The Big Cup

Y’know that saying “it takes one to know one”?

Well here’s its big brother: “it takes one to know thirty”.

I make no apology for headlining Team Mouldy for the third week in a row because no bunch of guys n gals deserves it more than this lot.

1200 miles, 50K+ feet of climbing and all done and dusted in two weeks.

Easy?

Nothing about that entire bike ride was easy…

Getting riders onboard: guys of varying abilities, and few of them anything other than yer average bloke on a mountain bike.

Getting sponsors onboard to help create a brand and swell the coffers of the three charities.

Getting a specialist operator to plan the whole thing from end to end.

Getting branded kit in a style that befits the journey.

Getting publicity material, including one humoungous banner, to help spread the word.

And then there’s the training…

You don’t need to tell me about the training. I spent three years, five days a week all year round, leaving the house at 5am to cycle to work, coming home into the wind by the same hilly unlit route, six months without daylight: I know, possibly better than anyone what Mouldy’s team have put themselves through. And that was just to make the start line.

I’m the first to admit that when I saw that the cyclists were heading down the spine of England, through the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales, I was concerned. That’s some seriously hilly terrain, especially when there’s a fast, flatter, albeit busier route through Lancashire. I watched some of Sean’s early video diaries and I really felt for those guys. It reminded me so much of some of my worst days on LCFN in the middle of winter: but here’s the deal: you signed up to do this beast, so this beast you will do. You survived yesterday, you survived today so tomorrow you go again. That was always my mantra.

Just like a kid fighting cancer.

The journey is as relentless as you make it (or it makes of you).

I look at the photos of these guys and I just think “for the love of Celtic”. Imagine loving your football club so much that you are prepared to punish yourself through whatever winter can throw at you you, just so you can go and top it all come the summer: because by the time these guys got to Portugal, the mercury was screaming summer!!! Just like back home as it turned out, but that’s another story…

I look at the team and I only know two of the cyclists. Mouldy and I go back two and a half years to Cycling Santas, and wee Zuzanna and I met very briefly at Euston Station last year when I was on a work jolly down south. She has an EJ/LCFN wristband: ‘nuff said. In two weeks time, Zuzie leaves these shores to start a new life in New Zealand: hey, what a way to leave the mother continent? If you get to read this Zuzie, I want you on the final miles on the LCFN journey across Australia next year. Brisbane to Adelaide: you’ve proved that you can do 1200 miles in your sleep… 😉

But back to the big man for a minute….

“Football is nothing without fans”. The words of the immortal Jock Stein. Mouldy just proved that that’s true. Four hundred Celtic fans turned up at the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon to welcome Mouldy’s cyclists because he made it so. In the sacred place where their heroes made history, so did Mouldy’s cyclists. They opened it up to the fans because of Mouldy. No other reason. Mouldy got to stand on the same ledge where Caesar stood fifty years ago to the day, and he lifted a replica cup to the multitudes who’d made the pilgrimage. Let that sink in for a minute.

Mouldy made all of that possible. The journey of thirty people’s lives suddenly became the journey of four hundred: for they were there to witness their own flesh and blood conquering everything that Europe could throw at them. Respect doesn’t even come close to describing what I feel for those guys.

And see next week, Mouldy’s gonna have to come home and go back to the day job. Bhoy, is that gonna be hard…

A lot of my friends, especially the Inverness contingent, don’t quite get that I ‘get’ the whole Celtic thing. I get it big style. You don’t surround yourself with the most warm, charitable people in the world without understanding what it is that makes them tic (see what I did there?)

And in a sense, while I had a wee tear in my eye watching the Rachel’s Facebook live (all twenty five minutes of it) video of the team cycling into the stadium, I could never have imagined myself celebrating as they did. I’m Inverness. Respect yes. Deep respect yes. But that’s as far as it goes. I yearn for the day when Scottish football has been cleansed of corruption and I can start going again.

And so to matters LCFN…

I’m sad.

I’m sad because the nation was led to believe by Corrie that neuroblastoma could be cured by six weeks of outpatient appointments: and then came wee Bradley Lowery.

Bradley first appeared on my radar when Sunderland played host to Everton about six months ago and Bradley was the home mascot. That night, Everton presented a cheque for £200K for Bradley’s fighting fund.

But neuroblastoma makes its own rules. It’s a family lottery ticket, and I don’t mean that to sound harsh. Sadly, excruciatingly sadly, the images of Jermaine Defoe leading Bradley out at Wembley, then carrying him out at the final game of the season at the Stadium of Light, will remain the defining public lights of Bradley’s fight with the disease. I hope when it’s over that someone remembers what Jermaine Defoe meant to the wee man.

My quest, as ever, is go go where I’ve never been before, metaphorically if not geographically.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times: the prevailing wind in the west of Scotland is a right b*****d. Well last Saturday, I set out to keep this run of thirty milers going but despite it being warm and sunny, the wind was something else. As always on these occasions, I headed out west, straight into it, then bagged masel’ a wee detour this side of Irvine to gain some respite and a couple of extra miles. That brought me out into Perceton (pronounced Perce tun, as opposed to Pierce tun which is what the locals call it – another story) and not half a mile from where my Ross stays (note – I should say Ross n Stacey but I’ll leave Stacey out of this: this is a Ross story…)

Where Ross stays, there’s a 1.25 mile rectangular circuit with roundabouts at each corner. And it’s well sheltered which is what took me there. After one lap, I thought to myself “hmm, I could do a few of these, get out of the wind then leg it home on a tail gale”. So one lap became two, two became three and so on: Not really pushing it, just burning fuel like a plane ahead of an emergency landing.

Cue the 9th lap: right, “I’ve got enough miles in the bank, let’s give this one some welly”.

Got home, uploaded the data to Strava then made a segment out of those four roundabouts. Think Monaco. Think Montreal. Think Melbourne. Think street circuit. Mark my words, once the fast guys get a sniff of what I’ve done, this will become a blue riband segment. But for now it’s mine and it’s named after ma boy: The Tour De Taffy: one mile of pure pain.

So I posted 4m22s, screenshotted it and sent it to Ross…

But I haven’t got a bike”.

Understand one thing: Ross is a Taylor and he’s a former Scottish drug free bodybuilding champion. He’s 27, I’m 64. You think I’m competitive? You ain’t seen Ross.

Ninety minutes later, he’s back on… “4m17s, round ye, old man”.

Music to my ears.

He’d blagged a bike and did one searing lap: I was 22 miles and nine laps into mine. Game on…

Sunday morning, the rain was coming. It was cold (6C) and by the time I got over to Irvine, it was already hosing down. But as it was early and my legs were fresh (???) I was going for this. It’s an uphill start with a downhill finish, which basically means you can wreck your legs on the first half then hope to hang on in the second half: oh, and if a motor appears from your right on any of the four roundabouts, you’re fucked. You basically have to hit each roundabout at 20mph: any slowing down and it’s Goodnight Vienna

I tried as best I could to hit the rolling start with the Garmin just clicking over a minute so I could judge the pace. Next time, I’ll make sure that average speed it on the display cos that’s the ultimate guide. But this was a rookie attempt so just fucking go for it. By halfway, at the top of the course, the legs were still feeling remarkably good so as long as I could get round the last corner without traffic, I thought “hmm, this is in the bag”. So I buried masel’.

3m45s.

Ross is gonna beat my time. No doubt. I’m expecting a three thirty five fae the wee man but I haven’t touched the big chain ring yet. That’s my turbo and DRS rolled into one. This one’s gonna roll all summer: a teacher, he’ll be finishing for the holidays soon and I fully expect him out there every day, testing, testing, and burning those legs. You only get one shot at this circuit, then you’ve gotta come back themorra.

There’s no prize for winning the Tour De Taffy.

But there was for being jubilant in Lisbon…

The Big Cup!

 

 

Empty The Tank. Refuel. Repeat.

Legs shot to pieces.

A couple of weeks ago I touched upon how LCFN has evolved into an experiment to find out just how far you can push your body. Tonight it feels like if I haven’t already found out, then I’m about to.

It’s the combination of climbing, distance and strong winds that are doing the damage. The run of consecutive 30 milers has now moved on to 23, and 13 of the last 14 days have also included over 2000 feet of climbing: and that would have been a full house if I’d not had to take the heavy spare bike out last Sunday when my road bike developed a mechanical failure. Sunday fell 400 feet short.

Now throw the cutting easterly wind into the mix. There are no routes out of Stewarton where you can get shelter from an easterly. You can get some respite coming from the other direction but that means heading out west and driving into the wind when you’re already knackered. Alternatively, you can just bite the bullet and head uphill and straight into it when you head out the door. Neither option is appealing, and I’ve tried both, twice, this week.

My bad knee’s sore. My hernia’s sore. My strained thigh muscle’s sore. Everything feels sore. This is the edge I talked about two weeks ago. This is that place when you either drive on, or you don’t go out. I’ve been here before, but somehow each new episode seems more in yer face than the one before. I’m sat here typing, yawning my head off, and it’s only 8 o’clock. It’s a fuel and blood sugar thing. Today was an absolutely brutal ride, in distance, in ascent and in effort. Biggest miles, biggest climbs and fastest average speed of the week: and the most fuel burnt. I have much more faith in my Garmin that I ever have in Strava, so when Garmin says it was a 2200 calorie outing, I concur. My aching body is in total agreement. How do you actually manage to consume all of your glycogen stores in a little of two hours? My tank is empty. Yet tomorrow I go again.

The whole week seems to have been that way. Starting from Monday, the calorie burns have been 1960, 1937, 2029, 2084 and finally 2221. My fuel tank holds 1825, maybe fifty more because I’m up almost half a stone just now. But every one of those rides has had me coming home on fumes. The climbs have been no better: 2034ft, 2156ft, 2454ft, 2379ft and today 2510ft. Climbing into the wind is a killer: that’s where the calories have gone. I’m writing this on empty.

But there’s a thing about the climbing and why I chose last week and this week to torture myself. It’s because of next week.

Two years ago this weekend, Mouldy, Robert, Kev and myself rode from Forres to Glasgow for Eileidh. That ride brought up 17,000ft of climbing for the week and it remains the most in any LCFN week. But I’ll tell you now: I’ve got my eye on that total. I closed today on 11,533 and there are still two days to go to close out the week. It’s going to take two near 3,000ft days in the saddle to topple it but it’s in my sights, even on empty. The reason is simple…

Monday will be the third anniversary of Oscar’s passing.

Tuesday will be the third anniversary of Eileidh’s diagnosis.

And nor is it lost on me that Tuesday is also the first anniversary of the release of the Puddles video on Facebook.

If there is one week in the year that demands something extra, it is this week.

And talking of something extra, I want to wish Mouldy and his team good luck and a bon voyage on their epic cycle from Celtic Park to Lisbon, in commemoration of Celtic becoming the first British team to lift the European Cup fifty years ago this month. If all goes according to plan, they will arrive in the stadium where Billy McNeill lifted the trophy, on the day of the anniversary, and in doing so they will raise tens of thousands of pounds for charity, one of which is Solving Kids Cancer.

Mouldy, if you get a chance to read this before the off, I salute you sir. You are a living legend. I know second hand just how much emotional and physical effort you have put into organising this epic journey, a journey that for you, started five years ago with wee Oscar. It’s entirely fitting that you’re taking this on in the week of his anniversary. He would be so proud of you, and even when it rains, you can kid on that he’s playing with his watering can again.

I would have come to see you off but unfortunately I will be 300 miles away at Donnington on a work jolly. Actually, it’s not really a jolly, not in the true sense of the word. At age 64, I’m embarking on a new career of study in relation to SNOMED-CT, the international standard in clinical coding in healthcare, and it’s coming to a GP practice near you this time next year. I passed the foundation course a couple of months ago and now I’ve been let loose with the big boys and girls. I honestly don’t know whether I’ll pass this advanced course, because my background is in software, not medicine, but I need to understand the concepts that underpin the methodology in order to further my research into software tools in my day job, the one that I do when I’m not on my bike. I used to think of myself as a bloke with a full time job who cycled: these ways, I prefer to think of myself as a cyclist who has a part time job doing something I love. It works both ways: one feeds off the other. You’d be surprised how smashing your legs frees up your mind, and that’s when the good ideas start to flow.

Next week’s trip down south will bring to an end the current run of thirty milers – good riddance say my tired wee leggies – but the summer is still young and with a run a good weather, there’s no reason why a target as high as 25 or 26 can’t be run down with a bit of dedication and hard work. Maybe I’ll park it at 27 so as to really annoy myself. I just need to keep a focus and avoid being away from home.

On the awareness front, I batched up 50 EJ/LCFN wristbands this week and sent them off to the south coast of England. Nic Naish, cancer survivor, former primary school teacher, now re-invented as a wellbeing and nutritional guru, is an Eileidh fundraiser and Nic’s gonna be signing people up in Worthing in support of our Princess. Also on the awarenss front, the LCFN Million Mile Challenge on Strava gained two new riders in Brazil this week. This is the way word spreads, you see. Out there, in cyber space, people are randomly catching on to what we’re doing, signing up, donating their miles and spreading the word further still. I’ll bet a pound to a penny that one of them joined the LCFN challenge then told his mate. Organic growth: the best kind: keep it low key and people will come in their own time, when they are ready. We’re now 53 riders in 13 countries.

But talking of being ready, I feel anything but ready to take on thirty miler number 24 tomorrow. The only thing that will get me out the door is the knowledge that I survived each of the previous 23. This one might just have to be a straight out and back, because once you’re 15 miles from home, there’s only one way back and that’s gonna chalk another one on the leader board. The other thing about out and back courses is that you can kid on you’re only doing half the distance: that’s okay, of course, till your legs give up. Then what’s left feels like twice as much.

It was never easy.

It isn’t easy.

It will never be easy.

Empty the tank. Refuel. Repeat….

United In Adversity

The good news is that wee Dennis is almost back to his fighting best after last week’s scare, and has the scars to prove it. He’s only a welterwight, that boy, and he insists on taking on middleweights. We never get to see the damage he’s inflicted on his opponent, just the lumps and bits missing from his head. But we still love him.

I wish I could say the same.

October’s total mileage is utterly pitiful: six.

It’s by far the lowest monthly mileage since I started. Even after my hernia op in the winter of 14/15, I managed more than that, both in the month that I went under the knife and the month after. This latest injury has been both persistent and frustrating. What I’ve knackered is Rectus Femoris: I know that because Jane has gone straight from qualifying in Swedish massage to studying sports massage and she knows. When you ride a bike, it’s the number one muscle that does all the work. And as the name suggests, Rectus Femoris has its origin somewhere up near yer arse.

But today I lost patience. I’ve been doing the quad stretch every day while I’ve been off the bike and today, another lovely autumn day, I thought I’d go out for a wee wander on two wheels. That’s what the cryptic lunchtime Facebook post was all about. It was only ever going to be four or five miles, just to see if the injury was still sore. But in reality, I discovered that I had a problem after only two hundred yards.

And it wasn’t my broken body. It was the bike.

While I’ve been laid up, so (obviously) has been the bike. I’ve never ridden a fixed wheel bike in my puff but I sure as hell found out what it was like today, and I didn’t like it one bit. The freehub was seized, which basically meant that if I stopped pedalling, the chain came off. There is currently no freewheel function in the back wheel, and on a bike with thirty odd gears, that’s not good, the derailleur shoots forwards and the chain starts dragging in the spokes. It’s got over the handlebars written all over it. So I cut the exercise short at a whopping two miles. Still, it was good to get off 26,623 at long last. As soon as I can get hold of bicycle repair man, that problem will get sorted then I’ll try again. I’m fed up with sitting on my broadening arse.

If only that was my only problem…

For years I’ve suffered with lower back problems. That all started when Finn was wee, so that probably makes it early 2000’s, and I was lifting the kitchen floor because we were getting a new one put down. The old floor was so well attached that it needed a crowbar to prise it apart from the base: I overdid it and fecked the sacro-illiac joint on one side of my lower back. It’s bothered me ever since, so now, every two or three months, it pops out and I’m left hobbling about like an old man. Hint: I am an old man.

I know the things that kick it off and top of the list is sitting about doing nothing. Second on the list is driving and getting out of the car after a long journey. So cue last weekend… Joe and I went to watch West Brom at Liverpool. Four and a half hours there and four and a half hours back. Stiff as a board when we got home, I thought I’d just sit up with a glass of wine for a couple of hours to unwind from motorway driving in the dark: woke up on Sunday morning like a crooked man. That’s what happens. I can barely get out of a chair, and walking short distances about the house is a sore as a sore thing.

That’s what getting old does to you.

It’s also why I need to be out on the bike because I know from 26,000 miles of experience that cycling does actually help, and eventually alleviates the problem. Except right now, I cannae, hence the wee excursion today to see if we’re there yet.

Anyway, enough of my troubles: let’s whizz over to Australia…

Amelie has received the wristbands. I’m soooooo excited. She’s taken fifty and there are pictures appearing all over Facebook of proud Aussies wearing Eileidh’s Journey/LCFN wristbands. #Goosebumps

I cannae get my feelings into words. When the Gabbas took some back to Brisbane and mailed a few off to JJ in Adelaide, I thought that might be it. But when Amelie said a couple of weeks ago that she’d take FIFTY, I honestly couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I still remember being in the post office, waving them off. The thought that there are people walking around Adelaide supporting Eileidh with a band on their wrist is way, way out there in the extremes of proudness. What I have to do now is get hold of TT, who’s heading out to Italy in a couple of weeks, and send her skywards with a bag full of bands. Let’s go continental before tariffs are imposed!

I’ve been reading this week, with huge admiration, the plaudits that have been coming Iain McGovern’s way following his epic walk from Merthyr Tydfil to Celtic Park with Sian, Jonathan Thomas’s widow of one day married. I read Iain’s fantastic eulogy of the walk that he posted on Facebook, and I hope he won’t mind, but I’d like to reproduce just some of it here. This was a compassionate idea of epic proportions.

“These are the musings of a tired and emotional man, written on the journey back to Newcastle yesterday. Been a wee bit busy so sorry this is only getting posted now.

It’s the morning after the 16 days before and I have that empty feeling in the pit of my stomach as has been the case after each of our challenges. They have all had that “best week of my life” feeling but this one is different, not just because of the fact it was two weeks but there’s something, or rather, someone, who sets it apart. More on that someone later.

6 months ago we sat in a quayside bar in North Shields and had a conversation that would change my life forever and allow memories and friendships to fill a hundred lifetimes to be made. Siân O’Mahony Thomas and I walked back to our house after that Sunday afternoon chat and within minutes had a road atlas out with Jack sat alongside on her laptop checking out accommodation. A Walk For Jonathan, From The Valleys to Paradise was born. The following months seemed to drag although a flurry of emails, texts, to-do lists and, of course, the legendary spreadsheet, kept us occupied. The planning was fun but we couldn’t wait until the October day dawned when we were all together in Jonathan’s beloved Merthyr. We faced it with bucket-loads of excitement and anticipation and a hefty dose of trepidation. This was to be by far the longest walk we had embarked on. 360 miles through the hills and valleys of Wales, the North West of England and the South West of Scotland before we reached Hamilton on Siân and Jonathan’s Wedding Anniversary. The next day, the first anniversary of Jonathan’s passing, would see us arrive at his, and our, beloved Paradise”.

That’s how great things start. I never got to meet Sian because of wee Dennis’s dice with danger but here’s her take on the lead up to the walk:

“In October, to mark the first anniversary of Jonathan’s passing we are going to embark on a walk in his memory linking his two favourite places, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales and Celtic Park, Glasgow.

As most of you will know, Jonathan was a keen charity fundraiser, organising and taking part in a series of charity challenges with the Tyneside No1 Celtic Supporters club starting from an idea to walk from Newcastle to Celtic Park to watch a game. After he passed away we wanted to organise another challenge to keep the tradition going and this little 350+ mile route was the obvious choice.

Thinking it through sensibly we decided it probably needed to be done over three weeks and in two legs, but following a quiet Sunday drink Iain convinced me that walking it all at once and over two weeks was the only option!! I can’t even blame it on the cranberry juice!

Iain McGovern is an amazing man. But he’s only part of an amazing double act because you know what they say: behind every great man lies a great woman…

I give you Jack O’Kane. Together, Iain and Jack are an unstoppable charitable force. I’m sad that I missed out last week but I’m so proud to know these guys and the charitable work that they do: and keep on doing. I’ve said may times that it doesn’t matter what team you support, your soul shines through, and I will choose to align myself with Iain and his crew for as long as I can either put one foot in front of the other, or keep turning those pedals.

The meeting of Caley Thistle and Celtic through events of enduring difficulty are what joins us together.

United in adversity.

Quad Bike

Four miles in two weeks. You could be forgiven for thinking that I’ve retired, but I haven’t. I’m taking an injury timeout. The four miles were courtesy of a two mile trip out of town on Monday afternoon (a lovely crisp autumn day for a bike ride, just as every day has been this week), before I had to turn round and head back home. I fear that this is gonna be a long haul.

I look back forty years through a catalogue of running and biking injuries that includes a chipped ankle (operation), a chipped elbow, multiple Achilles tendon injuries, too many calf strains to count, hamstring tendon strains (top and bottom), a destroyed cartilage, maybe a couple of dozen toenails, torn ligaments in hands, arms knees and ankles, groin muscles torn, hamstrings torn, shin splints… the list goes on and on. There was even one infamous night at the Cumbernauld sports injuries clinic in ’83 after my first Marathon Walk when I had three different physios working of separate injuries simultaneously.

But never a quadriceps tear. Until now.

The main muscle that does the hardest shift, the one that drives the engine, has given way. And in this glorious autumn weather, I can’t even start to describe how frustrating and annoying that is. Four measly miles in two gorgeous weeks and no end in sight to the misery. I did it chasing KOM’s on tired legs. Yes, I know, it serves me right.

I’ll try and describe it: Remember when you were wee and yer pal (at least, you thought he was yer pal) gave you a Chinese burn? Well that’s what this feels like, except it’s slap bang in the front of my thigh. As I’m sat here now, I can feel it, yet the only exercise I’ve done today is cut the grass. I need to set Jane loose on it now that she’s a qualified Swedish Masseur. She passed her exams last weekend. Chapeau!

What’s going to make this even more frustrating is that Jane’s signed up to do a 6am boot camp for the next four weeks and I would have jumped at the chance of heading out the door to bag 20 miles in the dark before breakfast. I used to love those early morning forays out into the wilderness when there was no other bugger about. But even if I somehow make a miraculous recovery, 6am is out of the question: nae warm up and surrounded by hills is just asking for trouble. So I’m gonna sit out the next few weeks, October for sure, and take each week after that as it comes. There’s zero point in trying it out again soon, only to break down, because that’ll put me back right back to the start and possibly beyond: scar tissue and all that. The LCFN record for lost time stands at 9 weeks after a hernia op in 2015: this may come close.

The first casualty of doing hee haw has been food. I like to trough loads of the stuff, which is never a problem when yer burning up 1500 calories a day. But when yer sat on yer backside, that’s a big meal or two that have to be parked for another day. And the beer, which is more than a trifle unfortunate.

Anyway, that’s enough of my expanding 32” waistline…

What about Puddles?

Last week, if you recall, was the worst week ever. Poor Gail could do little, save for reporting on one bad experience on top of another. Forgive me for thinking it, let alone putting it into print, but the adult strength treatment is often the straw that breaks the camel’s back and ends a young person’s life. Despite the fact that Eileidh has defied the odds time and again and bounced back stronger than before, last weekend was different. I’m not even going to start to pretend that I understand the toxicity of the chemo, but my understanding is that this round has been the hardest and most toxic of any that our Princess has had to endure. It was never like this in Corrie…

I think each of us reading the unfolding story were somehow secretly fearing the worst.

But Eileidh is Eileidh.

I love the way Gail manages to weave mischief into the blog, as though “up to no good” is a watch phrase for “she’s feeling much better and on the way back”. It’s what we all hope for, every day. You know that scene in “Brave”, the song mashup between Sara Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper, where all the kids fighting cancer sneak out of their rooms to go paint daubing down the corridor? That’s how I imagine Eileidh on a good day: out of bed, off down the ward (still attached to her kit, of course), and up to no good, but in a nice way.

And so it came to pass that in the middle of this week, Gail greeted us with these words “Eileidh went back up to the medical ward just before lunchtime today. She has responded so well to TVD, they have decided not to give her the final block. They feel it would do more harm than good. The risk of severe and possibly fatal complications is too great to warrant it”.

Whisper it quietly, for that is all we can do just now, but Eileidh is doing okay. This is one small step, another tiny wee step along the road to a proper four year old’s life. Eileidh is a remarkable child, and it’s hugely sobering to me, to think that it’ll be two years since I first met her in a few weeks’ time. That’s almost half of her wee life that she’s been fighting this demon with a smile on her face.

Talking of fighting things, the Solving Kids Cancer team, featuring Leona Knox on behalf of the parents, and a battalion of medical/lawyery folk, took NICE to an appeal in Manchester last Friday. NICE inexplicably decided, a couple of months ago, that they would deny kids in the UK access to the drug that families hundreds of thousands of pounds for, so they can get access to treatment in the United States. A drug that was 30 years in research and development, and proven to make a difference, denied on grounds of cost. As if kids’ lives didn’t matter whereas it’s okay to waste thousands of times that money on waging war. It’s an immoral situation to be in, and one that does this country a great disservice. Leona, I sincerely hope that you and your team get the result the kids so richly deserve.

When it comes to deserving things, no one is more so this week than Steve Abraham, the king of our LCFN Million Mile Challenge on Strava. Steve has spent around 16 hours a day on two wheels in pursuit of the world record for the most miles cycled in 30 consecutive days. The big man came in at 7,104 miles (and a half) which works out at an astonishing average of 236 miles a day. Every day! Divide that by the time he spent on the bike and you’re up around 15mph average. I’m lucky if I can bring that average home after two hours, let along sixteen, and for thirty days in a row? Astonishing! The word machine was invented for Steve Abraham, world record holder elect.

The squad that’s been banging in those Million Miles, as mentioned a week ago, comes from countries all over the world. Well this week we welcomed another important member to LCFN, not on the bike but on the Facebook page. Afshin, who studied medicine at the Tehran University of Medical Science, has a beautiful daughter Hana who’s been diagnosed with neuroblastoma at stage one. As we are only too aware with the cases that we’ve encountered on LCFN, neuroblastoma is indiscriminate in who it selects for the fight. Afshin can draw strength from the fact that he has found us, because we will follow Hana’s journey, and offer what support we can, just as we would if the child was our own. Afshin, welcome to LCFN : our journey knows no bounds.

The final topic for this week comes from a programme I caught on TV last night on Diabetes. I know more than a wee bit about the disease through my current work in disease detection, but the stark reality of the sharp end of the disease, with people losing limbs and their vision, was a sharp, and at times unruly reminder of what we are doing to our bodies with our slothlike couch potato lifestyles. There will be people reading this who will think “but it won’t happen to me” and I will counter that with “oh yes it will. Your habits are yours to choose: or to change. Get on a bike and burn, baby, burn. If you didn’t see the programme, then I implore you to catch it on iPlayer. You will be shocked: possibly into action.

I’ve spent the last three years burning up calories, almost a million and a half of them on this gig, but last night’s show had me worrying that I need to get over this injury sooner rather than later. I need to be out there. I need to be powering a quad bike.

 

 

Frazzled

Brain frazzled. Thank f**k for the legs. It’s been that sort of a week.

Pressure.

It comes in one of two forms: internal or external. The stuff that comes from the outside you can do very little about, except weather the storm as best you can and hope that it will pass: or that you just get better at dealing with it. For me, dealing with it means getting on the bike and smashing some miles.

But my pressure this week has been a slow burner: a fuse lit 200 miles away but burning intensely bright within. When the bossman said in a late night phone call that he wished everyone had my passion, I just said “it’s the way I am”. You give me something interesting to do, something with an intellectual challenge off the scale, then I’m like a dog with a bone. But this one has been a slow burner. The stuff I’ve been working on this week has been months in the making. Ever since I started working with the team in Liverpool back in March, I’ve known that this was on the cards. This is what I do.

But before I spill the beans, let me turn the clock back five months. I’ve worked in IT for over 41 years and never had a day out of work despite being made redundant three times. I may have a narrow skill base, but I know that within my area of expertise, I’m helluva good at what I do. So at the age of 63, there was a momentary lapse of concentration back in March when I thought I might never work in IT again. I’d just been tapped on the shoulder and told I wasn’t needed anymore. They dressed it up as corporate restructuring but no matter what, you are left asking yourself “what did I do wrong”? The answer is nothing. Five hours and a few text messages later, I was headhunted by the bossman in Liverpool. I haven’t looked back…

Imagine having not just a boss, but a whole team around you, who appreciate you for what you can do. Imagine being in a working environment that you know, instinctively, is right because of what they do. But imagine being in that environment when you know that the stuff that you’re good at can transform the business. I realised that back around April time, once I’d got my feet under the table.

So why is this relevant to the bike story? Because the bike provides both the imagination and the recreation for what I do. If you’re reading this and you don’t go a bike, then my advice would be to give it an hour a day for a couple of months and see how it transforms your thinking. Biking time is thinking time, and thinking time promotes business time. When I get off the bike, that business time is on speed, and the bossman knows it.

So what’s the fuss all about?

The company I’m contracted to work in detecting disease in the general population. That’s their mission. I specialise in data, business rules and knowledge engineering. It was always going to be a match made in heaven after a whirlwind courtship.

Imagine being in a job where the people you work with acknowledge and accept that you’ll take two, maybe three hours for lunch, because it’s ultimately going to make their life easier and more productive.

Imagine being in a job where your exposure to ideas just stimulates more of the same.

And imagine being surrounded by people in your bubble who are supportive of not just who you are, but the way you are?

It’s fantastic. In 41 years, I’ve never felt an opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives like I do right now.

Why?

Because after contemplating how it could be done for four of the past five months, this past week I’ve developed an application that detects disease. You name the disease, my app, in the right hands, will find it. I am a data man not a doctor. My job is to make it easier for people more skilled than me to do theirs more effectively. Simple.

Every person who goes to the doctor gets something recorded on their record. It’s all coded. Codes can be interpreted and used in rules. Rules breed rules. Rules turn raw data into useful information. And the LCFN bike, courtesy of those two hour lunch breaks, turns that information into ideas. Lots of them…

Today that break was delayed until almost four o’clock after a particularly intense eight hour non-stop shift. The stuff that we’re working on just now is so ground breaking that the development work and the conference call screen sharing demanded 100% flat out effort. When I set foot out the door, I could so easily not gone out at all: my brain was fried. By the time I got back, an hour and forty five minutes later, the stress had melted away: all of it.

There are two other major stories this week: the first one is great and I’m so proud of my friend Amelie in Adelaide. For our new readers, and I know there are a few this week, it goes like this: I got to know Amelie through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook. Amelie is great. She’s a singer/songwriter who I gatecrashed not long after we’d ‘met’ to write a song for Eileidh. That wasn’t my motive for being her friend I might add: I plucked up the courage to ask her after about a week… J So Amelie wrote the song, she stressed about getting it recorded because she was working on a new album at the time, and now it’s had 20,000 hits. I mean, can you actually believe that? Some random bloke from 10,000 miles away asks you to do a song for a child who’s fighting cancer, you create the most perfect tearjerker in the history of contemporary music and it boosts Kleenex sales around the world. Ammie, you should be sponsored by hankie pankie.

But I’ve saved the best for last…

You know all about the LCFN Million Mile Challenge. I couldn’t just walk away when I reached 25,000 miles so I had this idea, while I was out on the bike strangely enough, to up the target and go for it, really go for it, across the globe.

The Million Mile Challenge is a club on Strava that’s trying to ride a million miles to raise awareness of neuroblastoma.

Do you think that sounds daft? We started in May with just myself and Stevie Mcluskey from my old work: and for weeks we were just a few punters with a dream. Five hundred miles was good week and it was gonna take us a thousand weeks.

Aye right…

Now we have some serious big hitters onboard…

We have Steve Abraham in the team. Steve has cycled 100,000 miles since 2012 and is arguably the number one endurance cyclist in the UK. At the start of September Steve is going to attempt to break the world record for the most miles cycled in 30 consecutive days. The record stands at just over 6,800. Steve’s donating those miles to LCFN.

We have Anita Gordon in Tasmania. Anita is me, albeit 10,000 miles removed. For all the time that I’ve been riding LCFN, Anita’s been riding in support of kids’ cancer in Australia. Anita’s donating her miles to LCFN.

We have Zuzanna Ciszewska who set out to break the women’s world record for the most miles ridden in twelve months, only to be wiped out by a car two weeks into her record attempt. Suzie and her bike are still recovering and she’s currently climbing the walls. Suzie is donating her mies to LCFN.

The game has changed, completely changed. At long, long last, the pressure is off. I checked the leaderboard on Strava tonight and I only just crept into the top ten despite being out for ninety minutes plus every day this week.

The Million Mile Challenge is now the domain of the big boys and girls. Or to put it another way, a whole host of high profile endurance cyclists now know about neuroblastoma, which was my objective all along. And people who follow them will think “what’s this malarkey”, and hopefully they’ll sign up too. A week ago, we were 21 cyclists looking at 1200 miles in a good week: now we’re 32 cyclists looking at twice that. So what I would say to you, as you’re reading this, is dig your bike out of the garage and bag a few miles. Every mile counts. This is a global team effort to make people aware of neuroblastoma: and we are going to win. We are going to ride a million miles, and I suspect it’s not going to take us very long.

It’s been some week. Strong legs have saved a brain that’s been totally frazzled.

Timeout

I guess there was always going to be timeout at some point once the original target had been knocked on the head, and I’m in it. Holiday and work have conspired together to rob the challenge of all but 17 miles so far this week, and I look forward longingly to returning to some sort of new normality by this time next week.

The back end of last week and the first part of this week made up a truncated family summer holiday to Barcelona. Five days: that was it. Summer hols 2016 done and dusted in the blink of an eye. That has a lot to do with the fact that since I got my redundancy jotters back in March, every day that I’m not working is a day that I don’t get paid. I have work, good work, but I need to keep at it to keep the money rolling in. That, realistically, is the name of the game. Working for yourself is about being responsible, putting in the hours and paying the bills. The modern day LCFN, stretching out way into the future, is about using the miles as relaxation to refuel the brain and the creative thought processes.

Barca is a great cycling city. Glasgow is not. But as a self confessed responsible cyclist, I’m gonna stick my neck out and say that there are more irresponsible cyclists in Barcelona than there are total cyclists in Glasgow. Theory and quite possibly fact. The problem, and it’s a big one, is cycling at speed on pavements. I know back home that cycling on pavements gets our profession a bad name: well that’s nothing compared to the scale of the problem over there. It’s rude, it’s dangerous and it needs to stop. It’s not even that they don’t have a good cycle network: they do. It’s down to attitudes and education. Simple. Maybe Brussels can hand down a Eurowide edict before we clear off: thou shalt not cycle on the pavement, anywhere in the European Union: and if you do, we’ll add your wheels to the burgeoning bike mountain.

Back home, I’ve become addicted to my onboard camera in much the same way as big kids and little kids appear to have gone overboard with Pokemon Go. But instead of collecting wee creatures, I collect footage of dangerous driving. The three or four clips that I’ve published online on the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma channel on YouTube are case studies of head on collisions waiting to happen. I’ll state categorically that my justification in keeping the camera rolling when I’m out and about is 100% my insurance in case I get wiped out by a manic motor: believe me, there are many, and in my opinion, the standard of driving is getting worse.

I focus on dangerous overtaking, because if I’m going to get taken out, it’ll be because some ejit has taken a risk too many. On my channel, there are examples of overtaking on the inside of blind bends (you basically cannae see what’s coming round the corner because of the  six foot hedge). I know your doing at least forty because you didnae realise that I’m already doing twenty. I demonstrated that to a polis the other night because my speed is logged on Strava (more of that later). Some people will risk everything to be where they want to be five seconds earlier than they might otherwise be, but safely.

But the coup de gras, the gold medal, the Victpr Ludorum of idiotic driving occurred on Wednesday, and I captured it on film. It’s on the LCFN You Tube channel. The hint is in the title: Blind Summit (Double White Lines). The road in question is dead straight over a distance of a mile or so. But it undulates towards a summit before dropping back down on the other side. At the three quarter mile mark on that straight, wanna be racetrack is a blind summit. Because it’s blind both sides, it’s protected by double white lines for a distance of a hundred yards either side of the summit. I was halfway along the upside, rattling along at 16mph (according to Strava) when a car came over the brow of the hill towards me: no bother, no danger. But as soon as it was past, a car passed me, say forty yards from the blind spot, doing about 50. This motor was wholly on the other side of the road, a good foot beyond the double white lines. I was incredulous. This car is about two seconds from the summit and wholly on the wrong side of the road: driving of such stupidity that I’d rate it a ten on the loony scale. On second thoughts, take the full twelve points and just get off the road. Save a life.

But that dude was only the warm up act. Ten yards behind him was another punter who’d clearly decided that his time was up. He went past me, again with a clear foot of tarmac between his nearside wheels and the double white lines, right on the summit. There was zero chance that this guy knew that the road was clear. He took the ultimate chance, even moreso that the first guy, and got away with it. Both of these guys come from a breed of driver that takes extreme, dangerous risks, and is prepared to take that chance to save a few seconds. Based on the footage that I’ve posted to the LCFN channel these last few weeks, I’m convinced that one of these days, I’ll witness a frightening head-on collision.

But there’s a corollary to this story: while we were in Barcelona, a cyclist was deliberately taken out by a motorist who did a U turn to execute the collision, just a mile from that very same spot. And I knew from reading the paper after my tea on Wednesday that the police were looking for a red Seat in connection with that hit and run incident. But it was the bit at the bottom of the newspaper report that switched on my light. The last line said that the police had no CCTV footage of the incident: well of course they don’t: this is out in the country.

But I do…

My mind immediately flashed back to that car that came over the brow of the hill just before the danger men flashed by. I thought “Hang on a minute”…

I fired up the computer, went back into that 30 second clip, and ran it through frame by frame. That car coming the other way, heading for the junction a mile away where the hit and run occurred, was a red Seat.

The police have seen the video, and the still frames, and they have the registration numbers of all three vehicles. Two will be getting a knock on the door because they risked life and limb. The other guy will be getting a visit in order to eliminate him from an enquiry. Or not as the case may be.

On the miles front, the million mile challenge is through 4,000 miles and we’re up to sixteen riders. I would ask everyone reading this to say to anyone you know who rides a bike: get on Strava and join LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma.

Talking of the miles, one thing I really, really miss from the 25K challenge are the fabulous sunrises. One of my mates was up at the crack o’dawn midweek and took the dog out. Straight on Facebook, he was, reporting on the fabulousity of the dawn. I remember those days. I loved those days. I used to love the thrill of getting into work and choosing which sunrise pics I was going to upload. Those were my mornings. Of course there’s nothing to stop me doing it just now, except that I choose not to: I take the extra two hours in bed instead. Semi retired, that’s me: one twenty mile trip a day instead of two. It’s an age thing as much as anything else.

Before I finish, it’s worth documenting how much UK PLC has changed in the few weeks since the 25K challenge finished. There has been the significant matter of the Brexit vote and the changing of the guard at the top table of UK politics. Never before in the history of domestic politics has so much damage been caused by so few (cue Churchill). And to top it all off, they go and give the important job of Foreign Secretary to the bumbling buffoon who fancied losing the Brexit vote, albeit narrowly, so he could turn round and witter away his frustrations. But his side went and won so he did walking away instead, only to be brought back to do a job he’s wholly unsuited for. It’s as bad an appointment as giving the live Tour De France gig to Jeremy Clarkston. Incomprehensible.

So little cycling I’m afraid and that’s it for another action packed week: it’s just that the action had very little to do with actually being on a bike.

But don’t worry, it’s just a timeout.

Relentless

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to be working from home this week. For late April, and less than eight weeks till the nights start drawing in, the weather has been shocking. We’re kinda used to four seasons in one day in Scotland, but this week has been ridiculous in the extreme. The only thing we were missing this week was fog, but my brain managed to make up for that. Work has been right in the zone.

I’m probably going to bore you forever with my assertion that I’ve landed the best job in Scotland, because this must be the third week in a row that I’ve mentioned it. It’s now been five weeks since I was deemed surplus to requirements at my last place but I’m definitely starting to think that I’ve never been happier or more personally challenged in my work…

Just like LCFN: the challenge is relentless.

I now realise that in a standard 9 to 5 job, you turn up when they tell you, work, watch the clock then leave again. And if they’re lucky, you’ll do a wee bit extra for free. My new role is nothing like that. I have so many interesting technical challenges lying ahead that the kiddie in a sweet shop scenario is totally bang on. My professional life and my LCFN life are now intertwined by a single common theme: I only get paid by turning up and delivering the goods. It’s a responsibility I love.

I just checked my timesheet for the week: morning starts at 7, half 7, a couple at 8, and one at half 9. And finishes at 4, a couple at 6, one at half seven and another at 8. I am my own boss. But before you baulk at those late finishes, let me tell you that if Carslberg did lunchtimes , they’d do LCFN lunchtimes. Never less than two hours, and often stretching out to three depending on the route. Except yesterday when I went out at 7am because I knew the snow was coming. Yesterday, just like the old days, LCFN beat the weather forecast. Again.

My work reflects the bike: when I’m on it, I’m seriously on it. Some people from my old job who know me well know that my best ideas come when I’m out there on the road. So get this: smash four or five hours in the morning, get to a point where your brain is frazzled, then head out on the road for two hours of mental regeneration. You would not believe how stimulated I return to the keyboard for the afternoon shift. It works: it really, really works.

And see the best bit: my new boss down south believes in me. He believes not only in what I can do and what value I can add to his business (half of which he doesn’t even know yet by the way…) but most importantly he believes in the way I deliver it. Work / Play / Work / Play… I’ve seen me bang in three or four sessions a day, all serious stuff and all broken up by walking away from the keyboard. And still ending up with more hours at the end of the week that I’ve done in years. I work hard at my job…

Just like LCFN: it’s relentless

Changing the subject completely, but for good reason, when I was wee, I learnt that that the best way to enjoy life is to do the things that you don’t like first. That way, if they take longer than expected (or you want) then it really doesn’t matter because you got the job done on your terms and in good time, whereas if you cherry pick the good stuff first, then you just get left with the miserable shitty stuff at the back end, and that’s no way to be. That’s called stress. Once upon a time I I used to do stress: not anymore. Today I got to 4 o’clock, knew I’d had enough and I stopped. No clock watching, no filling in the rest of the day. I clocked off and went to buy beer.

Now: this is the season when people emerge from the darkness of winter and go fundraising. Last week it was the London Marathon and 38,000 duly plodded their way round the capital of South Britain because it’s the thing to do. It’s the fundraising equivalent of having a personalised number plate: a party piece if you like “yeah, I’ve done London…”. I don’t know what it costs to enter the London Marathon these days, I read somewhere that it’s a hunnerd tokens just to sit at the table, and that’s before you start fundraising. LCFN might be small fry by comparison but you know what? Against one corporate run round England’s capital city, I’ll raise you 557 days (and counting) of 42.7 miles a day, on top of a full time job. No frills, no corporate sponsorship, no jollies and certainly no nice weather: just me, my bike and my desire to raise awareness for kids who I believe get a raw deal. Kids cancer doesn’t do nice corporate days. They’re all days like mine. Hard…

And relentless.

I saw a stat today. It landed on my timeline courtesy of a friend who was disgusted by the corporate branding of kids on Cancer Research UK’s front page. The story went on to explain that a parent had played email ping pong with the charity in order to ascertain exactly how much of their fundraising goes specifically to kids cancer. The ping pong exchange was evasive, and no wonder… Cancer Research UK is probably the best known cancer charity in the UK, just like Just Giving is probably the best known online fundraiser. CRUK’s budget for kids’ cancer is just 1.2% (yes you did read that right, it did say one point two percent!). So the next time they rattle a tin under your nose, ask the question. And remember the answer: 1.2%. They are using images of sick kids for branding and little else. And that itself is sick in my opinion.

When I started LCFN, I took out a Just Giving account to feed the NCCA as it was back then (Solving Kids Cancer as it is now) then one of the guys at the NCCA asked me if I knew that Just Giving took 6.7% as an admin fee. I didn’t know. And that’s why I now have a second fundraising account: Virgin Money Giving take 2% by comparison. Online fundraising is big business and it pays to shop around.

It’s like Children In Need, Comic Relief and Sport Relief. The last time I looked (about three years ago), these establishment charity corporations employed about 25 people earning a hundred and fifty grand a year. Imagine how far that £3.75m would go if people donated it to their local foodbank instead of chucking it into the corporate establishment pot.

Life as I see it is not about glitz and unearned gongs. Real life is about doing things that take you waaaaaaay out of your comfort zone, to a place where basically you don’t know whether you’ll survive. Do your homework on a bloke called Sid Sidowski. Sid is to kids with brain cancer what Tommy Melly is to kids with neuroblastoma. Tommy runs as Batman: Sid runs as a morph. And right now, this minute on this day, Morphman is five marathons into seven in seven days round South Britain: and suffering big time. I saw his video blog at seven miles this morning and thought for a moment “this is it: Sid might not make this today”. Pain beyond pain. But Sid knows how to handle pain, especially the mental sort: he supports the Villa. I like Sid. I like him a lot. But what Sid doesn’t know (yet) is that he needs to team up with Jimmy Harrington. These guys are one when it comes to helping kids with brain cancer: no frills, no big deals, just a burning personal desire to get the job done. Which reminds me… I’m walking with Tara Gladys in a couple of weeks to raise awareness of Foodbanks and Mental Health issues in the north of Glasgow. That seven mile walk across the top of the town replaces the Highland March on my agenda this year.

Apart from Sid, I haven’t namechecked anyone this week, so I’m gonna give a big shout out to Nic Naish and ask people who read my blog to follow Nic’s weekly exercise and nutrition blog (on Facebook). It’s short, it’s sharp and it’s always relevant. Because Nicola has good reason for making it so: she’s a survivor.

Now, I said earlier that my new role is a lovely mix of work and play. But unfortunately not so (as much) for the next two weeks. I’m in Landan next week, learning new tricks so I can be even more useful to my new bossman. And the week after that I’m all over the place in South Britain, combining more new tricks with meeting people at the sharp end. But the sharp end pays the bills. And it saves lives. That’s as cryptic a clue as you’re ever likely to get in terms of what I actually do these days, but my new role is every bit as inspiring as LCFN has been these last 557 days.

It’s Relentless….

PS: stick Kids Cancer Cycling Neuroblastoma into Google… It’s like having a Christmas number one.