I walked ten Inverness Caley Thistle Highland Marches before I knew my time was up. There comes a point, in everything you do in life, when you know, you instinctively know, that you’re looking down the barrel at a decision…
Do I keep going?
Or do I just let it go?
That day was Wednesday.
But back to the Highland March…
When you set out to walk 200 miles in a week (seven marathons in seven days, and then some), and you’ve done it before, there’s ample opportunity to know what lies ahead, and to let it get to you. When that happens, if the spirit ain’t strong, then any dream you have is history.
I’ve been there many times on the HM, faced those demons, and beaten them every time. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, with 25 miles ahead of you, on terrain that that is unforgiving and your legs gave up days ago, your mind has to be strong. It’s never the body that wins: it’s always the mind: and when your mind has gone, it’s game over.
Sometimes the body prompts the mind for long enough that it just gives in. Maybe that’s what happened to me towards the end of HM10, after I’d walked 70 miles on the worst blister you’re ever likely to see. As I hobbled towards the end of that HM, I thought “do I need to do this anymore”? And merely asking the question was enough…
The next year I drove the support bus.
The HM was fantastic. For a week, every year for ten years, I had the time of my life pushing my ageing body up and down hills, along stretches of open country road, over open moorland, over old drovers’ tracks, and even over the odd posh golf course. The highlight was probably walking 135 miles from Inverness to Dunfermline in 48 hours back in 2006, solo with one of my mates for support. A 75 mile first leg included an ‘in the dark, over the mountains, through the night’ expedition for a 7:30am breakfast rendezvous (I was fifteen minutes late in Kincraig for the bacon butties). I think I was awake for about 40 hours. Stuff like that teaches you a lot: particularly when the going gets tough…
When you set out to do something that’s 100% under your control, then every decision along the way, that ultimately leads to success or failure, is yours.
And all of that brings me back to Wednesday…
I’ve got favourite routes, I’ve got routes that I keep in reserve for bad weather (invariably from the west) and I’ve got routes that I hold back for “fuck it, let’s just make it hurt today”. I don’t do those routes very often.
The run up to Wednesday lies in the fact that I’m trying to smash just about every LCFN record in the book in the #GoGold month of September. When I say I every record, I’m probably exaggerating just a wee bit because I think top spot for miles in a week is safe until I get to Australia next year. But the others are all going: and therein lies the problem…
From being a guy who just went out to enjoy the ride, wherever it may take me, I became, for one month only, a guy for whom every last mile counts. And when the LCFN records as they currently stand define me at my limits, then something’s gonna have to give: it’s either me, or it’s them.
Last week was a 311 mile week: and I still managed to work 35 hours. How I managed that I don’t know: a combination of starting early and finishing late I guess. Those 311 miles rank second on the all time list after 211 weeks of being on the bike. The top step, the one that I suspect is safe for now, is 341, but that included a 190 mile ride from Motherwell to Inverness after I ditched the Highland March to ride my bike through the night on Highland Bike 1. So in real terms, although it sits in gold just now, it’s sort of a bit false because it’s not like all of the other weeks. Back in the day when I was doing 50 miles a day backwards and forwards to my work in Glasgow, I took the weekends off because I needed to: those two days of doing nothing were the difference between strong legs and broken legs.
Now I don’t take any days off: because I only ride once a day, whatever I do is whatever I do. I get home and that’s me till tomorrow. Always.
But if you read last week’s blog, you’ll know that I have half an eye, not just on the top prize of 1112 miles in a month, done 100% in the dark in November 2015 (proud of that), but on something that I’ve always considered to be out of reach: 1200 miles. I labelled it titanium because I’ve always regarded it as a barrier that’s unbreakable. If I had no job (retired???) and had all the time in world to bang in the miles, then maybe, but around a full time job I’ve always regarded 1200 as unattainable: hence titanium.
This is Friday. The ascent to last week’s 311 was launched off 214 on Friday night. That 214 sits tonight on 229.
Because of Wednesday.
The 30 days of LCFN September were reduced to 29 because I was away with my work on the 1st: this is the 15th and September is sitting on 621. The boat is not in the harbour. For the last fourteen days, I’ve been rowing it, paddling and tugging it. And on Wednesday it felt like I was actually pushing it.
When you’ve learnt not to give up on a Highland March, you most definitely don’t give up on an LCFN bike ride.
The problem has been pushing these 45 mile days. It’s easy round these parts to find a 20 mile ride: yeah, it’s hilly, but at the end of the day it’s only 20 miles. 30’s more of a challenge because you put yourself on the limit of what possible in the time versus the available fuel. 35’s pushing my boundary as far as fuel goes.
Anything about 40 and I’m into the refuelling zone: but it’s not just that, it’s where to go. Today, for instance, was 45 miles and 2,650 feet of climbing. Add to that 2,569 calories burnt up on the road and you can see my problem: my wee fuel tank only holds 1850: and when you’re doing that day in and day out, something has to give: one day you’re gonna head out the door on empty…
That day was Wednesday.
I knew even before I set off that I was in trouble. Normally I’m all ready to go, to make up a route on the hoof once I get a feel for what the wind’s doing: I never set the course before I leave the house. Not on Wednesday: five miles in and I was already looking at the Garmin. Of course I knew it was only five miles but my legs were dead. “Have I really got to put them through another 35 miles of this” I thought…
So you know what I did?
I picked a route that I normally do the other way round (for no reason other than I prefer it that way), and I hated it all the way round. I stopped about three or four times to take pictures and break the monotony. And still the Garmin was only showing about 25 miles…
So I headed out away from home again: on a trajectory that I knew was going to mean that the only way I was going to get home was to achieve what was required. This was not enjoyment in any shape or form. It was endurement…
I even got overtaken on the road down to Troon by a bloke in trainers on a mountain bike. But yer know what? I cracked 47 miles on Wednesday. I felt like shit for the whole three and a half hours but the job got done. Sometimes it’s like that. The Highland March taught me that sometimes it’s like that.
Now roll the clock forward 48 hours…
At 17 miles today, I went through 200 miles in a week for the 86th time: I’m still on course for that ton of double hunnerds in the week of my 65th birthday. I’ve just got to spend the winter doing it.
At 24 miles, I cracked 600 miles for September (in only 14 days).
At 33 miles, LCFN eyeballed the 34,000 mile cake: 943 days it has taken, at 36 miles a day average. The ascent is now fast approaching 1.7 million feet: that’s 1,782 feet of climbing for every one of those 36 mile days.
But you know why all of this is worth it?
Because it’s hard.
It’s fucking hard.
Wednesday was the hardest day I’ve had to endure in a long, long time. Yes, there are going to be back to back 300 mile weeks for the first time ever: yes I’m gonna keep chasing that 1200 mile titanium month like my life depended on it: and yes, I’m gonna take a rest in October: but not until.
Some things just drive you on…