2014’s Greatest Hits

I’m sat here at half five in the morning on Christmas Eve when I would normally be on the first hill out of Stewarton. But I’ve swapped the cold, the rain and the darkness for coffee, a screen and a keyboard to knock up LifeCycle’s Greatest Hits of 2014.When I look back to this time last year, I can get a sense of how far I’ve come, not just in terms of the miles but as a person. There was no flag back then, no business cards and certainly no LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma page on Facebook. And if they are ways in which the bike ride has grown in 2014, only time will tell what lies in store in the next twelve months.

Groundhog Day recounts that the lead up to Christmas 2014 was a wild affair. Remember Bawbag? We’ve been kind of lucky so far this winter in that November was kind weatherwise, and even though I lost a couple of days to high winds and lightning in early December, the storms have not been as severe or persistent as they were a year ago. However I formed the opinion a long time ago that coming home over the Fenwick Muir defines the very essence of LifeCycle and nothing’s changed. I wrote this a year ago “Yet those ten miles on the homeward leg define the LifeCycle project better than even getting up at 5:15am. Quite simply, they are hellish on days like Groundhog Day. Imagine going downhill and pedalling hard to manage, wait for it… 6 miles an hour”.

I started the year on 2445 miles and I note that in the very first week of January I set my stall out for 555 miles that month so I could pass 3000. I know why I did that: milestones are important. Milestones are the only thing that prove that you’re getting somewhere. When it takes an eternity to get from one to the next, and the weather’s bad, that’s when things get difficult. So, January: wanted 555, got 648. A good start. January was also the month when I started to contemplate LifeCycle – The Movement. It hasn’t happened (yet) but nothing has dimmed my vision of cyclists up and down the country doing what I’m doing. It just needs the NCCA to seize the opportunity, get the word out there and make it happen.

I looked at the fundraising effort versus the miles and back in January I was sitting on 11% of target in miles but only 0.5% in terms of funding. Twelve months on, that’s become 48% of the distance and 4.8% of the funding. I’m still out of kilter by a factor of ten which is not good news. As I’ve said many times, spending four hours a day on the bike leaves precious little mental or physical energy left in the tank for doing extra fundraising events so it needs a big name, a corporate backer if you like, to come onboard and get involved in 2015. That’s one of my goals for next year.

On the 25th January 2014, I wrote this: The Spreadsheet  says miles: 2949. Out with the calculator and we’ll call that 140 miles for the weeks that I’m actually on the bike.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future with my job, my health, the weather, all of those things that can derail my plans but I reckon that 44 weeks of LifeCycle out of 52 is achievable. Calculator: 44 times 140 is 6160 miles a year. Let’s round that to 6000 to keep the numbers simple. With almost 3000 on the clock, I need a further 22000 at 6000 a year to finish the job. That’s just over three and a half years. This is January 2014: so that’ll be late summer of 2017…

The budget was 6160. The actual was 9515. For summer 2017 a year ago read summer 2016 right now. That’s just 18 months away. That’s how far LIfeCycle has grown in just twelve months. See that average of 140 miles a week on the bike? That now stands at 199 and by this time next year, notwithstanding the fact that I’m going to have to take a backward step after my hernia op, that number will be in excess of 200. For the record, the average number of miles per week in 2013 was 160. This year it was 210. The blog tells me in black and white what I thought was possible twelve months ago but the reality is that my body has blown that away. All I can do now is hang on in there and keep pedalling. Something’s obviously working.

It’s interesting that I wrote at the end of that month “January was fantastic. I actually hated the third week but when LifeCycle is done and dusted, January 2014 will go down as the month that finally convinced me that this is achievable”. I suspect that even back then, I was starting to believe that the impossible was becoming the exact opposite.

One of the reasons I love the blog, and I’m so glad I made the effort now, is that I can look back, reflect on how I was feeling at a particular point in time, and grow from it. I love this line from the start of February: “There’s a quiet anticipation about January because it brings with it creeping daylight at around two minutes a day, morning and night. And it’s relentless. But see the best bit about this Lighter Shade Of Pale, it’s the fact that you get to live it four months in a row”. I am so looking forward to that again…

But before I get ahead of myself, I spotted this wee extract from the middle of February:

Monday morning: cold; driving rain

Monday evening: best trip of the week: just plain cold

Tuesday morning: started off as rain but up on the A77, a blizzard

Tuesday evening: started off as sleet but up on the top, a hailstorm. Bitterly cold.

Wednesday morning: Okay when I left the house but up on the top, snow on crunchy white stuff.

Wednesday evening: Lashing rain the whole way home.

Thursday morning: Dry at the start but driving rain before I hit the A77. Gale force wind. Freezing.

Thursday evening: 40 minutes of heavy rain as soon as I left work. Icy wind. Couldn’t feel my fingers!

Ouch. Winter has only just begun…

One of the best things that happened to me in 2014 was getting to meet Stephen and Leona, two of the nicest people I know. It was they who introduced me to the phrase Never Give Up and looking at that resume of a single week on the road in winter, I know where my strength will come from next year.

By the end of February, I’d published the Ten Commandments of LifeCycle and it’s really nice to look back and see how important those edicts have become:

1 – Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself

2 – Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

3 – Remember, There’s A Better Day Around The Next Corner

4 – Give Your Body The Respect It Deserves

5 – Rest Is Important

6 – Don’t Work Too Hard

7 – Look Back With Pride: Look Forward With Anticipation

8 – Take Each Day As It Comes

9 – Don’t Ever Assume That Anyone Else Is Interested

10 – Never Give Up Hope

And to that list I’m going to add an 11th Commandment, one that was given to me by Leona…

11 – Limits, What Limits?

Looking back, that particular blog was probably the most influential in terms of how I was feeling, until I got to do Cycling Santas at the start of December.

I’m not going to dwell too long on Fuel For Sport, the story from 6th March, other than to say go back and read it again. When people ask me how I manage to do this, I direct them to that story. It’s all in there. By March I was three months into coaching Cat to a half marathon and if she’s reading this, I need to say how inspirational those three months were in terms of the effect it had on my mileage. Watching the effort that she put into her training merely reciprocated itself in terms of miles in adverse weather and it will go down as a golden quarter when this is done and dusted.

March also brought about some negative vibes. Cue this little ditty from the 20th: “But I confess there are days when I think “wouldn’t it be nice not to have to do this”? Whenever that negative vibe strikes, I deal with it swiftly and decisively: I think about Vanessa and Oscar”. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed on that score.

April was important because it was while I was on a train coming back from visiting my mother in England, at 6am one Saturday morning, that I wrote this: “Paula, like so many other people I meet, had never heard of neuroblastoma. I tried my best to explain, and in doing so I came to realise that this journey is not just about the money we raise, it’s about getting the message out there that this devastating disease kills”. Quite a lot of people question why I’m still continuing with LIfeCycle when I’m clearly so far behind my fundraising target. The answer lies in that response to Paula’s question. Awareness of neuroblastoma, its symptoms and its effects, can also save lives. It isn’t just about the money anymore.

April produced a week with 186 miles, a record at the time. So when you stop to consider that the average for the whole of 2014 is 210, you’ll get a sense of what happened in the second half of the year…

April also introduced me to the magical powers of Leona Knox: through the efforts of a horse. Twitter revealed that her track record in the National was 1,1,1,2,3,4. Okay, I should perhaps have spotted that the trend was heading downhill and indeed Long Run was a faller but Pineau De Re wasn’t and the LifeCycle fund benefitted to the tune of twenty eight green ones.

And as if April wasn’t already jam packed enough with trends, friends and nostalgia, it brought with it probably the most significant new friendship of 2014 (along with Tara Griffin): Iain McGovern. Iain is the bloke who walks from A to B just for the sheer hell of it, then on to C and D because it feels like a good idea. Then he gets on his bike and does E, F, G and H for good measure. Via Iain I got to know Jack and Gerry (still haven’t met Jill yet…) and I know, just know, that the McGovern connection is going to have a big influence on my life for many years to come. Hear this people: Iain McGovern is a gem. And he looks like Brendan Foster.

Late April and early May brought great sadness. First of all Alfie Sharpe passed away, followed two weeks later by Oscar Knox. I wrote in the blog after Alfie’s passing “This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end. This is just the end of the beginning”. It was true back then and it remains so today. LifeCycle remains committed to giving kids a chance where none otherwise exists. The passing of wee Oscar while I was road approaching Aviemore on Highland Bike remains my saddest experience of the year. Lots of people were touched by the wee man’s infectious personality but I came to the party far too late to count myself amongst that number. I could only watch from afar and be inspired by his memory and as we move forward into the new year, the Fearless Oscar Knox wristband that Leona put on my wrist remains the most potent force I possess in my battle to see LifeCyle through to the end. And beyond

Now, I can say without fear or favour that the two most important events of 2014 were Highland Bike and Cycling Santas. Highland Bike was first mooted in the Portman Bar in Kilmarnock one particularly wet and miserable Saturday afternoon before Killie hosted Inverness in late January. In reality it became the catalyst for everything that was good in the second half of the year:  average daily miles before Highland Bike… 37. Average daily miles since Highland Bike… 45. Without Highland Bike, there would have been no flag, no Vanessa Day at Celtic Park and no LifeCycle awareness raising going on over in Australia. Everything that followed was borne out of that 196 mile bike ride with Dunco. Thank you mate, for without knowing it, you helped to change the course of history.

Highland Bike week contributed 232 miles, a record by far at the time. And I wrote the following week “182 from the wreckage of 232 the previous week is fantastic, truly fantastic. The old body is performing at a level I never imagined it could”. Well, here we are at the end of December and that 232 now ranks only 10th on the list. Remember that 11th Commandment from Leona “Limits, what limits”?

At the end of May, I wrote “May has become the month when the difference between training once a day and twice a day as an athlete actually feels like less than the difference between training twice a day and three times. May has taught me a lot”. May delivered 940 miles, way above anything that had gone before…

May also brought about the Aussie connection. It seems so long ago now that it’s hard to believe that the Jimmy Harrington story stayed under my radar until he was nearly done with his epic walk round Australia. I’m not going to bore you all by telling the whole story for about the fourth time but what is relevant, and hence worth mentioning, is that Jimmy Harrington’s Walk For Cancer opened the door to great new friends in Tara, Michelle, JJ and Anna. The fact that Anna happens to be a reigning Olympic Champion merely takes the LifeCycle story to a new level of OMGness. Of all the things I’m happiest about in 2014, right up there is the fact that I learned that Anna Meares is not just a great cyclist, but a great human being. Anna and Jimmy are inspirational ambassadors for children’s cancer in Australia and I owe them both a big thank you for helping to promote awareness of LifeCycle and the NCCA through Social Media. The world is now such a joined up place.

The next four or five months were characterised by ever bigger miles. A number of times I came close to overuse injury breakdown but the trusty old ultrasound machine that followed me around when I still was a runner kept me on the road. The monthly average was now settling down to a regular 850, whereas a year before I’d been truly delighted with 500. How times change.

By late August I’d checked the (football) fixture list and eyeballed a visit to Celtic Park for Inverness Caley Thistle on the first Saturday in November. With the miles having passed through 8,000 mid month, I seized upon the opportunity to crack 10,000 before the game. In essence that boiled down to 1500 miles through September and October, which was no more than I’d already been doing. Hold her steady la’ad…

When I realised it was definitely going to happen, I contacted a couple of Celtic minded mates and they opened the door to one of the best days I can ever remember. It was Vanessa Day. It was the day I got to finally meet Vanessa Riddle and her wonderful supportive family. By then I’d acquired The Flag and the photo that Chris (Vanessa’s dad) took of Vanessa and I with the flag on the pitch went viral on Twitter within 24 hours, if 692k accounts counts as that. That photo, and the The Flag, suddenly took LifeCycle to another new level of kids’ cancer awareness. The following weekend, The Flag made an appearance at a 24 hour STV charity cycling gig with Mark Beaumont, cycling explorer extraordinaire, before it boarded a plane bound for Adelaide in Australia for a photostop tour of the sights. That was when Angela and Tara took centre stage, Angela for ensuring safe delivery and Tara for project managing the sightseeing. And of course for the Jimmy and Anna photo at the velodrome that sits on Anna’s Facebook account alongside all her high profile stuff.

That first week in November delivered 251 miles between Monday and Friday, the Holy Grail that I’d been contemplating for months ever since Highland Bike, but never able to achieve for fear of burnout and injury. I wrote at the time “It’s only now that it’s done and dusted, that I realise what a coup that was. 250 miles in November, in the dark and everything that goes with it. A hundred of those miles were done on unlit country lanes, loads of them in the rain and a good number around 0C. The millstone than was hanging around my neck has suddenly been transformed into a milestone that says winter cannot win”. November delivered a whopping 986 miles and to achieve the biggest number of miles in a month going into winter merely underlined how far my tired old body had come.

Let’s have a wee reflection again here:

  • average daily miles in November 2013: 33
  • average daily miles in November 2014: 47

It is literally chalk and cheese and I had no idea back at the start of the year of what was to come.

But that record of 251 miles between Monday and Friday is itself now history because in the final full week of December, with the weather at its darkest, coldest and most miserable, 251 became 252 and leaving aside the Monday leg of Cycling Santas in Belfast, 47 miles a day became 48. That’s where we’re now at: that’s the benchmark. That’s the marker in the sand. The next milestone is to take the daily average up and over 40 for 200 a week, and keep it there right through to the end.

I said that Highland Bike was one highlight of the year: Cycling Santas was the other. I booked to do the final two legs from the Edinburgh Sick Kids’ Hospital to Glasgow’s Yorkhill, and then to the Belfast Sick Children’s Hospital the following day. In reality I was ill myself for the whole of the preceding week so I steered clear of the meeting children bit for fear of passing on an infection but 24 hours of being with Team Riddle followed by Team Knox left an indelible mark on my character. Both families know that I’m in this for the long haul, a very, very long haul. To 25K and beyond…

2014 has been a stupendous year on the bike.

2015 demands a hernia operation early doors and some dedicated time off the bike but already I’m looking at 19,000 miles by this time next year. When I set out, it was to do what I could: that morphed into 20K miles in four and a half years which then became 25K. At the current rate of knots, the job’s gonna be done in under three years. Then what…? Answers please on an instant message to LifeCycle HQ, for this is a project not just on a bike but on Social Media too.

That was 2014’s Greatest Hits, a venerable chart topper.

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