V

Vanessa was the original Queen of LCFN, and for that I will forever be indebted to my good friend Brogan Rogan. But she was more than that: for a decade, V was the beautiful face that proved that there was life outside of neuroblastoma. She was the proof that a strong family and a strong fighting spirit could give this obnoxious disease more than a run for its money. Vanessa’s was the cool face of being in the front line. And we all loved her for it.

The first time I met her was at Celtic Park: Saturday November 1st, 2014. I am seriously starting to hate the first day of every new month. Inspired by people who had first supported Vanessa, then Oscar and finally Mackenzie, I plucked up the courage to ask V if she would share my 10,000 mile stone. Actually I didn’t ask Vanessa, I asked Chris, her dad. The irony of the timing was that it came in the week that Celtic were due to host my team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle so I approached Celtic to see if they could accommodate an outsider on matchday. Those events helped to shape this journey forever.

I was late, which didn’t get things off to the best of starts. As luck would have it, we were playing host to my niece, her fella and his boys that weekend, and all being mad football supporters, we elected to take the boys to the game. But more than that, it was also a Celtic Foundation foodbank collection day so armed with carrier bags full of stuff, we set off for the train into Glasgow and the subsequent route march out to the ground. We underestimated it with four kids and a load of food: Chris phoned me a couple of times to see if we’d got lost en route to the stadium. No, we were just slow. Cue hugs all round on arrival.

Once inside, we were introduced to Tony Hamilton, head of the Celtic Foundation, who explained the protocol. Vanessa and I were going to share our moment on the hallowed turf at half time, together with the LCFN banner. Let me tell you that this was a big, big deal for me. Not only was I getting to step out with royalty, I was doing it right in the backyard of the very people who had inspired me and supported me from the word go. See the connection with the whole Celtic charity thing: I get it, and that day spent with Vanessa just reinforced it. To this day, there are folk who believe that my allegiance was turned but it’s simply not true. I just got turned by the humanity of people who understand what my bike ride has always been about. After the game, we all went to the pub, Vanessa and her family, me and my family, and reflected not just on the events of that afternoon, but on the journey that lay ahead. But before we leave the game itself, I have to tell a wee story about the half time walk. V and I were walking out from the halfway line, forwards with the LCFN flag, while Chris was walking backwards, ahead of us, taking photos: what he didn’t see, was the sprinklers coming on and he got absolutely soaked. How V laughed…

While we were waiting pitchside just before the interval, Vanessa and I were chatting about school, about exams, and about her ambition to be a nurse: to be able to give back to people just like herself: and even before she said it, I had a sixth sense of what was about to come out: a kind of bond between helpers if you like.

I didn’t have to wait long for the next time and for that I thank my good friend Mouldy. It’s kind of difficult to put into words how totally networked the NB supporters actually are: even though you might not physically see each other for months at a time, picking up the phone or diving onto messenger is absolutely the done thing. You are never more than five seconds away from someone who totally gets the way you feel the way you do. That was Mouldy n me in December 2014. We’d both planned to do Cycling Santas at the start of December: Mouldy had his name down for the whole gig from London, despite having only jetted back in from the States three days earlier. Me, I was still protecting my old body and with only a heavy touring bike for company, I’d thrown my hat into the ring for Edinburgh Sick Kids to Glasgow Yorkhill followed by the Belfast tour hosted by Stephen and Leona Knox. Mouldy phoned me at work late on the Tuesday afternoon just after the NCCA cancelled the Belfast leg through lack of support, and he wanted to know if I’d do it with him, just the two of us. Bear in mind that we’d never actually met at this point: the aura of the other was all we had to go on. But that gig made us. When you experience thunder and lightning at Cairnryan ferry port at half six on a bitter December morning, you know you’re onto something special.

But I digress. So let’s roll the clock back twenty four hours to the jaunt across from Edinburgh.

I remember a lot of things from that day, but more than anything I remember the warmth and care of Chris Riddle. The weather was wretched, into the teeth of a winter gale carrying a payload of sleet, and as luck would have it, I ended in the train (a term borrowed from Chris’s Irvine based Fullarton Wheelers). Connie, Vanessa’s mum, was aboard a separate train fifteen minutes up the road: cue some mega tipping of the bike helmet in her direction for leaving us blokes in her wake. But I guess that’s the spirit of the family: they just had it, they always had it.

Once we pulled away from the lunchtime rest stop in Armadale, the combination of the cold and the pace did for me, and I fell of the back of the train. I was strong enough to make Glasgow under my own steam, but believe me riding solo into a winter headwind in the late afternoon is no joy. Chris Riddle waved his team farewell and detached himself off the back of the group to look after me. He dropped the pace, took the wind and got me home to Yorkhill. And unbeknown to me at the time, Mouldy was doing precisely the same job with his mate ten minutes back down the road.

Inside the warmth of the Schiehallion ward, that had once been her home for eighteen months, there was Vanessa. Cue more hugs; more smiles; more banter; more tea and biscuits. Then we all piled off to the pub, the Curlers Rest on Byres Road: more blether. But that gig at the pub was way more symbolic than just a wee catch up: it was the day I first met Eileidh. And it was the one and only time that Vanessa and Eileidh were in the same place at the same time. Queen and Princess as one.

Then our paths deviated, albeit that Chris and I kept in touch through social media and messaging. Vanessa was three months removed from our Joe so they shared many anniversaries and experiences together in their respective school years. I remember Chris relaying tales of trips to Germany for treatment between Standard Grade exams and that left me with the lasting impression that you can keep the disease at bay, but stable normality is a luxury never afforded to families of children with the disease.

And there’s another reason why I stepped back: Vanessa and her family deserved the privacy of their own lives without the intrusion of an outsider, for at the end of the day, that’s what I am. I did the same for Gail, albeit that Gail knew she could pick up the phone at any moment, as often she did, and I would do whatever I could do. You’re there, but you’re not there, if you get what I mean. And that’s how it stayed until I went to the Solving Kids Cancer parents’ conference last November, with Gail, and met up with Chris, Connie and Vanessa once again. Beauty had taken a real hold of her, so much so that she had now refocussed her attention into that becoming her life. She could barely have picked a more fitting career because it truly reflected the person that she had become.

No child deserves to lose a battle with neuroblastoma, but Vanessa’s passing is particularly cruel. From living in an isolation bubble in the Schiehallion ward in her primary school years, to almost ten years in total fighting the disease. Vanessa was for me the original warrior: Puddles may have pinched her crown as the mischievous Princess but Vanessa was forever the Queen of cool: she was the big sis’ who showed neuroblastoma who was boss, and for so long.

But neuroblastoma is a bastard of a disease and now it’s taken her away. In just a few weeks from now, I will fly out to Australia to do the Ride 2 Cure tour. The sole aim of that journey is to do what it says on the tin and help fund laboratory research into a lasting cure and to understand why. Vanessa would have been proud of that, just as I, and thousands of others worldwide, were, are, and always will be proud of her.

V.

Sadly not for victory but always, always for Vanessa.

Stuff To Do

It feels like I’ve got my project manager’s hat on. All of a sudden, those contingent months that lay ahead, meaning I could park the important stuff ahead of the Ride 2 Cure, they’ve gone, and in the blink of an eye, I’m heading for the sharp end: things to do, stuff to sort out, important decisions to be made, and not a lot of time left to do it all in…

90 days and counting.

First up: the kit. Neil and I, who knocked up the design, have signed off on the final version of the shirt, and even at the 11th hour, we were interfacing back and forth to Australia to get confirmation on technical stuff like the specific shades of pink and yellow. We’ve messed about with the yellow slightly to tie in with Childhood Cancer Awareness month, so our version of yellow has more than a wee hint of gold in it. Think hot yellow to go with the hot pink trim and you won’t be far off.

Before I leave the jersey story, I had an enquiry this week from an LCFN follower in Norway, asking whether the jerseys will be for sale. The ones that Paul and I will be wearing are paid for by moi (it is, after all, a fundraiser for laboratory research into new treatments so Paul, my roadie, and I are pretty much funding everything between us). Anyway I bounced the question over to Neuroblastoma Australia and they jumped at the opportunity of selling special, limited edition Ride 2 Cure shirts as a fundraiser. So yes, you will be able to buy a shirt (or five), safe in the knowledge that your hard earned cash is going to help save lives in years to come. And in any case, the R2C jersey is the must have cycling top of 2018 (said a man who’s living the dream).

Next up: the website. This has been a real team effort, although I would be the first to congratulate the web designers in Sydney for a fantastically clean layout that’s choc full of goodies. Just as with the jerseys, ideas and content have been flying back and forth over the airwaves and we’re probably only a couple of weeks away from the official launch just now. The Ride 2 Cure has been a bit like a slow goods train chugging along on the inside track while it’s well established brother, the Run 2 Cure fast express has been rumbling down the fast lane. But the Run 2 Cure gig happens next weekend so once that’s cleared the section (trainspotter speak for no longer an issue), then the Ride 2 Cure site will get the green light and some final TLC before the launch.

If you like gadgets, then you’re gonna love the R2C website because it’s full of toys.

The broad layout of the site will give you a feel like you’re scrolling down a never ending billboard of engaging content. First up, right in your face, are the donation buttons: it is, after all, why we’re doing this and investing so much time and effort. When you look at it on your phone, the big slider bar just hits you right in the face: our goal is to raise $111,000 (derived from the total distance of 2222km) but because my default factory setting is optimist, I’m hoping we can smash that: we have after all got the combined forces of both the UK and Australia driving this Megabike forward.

Scroll down and then you’ve got the route, end to end, that we knocked up in Mapometer. That allows you to zoom right in just like on Google Maps. But the best bit of the route finder lives on the dropdown menu. In there, you’ll find a zoomable bitesize version of each stage, along with a wee elevation icon that expands on screen to give the lowdown of the terrain, end to end, of each stage: but that’s not the best bit… if you slide your finger along the elevation profile, then a wee dot appears on the route so you can see exactly where the hills are, both up and down. Like I said, you’ll be all gadgeted out by the time we’re done.

The wee zoomable maps and the elevation toys came courtesy of the Hammerhead Karoo that we’re putting our trust in to do the navigation on the road. I’m the first to admit that the Karoo has been a bit of a gamble. It’s a brand new piece of kit that only started shipping a couple of months ago, and I managed to get my grubby mitts on one of the very first ones in the UK. But as with a lot of new products, it has gremlins, and some of them have threatened to scupper our investment. The issues have all been to do with offline maps. I don’t want to have to rely on an internet connection when I’m in the outback, so the feature that attracted me most to the Karoo was having the ability to plot a route (it’s dead simple by the way, and only takes a few seconds), then download it to the device so that all you need out on the road is GPS. Then your task becomes one of ensuring that your red arrow (that’s you) stays on the red line (which is the route). The Karoo screen, which is totally zoomable in and out, shows your actual route as a blue line, so if you do manage to get lost, all you have to do is zoom out, find the red line then head off in a direction such that your blue line reconnects with it: and all the time the red arrow shows you where you’re heading right now. It’s super simple and super slick…

But the offline facility wasn’t working, as in the download would get to say, 56% then freeze and restart. Not good, especially when you’ve got 20 stages to download. Anyway, I went on the Hammerhead website forum and had a wee rant, in the guise of asking a question regarding when this rather basic bit of functionality would be available: well guess what… they released a software update at the beginning of this week, and the problem’s been fixed. So now I actually have all twenty stages of the Ride 2 Cure downloaded onto the device and I no longer need an internet connection or a 3G SIM card to get me from Brisbane to Adelaide. Of course if I inadvertently reach Melbourne, then you’ll know we’ve hit a problem en route to Houston.

But the most frustrating aspect of the build up, and I would go so far as to say infuriating, has been the issues that we’ve been having with the Tannus tyres. I don’t have a problem with the fat Tannus tyres that sit on the gold bike. They’re puncture proof, which was the whole point of going solid, but at an equivalent of 75psi, they are costing me between 1 to 1.5mph on the road. Over the course of R2C end to end, that’s the equivalent of an extra day’s riding, or putting it another way, a load more effort on knackered legs, every single day. So Neil (my mechanic) and I went down the Tannus 105psi route on the Aussie bike (not the gold one). These are the equivalent of slick road tyres with minimal rolling resistance. But could we get them on the rims that the Tannus technical literature claimed were 100% in spec? Hell no! We even went down the road of buying the machine that the Tannus pro’s use to fit their tyres. But these beasts are not for going on. So we’re at a crossroads over the whole solid tyre thing and ultimately I think we’ll just have to bite the bullet and go back to bombproof tubed tyres: shame because the 105psi’s are bright yellow and would have looked the real deal on black wheels. C’est la vie.

However while all of this project management malarkey has been occupying my mind, the miles just keep rolling along: that’s now 23 double tons in a row and tomorrow will rack up the fifth thousand mile month in a row: #ForeverFive, Puddles that one was for you. I’ve been out on the road a couple of times this week with a nice lady who’s signed up to do Land’s End to John O’Groats while I’m doing Brisbane to Adelaide. And like me she was about forty years without being on a bike before being rebitten by the bug, so showing off some of my obscure resurfaced single track country roads has been good fun for both of us. But the mainstay of my training has been on the turbo, in the sunshine, in the back garden. After the really shit winter that we had, I really don’t mind a bit of ‘baking in the sun’ acclimatisation, especially when I can take regular breaks whilst crashing an insane workload. It kills two birds with one stone: the miles get done in an hour less time every day (an extra hour that I then get paid for) and I can monitor knee pain versus effort in a controlled manner. As I said last week, LCFN is no longer about LCFN, it’s about delivering a pensioner to the start line outside the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital on 24th August.

The clock is ticking down and there’s so much stuff still to do…

A Match Made In Heaven

Sunday night blogs are as rare as days taken off this year, although that’s not meant to imply that I’ve knocked out three in quick succession. This has been one hell of a busy week, with the result that only some cold, calculated bloody minded planning has kept the LCFN show on the road.

I’m defending a run of consecutive 200 miles weeks that stretches back to Christmas week of last year: I will never forget those wretched days of January, February and March but right now the focus is 100% on the Ride2Cure. I apologise to everyone who has watched the miles racking up these past five years but LCFN is no longer about LCFN: it’s morphed into a training programme for the twenty day ride from Brisbane to Adelaide in August and September.

There’s no guilt on my part in feeling that way: LCFN ceased being a fundraiser a long, long time ago, basically because my belief that people would support the ride at a penny a mile, week on week, was built on sand. But I’m not the kind of guy who gives up easily on a passion so when the money dried up, I just carried on regardless and jumped aboard the awareness horse instead: we have nearly sixty cyclists in around fifteen countries clocking up miles in support of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma on Strava, so that’s the message getting out there free of charge.

I guess one of the reasons that the money stopped coming in is that I’m shit at marketing: I’m creative, yes, a dreamer, yes, an ideas man, yes, a challenge man, yes, but ask me to sell my idea to a global audience and I fall short. And I have a day job. I’ve always had a day job throughout this journey, and I guess there came a point when I settled back into my comfort zone, where I was prepared to smash myself into the ground, but I wasn’t prepared, either physically (because I was tired) or mentally (because I was tired) to keep trying to sell what I was doing to people who basically weren’t interested. And at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do on your own.

If I’m being honest with myself, I think Solving Kids Cancer missed a trick in not going after a corporate sponsor that would have kept the pennies coming in. LCFN has never been about a bloke running the London Marathon as a one off: today was my 1,166th day of averaging 36 miles a day, a day when I crashed the 42,000 mile barrier. There used to be a time when I celebrated those thousand mile boundaries with cake, but since I left SPX, those days are long gone too. Right now, only one thing matters…

The Ride 2 Cure.

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am that Neuroblastoma Australia asked me, fifteen months ago, whether I would be prepared to go and do a ride for them. All through my life, all I’ve ever wanted, in everything that I do, is to be appreciated. SPX didn’t appreciate me and that was a key driver in the dark days of the advanced SNOMED-CT implementation course that I did last year. I don’t do giving up without a fight. That’s primarily why I carried on past 25,000 miles and turned my attention to awareness when the funding dried up.

If the numbers that I’ve seen thus far are to be believed, then Neuroblastoma Australia have a lot riding on the Ride 2 Cure tour. The objective is to raise $111,000. That number is derived from the 2222km that we’ve chosen to be the total distance from Brisbane to Adelaide. When I tell you than LCFN has raised just over £10K in five years, then $111K in three weeks is way off any scale that I can readily get my head round. It’s £55K in our money. It feels right now like this is what I’ve wanted all along, someone to come along, grab LCFN by the scruff of the neck and turn it into a money spinner for research: and now, pinching myself, it looks like it might be about to happen. Believe me, it won’t be for a lack of trying on so many people’s part.

The website is under development in Sydney.

The kit is under development in the UK.

We are still actively seeking an ambassador to put their name on the Ride 2 Cure.

The bike has been built but we’re having issues with the solid tyres that I want to run with.

I’ve flogged the corporate sponsorship horse, even with the airline we’re flying with, and been given a long blank stare. But it’s your loss people, because when R2C becomes a reality, I’ll be more than happy to name and shame.

And so to the miles, for this has been an extraordinary week…

There was no way I was giving up easily on yet another two hundred mile week. But being away with my work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday meant that I had some serious issues to deal with. Although I pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the back end of April, I really didn’t fancy doing it again in mini mode this weekend, especially as Jane and I were out on the lash at a silver wedding gig in Cumbernauld on Friday night (hence no blog).

I set my stall out mentally for a big on one Monday. I wanted to go down south with the miles already in the bag, and I used social media as a whip to beat myself. I’d loosely set my stall out for a hundred miles but at the back of my mind, I wanted to smash the longest leg of R2C. So I went down the road of just declaring the pitstops on the LCFN Facebook page. That way, I reckoned, no one would know what I had in mind. 22 miles; 39 miles, 57 miles, 79 miles, 97 miles, 108 miles. They were all pitstops. I ended up calling it a day at 121 miles, not because I needed to stop, but because it was almost 7pm and in a little over eleven hours time, I needed to be on a train, and I hadn’t even started packing.

I had good reason to appreciate those miles come the end of the week. Friday was a bit of a breeze, albeit that I was a bit crammed for time in the late afternoon before I headed off to the party. Saturday I was dehydrated and the miles had to be managed around the football. But despite all of that, there was never any real pressure on double hundred numero 22: four days and 223 miles was a fine return on that initial investment.

The plan now is to chase down the 24 weeks that stands as the most double tons in a row. I will be back down to Liverpool in the near future but rest assured that I’ll be doing my utmost to avoid Merseyside gatecrashing the party, even if it does require another seven and a half hour gig to nail it.

There are just 95 days until I set off from the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane: and still so much to do before I can say that I’m truly ready. Kit, bike and website are the three key components that need bringing to the boil in the next six weeks, all around a training programme that will stay foot to the floor for around another six weeks.

May is well set to become the fifth thousand mile month in a row and may well become the Forever Five landmark of the Ride 2 Cure, inspired from the off when I pulled my finger out in August of last year: 9,655 miles since the beginning of August; over 11,300 miles in the calendar year to today.

For close on five years, all I’ve wanted was to be appreciated for putting my body on the line in the hope that it would make a difference. And now I think it might finally be about to happen. I don’t want to think about the tears in Adelaide: I just want to focus on what lies ahead when I get on the R2C bike outside the hospital in Brisbane.

My inner drive coupled with Neuroblastoma Australia’s marketing skills: it could turn out to be a match made in heaven.

Twenty One Today!

Back in the days when I used to do the Caley Thistle Highland March, I used to start my walking training in about October and really ramp it up once the clock ticked down under a hundred days to go. And I also remember how quickly those hundred days used to fly by: it was a case of get the miles in or be prepared to pay the price.

I mention it because the Ride2Cure starts in 105 days and it’s certainly not lost on me that once we get next week out of the way, the days will race by, and before I know it I’ll be at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, wondering if I’m in a dream of my own making. The answer is probably yes.

For a long time, probably most of it actually, and certainly while I was coping with the Fenwick Muir both ways every day, I thought LCFN would go forever, or until such time as I physically couldn’t get on the bike anymore. But now that I know the end is coming, it can’t come fast enough in all honesty. I’m starting to feel just a little bit worn out. Maybe it’s the increased mileage in preparation for what’s coming down the tracks: maybe it’s just the fact that I don’t want to have to go out for three hours a day, every day, anymore. I think while LCFN was an infinite adventure, I was fine about it, but now there’s an end date, I just want it to be tomorrow. The game’s up. And one of the things that’s focussing my mind is that I’ve just put in 450 miles in the first eleven days of May, but that same distance has to be done is six days out of the traps in Brisbane, such is the schedule.

But before I can hang up my bike shoes and put the bike back in the shed for more than twelve hours at a time, I have some unfinished business: see when you’ve been at something for as long as I’ve being doing this, you crave to push the boundaries one last time because you know, deep inside, that this chance will never come knocking at your door ever again. Next Monday is going to be a crucial training day, the most important since that manic Saturday at the end of April when I pushed the boat out just to maintain the thousand mile months. Y’see today I bagged another 200 mile week, and with two days to spare. That’s 21 in a row, or every week this year if you prefer. But next week I’m in Liverpool on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Now you see why Monday matters…

I’ve said a number of times over the piece that one of the things that I’ve really appreciated about LCFN (note the past tense) is being able find where the magic happens: and I’ve been lucky enough to find it several times: the problem is, to be able to do that, you need to withstand an enormous amount of shit, both physical and mental, in order to give yourself a chance. Right now, I have a chance to put one of the best LCFN records to bed, but next week stands in the way. It’s the number of 200 mile weeks in a row: it stands at 24, excluding holidays. I’m on 21 and I’ve waited almost six months for this chance. It’s my last chance to smash this one to smithereens.

I’ll be on a train at 6:30am on Tuesday so early morning miles are out of the question: and I’m not back until 9pm on Thursday night so Thursday miles are dubious also. Monday is key: I’ve been eyeing up Monday for about three weeks, trying to get my mind in gear. The physical side will take care of itself: fuel and liquid of plenty. I’ll be knackered when I get home on Thursday night, and we’re out on Friday night so Monday is crucial. I want a hundred miles. I want to climb onto the bike on Friday, refreshed (ha!) after three days off, my most since December, knowing that anything near 50 will make the weekend manageable. Saturday’s likely to be a wee bit shambolic after a Friday night party so that’ll have to be a quiet one. But I reckon if I can deliver a ton on Monday, then 22 double hundreds will be within reach.

It’s been a funny old week this one: I had my old mate Gringo and his good lady Dozza staying at the start of the week. Gringo and I go back to the days of the Highland March: like me, he was fascinated by the adventurousness of it all, and we’ve been best mates ever since. He stays in Coventry Nil which probably explains his somewhat downbeat outlook on life (he won’t mind me saying that – he used to support Blues before he discovered Caley). Despite me being a Baggie and he a closet Blue, we do share a common passion in #SOTV.

Anyway, I digress. While I’ve been sat on an empty (teenage parlance for one’s parents being away), Jane’s been down south walking the Cornish Way with some old University friends. It’s a long story but the summary version is that Jane re-found one of them at a gig hosted by one of my Facebook friends and he happened to mention that both he and another old Uni pal, who Jane was at school with in Inverness forty years ago, do a long distance walk every year. She knocked it back last year because of her imminent Sports Massage finals, but this year she’s away keeping the men in check. Word has it Jane’s in charge of the kitty.

As if a working average of 41 miles a day wasn’t enough these last couple of weeks, I threw my hat into the ring on Wednesday night to help out at the foodbank collection at Celtic Park. I cannae remember when I did my first one but I’m only too well aware that shifting a couple of tons of food from the four corners of the stadium into a central point, then loading it up into vans for distribution across Glasgow, all while the game is on, is both a challenge and a back breaking exercise. Wednesday’s collection was made all the more difficult because it lashed it down with rain in the hour before kick off, so in addition to receiving full bags of stuff, you were rummaging through them, trying to locate and secure anything packed in paper (sugar!!!) or cardboard (cereals and tea bags for starters). And all the time you were bent over the bags, you were getting soaked right through to the skin. It was a bloody cold, miserable evening, but see once we’d shifted all the stuff and got it back to base, it was a time to reflect on a job well done. I really appreciate being one of the team working on the collection: I counted fifteen pairs of hands in a human chain from the van to the container back at Calton Parish Church: a mixture of old faces and new ones too. And what I love most is not being a diehard Celtic supporter like the others, I can just be me, doing it because I know it makes a difference to someone, somewhere.

And so to my other passion: my work. While I’ve not been on the bike, I’ve been diligently working away, developing a rule driven database that supports a virtual (ie completely fictitious) medical practice. I’ve had the patients for a couple of months, all configured according to the gender/age profile of the UK population. But these last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the business rules to seed those patients with conditions in line with national stats: the rules stipulate, for example, that X% of males aged between 45 and 54 have a BMI of 30 to 35, and that Y% have a BMI of between 35 and 40. But the rules are cleverer than that: I’ve termed them co-morbidity rules because what happens when the rule engine runs, it not only codes the primary codes, it then goes down a level and codes A%, B% and C% of those patients with other conditions, also defined by national statistics by gender and age: those are the co-morbidities. So what you end up with in the database, for example, is percentages of people who’ve been configured with type 2 diabetes also being configured with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity and depression. It’s powerful stuff, and it allows clinicians to develop new screening tools for disease, totally offline from actual patient data, and in a world where data is about to become ever more protective, that can only be a good thing. Two years on, I no longer give a shit that SPX didn’t value my skills: I was better than them anyway.

So LCFN rolls on. It’s never been easy, and it certainly ain’t easy right now, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel: it’s 127 days away: a hundred and wum. When I finally reach Adelaide, I’m guessing that Amelie and I will have a forever kind of a hug that will give the Leona hug a run for its money. And there will be tears. I just know there will be tears.

But that’s for then, this is now: the 200 mile weeks just keep on coming…

Twenty one today!

Glen Tromie

Glen Tromie ain’t no country and western singer, nor is it anywhere near Galveston.

I have a love/hate relationship with Glen Tromie that goes back fifteen years to the very first Caley Thistle Highland March, although to be fair, if we’d just bitten off Tromie alone that day, instead of tagging the Minigaig Trail on the back end of it, things might have turned out differently. However since then I’ve been back four or five times, sometimes walking north to south, and sometimes the other way round: and always on a Highland March. I’d never tackled Tromie on two wheels: until this week.

Thinking back, I’ve walked either the whole of Tromie (or the Gaick Pass to give it its other name), or bits of it en route to the Minigaig, on Highland Marches 1, 2, 3, 6, 8 and 10. It’s 21 miles from Drumguish, three miles east of Kingussie, to Dalnacardoch Lodge at the bottom end of the Drumochter dual carriageway on the A9. Tromie’s an old drovers’ track that cuts about six miles off the dogleg A9 route which is why it’s always held an appeal for long distance walkers: and it’s totally away from civilisation so it’s not a place to get lost or injured.

When I say that my relationship is one of love/hate, that’s because I’ve learned to respect everything about that route. If you’re not mentally strong, Tromie will find you out. If you’re not physically capable, Tromie will find you out. And if, by some chance you are found both mentally and physically wanting on the day, Tromie will torture you. The top end, about eight miles of it, is a tarmac single track road. But you won’t see a soul in those eight miles because the road doesn’t really go anywhere. Then the tarmac changes to a high quality land rover track that would give any proper road around LCFN a good run for its money. And after that it’s rubbish: the track has holes cut by 4×4 vehicles, mud, bog, and at least three decent water crossings. When you know the route, you can condition yourself for what’s to come, but as a first timer, you just have to adapt and get on with it.

Tromie on wheels came about because of a dude from Kent, Steve Nash, who’s walking from John O’Groats to Lands End to raise money and awareness for Stacey’s Smiles, a Kent based charity that grants (and funds) wishes for kids seriously ill with stage four neuroblastoma. I met Steve through Lisa, who is Kian’s mum. Steve and I met up in Glasgow for a beer a couple of months ago and when he told me of his plan to walk down the A9, I had an alternative idea, albeit just for a day.

But first, let’s turn the clock back. This time last week I was still looking down the barrel at some big miles to try and keep the thousand mile dream alive for April, and with it every month so far this year. But on Sunday I was booked to go to Aberdeen for the day so with 15 hours already set aside, something had to give, and it was the miles. No worries mind, because I forward loaded Sunday’s miles on Saturday, so even with the day off, 320 miles in the last week of the month sealed the deal. It would be nice if May could make those thousand miles Forever Five, especially as the month contains the day of wee Oscar’s passing and Eileidh’s diagnosis. But the week after next I will be in Liverpool for most of the week so unless I can bag a ton on the Monday before I head down the road, and another big windfall when I get back, I fear the worst: but if you’ve followed LCFN this far, you know that I’ll definitely be pulling some stunt or other to keep the record breaking part of the show on the road. And the good news is that I’ve got time to plan for it: if I manage to keep the daily average above 35, I’l be fine.

So, back to Wednesday…

When you’re playing support to a serious challenger, you set up your life to make it possible for them to achieve their goals. Once Stevie boy gets down to the Central belt, he’ll have no end of people offering to take his big heavy bag and ship it off to the next overnighter: that’s why I chose Glen Tromie: I wanted to be able to make a difference where I knew there would be no help: in the middle of nowhere. So on Tuesday afternoon, I loaded the Gold neuroblastoma awareness bike (complete with its solid tyres and internal Rohloff Speedhub) into the back of the motor – seats down – made a complete loaf of cheese sandwiches and set the alarm for 3:30am. I needed to be in Kingussie, 150 miles away, by 7am. I wanted Steve to be on the road by half seven because I know that Tromie’s a seven hour gig, and you can tag an extra hour onto that because he’d still to walk the three miles to get to the start of the trail.

My job was simple: swap his big heavy bag for a light one, make sure he had the OS maps that covered his route (I even gave him my Hammerhead Karoo with the route downloaded so he could work out at a glance where he was until I got to him): then leg it down to the bottom end of the trail before cycling back from the boggy end to meet him. It was fundamentally important (in my mind) to get to Steve before he got off the tarmac road. My default position was that he needed a guide before the going got tough.

I left the car at 8:10am to set off up the trail…

  • Wind against
  • 3C
  • Sleet
  • Uphill

It was the toughest of tough shifts. With three knee deep water crossings to contend with, a couple of hundred metres of peat bog and a slippery narrow track before I got to the safety of the higher level water filled potholed track where it was snowing, I was struggling to maintain anything close to 6mph. But I knew the route, I knew the terrain and I knew the distances. More than anything, I knew that if I could reach tarmac before he reached gravel, then the gig was in the bag: and I spotted him about a mile away, the other side of the lodge house in the middle of nowhere, before either of us needed to start panicking.

Steve said to me soon after we met “I did wonder what would have happened if you’d had an accident”. That was why I furnished him with the maps and the downloaded route: you are the blue dot… just make sure the dot stays on the red line. Technology eh?

But we made it. And the descent was surreal: there we were, two blokes from opposite ends of the country nattering away about a common cause of supporting families devastated by neuroblastoma. Yes, we come at this from different angles: Steve supports terminally ill kids whereas I support research into new treatments. But at the end of the day it all counts: blokes doing action stuff that hopefully makes a difference.

I guess the other big news this week is that we’ve finalised the shirt design for the Ride 2 Cure tour. It’s been an epic team effort across the globe with ideas and logos flying back and forth on instant messages and emails for the past couple of months. But now we’re all agreed on something that we think will work and it’s all very exciting: Aussie gold is the base colour, which just happens to match Go Gold for kids cancer awareness when R2C will be in Sydney on September 1st plus there’s plenty of pink to blend the Neuroblastoma Australia logo with the memory of Princess Puddles.

But that’s not all…

I’ve seen a beta version of the Ride 2 Cure website: it’s stunning, simply stunning. The website makes me realise what a big deal this gig is. It gives me goose pimples when I stop to think that getting a folding bike for my 60th birthday is going to lead to me kickstarting the inaugural Ride 2 Cure that’s ultimately going to fund laboratory research on the other side of the world. R2C is 2222km long and every one of those two thousand odd kilometres is up for auction. It’s going to be fantastic. People have asked me “who’s doing it” and when I say “just me and my mate Gabby, who’s driving support” they’re kinda gobsmacked. But I hope that the media coverage that R2C generates, and the funds that flow from it, will make this the start of something bigger. When I walked the very first Highland March to celebrate my 50th birthday, I really didn’t expect it to take off the way it did. But now I’m older and wiser, and I’ve come to realise that these things have a habit of taking on a life of their own. I bet you didn’t know, for example, that The Kilt Walk is the grandchild of The Highland March, conceived by one of our legendary walkers, Chumba, who walked from Oslo to Glasgow to raise money for the Tartan Army Children’s Charity. When the Tartan Marchers did their lap of Hampden, someone nicked the idea and lo and behold, the Kilt Walk started the very next year.

But there’s never been a Kilt Walk through Tromie.

Not yet anyway… 😉

Mind Over Matter

A long time ago, when I used to run in the hills at lunchtimes and race ultramarathons for fun, I used to wish I had a machine that could pummel your legs so that they could/would feel like they’d done fifty miles, whereas in fact they’d only done five. There are two aspects to that dream: endurance training takes ages, and time is money, and the sheer agony of dealing with screaming muscles, empty on fuel, is something you can only learn through experience.

For running 35 years ago, read LCFN preparing for the Ride 2 Cure tour. My legs are in the screaming red zone.

But to explore why that is, we need to turn the clock back two weeks. I came into April on the back of a nagging knee injury, the same knee and potentially the same injury that I damaged when I crashed my mountain bike in the Corrieyairick race twelve years ago. I had it operated on in 2007 and the internal damage that it suffered when I smashed it into a rock ultimately finished my running career.

The 1st of April, fools day, was a Sunday and I had a trustees’ meeting to attend in Aberdeen for the Eileidh Rose Puddles Project. I had intended to get out on the roads at 4am before heading north but wee Dennis had been fighting on the Saturday and I’d been up nursing him half the night so 4am came and went: I bagged a #ForeverFive around Stewarton at 10pm on my return instead.

Because the old war wound was sore, I’d decided that April would be a month spent on rollers. I have a turbo trainer that I bought 25 years ago to train for the Manchester to Glasgow in a day jolly when Ross was wee. I still have those turbo wheels so I’ve mounted the Gold bike on the trainer and it sits in the garden shed. If it’s nice, it comes out and the miles get done on the patio, but if it’s pishing doon, the miles get done amongst the garden spades because the back wheel slips on the turbo roller in the wet.

I get through the turbo sessions by virtue of a Solving Kids Cancer mp3 mix that I put together for the long drive down to Landan for the parents’ conference last November. Today, I got through the whole mix, all 70 songs, before I’d finished the session. That was a first: the session was a long one at 100km, all done at 18mph, or 160 watts of power if you prefer. Either way, it was three and a half hours of total slog.

Riding on the turbo is infinitely harder than riding out on the road. For a start, if you stop pedalling, the bike stops very quickly: there’s no freewheel option on a turbo trainer. Then there’s the fact that the solid Tannus tyres that are on the Gold bike are the equivalent of 75psi so even though I’ve got the turbo set up to take the lightest possible contact with the back wheel of the bike, it’s still really, really hard work to maintain momentum: and through hardship, comes endurance and long term power. There is indeed method in the madness.

But back to that blog of two weeks ago, somewhat aptly named Friday The 13th:

“The objective now is actually a balancing act of deciding when to call off the attack dogs of endurance in favour of the rather more tapered dogs of the home straight. The hammer is definitely staying down for the rest of April but I may give up on a fourth straight thousand mile month, despite the fact that I’ve never achieved that and despite the fact the weather finally looks set to relinquish its winter coat. I’ve a gammy knee to nurse to the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. My thinking is that taking my foot slightly off the gas at the end of May will somehow enable me to coast along through some sun baked days of the cricket season before we finally board the plane.”

Whilst I’d managed to keep the run of 30 mile days intact, and with it the 200 mile weeks, by the time I wrote that blog, I’d only accumulated 366 miles. Extrapolating that up comes to less than 850 miles for the month and that was basically what made me own up to the fact that I’d blown it for the fourth straight thousand. The picture was really no better by this time last week but by then there was another cloud on the horizon: this is from last week’s blog:

“Sunday will bring up the 18th consecutive 200 mile week of the LCFN journey. I used to go on about the 36 weeks I managed back in 15/16 that was set for a calendar year until I crashed on black ice at 5:30am. But that included holidays so the real consecutiveness was actually only 24. This run won’t get to that because I’ll be down in Liverpool with my work within the next couple of weeks but given the winter we’ve had, it’s been a fabulous run, and one that I will never repeat in my lifetime…”

Another epic run of bloody minded hard work about to come to an end: or so I thought. It was very much on my mind when I wrote that that it might actually end at 18 because this coming Sunday, two days from now, I have another trip up to Aberdeen for the Puddles Project. The Aberdeen trips necessitate 14 hours out of the house which leaves precious little time for owt else and this one is no exception : indeed it’s actually worse because I’ve booked the 8am bus from Glasgow so I can find a pub to watch the Celtic-Rangers fisticuffs before the meeting starts. Losing a day from the week piles the pressure onto the other days and you don’t have to be maths graduate to realise that 200 divided by six instead of seven means that every day is pretty much full on.

So when I got on the bike, in the shed, in the rain, at 6:30am on Monday morning, it was to defend those 200 mile weeks. The record fourth consecutive thousand mile month was but a mere pipe dream, 351 miles down the road and only a week away. I’d parked that one.

But a challenge is a curious motivator: and there’s nothing to beat a bit of experience, even if it was 25 years ago, to help set the scene. My focus was 100% on bagging 200 miles by Saturday (that’s tomorrow) so I could take Sunday off. I’d done the maths: 35 a day was enough, so Monday was 35. All done and dusted by 9am.

Tuesday was where things started to liven up. I got to 30 miles and was still feeling perky: so I decided to bag 40 instead of 35. But 40 ended up being 50… no big deal, all I’d done was forward load a few miles to make the end of the week a wee bit easier in case the weather was rubbish and the spirit was on the wane.

On Wednesday I was tired. I paid for Tuesday, and some, and even though I’d had this notion that it would have been nice to bag back to back 50’s, my legs had other ideas and I bailed out at 42. No sweat, that was 127 done and dusted in three days and the 19th double hundred was on the slate, awaiting collection.

Then I did the sums.

776 for the month and five days left in the month, including Sunday’s trip to Aberdeen.

It’s not really on, is it, as in ‘really on’”?

224 miles in four and a bit days. Then I started thinking in earnest about what lies ahead in Australia: 100km days, twenty one of them, with about ten hours of daylight to play with. Those miles I’d been doing on the turbo were all at 18+mph, way in excess of anything I’m likely to face on the Ride2Cure so my thinking going into yesterday was here was a chance to kill two birds with one stone: let’s see how far into the fifties I can take the ride, and then at the end take a rain check on the April target. My legs were falling off at 50 miles but I managed to hold on for another seven before calling it a day. I’ll tell you how tired I was when I got off the bike: I forgot to disengage the turbo so when I got back on today, there was an indentation of the tyre that presented itself as a thump every time it hit the turbo flywheel. After ten minutes it was pretty much back to normal but forgetting to release the turbo was a very silly mistake.

And so to today…

Even before I got onboard, I’d decided that by hook or by crook I was doing 100km. That’s near enough a four hour full on session with short breaks to rest the numbness in the nether region every hour or so. The miles between 15 and 40 were a killer. For a start, I wasn’t sure I was physically up to it after yesterday and the two days that had gone before: but around 25 miles, when I took a break, I thought back to the first hundred miler I ever rode: in my kitchen in East Kilbride: and my third: outside Safeway in Stewartfield (a fundraiser for Action Research for Children). And I knew, I absolutely knew, that all I had to do to achieve that 100km goal was to hope that the next song was a fast one, and to keep turning those pedals.

The playlist ended just two miles short of the finish but by then the damage was done in terms of the objective. The first real bunch of simulated long runs ahead of the Australian outback, 400km in the bank since Monday, and maybe, just maybe, a realistic chance of achieving that elusive fourth thousand.

LCFN: mind over matter.

Ka(nga)roo

Australia is coming, I can feel it. Three months until Jane and I board the plane and four months until the Ride 2 Cure kicks off. LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma used to dominate my every thought, much like sex is supposed to woo yer average male brain, but the thought of spending six hours a day on a bike in a wilderness half a world away is now king. Planning is in full swing…

If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll know that Gabby, my big ginger Aussie roadie, decided that we were going to hire a motor home instead of doing stops at fixed locations. We booked ourselves a big upstairs/downstairs four berth job a couple of months ago so the accommodation is sorted. Gabby calls it a road trip.

Then we needed a website so we can maximise awareness of the Ride 2 Cure tour across the globe, so Neuroblastoma Australia have engaged a web developer to put together something that will do the ride justice. Our plan is to auction off every single one of the 2222km between Brisbane and Adelaide in support of neuroblastoma research. I have to say that I haven’t seen the website yet but I’m hoping that you’ll be able to click stuff and see updates from along the road. I think it’s gonna be fabulous!

So then we thought “kit”: we need kit. My mate Neil who does all my bike stuff used to be a a graphic designer in a previous life so he and I have been knocking ideas about in much the same way that we came up with the gold bike. We have the shirt design, we have the front and back layout, we have some stuff that we want to add for the website, and we also want to add some logos for Fast Rider Cycles as they have been building and fixing LCFN bikes for the best part of four years now. I wouldn’t be going to Australia if it hadn’t been for Neil: fact.

And what about the route? H

Ha! The route… I started out a few months ago by playing on gmap-pedometer to get an idea of the distance. That was back in the days when we planned to go down the coast via the Gold Coast and Sydney. Then Neuroblastoma Australia asked if we could make the total distance around 2200km so riding over the Sydney harbour bridge went in the bin: too far by 300km. It was around that time that I discovered the website bikemap.net: I bought a subscription and started messing with inland routes: that was when I discovered Wagga Wagga. I sooooo want to go to Wagga Wagga.

Now being in the middle of nowhere is all well and good, but if you miss a junction, you can find yourself not meeting another one for another twenty miles. So navigation is kind of important. Cue the Ka(nga)roo…

To give it it’s full name, the Hammerhead Karoo is basically SatNav on a bike. It’s a box of tricks much like a Garmin that sits on your handlebars and does all of the stuff that a Garmin does, but with the added advantage of SatNav without the irritating voice (actually there’s no voice at all: you have to look at the screen, which is no real hardship when you’re only doing 15mph and it’s right there in front of your nose). The Karoo is an absolutely brand new piece of kit. The first models didn’t ship until about six weeks ago, but because I’d had my name on the early supporters list since the back end of last year, I got mine at a huge discount. I guess if you’re diving in just now, you might not be so lucky.

The Karoo does what SatNav says on the tin. It does routes. I plugged in “Lady Cil” and it offered me “Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, Brisbane”. Correct. Then I whacked in “Adelaide O” and it offered me the Adelaide Oval. Correct. That’ll do for planning’s sake. So then I clicked on ‘make route’. This is all on a device no bigger that a smart phone remember… and less than ten seconds later there was my route, configured on bike friendly paths and roads. All 1350 miles of it. I’ve still to find another 30 miles because this one’s about 40km short of our desired 2222km but that won’t be a problem, believe me: we’ve got three weeks to find that detour.

So then you’re thinking “yeah well, that’s a pretty high level route”… no problem, grab the screen with two fingers and do exactly what you do with Google Maps on a smartphone. In ten seconds, you’re down at street level on the great escape from Brisbane along the Western Highway bike path.

The Karoo is a truly fabulous piece of kit.

And, having made your route(s), you can download them onto the device and use them offline: that’s exactly what we’ll be doing because I dare say there’ll be hee haw t’internet in the middle of nowhere.

So are we going to Wagga Wagga?

Well the official route says no but see those extra 40km that we’ve to find: I reckon we might be able to wangle a detour. The nearest we get is a place called Yanco but that’s on the hypotenuse of a south westerly leg so I suspect that if we head due south from West Wyalong then hang a right a Wagga Wagga, that’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Yesterday morning at daft o’clock, Gabby and I had a two hour Messenger call whilst sharing my desktop: he’d just had his tea and hadn’t yet had my breakfast but I did had a Sports Direct pint of coffee on my desk so I was well sorted. We basically had two screens: on the first screen was the Karoo route in all it’s drilldown glory. The second screen was Google Street view. You get the idea: drill into the Karoo bike route, right down to street level, the jump across to street view to check the lie of the land. Gabby knows the route out of Brisbane anyway, but it was hugely beneficial, not to mention educational, to be able to play with the intersections and check out likely meeting up points on the way out of town. Once we’re out of Brisbane, it’s a piece o’piss. Just keep heading south and watch out for ‘roos. If there’s one thing I really don’t want to do on this trip, it’s getting sideswiped by a kangaroo.

On the miles front, or phase 2 training as I prefer to call it these days, I’ve managed to trade the knee injury for a calf strain. I suspect I managed that clogging a really intense shift on the rollers midweek: maintaining 20mph at my age puts an immense strain on the body but my old friend ultrasound has, these past two nights, managed to keep the show on the road. Today I trimmed a couple of mph off the norm and got an extra songs in on the Solving Kids Cancer playlist.

Sunday will bring up the 18th consecutive 200 mile week of the LCFN journey. I used to go on about the 36 weeks I managed back in 15/16 that was set for a calendar year until I crashed on black ice at 5:30am. But that included holidays so the real consecutiveness was actually only 24. This run won’t get to that because I’ll be down in Liverpool with my work within the next couple of weeks but given the winter we’ve had, it’s been a fabulous run, and one that I will never repeat in my lifetime…

Which brings me to the calendar year of miles: A bit of me would have loved to have cracked 10,000 miles in a January to December year but because this adventure will finish in September, that won’t happen either (nor did I quite manage it in any previous year). But the year that runs from April 21 last year to April 20 this year is sitting at 11,126 miles which is some compensation. Of 109 days so far this year, I’ve cycled on 108 of them: and 107 of those 108 have been 30 miles plus. This time last year I’d only been out 84 times and of those, only 25 outings were 30 miles or more. That has been the impact of ramping up the workload with the Ride 2 Cure looming over the horizon.

The week has been random and extraordinary as if by default: up at 5am working on two days: still working at 10pm on two other days, but lots of flexibility in between because that’s the way life is these days. In between, I’ve managed to load the new release of SNOMED-CT into the toolkit that I’ve been developing: all 27 million rows of it.

If you’d said to me five years ago that when I got the folding bike, that it would eventually lead me to Australia, I’d have sent for the men in white coats. And if you’d said to me just over two years ago that I’d have become an in-demand software developer in a new technology sector within healthcare, I’d have definitely had you certified.

But that’s exactly the way it is…

The land of the Ka(nga)roo.