Something Inside, So Strong

I will remember this day, this week and this month for a very, very long time, certainly long after LCFN has been consigned to the Bonkers Bloke On A Bike section. If I could capture the very essence of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma, I would capture the spirit of that second journey today, stick it in a bottle and label it Never Give Up: Ever.

But in order that you may fully appreciate what today means in terms of this bike journey, I need to take you back to August. I’d been to the Solving Kids’ Cancer Family Fun Day at Richmond, and whilst the weather had done it’s best to kybosh the event, those troopers at the NCCA pulled the event together and I got to meet a load more people, children and parents alike, who’d lived with neuroblastoma. I didn’t realise it at the time, but those introductions, those meetings and that day would have a profound effect on the rest of the year. Neuroblastoma isn’t some six week irritation as they tried to portray it on Corrie. It’s a full on, take over your whole life kind of event, and it hits your family like a sledgehammer: and it does so without warning. Two and half years is probably par for the course in terms of treatment for a first time sufferer but that’s an awful long time to have your life turned upside down. LCFN is at 27 months and counting…

The LCFN spreadsheet shows that August was decent, 984 miles at an average of 45. But importantly it led into September, worldwide Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I remember thinking at the time that it was kind of my duty to pull something special out of the bag in order to show the world that LCFN is no ordinary run of the mill charity gig. It would be easy to get hung up on folk doing one-off events and raising ten times what I have raised, but at the end of the day, I can only do what I can do: I’m just a bloke on a bike with a penchant for pulling out of my comfort zone endurance stunts.

So, September:

Week 1, four days, average 50. Decent. 10% up on August for a start.

Week 2, four days again, average 56. Solid. 10% up on week 1.

Week 3, five days, average 55. Now this is getting interesting…

Week 4, five days, average 51.

That was the first month where the average miles were 50 or more every week. The whole month delivered 1053 and I was proud. I called it Going For Gold. And it meant that I had after all delivered something above and beyond where I’d been before. Ever. It matters a lot to me that when the families read my story, they can relate to the never giving up bit, the part of the LCFN journey where I have to go where I’ve never been before, indeed never even dreamed I’d ever have to go, just to get the result I need. There is no giving up; there is no end to the constant search for more, and there’s certainly no chance that I will ever give up the opportunity to go where I’ve never been before, to get what I want.

It’s important to understand that I make all of this stuff up as I go along. I can’t actually tell you in advance what I’m going to do next week or next month: that’s how you end up looking silly. I prefer to take each day as it comes, and see what happens.

Cue October: Yes, I was tired after September’s exploits but I wasn’t of a mind to let go. In particular, I wanted to stay Gold for a second month because everyone else had put their toys back in the cupboard. I admit, I’m a rebel.

Week 1, five days, average 50. Still on it. Let’s try again…

Week 2, four days, average 54. Mirroring September: I think I can do this…

Week 3, five days, average 52. How the hell am I feeling stronger, week on week?

Week 4, five days, average 55. Just went for it. Platinum.

Platinum: let me explain. A Gold month is a calendar month with a 1000 miles in it. A platinum month has 1100. Titanium has 1200 but I don’t think we need to go there. Not yet anyway.

October ended on 1108 miles, up 55 on September, and I felt justified. I felt a sense of “Hello, I’m still here people. I haven’t gone away. I know the cancer’s still with you: but so am I”.

And that was meant to be it. I’d done my bit, broken the rules and not only stayed Gold (briefly) but gone Platinum too. My LCFN life was sort of complete.

Er… no. Not quite.

You cannot fathom the intensity of the dislike that I have for November. It’s the month that brings darkness, wind, rain and cold in roughly equal measures. It’s the month when all you want to do is batten down the hatches and stay indoors. Except I can’t do that. I hate November with a passion. So armed with what I’d done in September and October, I said to myself “feck this battening down the hatches nonsense, I’m going for this”. And so it began: there was no fanfare, no announcement, no nothing: just me on a bike with an idea that I’d like to emulate September and October and stick two fingers up at the weather and to childhood cancer.

You have no idea how deeply unpleasant November has been. The weather has been awful: but normal. That’s the way it is. November, you try and knock me off my stride and I’ll show you who’s the daddy.

Week 1: five days, average 54. Up 10% on Platinum October.

Week 2: five days, average 51. Hang on in there, son. No one’s noticed that we’re going for this…

Week 3: five days, average 53. There’s something stirring in them thar hills and it’s big. Very big.

Week 4: five days, average 56.

Let me stop you there. Week 4 was this week. I stuck this post on the LCFN page last Sunday night:

“Every week’s a pivotal week but this one is pivotaller than most (did you see what I did there?)

There’s something I need to do.

Three weeks ago, not even on the radar.

Two weeks ago, a remote possibility: like the first six darts of a nine darter.

Now it’s staring me straight in the face.

Don’t bottle it la’ad: one more big push…”

That thing that I wanted, that LCFN equivalent of a nine darter, was a complete calendar month of Holy Grails. That translates into a whole month of 250+ miles in every week. Forgive me for being pedantic but you’ve no idea how difficult it is to do one Holy Grail on top of a full time job, let alone two, three or four. But I’ll let you into a wee secret: the last two weeks of October were Holy Grails too so I knew it was possible. The problem was: this is November.

Monday, the weather was shit. I could barely see on the way home: the rain was horizontal as I crossed the Fenwick Muir into the teeth of a gale at 4C. But I bagged 50 miles: solid.

Tuesday was less shit and I only got wet on the way into work. But the wind was behind so I just had to hang on coming home: 54.

Wednesday was a mirror image of Tuesday and I was tired, very tired. Working flat out to maintain 9mph into the wind night after night on unlit roads takes its toll, both physically and mentally. But I have some great supporters. Nico Butterfield from Team Eileidh is an inspiration to me, as are the Melly Man and the Mouldy Man from Team Oscar. And that’s before Fabiana and Anna from my work get on my case. And where would I be without Jane and Angela? Quite apart from the kids, you guys keep me going.

And so to yesterday. Let me set the scene…

November total 945: three days left, weather forecast rubbish (and I mean rubbish). The run home last night was worse than Monday. The rain was stinging my face but it was that yon horrible drizzly stuff that just created a fog on the Fenwick Muir. I’m done with saying it was deeply unpleasant. It was horrible, horrible, horrible: 55 miles, thank you very much, and a Gold month. I could have bottled it and gone a shorter route home but that would have meant missing out on equalling the record for the fastest thousand miles, set in September. I’m having another piece of that, thank you very much: 19 days.

One thousand miles and two days left, the first of which was today. I got soaked on the way into work and Friday’s a half day so there was a good chance that I’d be putting on wet stuff at midday. As it was it didn’t matter because it was chucking it down when I left the factory. The 29 I bagged on the way in were courtesy of a clogging because I knew I needed the miles. Dull legs now duller. All sorts of things were going through my mind when I set off for home: most miles in a day, most miles in a week, most miles in a month… just doing the sums in my head, constantly, kept my mind away from the fact the weather was utterly miserable: the rain was sheeting down from a slate grey sky and it was 3C in Glasgow. I knew instinctively that worse was to come up on the Muir: 0.7C and hands so cold that I stopped to wring the cold water out of my gloves at one point because I was concerned about the temperature of my fingers.

And then, as if by a miracle, the rain stopped. 0.7C became 1.5C and I could feel my fingers again. Just. It was as if Michael Fish had given up. “Okay, you win…”.

That return leg was 41 miles.

Today was 70 miles.

This week was 281 miles.

November stands at 1070 miles with just Monday to go. And on Monday, LCFN will go Platinum: again. I have beaten the curse of the month I most dread. Tonight, I am in a very happy place. It may be Black Friday, but if you’ll excuse me, I’ll focus on Something Inside, So Strong.

Just like the kids.