A Question Of Semantics

See when you stop and ask yersel’ “why can’t this just be easy”, you know you’re in for a bit of a rough ride. I’ve been fighting those demons of difficulty all week. Half the problem is that this has been one of those dirge weeks that delivers the square root of feck all except for miles on the clock. But without weeks like this one, there would be no celebrations, no champagne moments and no looking back with satisfaction over what’s been achieved. Dirge weeks are the bread and butter of LCFN.

And I’m tired.

I needed a long, hot summer to recharge my batteries for the coming winter: I didn’t get one. The summer of ’15 was a chore, and therein lies a possible cause of my malaise. But by complete contrast, autumn has been spectacularly good: okay the mornings have been crisp and cold but there’s been hee haw wind and little rain. How I hate the wind… You know that old saying about making hay while the sun shines: that’s me right now. For as long as this good weather lasts (and it’s due to run right through next week as well), I have to continue asking my legs for every ounce of energy that they have: there can be and there will be no let up while the opportunity exists.

In the cold light of day, the stats are ridiculous: but they are also the truth. The numbers do not lie. Halfway to 25,000 miles was March 25th: three quarter distance will be next Wednesday. The finish is approaching faster than a galloping gallopy thing. There’s only one problem: winter.

The first winter was a breeze (see what I did there?) because although it was wild, it wasn’t cold. I think we only had two or three frosts in total and I only lost one day to the weather. I also had the advantage that the whole thing was a novelty: riding in the dark at 5:30am is kind of fun when you’ve not done it before. And see those mornings when you head out and spend five minutes scraping the car: being out there on two wheels at 1C is markedly more interesting.

So last winter I thought I was fine because I’d got through the one before relatively unscathed, save for the odd crash or two; black ice and a shopping trolley in the road. But last winter was a proper winter with white stuff and that was a whole different ball game. Riding the 77 when it’s white is interesting in a scary kind of way. But hey, it’s coming and there’s no way around it. LCFN and the weather are going to meet head on: watch this space.

And that begs the question “why push so hard”? Why keep driving on, ever harder and ever longer, when the time will pass anyway? And the answer is… because I can. I’m reminded of things that happened long ago that were very, very difficult. I moved to Cumbernauld in 1977 as an injured athlete and was forced to retire from running in ’79 on medical advice: a damaged ankle. I don’t do retirement easily. I spent the next three years playing backgammon before the Glasgow Marathon boom of the early 80’s convinced me to give it another try. Achilles injuries and a pair of orthotics later, I was back. Interestingly enough, I got those orthotics made at the Glasgow Chiropody School on Crookston Road under the watchful eye of Jim Black. Crookston Road’s only a stone’s throw from where Mouldy stays: where the Chiropody School was is a housing scheme now. Times change but my attitude has stayed pretty much the same.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the Cumbernauld Marathon Walks of ’83, ’84 and ’85 gave me the bug for pushing beyond what would be deemed normal. Running or walking for 24 hours to see how far you can get isn’t exactly normal. But through the 80’s, having come back from being told at 26 that my running days were over, I knew no limits. Winning one was good; winning back to backs was better; then winning the third one felt like the icing on the cake. But I failed to make it four in ’86 and that stayed with me for a very, very long time. I was ill before that one even kicked off and I chucked it before it floored me. I body swerved ’87 and ’88 because three couldn’t become five and I knew what it had taken to get to three. There comes a point when you have to say “enough is enough”.

Cue Septicaemia in the spring of 1989…

By ’89 the Marathon walk had been trimmed to 9 hours on safety grounds (because walkers were getting jumped by neds in the wee small hours) and as I slowly recovered my strength through the early part of the summer, I needed something to re-focus my competitive spirit. A nine hour race against the clock was exactly that challenge. I don’t remember exactly what the final distance was but I do remember being in the pub with a jar of the black stuff by ten o’clock with the trophy back on the mantelpiece. I think that triumph in ’89 was right up there with the other three simply because it wasn’t meant to happen. I was a former foot soldier who needed another fix. You’re not supposed to come back from death’s door to walk fifty miles but hey, it’s what makes my life interesting.

It became the same with the Highland March. Once you know you can walk a marathon a day for a week, the challenge is gone: it becomes a treadmill exercise. But when the fixture computer throws up 145 miles in a maximum of 65 hours, it’s game on again: cue Highland March 4 and a walk from Inverness to Dunfermline. In reality, it took just over 48 hours, a 70 mile night/day first leg followed by a 60 mile second leg. I followed that by walking the West Highland Way end to end non-stop the following year. That’s was when I discovered that water is actually quite heavy.

But after ten Highland Marches, in 2013, I needed something new… and I found it in LCFN.

And so to the numbers…

Another Holy Grail, the third in four weeks (and last week would have been a 250 week too if there hadn’t been a holiday Monday in it) have pushed the average to 52 miles a day for the past six weeks. And I’ve been at work on every one of those days. The daily average for the past six months sits at 49. I have to pinch myself when I look at that number: 49 miles a day, plus half of Ben Nevis in ascent, every working day for six months. Three years ago, the year before I started LCFN, Jane, Joe and I did the annual Glasgow to Edinburgh thing: now I do that distance Monday to Friday. I need to pinch myself harder still to believe it. In the darkness of last winter, the record book shows that LCFN averaged 47 between October and Christmas. A similar workload this time around will pull in 21,000 miles before the turn of the year: the target I get myself back in January was 20K. And one other thing before I leave the miles alone: this has been the 19th week in a row of 200+ miles. And for the record, LCFN is sitting at number one in the global Bike Bible mileage chart on Strava for this week: hard days are also good days. Do I want twenty in a row? Sure as hell I do, but next week’s another four day week because I’m off on Monday so once again it’ll be foot to the floor, eyeballs out from 5am on Tuesday morning and I know even now that I’ll still be looking at 30 miles next Friday lunchtime to make it happen. This thing just never seems to get any easier. Ever.

Today, the daily average miles tipped 42 for the first time: on this day a year ago, that number was 38.5, and the year before that it was 30.2. If I keep going at average miles, LCFN will be done by the end of May ’16. If I push 45 miles, which I think is possible, it’ll be done a couple of weeks earlier: the coming winter will have a big say in all of that. The weather will probably be as brutal as neuroblastoma itself but my target is to deliver this one home on May 9th 2016 at the end of the 250 mile Oscar to Eileidh (Belfast to Forres) adventure: because I can.

This time last year, wee Eileidh was still in Yorkhill, where she lived for six months during the most gruelling part of her treatment. I didn’t meet Eileidh until the start of December at the end of the Glasgow leg of Cycling Santas. She finally finished her treatment in the UK back in May, tested cancer free, then what… she has now undertaken two trips to Grand Rapids in Michigan for specialised DFMO treatment and remains NED (No Evidence of Disease): the latest tests were done these last two weeks and Eileidh is as well today as she has been in a very long time. Her story is one of several that bring LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma to life and gives hope to the next generation of children who are diagnosed with the disease. Eileidh, you remain an inspiration to me with your fighting spirit and your wee cheeky smile. You are one wee warrior!

Great things in life don’t happen overnight: they take ages and often have to ferment over a long period of time. Last Friday, Jane and I went to the book launch of Theresa Talbot’s first crime novel Penance. My Scots’ readers will be sat there thinking “Theresa Talbot, I know that name”. Theresa is better known as the voice of the traffic reports on Radio Scotland. But Penance has been in the making for over ten years, with a bit of writing here, and a wee twist in the plot there. It’s what part time people do: they make time because they don’t have time. They do it because they want to: because they can.

I do this because I was lucky enough to grow from childhood into an active adult. 50% of kids who develop neuroblastoma don’t get that chance.

I choose to do this because I can.

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