCFN is no longer about LCFN: it’s morphed into a training programme for the twenty day ride from Brisbane to Adelaide in August and September.

There’s no guilt on my part in feeling that way: LCFN ceased being a fundraiser a long, long time ago, basically because my belief that people would support the ride at a penny a mile, week on week, was built on sand. But I’m not the kind of guy who gives up easily on a passion so when the money dried up, I just carried on regardless and jumped aboard the awareness horse instead: we have nearly sixty cyclists in around fifteen countries clocking up miles in support of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma on Strava, so that’s the message getting out there free of charge.

I guess one of the reasons that the money stopped coming in is that I’m shit at marketing: I’m creative, yes, a dreamer, yes, an ideas man, yes, a challenge man, yes, but ask me to sell my idea to a global audience and I fall short. And I have a day job. I’ve always had a day job throughout this journey, and I guess there came a point when I settled back into my comfort zone, where I was prepared to smash myself into the ground, but I wasn’t prepared, either physically (because I was tired) or mentally (because I was tired) to keep trying to sell what I was doing to people who basically weren’t interested. And at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do on your own.

If I’m being honest with myself, I think Solving Kids Cancer missed a trick in not going after a corporate sponsor that would have kept the pennies coming in. LCFN has never been about a bloke running the London Marathon as a one off: today was my 1,166th day of averaging 36 miles a day, a day when I crashed the 42,000 mile barrier. There used to be a time when I celebrated those thousand mile boundaries with cake, but since I left SPX, those days are long gone too. Right now, only one thing matters…

The Ride 2 Cure.

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am that Neuroblastoma Australia asked me, fifteen months ago, whether I would be prepared to go and do a ride for them. All through my life, all I’ve ever wanted, in everything that I do, is to be appreciated. SPX didn’t appreciate me and that was a key driver in the dark days of the advanced SNOMED-CT implementation course that I did last year. I don’t do giving up without a fight. That’s primarily why I carried on past 25,000 miles and turned my attention to awareness when the funding dried up.

If the numbers that I’ve seen thus far are to be believed, then Neuroblastoma Australia have a lot riding on the Ride 2 Cure tour. The objective is to raise $111,000. That number is derived from the 2222km that we’ve chosen to be the total distance from Brisbane to Adelaide. When I tell you than LCFN has raised just over £10K in five years, then $111K in three weeks is way off any scale that I can readily get my head round. It’s £55K in our money. It feels right now like this is what I’ve wanted all along, someone to come along, grab LCFN by the scruff of the neck and turn it into a money spinner for research: and now, pinching myself, it looks like it might be about to happen. Believe me, it won’t be for a lack of trying on so many people’s part.

The website is under development in Sydney.

The kit is under development in the UK.

We are still actively seeking an ambassador to put their name on the Ride 2 Cure.

The bike has been built but we’re having issues with the solid tyres that I want to run with.

I’ve flogged the corporate sponsorship horse, even with the airline we’re flying with, and been given a long blank stare. But it’s your loss people, because when R2C becomes a reality, I’ll be more than happy to name and shame.

And so to the miles, for this has been an extraordinary week…

There was no way I was giving up easily on yet another two hundred mile week. But being away with my work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday meant that I had some serious issues to deal with. Although I pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the back end of April, I really didn’t fancy doing it again in mini mode this weekend, especially as Jane and I were out on the lash at a silver wedding gig in Cumbernauld on Friday night (hence no blog).

I set my stall out mentally for a big on one Monday. I wanted to go down south with the miles already in the bag, and I used social media as a whip to beat myself. I’d loosely set my stall out for a hundred miles but at the back of my mind, I wanted to smash the longest leg of R2C. So I went down the road of just declaring the pitstops on the LCFN Facebook page. That way, I reckoned, no one would know what I had in mind. 22 miles; 39 miles, 57 miles, 79 miles, 97 miles, 108 miles. They were all pitstops. I ended up calling it a day at 121 miles, not because I needed to stop, but because it was almost 7pm and in a little over eleven hours time, I needed to be on a train, and I hadn’t even started packing.

I had good reason to appreciate those miles come the end of the week. Friday was a bit of a breeze, albeit that I was a bit crammed for time in the late afternoon before I headed off to the party. Saturday I was dehydrated and the miles had to be managed around the football. But despite all of that, there was never any real pressure on double hundred numero 22: four days and 223 miles was a fine return on that initial investment.

The plan now is to chase down the 24 weeks that stands as the most double tons in a row. I will be back down to Liverpool in the near future but rest assured that I’ll be doing my utmost to avoid Merseyside gatecrashing the party, even if it does require another seven and a half hour gig to nail it.

There are just 95 days until I set off from the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane: and still so much to do before I can say that I’m truly ready. Kit, bike and website are the three key components that need bringing to the boil in the next six weeks, all around a training programme that will stay foot to the floor for around another six weeks.

May is well set to become the fifth thousand mile month in a row and may well become the Forever Five landmark of the Ride 2 Cure, inspired from the off when I pulled my finger out in August of last year: 9,655 miles since the beginning of August; over 11,300 miles in the calendar year to today.

For close on five years, all I’ve wanted was to be appreciated for putting my body on the line in the hope that it would make a difference. And now I think it might finally be about to happen. I don’t want to think about the tears in Adelaide: I just want to focus on what lies ahead when I get on the R2C bike outside the hospital in Brisbane.

My inner drive coupled with Neuroblastoma Australia’s marketing skills: it could turn out to be a match made in heaven.

Twenty One Today!

Back in the days when I used to do the Caley Thistle Highland March, I used to start my walking training in about October and really ramp it up once the clock ticked down under a hundred days to go. And I also remember how quickly those hundred days used to fly by: it was a case of get the miles in or be prepared to pay the price.

I mention it because the Ride2Cure starts in 105 days and it’s certainly not lost on me that once we get next week out of the way, the days will race by, and before I know it I’ll be at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, wondering if I’m in a dream of my own making. The answer is probably yes.

For a long time, probably most of it actually, and certainly while I was coping with the Fenwick Muir both ways every day, I thought LCFN would go forever, or until such time as I physically couldn’t get on the bike anymore. But now that I know the end is coming, it can’t come fast enough in all honesty. I’m starting to feel just a little bit worn out. Maybe it’s the increased mileage in preparation for what’s coming down the tracks: maybe it’s just the fact that I don’t want to have to go out for three hours a day, every day, anymore. I think while LCFN was an infinite adventure, I was fine about it, but now there’s an end date, I just want it to be tomorrow. The game’s up. And one of the things that’s focussing my mind is that I’ve just put in 450 miles in the first eleven days of May, but that same distance has to be done is six days out of the traps in Brisbane, such is the schedule.

But before I can hang up my bike shoes and put the bike back in the shed for more than twelve hours at a time, I have some unfinished business: see when you’ve been at something for as long as I’ve being doing this, you crave to push the boundaries one last time because you know, deep inside, that this chance will never come knocking at your door ever again. Next Monday is going to be a crucial training day, the most important since that manic Saturday at the end of April when I pushed the boat out just to maintain the thousand mile months. Y’see today I bagged another 200 mile week, and with two days to spare. That’s 21 in a row, or every week this year if you prefer. But next week I’m in Liverpool on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Now you see why Monday matters…

I’ve said a number of times over the piece that one of the things that I’ve really appreciated about LCFN (note the past tense) is being able find where the magic happens: and I’ve been lucky enough to find it several times: the problem is, to be able to do that, you need to withstand an enormous amount of shit, both physical and mental, in order to give yourself a chance. Right now, I have a chance to put one of the best LCFN records to bed, but next week stands in the way. It’s the number of 200 mile weeks in a row: it stands at 24, excluding holidays. I’m on 21 and I’ve waited almost six months for this chance. It’s my last chance to smash this one to smithereens.

I’ll be on a train at 6:30am on Tuesday so early morning miles are out of the question: and I’m not back until 9pm on Thursday night so Thursday miles are dubious also. Monday is key: I’ve been eyeing up Monday for about three weeks, trying to get my mind in gear. The physical side will take care of itself: fuel and liquid of plenty. I’ll be knackered when I get home on Thursday night, and we’re out on Friday night so Monday is crucial. I want a hundred miles. I want to climb onto the bike on Friday, refreshed (ha!) after three days off, my most since December, knowing that anything near 50 will make the weekend manageable. Saturday’s likely to be a wee bit shambolic after a Friday night party so that’ll have to be a quiet one. But I reckon if I can deliver a ton on Monday, then 22 double hundreds will be within reach.

It’s been a funny old week this one: I had my old mate Gringo and his good lady Dozza staying at the start of the week. Gringo and I go back to the days of the Highland March: like me, he was fascinated by the adventurousness of it all, and we’ve been best mates ever since. He stays in Coventry Nil which probably explains his somewhat downbeat outlook on life (he won’t mind me saying that – he used to support Blues before he discovered Caley). Despite me being a Baggie and he a closet Blue, we do share a common passion in #SOTV.

Anyway, I digress. While I’ve been sat on an empty (teenage parlance for one’s parents being away), Jane’s been down south walking the Cornish Way with some old University friends. It’s a long story but the summary version is that Jane re-found one of them at a gig hosted by one of my Facebook friends and he happened to mention that both he and another old Uni pal, who Jane was at school with in Inverness forty years ago, do a long distance walk every year. She knocked it back last year because of her imminent Sports Massage finals, but this year she’s away keeping the men in check. Word has it Jane’s in charge of the kitty.

As if a working average of 41 miles a day wasn’t enough these last couple of weeks, I threw my hat into the ring on Wednesday night to help out at the foodbank collection at Celtic Park. I cannae remember when I did my first one but I’m only too well aware that shifting a couple of tons of food from the four corners of the stadium into a central point, then loading it up into vans for distribution across Glasgow, all while the game is on, is both a challenge and a back breaking exercise. Wednesday’s collection was made all the more difficult because it lashed it down with rain in the hour before kick off, so in addition to receiving full bags of stuff, you were rummaging through them, trying to locate and secure anything packed in paper (sugar!!!) or cardboard (cereals and tea bags for starters). And all the time you were bent over the bags, you were getting soaked right through to the skin. It was a bloody cold, miserable evening, but see once we’d shifted all the stuff and got it back to base, it was a time to reflect on a job well done. I really appreciate being one of the team working on the collection: I counted fifteen pairs of hands in a human chain from the van to the container back at Calton Parish Church: a mixture of old faces and new ones too. And what I love most is not being a diehard Celtic supporter like the others, I can just be me, doing it because I know it makes a difference to someone, somewhere.

And so to my other passion: my work. While I’ve not been on the bike, I’ve been diligently working away, developing a rule driven database that supports a virtual (ie completely fictitious) medical practice. I’ve had the patients for a couple of months, all configured according to the gender/age profile of the UK population. But these last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the business rules to seed those patients with conditions in line with national stats: the rules stipulate, for example, that X% of males aged between 45 and 54 have a BMI of 30 to 35, and that Y% have a BMI of between 35 and 40. But the rules are cleverer than that: I’ve termed them co-morbidity rules because what happens when the rule engine runs, it not only codes the primary codes, it then goes down a level and codes A%, B% and C% of those patients with other conditions, also defined by national statistics by gender and age: those are the co-morbidities. So what you end up with in the database, for example, is percentages of people who’ve been configured with type 2 diabetes also being configured with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity and depression. It’s powerful stuff, and it allows clinicians to develop new screening tools for disease, totally offline from actual patient data, and in a world where data is about to become ever more protective, that can only be a good thing. Two years on, I no longer give a shit that SPX didn’t value my skills: I was better than them anyway.

So LCFN rolls on. It’s never been easy, and it certainly ain’t easy right now, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel: it’s 127 days away: a hundred and wum. When I finally reach Adelaide, I’m guessing that Amelie and I will have a forever kind of a hug that will give the Leona hug a run for its money. And there will be tears. I just know there will be tears.

But that’s for then, this is now: the 200 mile weeks just keep on coming…

Twenty one today!

Glen Tromie

Glen Tromie ain’t no country and western singer, nor is it anywhere near Galveston.

I have a love/hate relationship with Glen Tromie that goes back fifteen years to the very first Caley Thistle Highland March, although to be fair, if we’d just bitten off Tromie alone that day, instead of tagging the Minigaig Trail on the back end of it, things might have turned out differently. However since then I’ve been back four or five times, sometimes walking north to south, and sometimes the other way round: and always on a Highland March. I’d never tackled Tromie on two wheels: until this week.

Thinking back, I’ve walked either the whole of Tromie (or the Gaick Pass to give it its other name), or bits of it en route to the Minigaig, on Highland Marches 1, 2, 3, 6, 8 and 10. It’s 21 miles from Drumguish, three miles east of Kingussie, to Dalnacardoch Lodge at the bottom end of the Drumochter dual carriageway on the A9. Tromie’s an old drovers’ track that cuts about six miles off the dogleg A9 route which is why it’s always held an appeal for long distance walkers: and it’s totally away from civilisation so it’s not a place to get lost or injured.

When I say that my relationship is one of love/hate, that’s because I’ve learned to respect everything about that route. If you’re not mentally strong, Tromie will find you out. If you’re not physically capable, Tromie will find you out. And if, by some chance you are found both mentally and physically wanting on the day, Tromie will torture you. The top end, about eight miles of it, is a tarmac single track road. But you won’t see a soul in those eight miles because the road doesn’t really go anywhere. Then the tarmac changes to a high quality land rover track that would give any proper road around LCFN a good run for its money. And after that it’s rubbish: the track has holes cut by 4×4 vehicles, mud, bog, and at least three decent water crossings. When you know the route, you can condition yourself for what’s to come, but as a first timer, you just have to adapt and get on with it.

Tromie on wheels came about because of a dude from Kent, Steve Nash, who’s walking from John O’Groats to Lands End to raise money and awareness for Stacey’s Smiles, a Kent based charity that grants (and funds) wishes for kids seriously ill with stage four neuroblastoma. I met Steve through Lisa, who is Kian’s mum. Steve and I met up in Glasgow for a beer a couple of months ago and when he told me of his plan to walk down the A9, I had an alternative idea, albeit just for a day.

But first, let’s turn the clock back. This time last week I was still looking down the barrel at some big miles to try and keep the thousand mile dream alive for April, and with it every month so far this year. But on Sunday I was booked to go to Aberdeen for the day so with 15 hours already set aside, something had to give, and it was the miles. No worries mind, because I forward loaded Sunday’s miles on Saturday, so even with the day off, 320 miles in the last week of the month sealed the deal. It would be nice if May could make those thousand miles Forever Five, especially as the month contains the day of wee Oscar’s passing and Eileidh’s diagnosis. But the week after next I will be in Liverpool for most of the week so unless I can bag a ton on the Monday before I head down the road, and another big windfall when I get back, I fear the worst: but if you’ve followed LCFN this far, you know that I’ll definitely be pulling some stunt or other to keep the record breaking part of the show on the road. And the good news is that I’ve got time to plan for it: if I manage to keep the daily average above 35, I’l be fine.

So, back to Wednesday…

When you’re playing support to a serious challenger, you set up your life to make it possible for them to achieve their goals. Once Stevie boy gets down to the Central belt, he’ll have no end of people offering to take his big heavy bag and ship it off to the next overnighter: that’s why I chose Glen Tromie: I wanted to be able to make a difference where I knew there would be no help: in the middle of nowhere. So on Tuesday afternoon, I loaded the Gold neuroblastoma awareness bike (complete with its solid tyres and internal Rohloff Speedhub) into the back of the motor – seats down – made a complete loaf of cheese sandwiches and set the alarm for 3:30am. I needed to be in Kingussie, 150 miles away, by 7am. I wanted Steve to be on the road by half seven because I know that Tromie’s a seven hour gig, and you can tag an extra hour onto that because he’d still to walk the three miles to get to the start of the trail.

My job was simple: swap his big heavy bag for a light one, make sure he had the OS maps that covered his route (I even gave him my Hammerhead Karoo with the route downloaded so he could work out at a glance where he was until I got to him): then leg it down to the bottom end of the trail before cycling back from the boggy end to meet him. It was fundamentally important (in my mind) to get to Steve before he got off the tarmac road. My default position was that he needed a guide before the going got tough.

I left the car at 8:10am to set off up the trail…

  • Wind against
  • 3C
  • Sleet
  • Uphill

It was the toughest of tough shifts. With three knee deep water crossings to contend with, a couple of hundred metres of peat bog and a slippery narrow track before I got to the safety of the higher level water filled potholed track where it was snowing, I was struggling to maintain anything close to 6mph. But I knew the route, I knew the terrain and I knew the distances. More than anything, I knew that if I could reach tarmac before he reached gravel, then the gig was in the bag: and I spotted him about a mile away, the other side of the lodge house in the middle of nowhere, before either of us needed to start panicking.

Steve said to me soon after we met “I did wonder what would have happened if you’d had an accident”. That was why I furnished him with the maps and the downloaded route: you are the blue dot… just make sure the dot stays on the red line. Technology eh?

But we made it. And the descent was surreal: there we were, two blokes from opposite ends of the country nattering away about a common cause of supporting families devastated by neuroblastoma. Yes, we come at this from different angles: Steve supports terminally ill kids whereas I support research into new treatments. But at the end of the day it all counts: blokes doing action stuff that hopefully makes a difference.

I guess the other big news this week is that we’ve finalised the shirt design for the Ride 2 Cure tour. It’s been an epic team effort across the globe with ideas and logos flying back and forth on instant messages and emails for the past couple of months. But now we’re all agreed on something that we think will work and it’s all very exciting: Aussie gold is the base colour, which just happens to match Go Gold for kids cancer awareness when R2C will be in Sydney on September 1st plus there’s plenty of pink to blend the Neuroblastoma Australia logo with the memory of Princess Puddles.

But that’s not all…

I’ve seen a beta version of the Ride 2 Cure website: it’s stunning, simply stunning. The website makes me realise what a big deal this gig is. It gives me goose pimples when I stop to think that getting a folding bike for my 60th birthday is going to lead to me kickstarting the inaugural Ride 2 Cure that’s ultimately going to fund laboratory research on the other side of the world. R2C is 2222km long and every one of those two thousand odd kilometres is up for auction. It’s going to be fantastic. People have asked me “who’s doing it” and when I say “just me and my mate Gabby, who’s driving support” they’re kinda gobsmacked. But I hope that the media coverage that R2C generates, and the funds that flow from it, will make this the start of something bigger. When I walked the very first Highland March to celebrate my 50th birthday, I really didn’t expect it to take off the way it did. But now I’m older and wiser, and I’ve come to realise that these things have a habit of taking on a life of their own. I bet you didn’t know, for example, that The Kilt Walk is the grandchild of The Highland March, conceived by one of our legendary walkers, Chumba, who walked from Oslo to Glasgow to raise money for the Tartan Army Children’s Charity. When the Tartan Marchers did their lap of Hampden, someone nicked the idea and lo and behold, the Kilt Walk started the very next year.

But there’s never been a Kilt Walk through Tromie.

Not yet anyway… 😉

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.

Ka(nga)roo

Australia is coming, I can feel it. Three months until Jane and I board the plane and four months until the Ride 2 Cure kicks off. LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma used to dominate my every thought, much like sex is supposed to woo yer average male brain, but the thought of spending six hours a day on a bike in a wilderness half a world away is now king. Planning is in full swing…

If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll know that Gabby, my big ginger Aussie roadie, decided that we were going to hire a motor home instead of doing stops at fixed locations. We booked ourselves a big upstairs/downstairs four berth job a couple of months ago so the accommodation is sorted. Gabby calls it a road trip.

Then we needed a website so we can maximise awareness of the Ride 2 Cure tour across the globe, so Neuroblastoma Australia have engaged a web developer to put together something that will do the ride justice. Our plan is to auction off every single one of the 2222km between Brisbane and Adelaide in support of neuroblastoma research. I have to say that I haven’t seen the website yet but I’m hoping that you’ll be able to click stuff and see updates from along the road. I think it’s gonna be fabulous!

So then we thought “kit”: we need kit. My mate Neil who does all my bike stuff used to be a a graphic designer in a previous life so he and I have been knocking ideas about in much the same way that we came up with the gold bike. We have the shirt design, we have the front and back layout, we have some stuff that we want to add for the website, and we also want to add some logos for Fast Rider Cycles as they have been building and fixing LCFN bikes for the best part of four years now. I wouldn’t be going to Australia if it hadn’t been for Neil: fact.

And what about the route? H

Ha! The route… I started out a few months ago by playing on gmap-pedometer to get an idea of the distance. That was back in the days when we planned to go down the coast via the Gold Coast and Sydney. Then Neuroblastoma Australia asked if we could make the total distance around 2200km so riding over the Sydney harbour bridge went in the bin: too far by 300km. It was around that time that I discovered the website bikemap.net: I bought a subscription and started messing with inland routes: that was when I discovered Wagga Wagga. I sooooo want to go to Wagga Wagga.

Now being in the middle of nowhere is all well and good, but if you miss a junction, you can find yourself not meeting another one for another twenty miles. So navigation is kind of important. Cue the Ka(nga)roo…

To give it it’s full name, the Hammerhead Karoo is basically SatNav on a bike. It’s a box of tricks much like a Garmin that sits on your handlebars and does all of the stuff that a Garmin does, but with the added advantage of SatNav without the irritating voice (actually there’s no voice at all: you have to look at the screen, which is no real hardship when you’re only doing 15mph and it’s right there in front of your nose). The Karoo is an absolutely brand new piece of kit. The first models didn’t ship until about six weeks ago, but because I’d had my name on the early supporters list since the back end of last year, I got mine at a huge discount. I guess if you’re diving in just now, you might not be so lucky.

The Karoo does what SatNav says on the tin. It does routes. I plugged in “Lady Cil” and it offered me “Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, Brisbane”. Correct. Then I whacked in “Adelaide O” and it offered me the Adelaide Oval. Correct. That’ll do for planning’s sake. So then I clicked on ‘make route’. This is all on a device no bigger that a smart phone remember… and less than ten seconds later there was my route, configured on bike friendly paths and roads. All 1350 miles of it. I’ve still to find another 30 miles because this one’s about 40km short of our desired 2222km but that won’t be a problem, believe me: we’ve got three weeks to find that detour.

So then you’re thinking “yeah well, that’s a pretty high level route”… no problem, grab the screen with two fingers and do exactly what you do with Google Maps on a smartphone. In ten seconds, you’re down at street level on the great escape from Brisbane along the Western Highway bike path.

The Karoo is a truly fabulous piece of kit.

And, having made your route(s), you can download them onto the device and use them offline: that’s exactly what we’ll be doing because I dare say there’ll be hee haw t’internet in the middle of nowhere.

So are we going to Wagga Wagga?

Well the official route says no but see those extra 40km that we’ve to find: I reckon we might be able to wangle a detour. The nearest we get is a place called Yanco but that’s on the hypotenuse of a south westerly leg so I suspect that if we head due south from West Wyalong then hang a right a Wagga Wagga, that’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Yesterday morning at daft o’clock, Gabby and I had a two hour Messenger call whilst sharing my desktop: he’d just had his tea and hadn’t yet had my breakfast but I did had a Sports Direct pint of coffee on my desk so I was well sorted. We basically had two screens: on the first screen was the Karoo route in all it’s drilldown glory. The second screen was Google Street view. You get the idea: drill into the Karoo bike route, right down to street level, the jump across to street view to check the lie of the land. Gabby knows the route out of Brisbane anyway, but it was hugely beneficial, not to mention educational, to be able to play with the intersections and check out likely meeting up points on the way out of town. Once we’re out of Brisbane, it’s a piece o’piss. Just keep heading south and watch out for ‘roos. If there’s one thing I really don’t want to do on this trip, it’s getting sideswiped by a kangaroo.

On the miles front, or phase 2 training as I prefer to call it these days, I’ve managed to trade the knee injury for a calf strain. I suspect I managed that clogging a really intense shift on the rollers midweek: maintaining 20mph at my age puts an immense strain on the body but my old friend ultrasound has, these past two nights, managed to keep the show on the road. Today I trimmed a couple of mph off the norm and got an extra songs in on the Solving Kids Cancer playlist.

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…

Which brings me to the calendar year of miles: A bit of me would have loved to have cracked 10,000 miles in a January to December year but because this adventure will finish in September, that won’t happen either (nor did I quite manage it in any previous year). But the year that runs from April 21 last year to April 20 this year is sitting at 11,126 miles which is some compensation. Of 109 days so far this year, I’ve cycled on 108 of them: and 107 of those 108 have been 30 miles plus. This time last year I’d only been out 84 times and of those, only 25 outings were 30 miles or more. That has been the impact of ramping up the workload with the Ride 2 Cure looming over the horizon.

The week has been random and extraordinary as if by default: up at 5am working on two days: still working at 10pm on two other days, but lots of flexibility in between because that’s the way life is these days. In between, I’ve managed to load the new release of SNOMED-CT into the toolkit that I’ve been developing: all 27 million rows of it.

If you’d said to me five years ago that when I got the folding bike, that it would eventually lead me to Australia, I’d have sent for the men in white coats. And if you’d said to me just over two years ago that I’d have become an in-demand software developer in a new technology sector within healthcare, I’d have definitely had you certified.

But that’s exactly the way it is…

The land of the Ka(nga)roo.

Friday The 13th

I was about sixteen when I discovered running: not ‘being sent out to run round the playing field in gym’ type running, but running for the sense of freedom, achievement and wellbeing that came with it. But in those formative days, half a life ago, running taught me a basic life skill: every day cannae be a good day. What I found out, to my dismay and often my frustration, was that without the bad days, you could never enjoy the real highs of the good ones.

I’m re-counting that story today because yesterday was a bad day. Actually it was worse than that: yesterday was one of the truly bad days: I got off the bike at 23 miles and thought to myself “I can’t do this anymore”. I’d hit rock bottom. All the miles, all the effort, all of the commitment counted for nothing in an instant. I was cold, the weather was utterly miserable, again, and I just wanted to be anywhere but riding that bike (and to make matters worse, it was the gold bike). The bike was on the turbo in the back garden and I was just rattling off the miles watching a Youtube video with the Bluetooth headphones on, something I’ve done hundreds of time before. But in an instant, it became different, the legs just stopped: my motivation just snapped. I prowled around for about half a minute, trying to buy myself some time. I tried to convince myself that this was the stress of being on rollers kicking in (it can get you that way, especially when you’re clogging a big gear) and that I only had another twenty minutes left to do. But another part of me wanted to just park the bike back in the shed and walk away from the session.

One of those two emotions was gonna be king for a day: one of those emotions was going to dominate the other with such power that the rest of the LCFN journey was likely to be decided in the next sixty seconds…

I sat on the wall, looking at the gold bike. I’d disengaged the turbo but the back wheel was still spinning freely (that’s 12th gear for you), when for some reason, I homed in on a calculation: how many days have I cycled this year? But see when you’re mentally and physically drained, simple wee calculations like that ain’t so easy. It’s a simple case of adding 31, 28 and 31 then trying to remember today’s date and adding that onto the total. I’d forgotten it was Friday 13th. Anyway, I did the sum forwards then backwards (I often do that to rule out an assumptive error in my addition) and came out with 103. Then I recalled having missed a day to snow back in January, then refusing to lose another by bagging a Forever Five gig at ten o’clock one Sunday night after I’d got back from a trustees’ meeting in Aberdeen for Eileidh’s charity.

One hundred and two days cycled out of a hundred and three: a hundred and one of them over thirty miles: and you want to give up now, like this”.

And therein lies the problem with training on rollers at home: you have a choice. You always have a choice. And sometimes that choice turns on you and bites you on bum. That’s exactly what happened yesterday. So I guess you want to know what happened next. I have a playlist that I put together for my seven hour drive down to Landan last November for the Solving Kids Cancer parents’ conference. I stuck that on instead, homed in on Teenage Kicks then got back on the bike. Yeah I was hanging on for dear life to a degree but those last twenty minutes were way more important than just turning the wheels: they were symbolic of this whole journey: where it’s been and where’s it’s going.

And that feeds rather aptly into Australia. A bit of me feels guilty about the Australian gig yet at the same time a large part of me is whispering over and over that the cause is absolutely, 100% justified. There are a lot of good people out there doing amazing things to raise money that enables kids to enjoy the time that they have left. But that’s plastering over the cracks. It does nothing to prevent the next child, and the one after that, and the one after that from treading the same pain-ridden path. The only answer is to understand why neuroblastoma occurs, to understand what are the triggers, and to understand how to formulate a treatment plan that promotes some form of active recovery. On my watch nothing else matters.

Solving Kids Cancer has been a good fit with that philososphy throughout LCFN because they fund kids through expensive treatment that somehow feels to the families like it offers hope that doesn’t exist in this country. Clinical research is critical because it proves or disproves that a specified treatment works: and often it offers hope where otherwise none exists.

Neuroblastoma Australia is different. Neuroblastoma Australia feeds straight into laboratory research whose objective is to discover new treatments that can then feed into the food chain of clinical research. I’m a data analyst: so-called big data is my life. It was just invented thirty years too late for me.

This week I published the route for the Ride 2 Cure: it’s 2,222km and there are a lot of 2’s in there for a reason: be grateful when your child reaches the age of three unscathed because two is the most common age of diagnosis.

Go on Google Maps and check it out: and have a wee swatch at Pilliga because it’s an interesting place, or at least it will be for about ten miles or so. You can even grab the wee Googly man and drop him in the middle of nowhere to see how imposing this is. Long flat straights, allegedly nae traffic and hopefully nae rampant kangaroos:

Day 1: Aug 24 Brisbane to Lake Moogerah (100km)

Day 2: Aug 25 Lake Moogerah to Inglewood (170km)

Day 3: Aug 26 Inglewood to Boggabilla (95km)

Day 4: Aug 27 Boggabilla to Gurley (160km)

Day 5: Aug 28 Gurley to Pilliga (140km)

Day 6: Aug 29 Pilliga to Gulargambone (135km)

Day 7: Aug 30 Gulargambone to Narromine (140km)

 

Day 8: Aug 31 drive to Sydney (Neuroblastoma Australia PR)

Day 9: Sep 1 Sydney (am) then drive back to Narromine

 

Day 10: Sep 2 Narromine to Forbes (160km)

Day 11: Sep 3 Forbes to West Wyalong (130km)

Day 12: Sep 4 West Wyalong to Yenda (130km)

Day 13: Sep 5 Yenda to Hay (152km)

Day 14: Sep 6 Hay to Balranald (148km)

Day 15: Sep 7 Balranald to Managatang (105km)

Day 16: Sep 8 Managatang to Walpeup (90km)

Day 17: Sep 9 Walpeup to Murrayville (90km)

Day 18: Sep 10: Murrayville to Lameroo (70km)

Day 19: Sep 11 Lameroo to Sherlock Rest Area (70km)

Day 20: Sep 12 Sherlock Rest area to Murray Bridge (65km)

Day 21: Sep 13 Murray Bridge to Mount Barker (45km)

Day 22: Sep 14 Mount Barker to Adelaide (30km)

 

You’ll note straight off that the workload is skewed. The homework that I’ve done on prevailing winds suggests that the first half is likely to be way more favourable that the second half. So I’m reckoning on bagging some big ones while my legs are fresh then hanging on for dear life if need be once the headwinds assume Groundhog Day proportions.

With every passing day, the Ride 2 Cure assumes ever more importance: this ain’t gonna be no ride in the park. The focus has definitely shifted: it’s no longer a case of banging in every last mile in the hope of hitting some distant target. 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.

Yesterday was an absolutely crucial day, and every time that I hit upon one of those days, it takes the experience of everything that’s gone before to get me through it. Mainstream kids didn’t go cross country running for pleasure back in the late 60’s, but this one did. Pensioner’s don’t go for fourteen hundred mile bike rides on the other side of the world, but this one’s going to. And it will work because of the mindset of Friday the 13th.

Turbo Charged

Anyone who’s ever been carpet shopping with me knows the score: I don’t know what I want. I get there by a process of elimination… “don’t like that, don’t like that, don’t like that….

I can knock out what I don’t like quite quickly, leaving a much smaller sample to choose from: and even then it’s by no means certain that I’ll actually pick anything that’s left on offer.

I mention it because I’m fast approaching the business end of the Ride 2 Cure tour and some hard decisions have to be made, the hardest of which is which bike is going on the LCFN road trip.

I’ve been secretly swithering over this for the past six months: get it right and it’ll be the tour of a lifetime: get it wrong and it could be the tour fae hell. So I’ve been mixing and matching, switching configurations and all the time looking for the combination that offers maximum reliability at optimum speed. You might think that the speed’s not important but losing a couple of miles per hour over 2222km is the equivalent of an extra day on the journey, and with it additional stress on an old body.

So let’s roll the clock back twelve months: when I accepted this challenge, I was riding my Mk2 Trek road bike that had about 8K miles on it and had been through numerous mechanical overhauls. That bike was always the default because it was light and it fitted by bodyshape like a glove. But there was a nagging doubt at the back of my mind that doubling the number of miles on it, before I’d even left Brisbane, was a risky strategy: yer cannae afford to have a major mechanical in the middle of nowhere.

And that’s where the Rohloff speedhub came in: an absolute beast of a piece of kit, the Rohloff hub on the gold bike has seen me through the worst winter since I started, and it’s not missed a beat since the shifter problem back in late November. I’ve stuck four thousand miles on it since then and it’s been brilliant: except for punctures…

I’ve always run the most bulletproof tyres on the market as a matter of course: Schwalbe Marathon Plus. That used to be the only option but then a year or so ago they introduced the Marathon Plus Smartguard that are reckoned to be virtually indestructible. I punctured two in three days a month ago, one on the front on a hedge thorn at 1C with just a couple of hours of daylight remaining, then the back one on a shard of glass with heavy rain imminent 12 miles from home. I couldn’t be arsed with the fix the second time because the speedhub is a faff with punctures so I rode the bike back home on a flat tyre and fixed it in the kitchen.

And I made a decision….

To sack Marathon Plus Smartguards.

Of course if you’re going to discontinue using the most bomb proof tyre on the market, then you’re basically just moving the problem: it’s like squeezing a sausage shaped balloon at one end and watching it pop out at the other end.

But I’d already decided that I wasn’t staying with tubed tyres: confidence shot to pieces.

A few months ago, while I was researching the best route for Brisbane to Adelaide, I came across a route that some guys had ridden on touring bikes from Sydney to Adelaide. The route looked great on paper, with the cross country roads as quiet as quiet could be once they got away from suburbia. But punctures were a real problem. I seem to recall that on one particular day, they had six. Fuck that!

I decided that I had enough time to give solid tyres a shot. I so nearly went for solids when the gold bike was new but Neil, my mechanic, talked me out of it. That’s what ultimately led me to stay mainstream and get those two blowouts last month: not Neil’s fault: my bad luck, but hey, the die was already cast…

The Rohloff hub sits on wide 20mm rims and the only solid Tannus tyre that goes on a 20mm rim is the equivalent of a mountain bike road tyre at 75psi. On the rutted, patched and potholed roads round here, the red Tannus tyres ride well, and I actually do like the feel: but they come at a cost of between one and two miles per hour, and my gammy knee from twelve years ago hates them. The extra effort required to get them moving at pace really annoys that knackered knee.

So I had to make a decision, except it was really a no-brainer: I cannae possibly go to Australia with 32mm Tannus tyres on the gold bike: option eliminated.

So ten days ago, with a sore knee, I dug out the old road bike, the one that already had a load of miles on it. Two miles out and heading uphill out of town, the derailleur hanger snapped. Totally sheared off. Fortunately it was downhill all the way home but was exactly not the kind of mechanical I needed at this stage in the game. It was the very reason I went for the Rohloff: to eliminate derailleur problems.

So the next morning the bike went into the workshop and Neil hit me with an opportunity. It had always been my intention to get that bike reconditioned as a top notch road bike for Jane: but there was so much wrong with it after a winter sat in the shed that Neil and I agreed on a deal. I’m not gonna spill the beans just now because I want to make the announcement on the LCFN page on Facebook in a couple of weeks, but suffice to say that the bike that’s going to Australia for the R2C tour will be the most amazing machine: certainly the lightest thing that I’ve ever ridden (possibly coming in at under 9kg) and fitted with narrow yellow Tannus solid tyres configured at the racing equivalent of 105psi. There will be no knee problems on this beast: and it will go like a rocket.

And it’s Jane’s bike: I’m just borrowing it for a few weeks.

So now you’re thinking “so what’s he done with the gold Rohloff bike”?

Let me roll clock back 25 years…

I don’t want to rake over the coals, but suffice to say that in the late summer of 1993, I decided that I was going to ride my bike (a Flying Scot) from Manchester to Glasgow in a day for Action Research (for Children). And the plan was to do it nine months later in June 1994. There was only one problem: Ross was just three and the joint custody arrangement meant that he was with me on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and all weekend from Friday to Sunday. Yeah, I got the cream in that arrangement: I can’t remember when we swapped Monday for Tuesday but we definitely used to go playing pool on a Tuesday night, him just about peering over the top of the table with his stick.

Anyway, I digress: planning to ride 240 miles in a day off only eight months training requires some lateral thinking outside the box: so I bought myself what was then Cateye’s top of the range turbo trainer, stuck the Flying Scot on it and wedged the back wheel between the wall and the kitchen door into the lounge so the wee man wouldn’t lose a finger. The living room floor was littered with toys at the weekend, Ross right in amongst them, and I bagged the miles. The routine was incessant: an hour in the morning (sometimes before he got up) then another hour in the afternoon. And every other day of the week I bagged thirty to forty miles: always on rollers. The first hundred mile ride I ever did was in my kitchen on a 1% gradient. And I followed that with a 5 hour ton in five hours outside Safeway at Stewartfield, again for Action Research.

I duly completed that Manchester to Glasgow ride in a day: I even managed to fall off at Carnforth (my own stupid fault), cracking a bone in my elbow in the process, and I rode the remaining 175 miles one handed. That’s the same drive and commitment that’s heading to Australia in four months’ time.

That turbo trainer has been in the loft for ten years.

Not any more it isn’t.

It’s now got the gold bike on it, the only problem being that the gold bike, being a cyclo cross frame, is four inches longer, wheel to wheel than a standard road bike, so I had to engineer a custom bracket to get the front forks secure and stable: sorted.

I’ve not been out on the road all week: music on, the hundred best driving choons of my life on shuffle at high volume, and the turbo in the back garden in the pouring rain/sleet/snow. There was a day, I think it was Tuesday, when I thought briefly “I can’t do this anymore”. I was soaked, it was freezing, and the sleet was sheeting down: and I still had another hour to do. That was my darkest hour. I stopped, briefly, stretched my legs, then thought back to the darkest days of the Fenwick Muir. As miserable as it was, there were only fifteen miles to go so I closed my eyes, imagined I was actually back on the Fenwick Muir in the middle of January and got that session finished. In terms of Australia, it was a big, big moment.

The result is that since Monday, I’ve ridden a hundred and fifty miles round the back garden: on the Rohloff bike, on Tannus tyres, with the lightest possible on the turbo roller (to overcome the 75psi problem) at almost 20mph. And nae sair knee.

Phase 2 of the Ride 2 Cure tour is well and truly turbo charged.