Eight Days A Week

I caught the documentary “Rio Ferdinand, Being Mum And Dad” in the week. Simply the best piece of television I’ve seen in ages. Moving, gut wrenching and soul searching, and that’s just for starters: as brave a piece of television as you’ll see in a very long time. If you haven’t seen it (yet), then catch it on iPlayer: I implore you. We even put our phones down!!! Then look at your family and live for today, tomorrow and the next day like they are your last, for you never know what lurks around the next corner of life.

The subject matter is losing a loved one, and in Rio’s case it happened just three weeks before he retired after 18 years in professional football. Let that sink in. That is so hard: having worked his socks off for all of his adult life, out on the road for much of the time, the family life that he had planned for retirement was ripped away from him by cancer. His wife Rebecca was just 34.

The focus of the programme was on Rio coming to terms with the grieving process, made all the more difficult by the age of his children: 9, 5 and 3 at the time of Rebecca’s death. Not only did Rio have to come to terms with the loss of his wife, hard enough in itself, but he had no option but to take on the role of mum and dad to his kids: and that’s when things became so very, very difficult. It wasn’t merely a case of taking on the single parent role, the pain was compounded by a grief that both he and children were initially unable to talk about: and as the adult, he slowly learned that the lead had to come from him.

I suspect the fightback started, if that’s the right word to use, when he joined a widowed dads’ network and listened to their stories. In the main those dads were further down the road of grief than Rio and had experiences to share that he could relate to. And the dad who probably kickstarted Rio’s recovery was Dan, who had not only lost his wife, but then lost an infant with his subsequent new partner. You could sense that Rio drew strength from how Dan had remained strong for his older son. From what I could glean as a viewer, I think that was the turning point for Rio Ferdinand. And, in a sense, it’s the link that ties his story the story of kids cancer, to the warriors who fight, and the parents who live with constant worry and/or never ending grief.

There is no good age to lose a member of your family. I was 19 and had been a year away from home in Stafford when cancer took my dad at 48. I wouldn’t say that being away made it any easier, not least because I was at home for the summer when he died. I was also sitting in his chair, at his desk, in his office, working with his mates, on the morning that he died. He got me a summer job in his office, the main sales office at Fort Dunlop in Birmingham. The first year I was there, I worked with the car tyre guys. The second year I filled in for some folk who were on holiday in the motor bike team. But the third year was the big one. My old man worked on the earthmover team, the big stuff supplying the likes of Caterpillar and JCB. These tyres were monsters and very expensive ones at that. With my dad off sick, the big boss called me in on my first day (of a three month stint) and told me that they thought I was good enough to fill my dad’s shoes: to do his job. You never forget a testimonial like that. Two weeks later, he was dead. I worked on for the rest of that summer, selling his tyres, and it was the last time I ever worked at Dunlop. The next summer I moved to Manchester to work for the Electricity Board on my sandwich year and the rest is history…

But even before my dad’s death, I’d caught the endurance bug that’s still with me today. In my last but one year at school (I guess I would have been 17) I did the Oxfam Walk round the perimeter of Sutton Coldfield. 25 miles. The next year I wanted to run it but the organisers wouldn’t let me. Insurance and all that, even in those days. So I wrote to my old headmaster and asked him if I could borrow the school athletics track for a morning instead. Armed with a first aider and a mate to keep me company every few laps, I ran round in 440 yard circles for hours: seventy something laps if my memory serves me correctly. It was something like 19 miles off very little training, then I hit the wall. I knew nothing of distance running and energy systems back then: I just turned up and ran till I could do no more. The hardest part that day wasn’t the running: it was walking the one mile to the bus afterwards, and another mile from the bus to my house. Legs totally seized.

But I’ve learned down the years that it’s only you that can challenge yourself: you set the benchmark, you set the objectives and you draw the line in the sand when it’s time to pull back from the edge. This journey has provided many such moments and certainly none so big as the 36 two hundred mile weeks in a row that ended thirteen months ago with a crash. I’m still gutted that I never managed the full calendar year of two hundred milers, because I thought at the time that I was in the home straight: remember what I said about life around the corner? As it turned out, I lost my job a month later so I wouldn’t have realised my dream in any case: but I wasn’t to know that at the time.

So you set yourself up for all the things that really mean something. And last weekend, with the sun splitting the skies and the weather a balmy 22C (ony five days after snow and 3C), I found joy once more in donning the shorts and letting the fun factor back into LCFN. Unbeknown to me at the time, the sun on my back set the scene for the most unlikely of outcomes. It certainly wasn’t on my radar this time last week…

I’m talking about consecutive 30 mile days (or two and a half hours in the saddle if you prefer).

Back in the commuting era, I hardly ever (ever!) rode at weekends. They were my recovery zone: when you’ve averaged 215 miles (plus 11,000 feet of climbing) between Monday and Friday, you have to take a timeout before Monday rolls round again.

So by Tuesday, when I’d done three 30’s in a row, I was feeling kinda pleased with myself. I hadn’t worked that hard in ages. And that’s what got me thinking: “what if I could put another one on top of that”? So I did: Connect Four. And what about five? Now hang on a minute I haven’t done five 30’s in a row for over a year, since the first week in March last year. That was today’s challenge… I turned in 35 on tired legs courtesy of leaving the front mech in the wee granny ring to give my legs some respite. So what if it was only 12.5mph? It was still 35 miles.

So now I’m back hunting records again. There has only ever been one 30 mile sixer, and that was in late August 2015. And beyond that, one Seven Up, and that was almost almost two years ago, and included the Highland Bike from Forres to Celtic Park for Puddles. I want this: I want six (tomorrow), I want seven (on Saturday) and I want to break brand new ground with an eighth 30 on Sunday. After Eight? We’ll see: these are tired old legs we’re talking about.

But hey, I’ve got my Mojo back with a vengeance. March is going to return nearly 800 miles, the most for fourteen months. And it’s been a month when I’ve been barking (mad) with the lurgi. It really is incredible what a bit of sunshine can do to your spirits.

Before I finish this week, I want to chuck something on Eileidh’s Bucket List. It’s something that’s personal to me, and I hope it’s not too far out of left field that it’s unrealistic. I want to get hold of a kiddies tagalong bike, y’know where the kiddie bit attaches to the back of the adult bike, and take Eileidh for a wee cycle. It only needs to be a nice flat mile, although I suspect she might like it so much that we could end up making that trip half a dozen times. She always reckons that all cyclists are called Steve so this is one way of proving it. I’ll throw the idea into the mix and discuss it with mummy Puddles.

But for now, I plan on keeping this 30 mile show on the road for a full house…

Eight days a week.