Back From The Grail

However much I would like to be the master of my own destiny in the LifeCycle stakes, it inevitably doesn’t work out that way. Things happen, opportunities arise and events occur that mean I just have to roll with the punches and see things through day to day, week to week and month to month. Every day, every week and every month that I can stay on the bike is a day, a week and a month nearer the end of the road. And because I want to see the end sooner rather than later, because I don’t know what the future holds in store, I have a strong desire to keep the mileage high. That drive, that philosophy culminated in last week’s blog and the realisation of The Holy Grail of 250 miles in a week. What I didn’t know when I set out on that escapade was that last weekend would throw up a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something really special, and while it threatened to derail my Holy Grail miles at one point, I managed to avoid that outcome and get the best of both worlds: I got my cake and I ate it…

What happened was that in the middle of Holy Grail week, I got wind of the fact that Mark Beaumont, the intrepid adventurer who’s biked all around the world, was leading an attempt on Lands End to John O’Groats in 24 hours on stationary Watt bikes in a posh car showroom at Braehead, and he was looking for people to cycle with him: he was planning on doing the full 24 hour shift and wanted members of the public to book slots on four identical bikes in the same 24 hour period. I opted for the 5am-7am slot on Sunday morning, madness you may think, but I went for it on the basis that my body clock is quite used to being on a bike at that time Monday to Friday. The difference, of course, is that I don’t normally ride on a Sunday, and certainly not on the back of 250 miles in the previous six days. A significant strategic challenge…

In reality it was great fun and very worthwhile. I got up at 4am, drove to Braehead and strolled into the showroom at quarter to five to find the place a hive of activity. A bike was about to become available so once I was sized up and clipped on, I was off and running. I don’t know how many litres of water I must have got through over those next two hours but I found myself yearning for a bit of breeze and some rain and I quite literally flooded the place with sweat! I didn’t know it at the time but the bloke on the bike next to me was Daniel Docherty the famous Glasgow street busker from Bellshill. It wasn’t until a few days later when I picked up Mark’s Facebook feed that I realised who he was. He’d picked up his guitar late on the Saturday night, entertained the cyclists for two hours, then come back in the small hours to whack in some miles himself: top bloke and a top effort!

At the outset, Mark targeted 875 miles, that being the distance from JOG to LE: in reality however, his team clocked up almost three times that, finishing the full 24 hours (on five bikes) on 2367 miles. My own wee LifeCycle contribution to that total was 51 miles in 2 hours 20 minutes. It was a great wee adventure, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and now I’m just trying to take it easy this week to let the body recover. Those were 50 miles that I didn’t bargain for and I’ve done a lot of yawning ever since.

Having nailed the Grail, I decided to cut back on the miles for the rest of the winter. There’s not a lot of joy to be had cycling in the cold, the wet and the wind so I reckoned that just seeing it through would give me enough of an impetus going into the spring to seek out the big targets with renewed vigour. Sure, I may have a mad turn along the way and bang in a 50 or a 60 but the norm from now until the end of February will much nearer to 40 than it has been for a while: having said that, my record of 40+ miles in a day is pretty good and now stands at 88 in a row. Touch wood, it will be over the ton in a couple of weeks.

Reducing the miles means something around 200 a week. Comparing that with 160-170 a year ago doesn’t sound much like a reduction of course, and it’s not, but coming off the back of 230 over the summer, it’s almost like taking a day off. My body will welcome it, I’m sure.

Less miles means different routes of course, and I elected to go back to Old Glasgow Road on my way out of Stewarton on the 5am run. I’ve used that route on and off for years: it’s an unlit country B road characterised by twisty bends, long straights and undulating hills. It’s a typical minor country road. At that time of the morning, you typically see a car every five or ten minutes, never more than that. At the five mile mark out of Stewarton, there’s a junction on a left hand bend at Windy-Yett Farm where the Little Loch Fisheries single track road branches off to the right. As I approached that junction yesterday morning, doing around 12mph uphill at 6am, I was aware of a car coming up the long straight behind me. With the junction only ten yards away and the back of my bike lit up like a Christmas tree, I reckoned that I was safe to make the turn off to the Fisheries before the car arrived. I was wrong. Despite the fact that I was in the middle of the road with my arm out indicating my intention, the car driver decided that he was going to overtake me before I crossed the road. He was wrong. I had the right of way and he decided that overtaking a cyclist turning right, around a left hand bend, was a safe manoeuvre. It wasn’t. I got lucky: the car driver was forced to do an emergency stop on the wrong side of the road with my heart pounding and me thankful that I was still alive to tell the tale. It goes without saying that I’ve now abandoned any thoughts of making that my regular winter route and I’ve returned to the trusty old A77 cycle lane with its plentiful supply of glass, plastic bottles and cans courtesy of council cuts and ongoing neglect. It may be 2 miles longer, it may be a puncture zone, but at least it’s my bit of road and it’s safe. So for 200 miles a week, read 210ish. I’m back to taking my chance on the Fenwick Muir and everything that Michael Fish has to throw at me.

I look at the schedule just about every day, sometimes twice and I think to myself “only one more November 13th to ride before this is finally over”. It reminds me in a masochistic kind of way how much I hated interval training when I was a runner and I used to get through it by telling myself “only one more 400m and then I’ll be done”. Of course you couldn’t actually say that until you were almost on your knees but the sentiment remains the same: 95% of what I do is slog, pure and simple, but if it wasn’t for those days, there would be no Cake Days and no joyous celebrations of milestones every few weeks. It’s the pain and the slog that makes everything worthwhile in the long run.

One of the things that hasn’t escaped my notice is that when I hit the halfway mark in late January, I will have been on the road for two winters and a summer: I also know, looking at the schedule, that because I’m scheduled to reach my goal in just under two years time, the second half of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma will be the exact opposite with two summers and only one winter. Only one winter: let me reflect on that for a minute. If I get through this winter, then there’s only one more before the finish. Y’know, I think I can do this: think? I know I’m gonna do this…

So as I sit here on a Thursday night (instead of the normal Friday because there’s football on the telly tomorrow), I can either reflect on 302 last week and 167 this week or 251 last week and 218 this: either way, there’s still one day to go and it’s a Friday, the day of hee haw recovery. So those numbers are either back to back Grails or a monster week followed by a double ton, all depending on how I plan to deploy last Sunday’s miles. Either way, I’m tired. Tonight will be an early one for one last effort: tomorrow…

Back from the Grail….

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