On the outside, it probably seems like I’m indestructible. I’m not. This has been the most anxious, brittle, soul searching week that I’ve had in ages. It kind of came out the blue, but I when I stop to think about it, I suspect it’s been coming for a while.
I’ve become fearful of my favourite routes. Roads that I’ve travelled dozens, even hundreds of times have suddenly become mental no go zones. And whereas I was previously riding 30 and 35 miles with gay abandon, all of a sudden anything above 20 feels suffocating.
It doesn’t help that I’ve been carrying the same injury since last August and I think it’s eating away at me, making me think that I can’t do this anymore, at least not like I used to, and certainly not like I know I used to be able to do.
Two hours, sometimes in pain, sometimes not, gives you an awful long time to think things through, and all the time I’ve had this 27,000 mile Wum thing hanging over my head. Before you say “yeah well, maybe you should take a rest”, let me say that I did back in October and November: 7 weeks I was out and now the injury is as sore as it was back in September when I first contemplated what to do.
It eats away at you.
In the week there I got up in the middle of the night to switch off a downstairs light that had been left on by a teenager. When I got back into bed, I don’t know, three, half three, all I could feel was a nagging dull ache in the front of my right thigh. And all I’d done was walk downstairs, flick a switch then walk back up again. It’s a quad injury, my big driving muscle. But because I’m right footed, it’s the leg I drive off on.
Sometimes I think “maybe I should chuck the bike in the back of the motor and drive somewhere flat, because I know it’s the hills that are killing me”. Round these parts, I average fifty feet of climbing for every mile that I do. It might not sound like much but it takes one heck of a toll, believe me.
And I’ve been desperate to see the back of the 27 at the front of the miles. Not only will 28,000 feel like I’ve got the Wum monkey off my back, it will also set me free to attack thirty grand. See when you set out to do twenty five and there’s still another year to go before your original deadline is up, thirty grand of miles feels like you’ve won the lottery.
And the weather’s meant to improve. I say meant but yesterday when I was out it dropped from 3C on leaving the house to -2C when I got back. The wind would have cut you in half. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken on the Fenwick Muir but see that bit up top where I said I’d developed a mental block over certain routes, well the Fenwick Muir sits top of the list. I crucified myself on that road for the best part of three years and now it’s come back to bite me in the brain. But yesterday, having put off going out by messing about in the house for more than an hour, I finally brought myself to hit it head on, cold or not. And I went the long way, on the basis that it’s longer and it doesn’t have the six hills out of Stewarton on it.
Y’see it’s become a mental thing…
When I was working in Glasgow, there was no debate: wake at 5am, throw on the stuff and head straight out the door: same route every day, save for a few scenic detours at the Glasgow end. Ditto coming back. It was a no brainer and I just got on with it.
Now I face exactly the scenario that Stephen Knox used to hit me with in the old days: I have a choice. And if I’m honest, I hate it. Give me that one horrible journey from hell every day instead of fifty seven varieties of routes, all between ten miles and thirty fiveish. It’s that choice that’s strangling me. They’re all hilly to a degree, and even the flat bits require you to climb 500ft to get there. Ditto in reverse.
I console myself by hoping it’s a winter thing and that I’ll snap out of it once the weather warms up. My only coping strategy for all this negativity is to tell myself, repeatedly, that I’m gonna beat it. Because days off aren’t allowed unless I’m away, I just tell myself that there are no excuses. But that still doesn’t make it easy getting out of the door sometimes. I tweeted a couple of days ago that those last ten minutes before I head out the door are the most dangerous. I remember having the same negative thoughts thirty years ago when I was a runner: maybe I don’t need to go out to today, maybe this, maybe that… excuses, every one of them. And they have to be squashed: fast.
What all this has been building up to is tomorrow. At the start of the week, tomorrow was actually meant to be Sunday, but the anxiety of needing that dreaded 27 off the front of the mileage drove me above and beyond the call of duty. At this time of the year, you cannae rely on the weather so, anxious or not, I just went for it. 123 miles since Monday is way, way down on the distances of yesteryear but times have changed, and so have I.
27860 on Monday morning left a nice round 140 for the rubicon landmark. I planned it that way: twenty a day for seven days… easy…
Nope: mental block syndrome had set in. 15, 11 and 16 after a full week off had me by the throat. Twenty a day was more than a Park Drive habit: it was suddenly way outside my comfort zone.
My defensive strategy, in that instance, is to chip away at it. It’s like taking the view that if I cannae manage twenty every day, then maybe I’ll manage 19 for the rest of the week if I can only push the boat out on day one. 25 it was then. I just kept heading out, further and further away from Stewarton, until it was guaranteed that I couldn’t get back in less. It worked. It raised my spirits just long enough to manage the required twenty on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and with the odd decimal point of miles here and there too to eat into what was left. Think painting by numbers.
Which brought me to yesterday and that wasted hour spent fighting the demons that were desperately trying to keep me in the house. That was why I took on the journey that I hate the most, because I simply had to face it head on. And beating it left me with the tantalising prospect of needing 49 miles in just three days to bring home the bacon.
Yesterday was a rubicon day. There is no way on this earth that having survived the first four days of this week, that I was going to take three days over 49 measly miles. That would have dropped me right back into the black hole I’ve been trying to climb out of all week.
No, today had to be another head on job: Killie the long way, via Torranyard, Benslie, Lawthorn, Dreghorn and Springside. Get there, turn round and head straight back. It’s fortunate, when yer low on spirits, that the four miles back along the cycle path from Killie to Irvine are marginally downhill. And today they were also with the wind. Suddenly, Irvine to Stewarton the long way (ten) seemed manageable, even with a sore leg. The cloud was finally lifting…
And from needing a scheduled twenty a day from Monday through till Sunday, that same sore leg now just needs one final effort tomorrow morning before I head off to the foodbank: to deliver just seventeen. Seventeen? Nae chance: that’s gonna have to be twenty plus. I’m not giving in to these negative thoughts, not now, or for that matter, ever. I’m better than that.
Tough weeks come, and tough weeks go, and as every tough week is cast aside onto the scrapheap of failed failures, the next trip out the door becomes the most important. Ever.
It’s taken 745 LCFN cycling days to get to this point. And every one of them has been as important as any of the 995 days since wee Princess Puddles was diagnosed. Next Wednesday, February 1s,t will be Eileidh’s 1000th day of fighting the disease. We’re both still hanging in there.
For the Princess, and for me, every single day is a bonus.
It will be 28,000 miles…
When tomorrow comes.