King Of The Mountains

When I went back to work in January after two weeks off, I vividly remember cycling up the Cutstraw hill out of Stewarton (a beast of a climb when you’re just out of bed), thinking “OMG, is this the way it’s going to be for the next four years”? It was a really foreboding experience. Pitch black except for my front spotlights, freezing cold, wet, and worst of all, knowing it was going to be like that every morning for the next few months. I also remember that during that first week of 2014, I decided to up my game and go the longer route into work every day (the 18 mile route) simply because I needed something to focus my mind: something to kick me up the ass and stay really driven on the bike.

Seven months later, I can look back on that experience, that chapter of LifeCycle, and know for certain that it set the tone for everything that has happened since, and also probably for everything that will happen in the future. Those first weeks of 2014 define this project. It’s about not giving up. And not just about not giving up on the bike, but not giving up on the idea that you can do one more mile, one more day, one more week and one more month. I started January on 2,445 miles. Now I sit on 7,880. That’s over 20% of the entire LifeCycle budget burned up in just seven months of intense eyeballs out effort. And I’m proud of it: because it’s not just the miles… there’s a full time day job behind every one of those shifts on the bike. 211 days of averaging 37 miles and 1700ft of climbing every working day. I never dreamt a year ago that this was possible.

But the fact is, life is really about what you are able to stand up to: and still perform.

Towards the end of our week on Tiree last week, I was starting to struggle with my back. I’ve struggled with my back for years, and as anyone who is reading this and who has ever suffered with back pain will testify, it’s a curse that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. I think it was brought on by a combination of a less than firm mattress and cushionless chairs that were slightly too deep for my short-legged frame. Whatever the cause, when I woke up on Saturday morning, I wasn’t moving well at all (and I still had two hours of beach bowls to play – ouch!)…

Sunday was worse and whilst I was counting my chickens that I’d already booked Monday off as holiday, I really didn’t know what Tuesday would bring on the bike. One thing was certain: I was riding even if it killed me. I hadn’t gone 51 weeks without a bad back to give up now, and I was kind of telling myself that if I got back on the bike and rode through the pain, it might get better faster. I reckoned on a 10% improvement each day if I was lucky: in hindsight, I’d say I got 20%. It’s not perfect, not by any means, but at least I can get out of the saddle now without thinking I’m gonna split in two.

When I got back to work on Tuesday, I had a humungous number of emails to trawl through: you know how it is. And when I’d done that, I thought “right, it’s time to check the weather” so I went online. I keep the Employee News Centre as my home page because I like to keep up with what’s happening with the company. I work for SPX who bought ClydeUnion Pumps in 2012. ClydeUnion used to be Weir Pumps and even today when people ask where I work, I say “the old Weir Pumps factory in Cathcart”. A lot of people know Weir Pumps but they don’t know SPX.

I’m telling the SPX story (for the first time) because on the Employee News Centre at the start of this week, there was a story about three SPX employees in the Netherlands who entered a number of cycling races in order to raise money for a variety of charities: and one of the charities was Neuroblastoma Research. I couldn’t believe it! Here were three of my company colleagues in the Netherlands who were/are doing the same sort of stuff as me and for the same cause. I got straight onto email and set the ball rolling. By the end of the day (that was Tuesday) I had learnt that there is an SPX Cycling Club on Strava (that’s the GPS app I used a year ago to log my miles until my phone packed up). My Dutch colleagues encouraged me to join the SPX Strava Club (which I did without so much as a second thought) and take part in the weekly leaderboard challenge: most miles ridden and most feet climbed. Holland is flat right? Stewarton to Glasgow (and back) is not flat. It’s not in the slightest bit flat. So the climbing bit of this challenge is clearly going to be a no-brainer. It’s just the miles I have to worry about because these guys go some distance, and a great deal quicker than I do too. After three days in the Club, I lead most miles (125) and most ascent (5,500ft). Next week will be a blast at 210 miles and 9,000ft.

Anyway, back on Strava, I set about looking at my new, longer 20 mile route that takes in the more scenic backwaters of Newton Mearns. There’s a wee loop off the Ayr Road that featured in pictures on the LIfeCycle Facebook page a few weeks ago. It’s the bit up Brown Road that goes from Ayr Road to Mearns Road. It’s a third of a mile long, it’s uphill, it’s twisty, it’s narrow in parts and the road surface is less than ideal. But it’s also a challenge. However one of the main problems with that timed segment of the route home is that it comes after a long climb followed by a flatter section that’s invariably straight into the wind. As a rule, I never work hard going up those hills.

Anyway, on Wednesday when this segment, aptly named Zoom Up Brrom, first came to my attention, I was 10th out of 17 with a best time of 2m15s. “To hell with that” thought I, I can get a top five place if I leg it. Top place was 1m29s and I was way back on 2m15s. 46 seconds is an awful lot to make up but I reckoned that 30 was well within reach. So yesterday I went for it. Coming round the corner off the Ayr Road into Broom Road, I whacked the bike (it’s a heavy tourer by the way) into the biggest chain ring and pedalled like fury. But I was in the wrong gear at the back so while I was spinning those pedals fast, I really wasn’t making the progress I’d hoped for. But it was fast and I knew it. By the time I made the left turn back onto Sandringham, the clock said I’d burnt up 50 seconds but my legs were done. I had to ease off, briefly, before making one final push for where I deemed the end point of the segment to be. Of course it wasn’t until I got home that I was able to stop the recording, upload the file and see what actually happened. I was gobsmacked: 1 minute 24 seconds, five seconds inside the segment record, and top of the leaderboard at a stroke. My first Strava leadership of any kind on any segment and uphill too.

But I wasn’t entirely happy. How can you be happy when you set off in too low a gear and blow your legs up a hundred yards from the finish? No this was most definitely a case of live and learn, and what better than to take the final home run of the week as a second bite at the cherry. That was today…

Bigger gear from the off, nowhere near as much pedal spin but much more power from each stroke. There was still a momentary lapse of power a hundred yards from the finish but that gets marked down as contingency for the next effort. What really mattered was the time: 1m 21s, a full three seconds faster than yesterday (on legs that had done considerably more work) and a whopping eight seconds up on second place. Result!

I may be 61 years old: I may have a bad back: and I may have a heavy bike. But I’m also something else…

King Of The Mountains!

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