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.


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.

One Hundred And Sixty Seven…

The eyes of the world are focussed on Australia: cheating, the Commonwealth Games and the Ride 2 Cure tour. The ball tampering scandal has dominated the news all week and rocked the proud Australian nation to its sporting core. The Commonwealth Games kick off on the Gold Coast next week and my mate Gabby is rushing home to Brisbane to feed off the frenzy. The Ride 2 Cure tour has been at the back of my mind for a long, long time but now it’s getting ever more real: some might say scary…

Anyone who ever had the privilege of being a guinea pig of mine while I was soaking up coaching theory like a sponge in the late 1980’s will know the score: periodization of training: I pinched it off the Russians and used it as the cornerstone of PB2000, the coaching management software that I wrote thirty years ago. Periodisation is as relevant today as it was back then: it’s just the science behind it that has moved on.

The principle is simple: select an objective event some distance (way) into the future then break the time between now and then down into phases. Typically, phase 1 is the longest and focusses heavily on strength endurance: it’s the biggest and most important building block in the pyramid of phases: it’s where the grunge work gets done: hours and hours of endurance based training, designed solely to get you to Phase 2 in good shape.

Phase 2 is more focussed on the speciality of your event: it’s where you start to use the mental and physical strength that came out of Phase 1 to hone your skills. Phases 3, 4 and 5 are all about further sharpening of the plan to bring the athlete to the peak of competition which comes at the end of phase 5. Typically, the whole periodisation from Phase 1 through to Phase 5 takes about 10 months to play out, although you can shorten it as required. The problem with today’s athletes, and this is just my opinion, is that they expect instant results off the back of insufficient preparation, or worse, they don’t plan for an objective outcome in the first place: I come from a school whereby if a job is worth doing at all, then it’s worth doing right: and with that comes 100% commitment.

Here’s the requirement of the Ride 2 Cure tour: 70 miles a day, every day, for three weeks. Now to avoid blowing up in the middle of nowhere, that means that Phase 1 of the R2C training programme demands pushing the body to a place where it can cope, mentally and physically, with that challenge. Anything less, given the gravity of the workload, and you’re just playing at it. This has been serious for a very, very long time…

Phase 1 kicked off last August, I just didn’t publicise it as such. I much prefer to do the work then reflect on it afterwards. Phase 1 has embraced August, September, October, November, December, January, February and March: eight long months in the harshest winter we’ve had in years. Here we are at the 30th March and there’s yet more snow forecast for next week. Phase 1 hasn’t been just a physical thing: it’s been way more mental than that.

Eight months: 7,900 miles.

Compare that same period to the LCFN years gone by:

2013/14: 4,300

2014/15: 4,900

2015/16: 7,100

2016/17: 3,600

I can excuse the winter of 16/17 because I was still trying to establish myself after the big R and my motivation had taken a hit: but the thing I hark back on is that I never gave up: it would have been the easiest thing in the world to use the circumstance to justify a copout but it never happened: and from that came the Ride 2 Cure.

It’s now just four months until Jane and I head out to Brisbane. It’ll be gone in a flash. The first two weeks after we arrive will be what Leo Matveyev, the Russian physiologist, called tapering. I’ll get out on the bike when I can to offset muscle wastage, but both body and soul will be focussed on the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital on August 24th and the climb up and out of Brisbane. Day one of R2C will be just like a classic Ayrshire tour, but longer: and all the time I’ll be focussing on day two because I’ve gone back five years in Windguru data and there’s never been a strong headwind in the last week of August in the direction we’re headed. Day two is mostly flat and downhill and I’ll be disappointed if I can’t bag a hundred miles. We have 11 hours of daylight to play with and in temperatures in the low twenties ©, it could, and should be idyllic. In my mind I’ve broken the tour down into two: 700 miles to Wagga Wagga then turn right and head another 700 miles into the wind. That’s basically it in a nutshell: make hay in those first ten days because I’m sure as hell gonna need it in the second half of the journey.

The route is inland, five hours drive inland from the coast (Sydney et al), so we can get the distance down to 2222km, 2 being the most common age of diagnosis of neuroblastoma. When I started training, it was with the coastal route in mind and a further 300km to do. With the change, I feel a degree of comfort with where I am: three one thousand mile months in a row through January, February and March: there has only ever been one instance of 3×1000 before and they were back in the autumn of 2015: believe me, autumn doesn’t have a patch on winter: chalk and cheese.

But there’s another side to just banging in miles: climbing. Bagging miles on the flat is akin to cheating when there’s a bigger challenge on offer. LCFN has now been on the road for 56 months and the most climbing that I’ve ever done in a single month in 57,000ft. That record will go tomorrow. So not only has Phase 1 delivered an increasing number of miles over an ever more challenging winter, it’s done it going uphill.

58,000ft is the same as scaling Everest twice in four weeks while continuing to bang in 35 miles every day.

But it’s all come at a cost…

Twelve years ago, I had an operation on my left knee after two mountain bike accidents on the Corrieyairack Pass within a fortnight of each other: they finished my running career. That same knee is now giving me cause for concern. There have been times these last four years when I felt like this adventure would go on forever, but the intensity of the training for the Ride 2 Cure has delivered an altogether different message. I crave another four weeks of high mileage training if I can get it, but that may not be possible: so I’ll take them one week at a time. Actually, right now I’m taking each day at a time… 68 thirty mile days in a row and 88/89 this year.

And with that in mind, and my long term wellbeing on the line, I’ve decided that LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma will finish when I reach Adelaide. Looking back, I never really thought through how I would feel when I reached 25,000 miles and as Princess Puddles was fighting her own epic battle at the time, I had no inclination to call it at day. This time it’s different: when the Ride 2 Cure finishes, I will have taken LCFN to the other side of the world, and hopefully lit the fuse under a new adventure for another continent with an altogether better climate than ours. But more than that, the moment I meet Amelie, it will bring about a form of closure for both of us. Eileidh’s passing affected both of us in different ways, and it feels like it will be absolutely the right moment to call it a day. Just like Puddles herself, LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma will be #ForeverFive.

One hundred and sixty seven days and counting


Hindsight is the most wonderful thing. It’s the wee sibling of experience, if you’re old enough to have come across that old sage. I’ll come to the work perspective in a bit, but first let me reflect on a sea change that cannot fail to have a significant impact on what’s left of LCFN.

A variety of things try my patience. The wind is one, but I’ve learned through our good friend experience that even when it’s blowing a hoolie, from pretty much any direction, you can use hedgerows to get the job done: stay low, keep a firm grip of those bars and watch out for farm gates (where a crosswind can quite literally knock you sideways).

Second up is rain. No surprise there I guess: hell, we get enough of it in the West of Scotland. Getting a good soaking is par for the course but combined with the wind and low temperatures, it can be a real hardship.

Then there are punctures. I stopped counting at about fifteen so I’m guessing when I say I’ve had about twenty five since day one, that’s twenty five episodes of cursing and wishing that on that particular day, at that particular time, I’d taken a different route. There’s nothing worse, in winter, in the dark, when it’s windy, cold, and raining, than a puncture. I used to stop and fix them at the roadside and even though I always have spare inner tubes on the bike, I stopped fixing punctures out on the road when I got the gold bike. The reason: the Rohloff Speedhub. Fixing a rear wheel puncture on a Rohloff hub is no five minute task so I’ve become accustomed to riding a flat back wheel home within about a fifteen mile radius then fixing it in the comfort of the kitchen with the bike on a proper stand.

So I suspect it was fate, realising that I was on top of both Beasts from the East, that dealt me three punctures in two weeks, two of them in three days. I tried to fix one of them out on the road but I couldn’t feel my fingers after about five minutes and that made it extremely precarious trying to put the tyre back on safely. I decided that enough was enough.

I nearly bit this bullet when I got the gold bike back in November but Neil talked me out of it. This time I wasn’t going to be swayed…

I’ve ditched the tubed tyres in favour of solid tyres.

You’ve done what”?

I’m running solid tyres. The switch was made on Wednesday and I’ve had three days to live with the difference. The first impressions were positive. I took them out on a 40+ mile run and got home with an average speed not dissimilar from what I’m used to. But it was the day after, ie yesterday, that my knees felt it. Let’s roll this back to basics: the Rohloff Speedhub is a heavy piece of kit so it’s sitting on a wheel with a 20mm rim which is quite wide by road bike standards. The tubed Marathon Plus bombproof tyres I was running were 700x28mm at 100psi. At that pressure, rolling resistance is minimal, even though the surface area is significant and the tyre is heavy. The Tannus tyres that I’ve swapped over to, only comes in a 700x32mm at 75psi on a 20mm rim. That’s significantly more rubber on the road, except these aren’t rubber: they’re some form of hybrid plastic: and they take a more effort to keep going in that configuration.

After a hundred and something miles, I reckon I’m down on speed by about one mile per hour. “That’s really nothing” I hear you whisper under your breath. Well no, it’s not, but to keep the difference at only one mile per hour day on day is going to take a toll on my knees. I can feel it already. It’s the pushing and pulling required to overcome the increased rolling resistance. When I had the left knee operated on back in 2006, Ms McMillan, who performed the procedure, said to me afterwards “I think you and I are going to be seeing more of each other in the coming years”. I know she meant that in the professional sense but she also said that I shouldn’t overstress that knee by riding a bike out of the saddle: that was forty something thousand miles ago. I haven’t seen her since and it’s time to take stock of those words.

The easy answer is to cut back on the speed, and that means just using a lower gear. Yeah, I can do that, but if you know me, and I mean really know me, then that’s not quite so straightforward. But I’m willing to try. Doing less miles isn’t really a meaningful solution unless it’s coupled with option one and that’s definitely not going to happen anytime soon. Option three is to abandon ship and put the Marathon Plus tyres back on: that’s not happening either, not after I just shelled out over a hundred quid to avoid punctures.

So I’m gonna stick with the Tannus tyres, but with the backstop of having 100psi solids put on my previous LCFN bike: that has much narrower wheels and will take a thin tyre: it will decide the future. In any case, the Tannus tyres are reckoned to be good for 5000 miles so with both bikes configured, I can get to 50K miles between the two of them and maybe that’s the answer: to mix and match and spread the pain.

And so to tomorrow…

I got a bit annoyed with myself today because I couldn’t remember what we did to commemorate 30,000 miles. 10K was with Vanessa at Celtic Park in November 2014. 20K was with Eileidh, Mouldy and Laura at the Floral Garden in Inverness in November 2016. 30K was at the end of April last year, and I had to check back in the blog to find out what I did to ‘celebrate’ it… nothing. That’s why I didn’t remember it, but more importantly, I didn’t remember that I didn’t do anything. That’s a bit worrying.

40K will happen tomorrow morning: I need just 23 miles and I plan on doing 30+, and there’s a reason for that. I lost Sunday January 21st to snow and a bit of me regrets it. Every day since, including both Beasts from the East, has been a 30 miler: 61 of them. The most days in a row that I’ve ever cycled in my life is 62. Every day in 2018 apart from that snow day has been a 30 miler: 81/82. It’s now descended into a battle of the Beasts: the weather people are talking about BFTE3 next week but I’m ready for it. Winter, show me what you’ve got left: I will outlast you. And afterwards, LCFN and as many supporters as I’ve been able to rustle up are heading into Glasgow for an afternoon of beer and blether. It’s still not too late to plan to get yersel’ into the Admiral on Waterloo St between two and six o’clock.

And talking of outlasting things, I’ve got a wee sniff of something brewing. I’ve always held in high regard the 36 two hundred mile weeks in a row that ran from May 2015. But that run was commuting weeks to Glasgow. It included two weeks when I did nothing at all: our summer holiday, and Christmas week. It’s true that there were no weeks that I cycled that were less than 200 weeks, but the longest consecutive run of double hundreds within that was 24 between August and December. Tomorrow will bring up 14, and there are definitely enough weeks between now and when we fly to Australia to top that, assuming I don’t have to go away with my work. That would be a bit of a bummer.

Right, back to the top of the show and the hindsight thing: I’ve been a bit lax since I passed my SNOMED-CT exam back in November so this week I decided to pursue my SNOMED-CT developer’s licence: you need one of those to develop software for distribution in the community. Today I got confirmation that NHS Digital have approved my access to the data files and I’ll be downloading the latest release of SNOMED-CT in the next couple of weeks.

This initiative is timely because this week has revealed the abuse of 50 million Facebook accounts by a third party company. Data is big business and I know that just as well as the next man. The tools that I’m developing use wholly made up people: did you know that you can go online and get a website to make you up as many fake people as you require: name, address, date of birth, NI number: it’ll generate the lot, just like a random number generator. That’s how I populated my virtual GP Practice, then I whittled it down so that I have precisely the right number of male and female patients to match the gender and age profile of the United Kingdom. Software’s good at stuff like that and all the stats are out there in the public domain if you care to look.

But this virtual practice that I’m building is complex, very complex. The clinician’s user interface is actually quite simple to use but the stuff behind the scenes is challenging. So this week I found myself grappling, not for the first time, with a really difficult clinical coding problem. Because I’m a software bloke and not a medic, it’s only when you get to the good bit, the useful bit, where you screen for disease, that you realise that something doesn’t quite fit: it’s like doing a jigsaw when you come to realise that the pieces that you have left don’t fit the holes. Basically I’ve missed something. That was yesterday: and as has become the norm, I chewed over the issue while I was out on the bike and thought of a different approach in populating the database, a way that would potentially address the issues. I tried it out late last night on a wee sample of data and it worked (as in it was no longer wrong): so this morning I extended the fix then left it to run on the whole database while I went out chasing miles. When I got back it was cooked. And it still works….

I just wish hindsight was a default option when you start anything new.

This Is Not The End…

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. So said Winston Churchill in November 1942.

25,000 miles was supposed to be the end but it wasn’t, possibly because the original objective was ambiguous: One man, four years, 25,000 miles. It took me a while to realise that the goal could be interpreted multiple ways but the backstop was that it would end on my retirement day. That was today: except it wasn’t.

SPX robbed me of my proper retirement when some faceless corporate accountant in America deleted my career on this day in 2016. Rounding up the troops to go out on the lash two years down the road doesn’t quite have the same ring about it because we’ve all moved on, but I suppose they did save me the ordeal of having to make a speech in front of lots of people: I’ve been at a few of those and you always wonder how the retiree fared in the following weeks, months and years. I’ve long believed that the key to avoiding a sad decline is to keep yourself busy, both mentally and physically. So I’m just gonna carry on as normal, albeit that I might cut my working hours back to thirty, the same number of miles that I do on the bike every day.

There are things that I want to do when I finally give up paid work, but as most of them involve programming, the only difference will be in the bank balance: the inspiration to develop new stuff is still there, as strong as ever.

But I definitely feel a bit different tonight. For near on fifty years, my life has revolved, through no fault of its own, around daft wee endurance events. I was 19 when I went back to my old school and borrowed the grass athletics track for half a day in order to run 71 laps to raise money for Oxfam. I was 30 when I ran my first 24 hour race: ironically, I ran the first 71 miles of that before something went bang inside my knee, causing it to lock at 120 degrees: not to worry, I managed another 31 miles with it like that and bagged a ton on debut. At  40, I cycled from Manchester to Glasgow (237 miles) in a day for Action Research, then at 50 I started the Caley Thistle Highland March. At 54 I walked the West Highland Way end to end in 31 hours then for my 60th I became the first person to cycle round the entire Whitelee Windfarm in a day: that’s a hundred miles with 9,000ft of climbing, all of it offroad. That was two months before I started LCFN and the rest is history.

It’s been some innings when I look back: I didn’t reach 5ft until I was 15 so although I loved football as a kid, I was really too small to be any good. It was always the same with running, although my excuse at Bishop Vesey was that they had exceptional cross country teams and I just couldn’t get a look in: until my very last year at school when I sneaked into the senior 2nd team and we went on to win the West Midlands League. I loved cross country with a passion, something I took into my adult running career after I moved to Scotland. But there’s a tale to tell there too: in late 1976, while running in Sutton Park, I turned my ankle in the snow and the ensuing damage, layoffs and aborted comebacks ended up with me under the surgeon’s knife at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow three years later: the verdict was a forced retirement.

For the next few years, I played backgammon as a substitute passion. I got to a British semi final in the early 80’s and even though I don’t play much these days, it remains my favourite board game. I love the challenge of numbers.

By 1983 I had itchy feet and with the marathon boom taking hold, I decided to give running another go: it wasn’t that I was banned, I was just advised not to do it. I ran a few cross country races as an unattached runner and did okay, but more importantly, I felt no reaction to the old war wound. So I joined Cumbernauld Athletics Club, where I was living (in the Village) at the time and had some of the best years of my life. I lived for running, and learning about the theory behind sports performance. I bought a book, The Teenage Runner, written by Bruce Tulloh, and every one of the kids that I worked with in that mid 80’s period benefitted from his work.

I bought my first computer in 1987, an Alan Sugar designed Amstrad 1512. It was on the 1512 that I began work on PB2000, the sports coaching portal that I developed on the back of my research. I sold a couple of copies of PB2000 to American universities, and even formed a marketing partnership with a company in Paris, but the reality was that in the late 80’s the world wasn’t ready for personalised coaching. I was working at the Daily Record in Glasgow at the time, where I designed their advertising system, and someone there suggested that I enter my software in the Scottish Invention of the Year Awards. PB2000 made the final, albeit that it didn’t win: alas that’s the way it turned out for me too because PB2000 cost me a marriage and when Windows came around, followed by the internet, I was already burnt out. I quit athletics altogether, having been a 31 minute 10K runner at my peak, and went in search of new things to do: that was when I met Jane and we started following Inverness Caledonian Thistle (or plain Caledonian Thistle as they were back then).

All the way through the 90’s, I was messing with Oracle databases in my day job, the pinnacle of which came about in 2000 when I was asked to head up a team to design a system that would enable Weir Pumps to sell its configured products over the internet. In 2001, I wrote my first business rule engine: in 2003, I was invited to showcase our work at the European Business Rule Conference: we led the world at the time but subsequent under investment proved ultimately to be our downfall, but not before my rule engine had fully automated the production process from sales quotation through ordering to manufacture and despatch. That ground breaking system was binned when Jim McColl bought the business ten years ago and it’s fair to say that a little bit of me died along with it. With that project went my passion, once again my spirit burnt out.

Cue March 2016 and my redundancy from SPX. I started working for myself the very next day, developing software that screens for, and audits disease: you can take the boy out of the industry but you can never take the knowledge and experience out of the boy. Suddenly everything that I’d developed in those preceding fifteen years became relevant: I designed a business rule engine in Excel, extended it a couple of times in order to offer dynamic picklists in real time, and suddenly the passion was back in the fast lane. It’s probably no coincidence that the upsurge in LCFN miles these last six months have coincided with the worst winter we’ve experienced in many a long day, and the most creative period in my entire professional career. Tomorrow I should be drawing my pension but I’ve parked it in order to carry on working on the development of a rule driven virtual primary care (general practice) application that enables clinicians to hone their skills in searching for disease.

Right now I don’t know where this journey will end, nor do I know when: all I know is that it won’t be tomorrow, it won’t be next week and hopefully it won’t be anytime soon: there’s too much productive fun to be had, and that feeds directly into LCFN.

This has been an absolutely shit winter, by far the longest, coldest and most inclement since LCFN started. But tomorrow I will knock off the 13th consecutive 200 mile week. I did briefly consider trying for a sixth 250 but having established a fifth last week, I decided, just this once, to listen to my body, which has been creaking for some time. I’ll be happy to take a 230 and stick two fingers up to the so-called mini beast fae the east: but at the back of my mind I’m still thinking yeah, but you do only need eighty by Sunday for another one: quiet at the back!

I have lived my whole life not giving up. I apologise retrospectively if I’ve left a few folk at the side of the road while I went for the impossible but I guess after 65 years, that’s me, and I dare say I won’t be for changing anytime soon. Tuck yersel’ in and enjoy the ride, because from now until I lose my marbles, I suspect you’re gonna witness a whole load more of the same…