Planting Seeds In Fallow Ground

I can hardly recall when I first met Steve but it was definitely at some random cricket match. Our respective sons played in the same team and Steve was usually to be found sitting with a scorecard in hand, eyes glued to the match being played. On request, he was able to instantly furnish me, the casual observer, with not only the score, but also a report of how the play was going. Critically, he could also tell me how much longer the play was likely to last. As cricket-watching parents, we were poles apart. I usually had at least one if not two younger siblings in tow and retreated where possible to the nearest playpark/supermarket/café for much of the match the better to amuse the under 5s. I had only the sketchiest ideas of cricket rules. Steve in contrast was and remains an expert on the game and able to give me a wealth of stats on the form of each batter and bowler.

Aside from cricket, our families ended up on holiday on the same island a couple of years back when we met up for a meal-cum-cricket match. Steve had a folding 26” wheel mountain bike with him which he was at that time using to cycle part of the way to work before he hopped on the bus that would take him up the A77 to the south side of Glasgow.

The cricket connection lapsed, the boys moved on in different directions and let’s fast forward a couple of years to when I caught up with his wife Jane for a cycle and started following him on Facebook. I realised then that his bus journey had been replaced by cycling the whole way to work. And it’s some journey – steep hills, frequent rain and a permanent headwind or crosswind that would cut you in two as you cross the moor. Slowly I pieced together a picture of the massive challenge Steve had set himself – to cycle the equivalent of the circumference of the world in a four year period. And in so doing to raise awareness of a condition called Neuroblastoma of which I had never heard, and raise money for its charity.

Since then, I have caught up on some of the earlier blog posts which filled in more of the story – that Steve was still recovering from a hernia operation earlier in the year, that he did these annual mad Inverness Caley-related yomps or cycles from Inverness to the central belt, depending on where the football team were playing. And that he was closely following the path through Neuroblastoma treatment of a number of children, including a charming three year old nicknamed Princess Puddles.

But one thing hasn’t changed over the years – he’s still very much the stats man. His posts and blogs were peppered with the stats of the miles covered in a week, the miles still to come to reach a particular milestone, the average weekly mileage, the average monthly mileage, the forecasted wind speed and the amount of calories burned, handily translated into equivalent pints of beer. And it became clear that despite the hernia, despite the rain and the wind, despite the waterlogged wet gear and the winter weather conditions that stretched on for about 48 weeks of the year, that he was ahead of the game.   Beating the clock. By the time the halfway point of the four years came, two-thirds of the mileage had been covered.

“Remarkable” just doesn’t do it justice.

Leaving aside the enormity of the physical challenge Steve has set himself, what impresses me even more is the mental challenge. This is a journey that requires him to set off at 5am each morning, so most mornings it’s started, if not also completed in the dark. And whilst it’s hard enough to stay motivated for a few weeks of a challenge, to keep getting up and out at that time in the morning day after day in the depths of winter, in foul weather, really develops character and resilience. Steve of course, compares his task to a family dealing with cancer in their child. They can’t take a day off to escape it all, so nor does he. They can’t turn over in bed in the morning and pretend it’s not happening, so nor does he.

We have but one chance at this life. To seize every day, to make it count for a cause strikes me as a laudable way to live your life. I was musing all these things when I heard that Steve was throwing open the challenge – franchising it if you like – to encourage others to take up the baton and spread the word about Neuroblastoma.   And I wondered if this was something I could take on.

I too have been on a journey of sorts since the days of watching (or avoiding watching) the cricket matches with Steve. Mid 2012 I decided to start going to the gym. Having cheerfully ignored all matters relating to exercise for 40+years, this was a big change of heart. I recall my induction at the gym when I was shown how to work the treadmill, the cross-trainers and all the weight machines.

Don’t’ worry,” said the instructor, seeing my worried expression as I tried to take it all in, “it’ll all come back to you when you start coming along.”

Well that’s the problem,” I told him. “it can’t come back to me because I have never been in a gym before.”

He stared at me for a moment, trying to get his head round someone being my age who had never set foot in a gym. Gradually however it became an established part of my week. I began to get fitter.

April 2013 saw me involved in a fundraising campaign which was needing a bit of a kick-start. Talking it over with Darling Husband over a glass of wine, I had mused on whether I could do something. The conversation is a little blurred in the memory on account of the wine, but later I recalled quite clearly declaring that cycling 25 miles to Glasgow wasn’t impressive enough – it would need to be from Glasgow to Edinburgh.   Ah, Glasgow to Edinburgh – 47 miles by the shortest cycling route I could find on the web.  Approximately 46 miles further than I had ridden in the past six years. And 37 miles further than I had ever ridden. The date for the challenge was ten weeks hence.  Through sheer doggedness and lot of support and encouragement from my lovely set of friends, I made it, along with around 20 others on the day. We covered over 50 miles, choosing the longer, but flatter route via the canal as opposed to the hillier but shorter crow-flies distance.

Later in 2013 I decided to start running and 12 months later had trained up to and run a 10K. A few months later, having again stayed up to an hour when mad ideas start appearing logical, I had entered a triathlon and over the next few months set about improving my swimming as well as working out how to transition from one element to another.

Now impressive as all this might sound, in between each of these challenges, there are long fallow months. In the midst of those months, I slowly realise that I need another challenge to focus on and take something else up. It’s an approach that causes some debate in the family. It was in one such fallow period that I read about Steve opening up his Life Cycle ride, to encourage others across the world to do their bit and raise awareness for neuroblastoma. A seed was planted. Yes, I thought immediately, I could take something on. The question was what?

I knew already that cycling works for me as an exercise. It saves my joints. It’s faster than walking so my interest is maintained in the ever-changing landscape. It’s also quite social. There is nothing better than taking a mid-week day off work when the weather is favourable and cycling 30-40 miles with a friend. Whatever the next challenge was going to be, it would make sense for it to be cycling-focussed.

Previous challenges have involved fairly intensive training lasting a few months or so. The family get a bit put out, the routine chores get dropped and I focus as much as possible on the challenge in hand. Later, after the mammoth cycle/ run/ triathlon, the threads of the rest of my life are again picked up and the exercise is a bit neglected. That was the pattern I wanted to change.

My cycle computer records that I have covered around 860 miles in the past two years. The mileage is piled on whenever I am training for an event, but outside of that, the bike lies around a lot of the time. I therefore wanted to set myself a goal of covering a set amount of mileage over a year, and at a level which would require me to cycle on a more consistent basis than I had previously, at roughly 50 miles a month assuming that December and January would probably prove difficult. In this way I could embed cycling into my daily commute and my life in general. So this, then, is the challenge I have chosen: to cycle 500 miles over a year, August to August.

So there we have it – Cycle 500 – will you join me? Has a seed been planted in you? If not this, then what?

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