This Is Not The End…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It’s written on the flag…

1 Man                  4 Years                                              25,000 Miles

But I fibbed just a wee bit when I made that up because it should actually have read

1 Man                  4 Years 7 Months 4 Days              25,000 Miles

And even that was wrong because fast forward to now it should have read something like this:

1 Man                  4 Years 7 Months 4 Days              39,750 Miles

Next week I will be 65: the original (projected) back stop end game: as in no more.

When I started back in 2013, I hadn’t a clue what lay ahead: there was no blog, nor even a notion of it. That didn’t come about until late October when Big Wullie, to whom I will forever be indebted, told me I should start one. And for the first few weeks, I had to send them off to Angela for proof reading, because I wanted donations so much…

How times change.

After about a year, the money dried up: I totally get it that people sign up to do something out of their comfort zone, just once, like a London Marathon, and all their friends chuck in donations to make it seem worthwhile. LCFN stopped being that kind of gig a long, long time ago. When the money stopped, I didn’t: it really was as simple as that. I think it was about the time that JJ over in Australia was punting LCFN on his radio show every single week, that I began to realise that for me, it was no longer about the money but about raising awareness of neuroblastoma. I was done with flogging a dead horse, begging people for money, and frankly I too find it a turn off when I open up my timeline to find the same posts, over and over again, asking the same question: give me your money. So I stopped asking..

Occasionally, people message me and ask how they can help: that’s different. But I’m done with ramming LCFN down people’s throats for cash. And of course that doesn’t sit well with the fact that research costs money: but I’m not a marketing guru and I’m not comfortable that aspect of what I’m doing: leave me to get on with dealing with the pain and I’m like a pig in muck. How I wish sometimes that we had a wee group of people who could flog this horse.

I apologise in advance if this next bit offends anyone, but for the past four years, LCFN has been the corporate cash cow that charity failed to sell. Did I back the wrong horse in going with Solving Kids Cancer (nee the NCCA)? Should I have gone with another neuroblastoma charity? I do understand that everyone is after everyone else’s money, but throughout the past four years, I’ve been asking myself the same question: I believe I’ve proved, over and over again, that I’m in this for the long haul: I believe that this gig is on a different planet from 99% of fundraising events out there. So why has someone who ultimately benefits from my efforts – Solving Kids Cancer – not signed up a megabucks corporate organisation to back it at daft money per mile? I’ve been asking myself that question for at least three years…

I’ve done a lot of reflective thinking these past few weeks. Next Friday will be two days since SPX told me that my skills didn’t match their corporate objectives. Well I’ve dealt with that one: I’ve moved into a different industry, studied like I haven’t studied in thirty years and now I’m building new software products to screen for disease. Being released into the wild after the stifling experience of the preceding years was the best thing that could have happened to me: and two of my former colleagues called it two years ago: Fabiana and Anna, I will never forget the faith that you had in me during those dark, dark days: it’s our secret.

One of the reasons I’ve pushed so hard these past few months has been the ride from Brisbane to Adelaide, which is now just five months away. The original route was 1600 miles, aka 2500km, to be knocked off in three weeks: that’s 75 miles a day. Since then, the wee team that’s planning the event has chosen to use the number ‘2’ in the branding: 2 because two is the most common age of diagnosis. So BrizAlaide has become Bri2Alaide and those 2500km needed to be trimmed to something with more two’s in it. How about 2222km, aka 1390 miles at 65 a day? We’ve achieved  that by plotting an inland route that heads up and over the mountains out of Brisbane (hills, on day one, what’s there not to like about that: 100 miles downhill on the other side…) instead of heading down the (Gold) coast to Sydney.

Sydney will happen by a different route: a five hour drive with the Gold bike in the back of the motorhome. Yes, I want to ride over the Sydney Harbour Bridge: yes, I want to see the Opera House go gold at nightfall: yes, I hope that Paul and I can get to visit a cancer research institute: and yes, it would be nice to kick my heels on Bondi Beach, if only for an hour, in winter.

Three months ago, I decided that the best way to prepare for 75 miles a day (before we shortened it) in an Aussie winter at 15C was to ride 35-40 miles a day (average) in a Scottish winter at 2C. I reckoned that the mental side was way more important than the physical, and that if I could come through (what has turned out to be) the longest, harshest winter in years, then that experience would see me through whatever Australia has in store.

Albeit that I’m knackered, to the extent that every day that I’ve been out recently I’ve sworn that next week I’ll take it easier: 2018 has been an epic battle of LCFN versus the weather. We’ve had more snow than we’ve seen in years; we’ve had more episodes of snow than we’ve seen in years, we’ve seen ongoing low temperatures like we’ve not seen in years (has it really been 2C for the past three months?) and yet LCFN has risen above it all: just one day missed in 67, 2445 miles at an average of 36.5 and a run going just now of 47 thirty mile days in a row. The previous best was 42, and the most days in a row of all time stands at 63. It’s my absolute intention, in Elieidh’s memory, to glue those two records together and take out that 63 with consecutive 30 mile days: in winter.

See that thing about never giving up? The proof is in what you deliver, out there on the road: I know, looking at the stats on Strava, that as the miles have gone up, so the speed has gone down, day on day: that’s pure tiredness. Sub 12mph feels insulting but I accept and understand the reasons. I was doing the sums while I was out today: around 36 hours a week of creative mental work in my day job, another 25-30 hours on the bike, then chuck in the tiredness, both physical and mental: that’s the result at back end of all that. Yes, I’m tired, but when you push yersel’ as hard as LCFN demands, then it’s inevitable that you’re going to find out where the boundaries lie: so you can move them…

I was brought up a sixties Soul boy: Motown, Stax and Atlantic. And while I was thinking back over the last four years today, I had Diana Ross and the Supremes going round in my head: so I re-jigged the lyrics in order to reflect on not just my world, but that of the parents who have lost a child to neuroblastoma: I apologise in advance for this being so hard, but the reality is exactly that way…

Through the mirror of my mind
Time after time
I see reflections of you and me

Reflections of
The way life used to be
Reflections of
The love life took from me

Oh, I’m all alone now
No love to shield me
Trapped in a world
That’s a distorted reality

Happiness it took from me
And left me all alone
With only memories

Through the mirror of my mind
Through all these tears that I’m crying
Reflects a hurt I can’t control
Although you’re gone
I keep holding on
To those happy times
Oh, child when you were mine

As I peer through the windows
Of lost time
Keeping looking over my yesterdays
And all the love I gave all the same
(All the love) All the love
That I invested
(All the tears) All the tears
That I’ve tasted
All in vain

Through the hollow of my tears
I see a dream that’s lost
From the life baby
That you have lost

Everywhere I turn
Seems like everything I see
Reflects a pain I can’t control

In you I put
All my hope and trust
Right before my eyes
My whole world has turned to dust

Reflections of
The love life took from me
Reflections of
The way life used to be

In you I put
All my hope and trust
Right before my eyes
My whole world has turned to dust

Now baby, why did this world do it?





The Beast Fae The East

I want to say upfront that no animals were harmed in the making of this story: only bicycle inner tubes. This was the week that the winter of 17/18 got up close and personal: this was the week that I talked to myself like never before and vowed that this thing was never gonna defeat me: this was the week when I probably appeared (to most folk) to be the biggest fool on the planet, except I knew how to handle it. I am different and I know it.

This is the story of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma versus The Beast Fae The East.

If you read The Black Bike last week, you’ll know that there are (some) days, when I’d rather be anywhere than on a bike. I’d had a colossal down day on Thursday of last week but used a mixture of stubborn resilience and past experience to get through it: it’s surprising what you can achieve when you keep heading away from home just to make sure you get the favourable tailwind that you know you’re going to need for the return. That’s how I got through Thursday of last week and kept the 30 miles a day show on the road. Tonight, that run has stretched to forty days.

After I posted The Black Bike, I had a serious shufty at this week’s weather forecast, as I always do at the weekend. The process is always the same: eyeball anything that looks threatening and make a contingency plan to work around it: the objective, as ever, is to bag 200 miles in seven days by whatever means are necessary. The momentum of doing that, week in and week out, is basically what keeps this show on the road: the harder the challenge, the more I’m prepared to fight it. it’s become a mixture of stubbornness and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the face of adversity.

The forecast, as far back as the middle of last week, was for winter to have a sting in the tale. I’d initially called it for last Sunday and felt a bit foolish when the snow didn’t materialise: sometimes when you’re planning a week ahead of yourself, that’s the way it is. But I knew it was coming: the only question was when…

On Monday I went out early, back pockets chock full of bananas and biscuits: this was gonna be a big one. Feck, it was cold, but I knew by looking at Windguru that it was only gonna get worse later in the week. As I headed out towards Symington from Dundonald, into the wind, the sky was dark. As I headed back west to complete the loop, so the snow started. That was just the beginning…

Monday was indeed a big one: 50 miles, the longest run for six months. And it was so, sooooo cold.

Nothing beats a good start, and with the forecast looking grim, whether I liked it or not Tuesday was gonna need to be near enough a repeat. Delivered. When the wind’s blowing a bitter hoolie off the east, which is a rarity round these parts, I would normally head up the A77 and take the pain on the way out: but the problem with that is that the there and back distance to suburban Glasgow isn’t far enough: and there’s hee haw chance of me cycling round the likes of Shawlands just to make up the miles: that’s plain bonkers. The alternative, mentally painful as it is, is to head out west to Irvine as normal, then find whatever shelter is available for the run home. But even by a detourious route, Irvine’s only 10 miles away: so there has to be a middle bit…

But there was a precursor to Wednesday’s adventure: sensing that the weather was eventually going to be sh!t, I’d originally set out on the mountain bike that did miles 2,000 to 10,000 in the winter of 13/14. It’s still sitting with the big fat knobbly tyres that I put to good use in the snow this time last year: at the back of my mind, I knew that the ten year old chugger was good for a slide in the fresh white stuff: been there, done that. But the back wheel punctured just a mile into the ride. “Sod that” I thought, I want miles, not hassle so I rode the flattie back home and swapped bikes: back out on Goldie, this time off the bench as a sub.

I’ve experimented with going over the hill from Dundonald to Loans and the Troon, but on a day when it’s howling from the east, that’s a non-no. The answer, as I’ve discovered by experimentation and plain finding out, is to take the Tarbolton road out the other side of Dundonald and just keep going until it’s time to turn around. That’s what I did on Wednesday, except that as I headed towards Craigie, away from the coast and into the wind, the temperature dropped like a stone: and when it hit -2C into the ferocious blast, the rear (disk) brake froze ON. I’d applied the brakes to make a left hand turn and it was like I’d climbed aboard a turbo trainer. 17 miles fae home and the back brake locked on with three hours of daylight left. Just as well I carry a tool set. The brake shoes are calibrated using an allen key so it was a case of releasing the shoes mechanically and getting home on the front brake alone, not a problem on that route as it’s basically as flat as a pancake. Sh!t happens.

I’d got to within five miles of HQ when the snow came on. There was no danger to my safety as the roads were basically black and dry, and anyway I was lit up like a Christmas tree. It was just the wind: blowing at a mean 20mph and gusting to 30, straight into, temperature -2C, plus the wind chill. Horrible.

As you’re reading this this, you need to consider the perspective: ten winter weeks of 200+ miles and I had every intention of making this eleven. There have only been eleven or more (in a row) twice, and one of those ended on eleven. I have every intention of this one becoming twelve, thirteen and onwards…

Wednesday ended on 124.

We had a load of snow on Wednesday night, but a reconnaissance photo sent to me on Thursday morning by Eleanor, one of our trusty supporters, showed black roads in Irvine. All I had to do was get out of Stewarton and onto the good stuff: having fixed the puncture, I took the mountain bike out again. Same basic route: west to Irvine with the wind behind, south to Dundonald then east towards Symington (more bitter than Ansell’s) I got to 17 then turned around, knowing full well that I planned to use the (shorter) Dreghorn-Killie bike path on the way home. Little did I know that the farmers had been out and that for a mile of the route east of Springside, the path was covered in thorns. I got off and walked (and yes, I counted that mile).

I ended last night on 155: two hundred as good as in the bag.

If the previous days were cold, today was colder. The biting easterly was ripping through at 30mph and because I was more than a little bit concerned, I actually told Jane precisely (more or less) where I was going. Most of the time I make it up on the hoof, but today was not a day for doing that. Out to Kilwinning at record pace (16.8mph is bloody fast for me), I hung a sheltered loop round Eglington Park before heading back towards Irvine via Benslie: and it was there I picked up a thorn twig. I was aware of it because it was caught in the front mudguard. It was only rattling for ten yards before I removed it and I thought I’d got away with it…

No: the damage was done.

Two miles further down the road, literally at the back of Ross n Stacey’s gaff in Lawthorn (the northern bit on the edge of Irvine), I felt that sinking feeling: a bouncy wheel. I phoned Ross but he wasn’t at home: apparently his snow holiday hadn’t been extended to a second day so he was at work. There was no alternative: get the gloves off, get the wheel off and fix it at the roadside: -2C and three hours of daylight left. By the time I got the tyre off and the old tube out, I couldn’t feel my fingers, which is probably why I (also) couldn’t feel the 0.5mm of thorn sat lodged on the inside casing of the tyre. Got the tyre back on, pumped up the tube and within five minutes it was flat again. I know this game, I’ve been there before, but this was no time for messing about: for a start it was way too cold, and for seconders, I was racing against the light.

I set off to get home by the quietest route, knowing full well that I’d be riding at around 10mph on a flat tyre. And I wanted 30 miles for the day to keep the momentum going so I had to factor in an extra mile just to make that more than just a possibility. In reality, it was always going to happen, it’s the way I am.

Yes, I got the bike home in one piece, and yes I got the miles done.

I could feel my fingers again by the time I got home, but now the nails on both thumbs are really, really sore from trying to get the tyre back on by hand, and big hack has opened on my left thumb: that’s the cold being nasty to me.

But tonight I’m sitting on 185.

The eleventh 200 in a row is as much a certainty as Sevco’s administration: there’s a chance it still may not happen but the bookies know the score.

As I said way back at the beginning, this was the week that LCFN got up close and personal…

With The Beast Fae The East.

The Black Bike

I guess that without me actually realising it, LCFN follows the 80/20 rule: 80% mental energy against only 20% physical. You might find that a rather strange thing to say, but once your body’s able to withstand two, three and four hours out on the road, day after day after day, in all weathers, the physical side of the job kind of takes care of itself. The mental side is where the money is…

That 80/20 split has become increasingly apparent as I gear up to Bri2Alaide, the 1600 mile ride across Australia that’s happening later this year. I’ll explain the significance of the 2 in Bri2Alaide later: it’s not a typo. The demands of that ride are significant: I’m going to be getting around twelve hours of daylight each day, and I’m going to be riding a bike for a minimum of seven of them. With rest stops and PR awareness gigs along the way, you can pretty much write off all of the daylight hours as bike time in some shape or form.

Working out for that long demands intimate knowledge of how hard you can push yourself. I have thought of maybe going out and banging in a ton, or maybe a ton twenty, to see how the body reacts in the days after: but I’m not ready to do that yet. For a start it’s way too cold to subject myself to that kind of torture: my thumbs and fingers are already showing signs of the skin cracking because of the temperatures I’ve been riding in of late. Prolonged exposure to cold takes its toll.

I’m now heading back into the zone that I was in when I started LCFN: 35 to 40 a day. The difference from back then however, and it’s hugely significant, is that these days, I take no days off. Back then, when I was just turned sixty, I was taking every weekend off to recover. I’ve had one day off in the last 68 days on an average of 37 miles a day. The requirement on Bri2Alaide is to more than double that workload over the three week adventure. And the prevailing wind blows the wrong way (from Adelaide to Sydney) meaning that there’s a 40% chance of spending the last two weeks cycling into the wind: a thousand miles.

Now do you see why I’m taking this so seriously? I don’t care that it’s been 2C for as long as I can remember, certainly for just about all of this year (and next week’s to be even colder by all accounts), I just need to keep piling the workload onto the legs in order to see how they recover.

Last week was a 275, and the week before that was a 267. Back in the day, I used to crave 250 and even gave it a name: a Holy Grail: there is after all a nice ring to 250 miles in seven days, and it’s feckin hard to do. I’ve done three in the last four weeks, excluding this one. This will make it four in five, and the biggest of the lot.

But yesterday I thought I’d snapped, and that where the 80/20 rule comes into play.

We’ve had the builders in all week, putting in a new downstairs bathroom, and the front door has been open constantly as blokes go back and forth to their vans, and outside into the yard to cut stuff for fitting. The room where I work is just off to the side by the front door and it’s been freezing in there. I’m pretty well known for being scrooge like with the heating, and I’ll happily stick on two pairs of socks and a hat before reaching for the thermostat, but even I was struggling this week, so much so that I was cold before I even ventured out the door yesterday. My feet never warmed up, my hands ever so slightly less afflicted (three pairs of gloves y’see!) and my normal hard driving spirit nowhere to be seen.

That’s when the brain has to kick in and overrule the body. Ten miles in, yer freezing cold and the legs are asking politely “can we cut it short today please”. There was a short answer: “no”. Twenty miles in and now the legs are ever so less politely requesting that we call it a day at thirty, knowing full well that thirty has been the lower limit all year, in which case I might just cave in… “no”. By the time I got to Barassie, there was only one way back and it was 15 miles minimum. So I stopped to scoff a couple of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers by the horses next to the Paper Mill and took a few minutes to re-gather myself. Even with a tailwind for most of the journey home, I never got going: the spirit was already broken.

I felt pretty wretched if the truth be told: here I was, struggling to maintain something close to 12mph, albeit on legs that had already done close to 130 miles (since Monday) before I set off. But I don’t do excuses. I only accept explanations, and rational ones at that. I’m from a generation that was brought up on Alf Tupper and the Tough Of The Track, so with Jane being away up in Inverness this week, I thought “I know what I’ll do: I’ll wander up to Sainsbury’s, get some stuff for tea, and some beers for the football”. Guinness is good stuff for refuelling: I’ve been there before. And I’m extremely partial to liver so I knocked up a superb spiced liver stir fry. Then I waited to see what today would bring…

I can tell you straight off that between 7am, when I got up to start work, and half eleven when I set sail on Goldie, I was really, really apprehensive. Another variant of the 80/20 rule says that for 80 good days, you’ll get 20 bad ones: you just don’t want two in a row. Or summarising that, if you’re gonna get two duffers in a ten day spell, just pray that they don’t run consecutively. That, in a nutshell, was my concern this morning. I had no way of knowing whether yesterday’s debacle was fuel induced, or whether I was just having a bad day at the office. But seeing as how I had my sights set on a third consecutive 200 miles by Friday gig, and a whole raft of milestones to keep on track, starting with 39,000 miles tomorrow, there was no way this LifeCycle Man was for taking his foot off the gas.

Cue today…

The same cutting wind that’s been a feature of the last few weeks was still there, and at best the temperature was only 4C (but by the time I was done it was back down to two). I’d set my stall out for another 40, a replay of yesterday, in distance, if not in route. I have a golden rule: after a bad day, don’t, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be tempted to do the same route the next day (under the guise of “let’s see if it was a one off”). That’s a recipe for a disaster of Groundhog Day proportions. Nope, it had to be a new, custom route, and it had to be hit hard: hard, as in head out uphill, with the wind, and at pace: anything to get momentum into the ride. Any old fool can ride downhill into the wind, and even make progress if there’s a hedgerow to act as a wee windbreak. That was pretty much how the day panned out. The last time I went further was last Friday. The last time I went higher was last Sunday. The last time I went faster was sixteen days ago, and it didn’t have even half of the climbing that I endured today.

So that was a result, and a big one: longest, highest and fastest of the week: that combo rarely comes together on the same day. Was it the Guinness, was it the liver or was it the mind just being bloody minded with the body? I don’t know: but something clicked. Now I wait to see what the fall out will be tomorrow.

Tomorrow will bring up 39,000 miles.

Monday will bring up 2,000 miles this year (in only 57 days).

Tuesday will bring up 1,000 miles in February (in 27 bitterly cold days).

August and September will deliver Bri2Alaide. I promised to tell the story of the ‘2’: it’s the most common age of diagnosis of neuroblastoma. We’re going to brand the ride around the number 2. If we can get the distance down to 2200km, them we’ll try even harder to refine it to 2222km. The 2 in Bri2Alaide is symbolic of the start of the journey.

We booked the motor home this week that will be our sanctuary for three weeks. If you want to know how we’re gonna be slumming it, then Google “Britz Voyager Motorhome”: says it’ll do four people so it should definitely accommodate Gabby, the LifeCycle Man and a bike. The bike’s sleeping indoors by the way.

80% of the time, I’m totally on it and riding a Gold bike, but once in a while, twenty days in every hundred if I’m honest, I ride a Black Bike. Yesterday was one of those days.

Just Keep Swimming

It’s not the first time I’ve started a blog at half nine on a Friday night while the rest of society’s getting pished (who said I’m not?) but this is now two weeks in a row. This has been one of those weeks when my mental focus has needed to be at its absolute sharpest because winter has turned up the turbo boost.

I wrote last week, in Two Wheels On My WagonBut if Tuesday was a concern, then this coming weekend was more so. Sunday promises to be a snowfest, perhaps the first half of Monday too: but Monday’s next week’s problem. I have bigger fish to fry”.

Y’see I saw it coming. I knew that Sunday and Monday were marked down as snow days, that’s why I piled in the miles early doors last week: indeed the double hundred was done and dusted by the time I cracked open the first beer and started scribing this time last Friday night. I was being more than a little bit flippant when I parked Monday as this week’s problem, because I knew that I’d still have to deal with it, come what may.

What came, was 4 inches of snow around breakfast time. Now having already lost one day to snow this year, I wasn’t really up for losing another. That previous loss was four weeks ago when we had new snow lying on top of ice, a combination that in my book, at my age, is off limits.

Monday was different: the snow fell quickly then stopped. And because the air temperature was hovering around 2C, there was always the chance that a slow thaw might set in around lunchtime. But that was never going to help me out on my roads, the quiet, potholed country lanes, because they wouldn’t have been gritted and therefore would have presented the greatest danger. No, if Monday was going to happen at all, then it had to be a main road job.

The immediate challenge was to head out west, towards Irvine and the coast, and hope that the snow was confined to the area around LCFN HQ: I was not to be disappointed. By the time I got to Cunninghamhead, five miles down the road, I was on black tarmac. And there was nae snow in Irvine either: they must think the Stewarton folk have gone soft with all their constant moaning about not being able to get out of the town because of the state of the roads.

Well this guy got out and made hay while the sun shone. Having made the great escape, I made the most of it and headed down to Prestwick Airport. The round trip was 40 miles and I’ll tell you now, at least 20 of those felt like bonus miles. There was no way on Sunday night that I was contemplating forty the next day. It set me up for what was to follow.

Tuesday was Groundhog Day, albeit that we only copped an inch or so, having been promised much more. Tuesday was a total no-brainer since I was still living on the adrenaline from Monday: another 40 miles. Maybe you have to be living inside my body to fully appreciate this, but here were two snow days, when I was maybe not even meant to get out the door, and I was sitting on 80 miles.

That’s momentum, and it gives you immense inner strength, like “c’mon then weatherman, show me what you’ve got”…

What he had was 48 hours of a ferocious, biting southwesterly wind, topped off with a max temperature of one to two degrees. There were times these last two days when it was difficult to just keep heading out into the wind at all, let alone at eleven or twelve miles an hour. And that wind: it would just cut you in two. Three hours out in that was hard to take. But this is LCFN and I get by, by hook or by crook: no matter how hard it became, I just told myself that every mile cycled out into the teeth of the icy cold blast would be worth double on the way home.

Wednesday was a 35, which despite being par for the course, actually felt like a bogey given what had occurred on each of the previous two days. So setting out yesterday slightly irritated by Wednesday’s par score, I wanted to set the record straight and get my focus back on track: another 40 ensued: 155 for the week, albeit down on last week’s four day 160. “No worries, all I’m really after”, I told myself, was another double hundred to keep the run going. 45 in three days was always going to be a tap in.

Cue today…

It was a degree or two warmer, and it was less windy. Straight off that was a bonus on the strategy front. I really don’t mind these out and back courses, and particularly so when the weather’s benign because the out leg, into the wind, is so much easier, and that in turn translates into less energy getting burned up and an easier run home. So today ended up being Prestwick Airport by a roundabout route but the extra miles on the way out merely served to deliver 46 precious miles, and for the second week in a row, 200 miles by Friday night: 26 of them in the last 31 weeks. Compare that with just ten in the preceding (corresponding) period.

But that’s not all: the first 47 days of 2017 (this being the 16th February) yielded just 696 miles. The first 47 days of 2018 have delivered 1,648. By the time we get to fifty days, the difference will be over a thousand miles. When I talk about momentum, that’s what I have in mind. I know now that I have the winter of 17/18 beaten. Next week’s forecast is for no rain and higher single digit temperatures. The only potential downside to next week will be an easterly wind, which presents difficulty with big miles because an easterly offers little or no shelter. But as I said last week, that’s next week’s problem: I plan on taking care of this week first. Forty five days (out of a possible forty six) over thirty miles since the turn of the year is breaking new ground for this time of the year. I know I smashed some big ones last autumn, but comparing September with January/February is chalk and cheese.

There are twelve days left of February and I need to average 34 to chalk up a twenty eight day thousand. That’s insane. A thousand miles in 28 consecutive days is difficult at the best of times but to deliver it in a freezing cold, wet February is indicative of something strong going on inside.

The first four days on this week were desperate: but the fifth was a virtual celebration of having survived and overcome the first four…

But I can’t leave this week alone without mentioning my old friend the flag: the original LCFN flag, the one that got on the grass at Celtic Park. That flag has been to America twice, it’s been to Australia, Spain, Poland and Ireland. And for the last twelve months, it’s been in Italy. But now it’s home. I dug it out in the week and laid it on the living room floor: I just felt so proud of the names that are on that flag: Stephen and Leona, who inspired the journey through Oscar; Scott Kennedy, who formed Solving Kids Cancer after his own son was taken by neuroblastoma. There are cancer survivors on there, like Vanessa Riddle and Luke Wiltshire, and Anya Bentham is on there through the words of her father Graham.

But more than that, the flag carries the words of sixteen year old Alexandra Johnston, who Mouldy and I had the privilege to meet at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in December 2014. It was today, while I was researching some stuff for tonight’s blog, that I discovered that Alexandra lost her brave fight four weeks ago, and even as I was contemplating this story tonight, there was a special mass being held for her in County Derry in Northern Ireland. Another soul lost to cancer after a courageous four year struggle.

Alex’s words were simple, and mirrored her own journey: I will remember them in the days ahead…

Just keep swimming”.

Two Wheels On My Wagon

When I was a kid, there used to be a request show on the wireless on a Saturday morning: Children’s Favourites, hosted by Uncle Mac. One of the most requested songs, which meant it got played most weeks, was Three Wheels On My Wagon by the New Christy Minstrels. A sort of large ensemble folk band, the NCM spawned the careers of several notable acts, including Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes and the gravelly voiced Barry McGuire, who later went on to record the timeless Eve Of Destruction. Believe it or not, Three Wheels On My Wagon is a Burt Bacharach song! Really!! Every day’s a school day.

I mention it because while I was out today, I couldn’t get that song out of my head and the more I played with the lyrics, the more I came to realise that it’s a classic LCFN anthem:

The thing is right, it mirrors my life on the road in winter to a T…

For Cherokees, read squally showers: and for arrows, read hailstones.

Pioneers, they never say die

A mile up the road there’s hidden cave where we can watch those Cherokees go galloping by”. That was soooo me today. Heading out west, directly into the wind, it was taking me straight into the path of a fierce dark cloud that must have been about three miles wide. There was no escape. With the temperature no greater than 2C, it was guaranteed that the payload in that monster was gonna hurt, and as I hurtled on towards its epicentre, I found myself trying to work out where I could find shelter. Bridges are good: I had three in mind, but the nearest one, the one that would have been most useful, would have taken me on a route I really didn’t want to do because of the wind direction: and the other two were three miles away and out of reach.

Subconsciously, maybe that’s how the song kicked off…

Two wheels on my wagon

and I’m still rolling along

them Cherokees are after me

flaming spears

burn my ears

but I’m singing a happy song


And then to the chorus…

Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High
Pioneers, they never say die
Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High
Pioneers, they never say die
Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High

But in the winter, I do feel like a pioneer: and particularly so in this one. It’s like the Gold bike has re-energised me (Eileidh Bear did sit on it before I did): but more than that, I feel, perhaps for the first time, that I can trust the Rohloff with my life. After the hiccup right at the start, when the gear changer had to go back to Germany, I now feel, two and a half thousand miles in, that I’ve found my soulmate on the road. I love the Rohloff more than any bike I’ve ever owned, and that includes the Flying Scot that took me from Manchester to Glasgow in a day in 1994.

Winter is the absolute making of LCFN, and this one has been right up there. I was talking to my brother in the week and he cheered me right up when he told me that the rest of February is going to be exactly like it’s been these last couple of weeks: deep joy. I’ve checked Windguru and sure enough, there’s no end in sight to this bitterly cold weather, and the payload that comes with it.

I’ve mentioned more than once recently that momentum is absolutely key in keeping LCFN focussed in the winter. It’s all well and good telling yourself that every day is a day nearer to the crocuses coming out, but the reality is vastly different: this week has been a classic case in point.

I’ve adopted the Fenwick Muir Windguru forecast as my bible. Windguru is a phone app that I discovered around the time I started and it’s been my best friend for the past four and  a half years. Windguru told me that it was going to snow on Tuesday morning, so that threw both Tuesday and Wednesday into doubt in terms of big stuff, the stuff I needed to maintain the momentum I crave. So on Monday I hit a big one: 30’s okay, 35+ is decent and anything 40+ is above and beyond the call of duty. Monday was a 40.

On Tuesday the local roads were a complete mess. How I didn’t come off heading down the Chapeltoun hill I’ll never know: mark it down to balance and good fortune I guess. But I knew (it’s something I’ve learned over the past twelve months) that the further west you go, out towards the coast, then the snow gets less and less and less. Irvine had none! Black roads: I would have dumped the bike in the back of the big motor and parked up at the Magnum so I could bag the coast roads, except that the big motor’s really sick right now and probably only gonna make one last journey: to the scrappy. Ten years we’ve run that motor, and it was two years old when we got it. It supported the Tartan March from Aberdeen to Glasgow in 2009, it supported Eileidh’s Highland Bike from Forres to Glasgow in 2016: it’s been a workhorse. But on Tuesday, it was sick: ironically, the last trip it actually made was to take Goldie to the Magnum to avoid icy roads two weeks before, but then the engine warning light came on on the way home. Game, set and match for the old jigger I’m afraid.

But if Tuesday was a concern, then this coming weekend was more so. Sunday promises to be a snowfest, perhaps the first half of Monday too: but Monday’s next week’s problem. I have bigger fish to fry. That momentum I spoke of earlier is totally aligned, the best I can make it, to the daily slog of families of kids fighting cancer. Of course the disease doesn’t come into it, and I would never try to denigrate the families by suggesting otherwise, but believe me, maintaining real momentum on LCFN in a Scottish winter is pretty much hell on earth, and that, right there, is the connection.

I decided at Christmas that the only thing that would satisfy me was a run of two hundred milers, and emotionally that wasn’t difficult to justify back then because I was still focussed on hunting down a hundred of them. But with that milestone knocked on the head a fortnight ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that I should be putting my feet up until the grass needs cutting. But you’d be wrong on three counts:

One: before this week, the run of 200’s was at seven and that’s starting to look solid. Two hundred mile weeks are never, ever easy, not even in the summer: winter ones are worth their weight in gold: Chase ‘em with all your might.

Two: I have Australia to think about, and the training for BrizzAlaide has to be measured and intense. While I’m comfortably dealing with three hours in our winter, I’m constantly thinking that in six months’ time, that needs to translate into six hours a day down under.

Three: tomorrow is February 10th, the day when 36 two hundred milers came to an end when this happened in 2016: (from the blog Black Ice Ops):

Four miles out of Stewarton, just before what’s referred to in our house as the long straight, there’s a farm on the left, opposite where the Corsehouse Burn takes a sharp 180 turn about 20 yards away in the field. Unbeknown to me (in the dark), the burn had overflowed in the night and the water had run down off the field and across the road. I approached it round a left hand bend where the road starts to go slightly downhill at a point where you start to pick up speed for the long straight, ahead of the final climb to the White Loch. I came round the bend where the burn had frozen across the road. No amount of road salt was going to sort that out.

I hit the brakes and purposefully headed for the other side of the road where the camber was higher: that way, I figured I could use the road to straighten up the camber and stay onboard. There was no way I was stopping in time, not from 15mph with five yards notice.

I thought I’d got away with it. I crossed over all the ice that I knew was underneath me and gingerly headed back across the road to my side. Then I kid you not, I hit the deck in 0.3 sec flat.

For the first time I can remember in ages, I hit my head on the tarmac. The instant headache was the first thing I remember, followed immediately by “ooh, ya fecker, that thumb really hurts”. And the chain had come off. And the handlebars were twisted inwards on both sides. When I came off on the ice in Glasgow last week, only one side of the handlebars took a hit: this time it was both. It was a big impact. A dog emerged from the farm, followed quickly by its owner, to find out what the commotion was all about. The dog got a bollocking, not from me I might add, as I was too busy trying to pull myself together, before it was ushered back inside.

I reckoned I had two choices. Six miles back home and the ignominy of a failed journey, or carry on then spend the rest of the day worrying about how I was going to get the bike home.

And see the best bit: I’m on First Aid duty at work this week. Was I going to A&E on my watch? Was I hell: I self assessed, with the help of a colleague who used to be on the rota. We decided that I probably hadn’t broken either my thumb or my hand, but that an ice pack and ibuprofen would be get me through the day.

But by the time I got the bike home, A&E was a no brainer:

The staff at Crosshouse couldn’t have been more helpful or more friendly. Not only was I in and out in just over an hour, which included Triage, assessment, story of why I was on my bike at 5am, X-ray and diagnosis, I even managed to get an assessment on last week’s rib injury that’s been giving me jip ever since. It turns out that that’s an inter costal muscle tear that might take up to six weeks to heal. You know what? I hope to be through 24,000 miles in six weeks: pain is only a four letter word to a Highland Marcher.

But a hand that’s 20% bigger than the other one, and a thumb that can’t even turn the key in the door, is worth more than just a wee bit of pain. Uppermost in my mind is the fact that I can’t, absolutely can’t come off the bike again while I’m like this. I can’t even grip the handlebars without pain, and for four hours a day, that’s a tough shift. For once, just this once, I’m taking a timeout. LCFN is not a game…

That accident cost me eleven days, and I still feel the pain of that injury to this day. That thumb just doesn’t have the power it once had. But the show must go on, and in the words of Burt Bacharach and the gritty, gutsy voice of Barry McGuire…

Two wheels on my wagon

and I’m still rolling along

them Cherokees are after me

flaming spears

burn my ears

but I’m singing a happy song


It’s not unusual to arrive at Thursday night and have no idea what the theme of Friday’s LCFN blog is going to be: the journey has been a heady brew of 90% perspiration/10% inspiration since day one so I’ve kind of got used to making it all up on the hoof at the proverbial eleventh hour.

This week has followed that pattern right from the off: it didn’t matter in my head that I’d managed to smash 1,050 miles in January, against all the odds and in the face of some atrocious weather. I’ve become a little blasé to such milestones if I’m honest, not because I don’t think they’re right out there – because they are – but because I know I have it in me to go out there and do it all again, better and bigger, if I want to. I’ve kind of adjusted to the ongoing demand and my body now expects to have to deliver more, week on week, month on month, year on year, all around a full time job.

But first of all, I want to reflect on last week’s effort: 99 Pink Balloons. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the most memorable bike rides have been the hardest ones: setting off to cycle into work at 3am in winter to pick up a laptop just so I could work from home to avoid 70mph winds later in the day; changing my route to try and find gritted roads at -9C at 5:30am to maximise my chances of staying onboard; and perhaps the daddy of them all, standing on the pedals in the granny gears just to keep the bike moving forwards at 2mph in lashing rain in the teeth of a gale in the pitch black on the Fenwick Muir.

99 Pink Balloons was one of those stories that’s desperately difficult to write: pitch it wrong and you can destroy some vulnerable souls at the very worst time in their lives. But get it right and you can give them strength. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and judging by some of the comments on social media these last few days, I think the effort was worth it and I’m pleased that it brought more than a just a tear of sadness to the eye. In compassion lies hope.

But the real key to this week’s story appeared unexpectedly on my Twitter feed late last night: Jackie Barreau is an amazing person to have on this journey. Our paths crossed while our family was holed up in a hotel room in New York in July 2015 watching the women’s World Cup football final between England and Japan: Jackie, ironically, was in Adelaide. We got involved, quite randomly, in a Twitter exchange on the US style of commentary being employed on the networked coverage (“the ball has just crossed the end line”), and that led, in turn, to each of us doing some research on the other, outside of the Twitter convo. I discovered that Jackie lost her son to neuroblastoma in 1998 and she discovered that I was riding a bike on a special journey. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jackie feeds me stuff all the time, and last night she copied me in on a story about Michael Crossland. Michael Crossland is as important to Australia as Jimmy Harrington, it’s just that Jimmy hasn’t endured the personal challenges that life has thrown at Michael, and Michael’s probably got twenty years on Jimmy. But apart from that, they were probably case from the same philanthropist mould.

Yesterday, Michael carried the Queen’s Baton on the Commonwealth Games relay to the Gold Coast as it passed near his home. It marks him out as a special person, although in reality I would suggest that he might beg to differ.

When you’re done with the words this week, please come back to this point and click on this link: these eight minutes might just change your perception on life:

Michael is a neuroblastoma survivor, but more than that, he’s possibly the most sought after inspirational speaker in Australia today. When Michael speaks, people listen, and they too get inspired. The first time I watched that video (yes, I’ve watched it more than once), something clicked. For the first time, I understood a little better why I do this, why I attempt to ride my bike for three hours a day, 365 days a year. Michael Crossland put into words something that has been going round in my head for a very long time: it’s about why you do stuff: why you get up in the morning with the sole ambition of making someone’s world a better place. Without me realising it, Michael explained why I went to Layla’s funeral and penned 99 Pink Balloons on the back of it: I didn’t see that train of thought coming but it hit me smack between the eyes when it did..

But just when you think Michael’s story couldn’t get any more heart rending or any more gut wrenchingly dramatic, he became a father (just a few weeks ago) and this happened:

I think every challenge that I’ve ever faced, either as an adult or a kid just paled into insignificance. Michael Crossland has been there and seen it all. I can hold up septicaemia twenty nine years ago as perhaps the pivotal moment in my adult life, because you’re not supposed to come back from that. I got proper full blown flu six weeks after, while I was still in recovery, and that floored me for a second time. Back in ’89, I had three Cumbernauld Marathon Walks under my belt, and no one had ever won four, so I made it my ambition that year to come back from the proverbial dead after a three year absence and give it one more go. Six months after spewing up bile on a trolley in a corridor at Monklands Hospital because they didn’t have a bed in the isolation ward, I got that coveted fourth crown. But it was never about anything other than proving to myself that I could come back and do it one more time, before it was too late, before that chance was taken away from me.

My sporting life is full of regrets: I regret not breaking two hours thirty for the marathon. Off the back of several 71/72 minute half marathons, it should have been a tap in, but I was a bloke with a passion for life rather than a passion for a performance so planning was ultimately my downfall: not so this journey: I now allow each lapse, each hurdle, each fall by the wayside, to morph into a new focus to go where I’ve never gone before…

I’m about to come up against the two year anniversary of when I crashed on black ice at half five in the morning and wrecked my thumb. Wednesday February 10th. Apart from not being able to hold a pen in my writing hand, I rode home that night unable to change gear or brake properly. That accident ended a run of 36 two hundred mile weeks, a stat that will stand head and shoulders above all else once I’m done with this bike ride. But I wanted a full calendar year and I was denied. The disappointment was colossal.

History shows that I lost my job five weeks later and that I would have fallen short in any case, but that is really missing the point. I was eleven days off the bike after that crash, and even when I got back on I was struggling to change gear or use the front brake. When Michael Crossland stands in front of an audience, he talks not about the knockdowns, but the pick me ups. It’s the way you deal with adversity that ultimately defines you. Those first three weeks back on the bike, in pain and with a compromised grip, were 271, 224 and 240.

The second longest run of double hundreds started back in September last year in Go Gold month: that one ran to eleven before work took me down south and away from the trail. The run that I’m just now will stretch to seven this weekend and already I’m starting to get a sniff, just a sniff, of a three month roll. Believe me, any old fool can knock off a few long runs in the summer, but repeating that in the depths of a Scottish winter is a whole different ball game. Right now I choose daylight when back in the day I saw none for five months in a row. But that is my only concession. Going out at a time of my choosing in winter brings with it a whole new challenge because whereas before, I had to do it, now I have time to ponder, and banishing negative thoughts is many times more difficult than spending three hours on the bike in near freezing conditions.

Michael Crossland nailed it when he said “it’s amazing what you can achieve when you shape your life purely around happiness” because now I understand much better why the space that I’ve been in ever since I fell, quite unexpectedly, off the corporate bandwagon, has been the most productive of my entire life.

The moral is simple: refocus your life and invest in your happiness….