Goldielooks And The Three Bears

See every time Lewis Hamilton wins a Grand Prix: the first thing he does is thank his team for all their hard work. Yeah, I know they probably get well paid for it but at the end of the day, he’s just the guy out there on the road putting in the miles. Back in the garage, and at Mercedes F1 HQ in Brackley, there are probably hundreds of guys who put in the hard miles to make his job easier.

I don’t have hundreds of guys: I have one: Neil Kinnaird. Neil is my technical designer, he’s my purchasing director, and he’s my man in the garage. He does the lot. Neil is the quiet man who keeps LCFN on the road. I had to look back at the log to find out when we first hooked up and it was in the summer of 2014 when I was on my third bike and sitting at around 8,000 miles.

We’ve been together for 27,000 miles!

Neil’s a thinker, and he’s always half a dozen steps ahead of me, or to put it another way, one bike ahead of me. I remember when we first got together, I was riding a still new Dawes Tourer. I got it for my birthday because I reckoned I needed something heavier duty than a mountain bike for the long haul over the Fenwick Muir in the winter. Heavier duty right enough: the Karakoum weighed in at about 35 pounds, and that was before I loaded it up with supplies every day. That bike was a workhorse.

But every time it was in his shed (as it was back then), he used to say to me “y’know, you could really do with something lighter. For the hills that you’re dealing with, this is way too heavy”. Neil wasn’t trying to sell me a new bike (although he does sell bikes), he was simply trying to tell me that as a mile muncher (I do love that term) I was making life hard for myself.

So the next birthday (back in those days y’see, new bikes only ever happened on birthdays – is that not a tradition anyway?) I took his advice and went for a road bike. Ultra light at 21lb, to me it felt like a Ferrari. I had a Flying Scot 25 years ago (mine was a replica – Jane had an original) and this gave me a similar kind of feeling on the open road: if you’ve never ridden a road bike (at speed), then you’ve not lived. Twitchy as fuck but exhilarating. Simple as that.

I broke that bike inside twelve months.

If going to Neil in the first place (to get bits replaced on a bike that was less than six months old) was a sign, then the failure of the road bike frame eleven months later was a real wake up call. But because the bike was still within warranty, Trek replaced the frame free of charge. The failure, and this is probably significant given the beating that LCFN gives its machinery, was that the screw hole where the derailleur hangs on the frame had wobbled loose. So many gear changes, so many potholes, so much shit coming up off the road: in less than twelve months, the (external) derailleur would no longer sit true.

The replacement frame has seen 12,000 miles of action, the longest served of all of the LCFN bikes. But the gears go out of true within a few weeks and then you have the choice of messing about with tools (and getting it wrong, putting the next day’s ride at risk) or living with it. By living with it, I mean clicking the rear shifter about three or four times and feeling it only shift once. Eff knows what gear I’m in half the time. It’s a serious issue if you’re halfway up a steep one and you go click, click, click and nothing happens, I can assure you.

That’s the downside of derailleurs. Cheap, easy to mess with, and even easier to go wrong.

Remember how I said that Neil was always a bike ahead of me?

He could see the rate at which I was going through components. New jockey wheels, new hangers, new chains, new complete drive chains. Been there, done that. That’s been the norm for about three years. Every time the bike goes in the workshop, it costs me a hundred quid. That’s the real life cost of LCFN: it’s not Neil’s problem: I’m a mile muncher and I break stuff.

Cue a conversation that he and I had around the turn of the year: ’16 going into ’17. “You need to consider going for hub gears. They’ll cost you upfront, but you’ve save a fortune in the long run”.

The only thing I know about hub gears is that my brother had a (new) bike with a three speed Sturmey Archer gear when I was a kid. Sturmey Archer were the name in gears back then: we’re talking 40 years ago. They had a three speed hub and five speed hub. I think our kid had a three.

The big advantage of a hub gear is that everything’s internal: everything sits inside the hub on the rear wheel and the shit cannae get at it. I’m led to believe that as long as you do an oil change every 3000 miles, the gear will run, free of failure, for 60,000 miles. I’ve only done 35K miles so you’ll get my drift.

So Neil and I bounced a few ideas around over a few months, but they were all expensive. I don’t do expensive. I do functional and get by: and in any case, I was still on a bike that that only twelve months old.

Then our mam died.

I was brought up to never ever buy anything unless you’d saved up for it. My folks never, ever bought anything on tick. If you don’t have the money, then you can’t have it. That was the message.

But our mam was a charitable old dear, and she would have approved of LCFN if she’d not lost her marbles to dementia. So I decided to invest the pennies that she’d earmarked in her will for her errant son in a bike that will see me through till I’m too old to do this anymore. Our mam was not a woman of means. Everything she earned, she’d worked for, and everything she’d earned, she put away for a rainy day. The day it started raining, she moved into a nursing home, and in a flash, all her money was gone. Except for the last few pennies that the Tories couldnae get at.

I’ve invested those pennies in the gold LCFN bike.

It was Neil’s idea. He suggested Rohloff. They’re a German company: a family run business: they make the Rolls Royce of hub gears. Guys who tour the world over extreme terrain in extreme conditions, thousands of miles from any kind of support, swear by Rohloff. Their marketing blurb says they’ve never had a failure out in the field. How Lewis Hamilton would love that, eh?

So my mind was set: a Rohloff speed hub it was. On a Gold cyclo cross frame that Neil had already got his eyes on. We were on our way. Again. But the Rohloff normally comes with a twist grip gear changer on flat handle bars and I wanted drop bars…

Cue another suggestion from the ideas man: there’s another company in Germany that do a traditional thumb shift changer for Rohloff gears: left shifter up and right shifter down. “I like that”. Let’s do it. So in the grand scheme of things, with Brexit supposedly just around the corner, we have:

  • Bike frame: Netherlands
  • Hub gears: Germany
  • Gear shifters: Germany
  • Everything else: probably China

I road tested the new bike today, albeit on mountain bike tyres. Neil offered it to me for the weekend but I didn’t want to get it dirty before he’s finished building it (we’re still waiting on bomb proof tyres and mudguards): how vain am I?

I had been hoping to have the wheels in the house at the start of the week because…

Gail, Callum and Cerys came for their tea!!!

When Finn (who’s a chef) found out the night before, he asked what I was making: “Spag Bol of course”. I always make Spag Bol. I’ve probably made Spag Bol two hundred times and never made the same one twice. “Dad, you need to use a recipe”. “Fuck that, I just make it the way I make it: every one different”.

Cerys and Callum went back for seconds: that’s all I’m saying. 😊

But before I started cooking, we all walked up to Neil’s bike shop (Cerys walked on the wall by the way – I think every kid in Stewarton has done that, on that wall), with Eileidh Bear riding piggy back on Cerys’s shoulders. Eileidh Bear has two sister bears, and each has some of Eileidh’s ashes in a wee pouch. And if you squeeze their toes, then Eileidh starts giggling. It’s as adorable as it is gorgeous.

So Eiliedh Bear went up to the bike shop and got to ride the Gold bike before the LifeCycle Man. Totally apt: Eileidh and I have been together for 25,000 miles, the same number that I set out to achieve when I started.

Y’see the future of LCFN is a gold bike: a bike of hope for kids with cancer everywhere…

Goldielooks and the three bears.


I’m going into my fifth winter: #ForeverFive

I actually had to work it out while I was on the bike today because I was convinced it was four. Nope: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Let’s do that that again: 17, 16, 15, 14, 13. Hell, it is actually five. Just two weeks until the Hundred Days Of Hell kick in for the fifth time, except these days they’re nowhere near as hellish as they used to be. If you’re new to the blog, or new to LCFN, the Hundred Days Of Hell relates back to the period between the two clock changes in the UK when I used to ride to and from work in Glasgow (for five months) without seeing daylight. Four thousand miles in the dark, in the cold, and quite often in lashing rain. Those were the days that gave me the mental strength to deal with days like today.

Wild, wet and windy: that was today. The kind of day when sane folk would ask why the hell are you going out on a bike. Because. There were a load of Stewarton Academy schoolkids heading down the main street when I went out and it was only when I got home that I discovered that my Joe was one of them. I didn’t bother asking whether he said “ooft, there’s my dad”. I think I know the answer.

Joe’s events been a bit of a theme this week. Last Saturday, he had an open day to go to at Edinburgh University ahead of deciding what he wants to do next year. Knowing how much I hate coming back from somewhere and having to go out and do miles, I went out at breakfast time instead. Hee haw on the road, just go out there and smash it was the plan. And I also had the added pressure of my flu jab up at the health centre to look forward to before we went out: you get that on the NHS when you’re my age. So I only had a couple of hours and I clogged it. I’ll let you into a secret, shall I? Clogging it at breakfast time is not a good idea. All your working muscles go on strike as soon as you get home.

Now because there were three of us heading out east, we decided to take the motor and do a park n ride job from Hermiston Gait. It worked out well, except for the fact that the bus got stuck in traffic – whatever happened to bus lanes?) and we were late getting into the city. We sent Joe on ahead of us old folk to get to the first lecture… If you know Edinburgh, you’ll know that there are some pretty steep hills heading up towards the Royal Mile from Waverley. I felt my calf go: shit! I know it was only a little yelp, but I have previous with that exact injury. Turn the clock back almost 35 years to the build up to the Balloch to Clydebank road race…

I should never have been a runner in the first place: slightly pigeon toed and an extreme over pronator, my running style is most ungainly. But once upon a time that gait was relatively fast over long distances. The Balloch to Clydebank race that I speak of used to be twelve and half miles back then: I think they’ve upped it to a half marathon since because that’s the fad with these things: 13.1 miles attracts more punters than 12.5.

But in the lead up to that race, because I wanted a good time (in the running sense, not the social scene) I was training hard and running 70-80 miles a week. At pace. I’d had a niggling achilles injury that had cost me the Glasgow Marathon the year before and when the pain from that made its way up into the base of my calf I was struggling. Back then I had a season ticket at the Sports Injuries Clinic at the Tryst Sports Centre in Cumbernauld (you think I’m joking?) and it was only the skill and care of the resident physio that got me to the start line of that race. I know that burning pain only too well, like someone holding a lighted match to the back of the bottom of your calf every tenth step (or tenth revolution if you’re on a bike).

I know the treatment that got me to the start line in Balloch too. So I knew the treatment that was going to keep me on the bike last Sunday going into Monday. For the record, that Saturday of the Balloch to Clydebank race was every bit as horrible as the weather was today. Wind, rain and as miserable as sin. But I always ran my best races in conditions like that: it just gave you something extra to run against. I was a decent runner back then: 67 minutes did the job: and injured. Afterwards, I took a timeout.

But timeouts are frowned upon in LCFN so by hook or by crook I was not for taking one last Sunday. On a bike, there are ways of dealing with these things: pedalling with your toes (clipped onto the bike) pointing down for starters. That reduces the strain on both the calf and the achilles at a stroke. It feels funny, but it gets the job done.

And one other thing: the key thing: the thing I learned from those physios every Monday and Thursday after the running club: ultrasound keeps dedicated athletes on the road. Why would you stop when you don’t really have to?

I should never have been a runner in the first place. I can still remember the intense pain of getting off the bus on a Wednesday afternoon after cross country. No specialist running shoes back in those days: pumps probably. I could barely walk: massive calf tension. Those problems have stayed with me for nigh on fifty years. But they didn’t stop me running 10K’s in 31 minutes and half marathons in 71 minutes back in the day.

My running career petered out in the mid 90’s when the calf injuries just wouldn’t leave me alone. But what I did do, to at least keep me going as an erstwhile jogger, was buy a mobile ultrasound machine. Okay so it’s not quite the same piece of kit that they used back at Cumbernauld, but think laptop to their desktop. This wee beastie still packs the same punch as the kit that they had back then, and at the first sign of a niggle since I’ve been on the bike, the ultrasound machine comes out.

So cue last Sunday: Jane poked about with my calf before I went out but that was just to get me out of the door. When I got home, thirty odd miles later, the machine came out. Twice: double dose. And again on Monday: before and after the bike ride. Thirty one miles. Tuesday: the same routine: thirty two miles. Wednesday: no pain: no ultrasound and everything was kind of back to normal. Same ever since.

Last Saturday was a close, close call. I could have lost a week, maybe two, and that translates immediately into five hundred miles, plus whatever you lose when you have to start again at half speed.

Let no one tell you that LCFN is a fit man’s game. It’s only a fit man’s game because you have to listen to your body at every turn, then give it a good talking to whenever it steps out of line. This one was a close call, but I got away with it. LCFN will always come first: I won’t go and play five a side (at age 64) even though I’d love to. Priorities, priorities, priorities!

But I can’t finish this week without looking forward to next…

On Tuesday, we are playing host to Gail, Callum and Cerys, albeit for a short while as they take a pit stop on their way to Blackpool. You never know guys, you might even get to sample some of my legendary Spag Bol if we can get the timing right. Jane will be working from home and Angela’s coming over too so you don’t score many bonus points for guessing how excited we all are. Also, I booked my place on the Solving Kids Cancer annual conference today: just the Saturday mind as the expense of a full weekend away is just a little too much to bear. I’m going there to listen and learn in the hope that I can turn the current research into some sort of advance screening tool in primary care: it’s like SNOMED-CT meets my passion for a cure. It’s a long shot, I know, but something tells me I’m on this journey for a reason (other than just being on the bike).

As ever, the pace quickens. It might not be supersonic (I’m far too old for that) but it is most certainly ultrasonic!

King Puddles

A Friday morning blog is as rare as a Scotland win in pink. Almost as rare, in fact, as three Scotland World Cup qualifier victories in a row. Some allege that you have to go back to 1970 to find the last time that that happened. Sadly, I don’t have to go back any further than the last few days to find the last time I got soaked three days in a row.

What happened to summer, or if I may rephrase that, what happened to our Indian summer cum autumn? These last few days, we seem to have shifted straight from summer to winter and skipped the middle bit. It’s been wet, it’s been cold, and it’s been windy. Very windy. I don’t care much for the rain but I hate the wind: detest it. I detest the wind even more than I detest the farmers at this time of year. There’s barely a route of mine that’s currently untouched by the dreaded hedge cutting machines. Tidy up after themselves? Not likely. The country roads are littered with thorns, just waiting to trip up the unwary life cyclist. To date, I’ve been lucky and fallen foul of only one, but it’s only a matter of time, and you just know that it’s gonna happen on a day when the rain is lashing down and I’m in the middle of nowhere! Grrr…

How quickly one’s mood has changed. From chasing records and bagging loadsa miles, I’ve reverted to winter type almost overnight and I’m finding the motivation a real strain once again. The weather does that to you. I was never going to keep those 300 mile weeks going, but I did at least think I’d get back into a 30 mile a day groove for the remainder of this year: nothing of the sort. Soaked and cold on Monday: did a runner at 22 miles. Soaked and cold again on Tuesday on a similar course: same runner for the same result. On Wednesday, I dusted myself down and hit the route in the opposite direction, hoping for some inspiration. I found it (sic) in the shape of a 29 inch deep puddle that must have been 40m long, under the railway bridge going down into KIlmaurs. “I ain’t going back: I’ll just get off and wade through it”. The water was over the top of my wheels. In a sense it didn’t matter because I was already wet from the rain, but there’s a difference between rain wet and wading wet: heavy, cold, wet shoes for a start. And feet like blocks of ice. 6C it was on Wednesday afternoon.

The interim result from that lot read like an England scorecard on a good day in an Ashes Test down under: 71-3. Absolutely not good enough, particularly when the innings has been delivering upwards of 300 of late. This one, sad to say, was destined for a paltry 150 and an inevitable follow-on when the heavens flooded the pitch on Wednesday.

Time for a team talk, one of the Fergie hairdryer variety. “LifeCycle Man, you haven’t come through 7,200 miles this year to chuck in the towel now. This team is better than that”. So yesterday I went out with a fragile resolve to do better. But it was so friggin’ windy! And those pesky thorns were getting blown all over the place. I encountered not one, not two, but three of those damned tractors yesterday on what I had assumed was a safe route, safe as in the official Sustrans bike route 7 out to Ardrossan. The wind was so bad that when I reached the turn out by West Kilbride, the Garmin was reporting an average speed of 11.8mph. I did that same route two Saturdays ago at 8am on a still day and recorded 15+. When the wind’s that strong, it saps your energy, both mentally and physically. Indeed, I’d clearly struggled so much heading out into it that I barely managed to claw 1mph back on the average on the return leg. But 43 miles stabilised the innings: for now. 71-3 has become 114-4 which is still pretty rubbish in the grand scheme of things. Geoffery would not be amused.

So now I have to go out and achieve something similar today. It’s bright, which is good, and the wind is much lighter, so therein lies an ample opportunity to make hay. Forty will get the innings up to and over 150-5, and an all out target in excess of 200 then seems more likely than not come Sunday: however tonight I’m out on the lash, and tomorrow I’m in Edinburgh all day so tomorrow morning at 7am, the LCFN wicket may well be taking some turn. Anything short of 25 at breakfast time tomorrow will leave the last batsman looking at substantial tail end score on Sunday to avoid an otherwise inevitable embarrassing outcome.

So what of other things?

Well assuming that one can avoid the follow-on, then Sunday will mark a quiet milestone: 35,000 miles. Should it come about, with the Japanese Grand Prix and the final round of World Cup qualifiers to look forward to, I’m sure a wee libation will be on the cards. 35K is not a total to be sniffed at. Next stop will be 40K somewhere around the time of my retirement birthday in the spring (except I’m not planning on retiring). There was a time when I thought that 40K would happen in Australia next year but a good hard working summer put paid to that notion.

The new bike is coming together, in bits…

The gold frame’s been in Neil’s capable hands for the past four or five weeks, and we’ve spent much of the time since then swithering over the revolutionary hub gear that’s going on it. To recap, I go through spare parts on the drive chain (that’s the front chain rings, the rear derallieurs and the chain itself) on a semi-regular basis, so Neil suggested going for an internal hub gear: that’s where all of the gears are nice and cosy, inside the hub itself. The fun part is getting the configuration right, because once it’s on, it’s on: there’s no going back. My current road bike has three front chain rings, just like a mountain bike, and a ten speed cassette on the back. So that’s thirty gears to play with, except you never run the chain big ring to little cassette, or little ring to big cassette. You’re always somewhere in the middle that doesn’t knacker the chain or the components.

The new bike has a single ring on the front, a bit like a fixed wheel bike, and a range of gears in the hub that will simulate most of the lower and middle gears on my current bike, with some of the bigger ones thrown in for fun. But the emphasis is very much on the lower end of the spectrum as I’m getting older (and speed is less important). The hub is in, and I’ve actually had my grubby mitts on it. It’s beautiful in a metallic red casing. The theme is going to be gold, silver and red. The frame itself and the front chain ring are both gold. Both hubs and the handlebar tape are going to be in red, with everything else in silver. I haven’t decided yet on the tyres: they’ll either be red or yellow: and solid tyres so I can ignore those pesky farmers. It will be a (custom) bike like no other. Oh, and part of the silver spec includes disc brakes in place of the traditional V brakes that you normally get on a road bike. I can get through a set of rear brake blocks in a fortnight so this is another ruse pinched from the mountain bike scene to try and cut down on the wear and tear of components.

On the work front, it’s been another SNOMED-CT study week. After sitting through 54 presentations, five web conferences, three homeworks and five exams, there are now just two presentations, two exams and a final webinar with my tutor in Denmark to go: and that’s scheduled for Halloween (!!!) with the exams to follow on soon after. SNOMED has been a long road, one that at times has been as hard, emotionally and mentally, as the bike ride. But one feeds off the other and as just long as you can keep turning those cogs in your brain, you’ll keep moving forward.

But I’ll leave you this week with the banterous, encouraging words of Gail. It was while whe were discussing the depth of the lake under the railway bridge in Kilmaurs, that she said that Eileidh would’ve been in there like a shot. “But she’d have needed a life jacket” said I. “That wouldn’t have stopped her” said Gail. “She’d have gone in, then called on you to come and get her out”…

It was at that point that Gail crowned me King Puddles.

Every Day’s A School Day

There’s been a bit of a theme running through this week. It started when I got a LinkedIn message from the Deputy Director of Sport at my old school: I think that was on Monday. I’d liked an article he’d shared and I guess he’s looked up my profile and thought “who’s this character”? Anyway, we got talking (well, I use the term loosely: we started messaging) and he’s asked me if I’d like to go back and address a special assembly about LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma. OMFG!!!

I went to Bishop Vesey in Sutton Coldfield. The school is 490 years old. It’s part of the fabric of society. At that age, you go where your parents send you. My folks didn’t have two halfpennies to rub together but my old man had it in his head that his kids were going to get the education that he never got. His mother died when he was 12 so his dad took him out of Moseley Grammar. The regret of that never left him, and as a waif, he turned his angst into wanting the best for his tribe. So he and our mam jumped over the boundary from Birmingham into Sutton Coldfield, just so we could get a better chance in life. People still do that to this day.

The problem for me was that although I passed the Eleven Plus, I was something of a dunce once I got to the grammar school. In a class of 30 kids, I found myself perennially fighting relegation in every subject. Not for me the A’s and B’s of the high flyers: my report card was strewn with B’s, C’s and the odd D. Standards were high and down in 23rd place, where I usually ended up, it was often difficult to keep my head above water. The problem with the grammar school, you see, was that the pace was fast: the pace was electric. We were doing differentiation and integration in Maths in 3rd year. These days, in Scotland at least, I think they teach that two years down the road. It was hard. I never, ever felt comfortable and turned my attention to football and trainspotting. Oh, and snooker and soul music. I was and still am a black American 60’s soul addict. You can knock me out with some Otis Redding.

Anyway, I digress: it was while I was at Vesey that I fell in love…

With cross country.

I was a tiny kid. I didn’t get to 5 foot till I was 15 (but Hazlegrove was smaller so I avoided the worst of the taunting) but hell I could run. Not well enough to get into any teams or anything, because I was so small, but once my folks put manure in my boots and I sprouted, so recognition followed. Mike Dann, about whom I wrote on Facebook recently, gave me my chance in 6th year and our team won the league. I was on my way.

The following year, after I’d left school, I wrote to the headmaster and asked if I could go back, for one day, and borrow the (grass) athletics track. I’d done the 25 mile Oxfam Walk round the Sutton boundary the previous year and I fancied running it this time around: they said no, so I went back to Vesey and ran 21 miles round the track instead. I was 19. That was my first introduction to fuck you, I’ll find a different way, a better way….

But see down in the relegation zone of class: those kids didn’t go to Uni. I scraped a C in Physics (after taking the O level three times) and a E in Maths, and that got me a place at North Staffs Poly in Stafford. That was where I found myself. That was where I found I could work for hours and hours on my own, reading this, studying that, and slowly making sense of it all. I emerged from Stafford with a 2.1 in Computer Science and I haven’t missed a day’s work since: 42 years and counting in IT. It was paper tape when I started, before the industry moved up market to punched cards then to dumb terminals on mainframes. I was getting somewhere at last…

Ten years in software engineering taught me loads: my formative software design years.

Three years as a consultant out on the road taught me survival. I wrote the Daily Record’s very first advertising IT system, the one that brought in the revenue that kept the paper afloat.

Both of those jobs ended in redundancy, the first because Burroughs merged with Sperry and forfeited our factory to pay for it: the second because the software house ran out of money. I spent three months earning a living on short term deals before I eventually found sanctuary at Weir Pumps. I was still a runner in those days so I used to get a lift into work then run back into town to catch the train. Get this: I would leave my desk to get changed at twenty to five and leg it the three plus miles to Queen Street to catch the train to Croy. The train left at 5:03pm: I rarely missed it.

It was at Weirs that I crafted my SQL skills: 20 years of working with Oracle came to an end when the company was facing closure and Jim McColl rode into town on his white horse and rescued the site. Reprieved. But his team had zero faith in our hand crafted, custom engineered software and they binned the lot. Everything that I’d invested 55 hours a week in (unpaid overtime and some) gone in the stroke of a pen. They brought in SAP: I re-invented myself in Excel: not the front end but the back end. Programming in VBA: the clever stuff: making the numbers work wonders through coding.

Then eighteen months ago this week, I got an instant message from the Head of African Game Reserve Photography, inviting me up to the thick pile carpet end of the floor. I was out the door ten minutes later. They called it corporate restructuring. It was the day before my 63rd birthday. Happy birthday, old man: here’s some money, now clear off. Devastated doesn’t even come close. I cycled home dreaming of shelf stacking…

Six hours later, I had a new job. On the phone, we talked about what I could do, not what I couldn’t. Imagine accepting a job without discussing the salary. I did it because I wanted the challenge…

I went in on a three month deal, which reverted to twelve months after two weeks.

That was eighteen months ago.

In April of next year, the NHS will revert from the clinical coding system that has served it well for the past 25 years, to a new, all singing and all dancing system: SNOMED-CT, the international standard. I saw this juggernaut coming down the tracks a year ago and I knew back then that it had the power to demolish our fledgling enterprise. So I asked to go back to the classroom.

I did the SNOMED-CT Foundation course in Q1 of this year and survived. So I enrolled on the advanced implementation course the day after. I thought to myself “I bet this is where the big boys and girls hang out”. I wasn’t wrong. Six modules, each longer and harder than its predecessor, with an assignment (homework) and an assessment (exam) in each: 70%+ required in each in order to progress to the next round. SNOMED-CT is a clinical system. I am a software guy. I struggled early doors. I really, really struggled the month our mam died and I only survived by 0.23% in the exam. But I survived.

This week, I sat the module E exam: subject matter Development. Tools of said development: SQL. Come to daddy! I will never, ever be a doctor but give me five million rows of medical data to play with and I’ll write you a system.

But see the best bit about SNOMED-CT? It employs a design so similar to the eClipse system that I designed at Weirs back in 2000 it’s untrue. The future of global healthcare is based on a data model that Jim McColl and his horse saw fit to lob in the bin. Sorry chaps but we were bang on the money: it wasn’t our problem that our futuristic design wasn’t appreciated.

I enquired of SNOMED International how many people have graduated from the implementation course in the UK in the three years that it’s been running: 37. Yes, you read that right: it’s not a typo: 37. And in Scotland it’s 2: hopefully I’ll be the third. Pause and think about that for a minute…

Y’see it’s all about believing in yourself, investing in yourself, and never giving up. The only person who knows what you are capable of is you. And that’s even before you get out of your comfort zone and start pushing the boundaries…

Talking of which: I’ve made a big play these last three weeks about attacking the LCFN records across the board:

The most miles in a week went last Sunday. The new mark is 361 miles.

The most miles in a calendar month went on Monday. The old mark was 1112 miles.

1200 miles went on Wednesday.

1300 miles went today.

55,000ft of climbing is the most in any LCFN month.

Tomorrow is the last day of Go Gold September: except that I’ve renamed it Go Puddlium.

My legs have given me everything. My body has given me everything. For the past three weeks, I’ve been on the road for four hours a day. I have learned so much about what my old body is capable of.

But hey…

Every day’s a school day.

I’m Not Like Everybody Else

I barely know where to start this week. I don’t quite know how, or even why, I got to this point, but I am here, I am living in this moment and I’m just trying to hang onto every single day of September like it was the last.

But first, in order to set the scene, let me turn the clock back 21 days. I wrote this as I was sat on a train heading back from England…

“August was good. August was very good. August could have been spectacularly good but all good things must come to an end when something altogether more important is lying in wait. For today is September 1st, and the start of childhood cancer awareness month. Go gold with pride and a passion. While I was sat in a meeting in Manchester this morning, outlining my dream of GP practices being able to screen for clustered symptoms of cancer in small children, the Sydney Opera House was being lit up in Gold ten thousand miles away. It feels like this is an unstoppable journey, one that was always destined to happen in one form or another. On September 1st next year, I plan on being in Sydney, on my gold bike, in support of Neuroblastoma Australia”.

I didn’t cycle on that Friday. I’d missed our wedding anniversary by being away on the Thursday so Jane and I went out for dinner when I got home. In hindsight, that missed day was the catalyst, the fuse if you like, that set a bonfire under September 2017.

Further down that blog, this appeared:

“LCFN is not about being in a cosy warm place: LCFN is about putting your body on the line where it hurts, when it hurts, and just keeping on doing it. LCFN is for every waking day of your life, not just for Christmas. Because that’s what a kid with cancer has to endure and as today is the start of awareness month, it’s worth restating the vow.

My yardstick is what you manage to do with the days when you’re on it. I just managed 42 thirty milers in a row”.

You see I wanted to bag a thousand miles in September and I’d got off to the worst possible start by getting none on day one. And as September is a short month, that just ratchets up the pressure, something that traditionally I’ve not dealt well with. Basically, I hate playing catchup: I’m an ahead of the game sort of a bloke, a do your chores before playtime sort of a bloke. Chasing the game does not sit well with me.

The Saturday and Sunday of that week were meant to be just a launchpad to limit the damage.

Roll it forward seven days and the sore of missing out on the first was clearly festering:

“The loss of Friday, became the driving force behind #GoGoldSeptember. I touted it as a desire to bag only the fifth golden month, in memory of Eileidh as #ForeverFive, but that doesn’t tell half the story. A thousand miles was never going to be a problem, assuming I don’t get sent away with work at short notice. My focus is not on a thousand, not even on eleven hundred. It’s on the top step: 1112 miles posted at the end of the hat trick of golds back in November ’15. To be honest, no matter what I clock this month, I can take nothing away from that monumental month. I remember the hundred days of hell only too well. November is a dark, cold, wet and wild month. It’s when the storms kick in. And you see not one minute of daylight. Every one of those eleven hundred miles was done in the dark. You never forget those days”.

Right now, I can say with some degree of certainty that I will never forget this month. September 2017 will shine forevermore as the month when I was on it. And like never before. Missing out on the first merely lit the fuse: then this appeared…

“But 1112 is in the crosshairs. You get a lot of time to think strategy and routes when you’re out for three and four hours a day, and in my mind I’ve been toying with something that’s basically been tantalisingly off limits all along: I called it a titanium month a couple of years ago because relatively speaking, it’s off the scale and unreachable: 1200 miles.

Is it achievable? In a 31 day month, with a tailwind of motivation, I think it is. But it’s on top of a full time job remember. In a 30 day month, it demands 40 miles day. The most I’ve ever done of those in a row is six. That’s precisely why 1200 is titanium: it’s basically impenetrable. So take a day off that and challenge yersel’ to do it in 29: that makes the asking rate 41 miles a day. Every day. That’s two and a half thousand calories burnt up on the bike and a whole load of tiredness to boot. And still the day job to do.

Oooft, game on…”

Game on indeed.

The first full week of September returned 311 miles, bettering a 294 that I’d ended August with, and sitting comfortably at number two on the all-time list after four years on the road.

Ironically, that blog a fortnight ago was named I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Oooft, how times change. That 311 lasted only a week…

I wiped it last week with a 319, a ridiculous effort of seven forty something days, the minimum of which was a 44.

A perfect storm was definitely brewing. From Stewarton Wednesday last week:

“The run up to Wednesday lies in the fact that I’m trying to smash just about every LCFN record in the book in the #GoGold month of September. When I say I every record, I’m probably exaggerating just a wee bit because I think top spot for miles in a week is safe until I get to Australia next year. But the others are all going: and therein lies the problem…

From being a guy who just went out to enjoy the ride, wherever it may take me, I became, for one month only, a guy for whom every last mile counts. And when the LCFN records as they currently stand define me at my limits, then something’s gonna have to give: it’s either me, or it’s them”.

I knew at the end of last week that something truly special was in sight. But in order to claim it, to grasp it, and behold it, I had to up my game one more time. Merely working out at 45 miles a day for the remaining two weeks was not going to get the job done.

Cue overdrive…

I’ve had to let my professional working hours slip a little this week (only 29 by close of play tonight) because for this week only, LCFN changed from being a miles based adventure to a time based one. No longer was it “x number of miles”: it morphed into “x number of hours”, where x is never less than3.5.

I’m talking about that top spot, those 340.9 miles that were racked up courtesy of cycling from Eileidh’s home town of Forres to Celtic Park in May 2015, and that on top of a normal woking week, with Mouldy, Kev and Robert. One offs are efforts to behold. Treasure them.

For the past three months, I’ve been majoring on 30 mile days, every day.

For practically the whole of the past month, I’ve been majoring on 40’s.

Add another ten.

This week has majored on 50’s.

The last time I managed to put four 50’s together in a row was November ’15 and that was the very week that notched top spot with 1112 miles. I’m sitting on four 50’s tonight: and tomorrow’s another new day, albeit that there’s a Sevco-Celtic match kicking off at noon that I’d rather like to peruse as an outsider.

The week’s sitting on 251.9 miles. I need another 91 to do the unthinkable. On tired legs. This is not (yet) a done deal. The month is sitting on 964 so tomorrow, for sure, September will go #Gold. Only the fifth month ever that I’ve managed it and a fitting tribute to Eileidh. Forever Five.

Tuesday should see the fall of the 1112 that currently occupies top spot then that leaves four days to scale the summit of Mount Titanium.

Nothing is impossible. That’s the message I’ll take away from this month. I’ll remember it long after it’s over, not because of the miles, ridiculous as they are, but because of the mental strength that it has taken to chip away at that target. No one day has been a game changer: it’s just been a constant winding up of the effort, day after day after day. Repeat. Tuesday was the second longest run of the year at 50.7. Wednesday was the longest run of the year. That lasted one day: Thursday topped it. Thursday last 24 hours: today topped it.

I don’t know where September will end. I’m sufficiently tired to know that once 1200 is pretty much assured, I won’t care anymore and I’ll throttle back the miles to where they started the month. It’s just a shame that I only posted a 36 on the 3rd because every other day has been 40+. C’est la vie.

I guess not many guys would have taken this on. I guess even fewer guys aged 64 would have taken this on. But that’s me…

I’m not like everybody else.

Stewarton Wednesday

I walked ten Inverness Caley Thistle Highland Marches before I knew my time was up. There comes a point, in everything you do in life, when you know, you instinctively know, that you’re looking down the barrel at a decision…

Do I keep going?

Or do I just let it go?

That day was Wednesday.

But back to the Highland March…

When you set out to walk 200 miles in a week (seven marathons in seven days, and then some), and you’ve done it before, there’s ample opportunity to know what lies ahead, and to let it get to you. When that happens, if the spirit ain’t strong, then any dream you have is history.

I’ve been there many times on the HM, faced those demons, and beaten them every time. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, with 25 miles ahead of you, on terrain that that is unforgiving and your legs gave up days ago, your mind has to be strong. It’s never the body that wins: it’s always the mind: and when your mind has gone, it’s game over.

Sometimes the body prompts the mind for long enough that it just gives in. Maybe that’s what happened to me towards the end of HM10, after I’d walked 70 miles on the worst blister you’re ever likely to see. As I hobbled towards the end of that HM, I thought “do I need to do this anymore”? And merely asking the question was enough…

The next year I drove the support bus.

The HM was fantastic. For a week, every year for ten years, I had the time of my life pushing my ageing body up and down hills, along stretches of open country road, over open moorland, over old drovers’ tracks, and even over the odd posh golf course. The highlight was probably walking 135 miles from Inverness to Dunfermline in 48 hours back in 2006, solo with one of my mates for support. A 75 mile first leg included an ‘in the dark, over the mountains, through the night’ expedition for a 7:30am breakfast rendezvous (I was fifteen minutes late in Kincraig for the bacon butties). I think I was awake for about 40 hours. Stuff like that teaches you a lot: particularly when the going gets tough…

When you set out to do something that’s 100% under your control, then every decision along the way, that ultimately leads to success or failure, is yours.

And all of that brings me back to Wednesday…

I’ve got favourite routes, I’ve got routes that I keep in reserve for bad weather (invariably from the west) and I’ve got routes that I hold back for “fuck it, let’s just make it hurt today”. I don’t do those routes very often.

The run up to Wednesday lies in the fact that I’m trying to smash just about every LCFN record in the book in the #GoGold month of September. When I say I every record, I’m probably exaggerating just a wee bit because I think top spot for miles in a week is safe until I get to Australia next year. But the others are all going: and therein lies the problem…

From being a guy who just went out to enjoy the ride, wherever it may take me, I became, for one month only, a guy for whom every last mile counts. And when the LCFN records as they currently stand define me at my limits, then something’s gonna have to give: it’s either me, or it’s them.

Last week was a 311 mile week: and I still managed to work 35 hours. How I managed that I don’t know: a combination of starting early and finishing late I guess. Those 311 miles rank second on the all time list after 211 weeks of being on the bike. The top step, the one that I suspect is safe for now, is 341, but that included a 190 mile ride from Motherwell to Inverness after I ditched the Highland March to ride my bike through the night on Highland Bike 1. So in real terms, although it sits in gold just now, it’s sort of a bit false because it’s not like all of the other weeks. Back in the day when I was doing 50 miles a day backwards and forwards to my work in Glasgow, I took the weekends off because I needed to: those two days of doing nothing were the difference between strong legs and broken legs.

Now I don’t take any days off: because I only ride once a day, whatever I do is whatever I do. I get home and that’s me till tomorrow. Always.

But if you read last week’s blog, you’ll know that I have half an eye, not just on the top prize of 1112 miles in a month, done 100% in the dark in November 2015 (proud of that), but on something that I’ve always considered to be out of reach: 1200 miles. I labelled it titanium because I’ve always regarded it as a barrier that’s unbreakable. If I had no job (retired???) and had all the time in world to bang in the miles, then maybe, but around a full time job I’ve always regarded 1200 as unattainable: hence titanium.

This is Friday. The ascent to last week’s 311 was launched off 214 on Friday night. That 214 sits tonight on 229.

Because of Wednesday.

The 30 days of LCFN September were reduced to 29 because I was away with my work on the 1st: this is the 15th and September is sitting on 621. The boat is not in the harbour. For the last fourteen days, I’ve been rowing it, paddling and tugging it. And on Wednesday it felt like I was actually pushing it.

When you’ve learnt not to give up on a Highland March, you most definitely don’t give up on an LCFN bike ride.

The problem has been pushing these 45 mile days. It’s easy round these parts to find a 20 mile ride: yeah, it’s hilly, but at the end of the day it’s only 20 miles. 30’s more of a challenge because you put yourself on the limit of what possible in the time versus the available fuel. 35’s pushing my boundary as far as fuel goes.

Anything about 40 and I’m into the refuelling zone: but it’s not just that, it’s where to go. Today, for instance, was 45 miles and 2,650 feet of climbing. Add to that 2,569 calories burnt up on the road and you can see my problem: my wee fuel tank only holds 1850: and when you’re doing that day in and day out, something has to give: one day you’re gonna head out the door on empty…

That day was Wednesday.

I knew even before I set off that I was in trouble. Normally I’m all ready to go, to make up a route on the hoof once I get a feel for what the wind’s doing: I never set the course before I leave the house. Not on Wednesday: five miles in and I was already looking at the Garmin. Of course I knew it was only five miles but my legs were dead. “Have I really got to put them through another 35 miles of this” I thought…

So you know what I did?

I picked a route that I normally do the other way round (for no reason other than I prefer it that way), and I hated it all the way round. I stopped about three or four times to take pictures and break the monotony. And still the Garmin was only showing about 25 miles…

So I headed out away from home again: on a trajectory that I knew was going to mean that the only way I was going to get home was to achieve what was required. This was not enjoyment in any shape or form. It was endurement…

I even got overtaken on the road down to Troon by a bloke in trainers on a mountain bike. But yer know what? I cracked 47 miles on Wednesday. I felt like shit for the whole three and a half hours but the job got done. Sometimes it’s like that. The Highland March taught me that sometimes it’s like that.

Now roll the clock forward 48 hours…

At 17 miles today, I went through 200 miles in a week for the 86th time: I’m still on course for that ton of double hunnerds in the week of my 65th birthday. I’ve just got to spend the winter doing it.

At 24 miles, I cracked 600 miles for September (in only 14 days).

At 33 miles, LCFN eyeballed the 34,000 mile cake: 943 days it has taken, at 36 miles a day average. The ascent is now fast approaching 1.7 million feet: that’s 1,782 feet of climbing for every one of those 36 mile days.

But you know why all of this is worth it?

Because it’s hard.

It’s fucking hard.

Wednesday was the hardest day I’ve had to endure in a long, long time. Yes, there are going to be back to back 300 mile weeks for the first time ever: yes I’m gonna keep chasing that 1200 mile titanium month like my life depended on it: and yes, I’m gonna take a rest in October: but not until.

Some things just drive you on…

Stewarton Wednesday.

Going For Gold

You know that saying “all good things must come to an end”? I’ve had good cause to think about that a fair bit these past few days.

August was good. August was very good. August could have been spectacularly good but all good things must come to an end when something altogether more important is lying in wait. For today is September 1st, and the start of childhood cancer awareness month. Go gold with pride and a passion. While I was sat in a meeting in Manchester this morning, outlining my dream of GP practices being able to screen for clustered symptoms of cancer in small children, the Sydney Opera House was being lit up in Gold ten thousand miles away. It feels like this is an unstoppable journey, one that was always destined to happen in one form or another. On September 1st next year, I plan on being in Sydney, on my gold bike, in support of Neuroblastoma Australia.

I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to be here, right now, in this moment. Bad things have happened of late, I know, but if the next couple of years delivers half of what I believe is possible, then future generations of families might not have to suffer the pain that Gail and her family are going through right now.

But before we get into all of that, let me reflect on the past 31 days. I came into August on the back end of a real downer. Sure, I’d got back on my bike and managed to put a little run together, but I was a million miles from being the driven individual that I was a while back. Knocks, especially the emotional ones, do that to you. I’ve said before in the blog that the real spirit of LCFN lies not in fundraising, nor even necessarily in raising awareness of the disease, good though that continues to be. The problem with something like LCFN is that donations drop off with time: the novelty invariably wears off. No, the hallmark of the bike ride lies in going out, day after day, when you’re tired, when you don’t really have the motivation to keep going, and even on some days when you just don’t have time. Because somehow, LCFN is about always making time, always making the effort, and always managing to move forward. If you think that’s bollocks, as someone reading this surely will, then all I ask is that you commit two hours of your day, every day, to hard aerobic exercise: then report back how you got on once the nights are dark, the days are cold and the rain is lashing down.

LCFN is not about being in a cosy warm place: LCFN is about putting your body on the line where it hurts, when it hurts, and just keeping on doing it. LCFN is for every waking day of your life, not just for Christmas. Because that’s what a kid with cancer has to endure and as today is the start of awareness month, it’s worth restating the vow.

See that run that had to come to an end? It wasn’t the longest run of consecutive days: I missed that by two. But that record doesn’t bother me anyway because my work is guaranteed to take me on the road from time to time. No, my yardstick is what you manage to do with the days when you’re on it. I just managed 42 thirty milers in a row. That was a record. In fact, every day since we got back from holiday has been a thirty miler. You’re talking two and a half hours minimum of hard effort every day. The climbing is never less than 1500ft. Then there’s the total miles (for days) in a row: that exceeded 1500 for the first time. And every time that the bar gets raised, so the magnitude of the upcoming task goes with it. I can virtually guarantee that neither of those records is going to be challenged any time soon: work will see to that.

SNOMED continues to dominate my professional life. The changeover from old style coding to relational coding is now only eight months away in UK healthcare and the challenges that come with it are considerable. Whilst all of the clever stuff that I’ve developed over the past twelve months is still good for now, looking longer term it all needs to be enhanced to take full advantage of the new technology. When you work in a big team, that’s made easier by knowledge interchange between colleagues. But when you work on your own, as I do as the data man in a specialised agile team, the challenge is compounded many times: so many things to study, so many things to develop, so much research still to do: and at the end of it all, so much potential value to add to the healthcare system.

I sat in on a web conference with my SNOMED tutor just over a week ago and I enquired how many people have been through this advanced implementation course in the two years or so that it’s been running. The answer was 300 tops. That’s worldwide. The tutor was in Denmark, I was in Scotland, and the other three students were dialled in from England, Sri Lanka and the USA. That’s the nature of the beast. I’m guessing that less than a hundred people in the UK are accredited with the SNOMED implementation kitemark. The people I met with today (about another project altogether) were significantly appreciative of the fact our lean operation is investing in the future of healthcare in the UK. The bottom line is that our wee team of specialists can do stuff that very few other teams can do. In the same way that the next challenge drives LCFN, so the next intellectual challenge drives my work.

Every one of us is limitless. Every one of us can do stuff that we never thought possible. It’s just the process that’s hard. Two years ago I was busy designing rule engines in engineering, now I’m doing the same thing in healthcare. I used to have a saying that my old eClipse colleagues will remember: it’s all data to me. I don’t profess to understand what it all means: just give me a spec and I’ll turn it into stuff that the real specialists can work with. And that brings me full circle to where this story started. It’s about learning something new every day: setting your stall out to learn something new every day. And building on each of those little diamonds of knowledge until you reach a point where you can make a difference.

Fate brought Eileidh into my life. Fate brought Eileidh into my life the day after Oscar gained his wings. Fate took me to meet with some like minded people on today of all days and fate may yet deliver an opportunity to use the knowledge that I’ve acquired day on day, to help solve the jigsaw of childhood cancer awareness. If this journey can deliver detection at stage 2 instead of stage 4, then all the study, all the research and all the development will have been worth it.

As ever on LCFN, I’m going for gold….