Just Keep Swimming

It’s not the first time I’ve started a blog at half nine on a Friday night while the rest of society’s getting pished (who said I’m not?) but this is now two weeks in a row. This has been one of those weeks when my mental focus has needed to be at its absolute sharpest because winter has turned up the turbo boost.

I wrote last week, in Two Wheels On My WagonBut if Tuesday was a concern, then this coming weekend was more so. Sunday promises to be a snowfest, perhaps the first half of Monday too: but Monday’s next week’s problem. I have bigger fish to fry”.

Y’see I saw it coming. I knew that Sunday and Monday were marked down as snow days, that’s why I piled in the miles early doors last week: indeed the double hundred was done and dusted by the time I cracked open the first beer and started scribing this time last Friday night. I was being more than a little bit flippant when I parked Monday as this week’s problem, because I knew that I’d still have to deal with it, come what may.

What came, was 4 inches of snow around breakfast time. Now having already lost one day to snow this year, I wasn’t really up for losing another. That previous loss was four weeks ago when we had new snow lying on top of ice, a combination that in my book, at my age, is off limits.

Monday was different: the snow fell quickly then stopped. And because the air temperature was hovering around 2C, there was always the chance that a slow thaw might set in around lunchtime. But that was never going to help me out on my roads, the quiet, potholed country lanes, because they wouldn’t have been gritted and therefore would have presented the greatest danger. No, if Monday was going to happen at all, then it had to be a main road job.

The immediate challenge was to head out west, towards Irvine and the coast, and hope that the snow was confined to the area around LCFN HQ: I was not to be disappointed. By the time I got to Cunninghamhead, five miles down the road, I was on black tarmac. And there was nae snow in Irvine either: they must think the Stewarton folk have gone soft with all their constant moaning about not being able to get out of the town because of the state of the roads.

Well this guy got out and made hay while the sun shone. Having made the great escape, I made the most of it and headed down to Prestwick Airport. The round trip was 40 miles and I’ll tell you now, at least 20 of those felt like bonus miles. There was no way on Sunday night that I was contemplating forty the next day. It set me up for what was to follow.

Tuesday was Groundhog Day, albeit that we only copped an inch or so, having been promised much more. Tuesday was a total no-brainer since I was still living on the adrenaline from Monday: another 40 miles. Maybe you have to be living inside my body to fully appreciate this, but here were two snow days, when I was maybe not even meant to get out the door, and I was sitting on 80 miles.

That’s momentum, and it gives you immense inner strength, like “c’mon then weatherman, show me what you’ve got”…

What he had was 48 hours of a ferocious, biting southwesterly wind, topped off with a max temperature of one to two degrees. There were times these last two days when it was difficult to just keep heading out into the wind at all, let alone at eleven or twelve miles an hour. And that wind: it would just cut you in two. Three hours out in that was hard to take. But this is LCFN and I get by, by hook or by crook: no matter how hard it became, I just told myself that every mile cycled out into the teeth of the icy cold blast would be worth double on the way home.

Wednesday was a 35, which despite being par for the course, actually felt like a bogey given what had occurred on each of the previous two days. So setting out yesterday slightly irritated by Wednesday’s par score, I wanted to set the record straight and get my focus back on track: another 40 ensued: 155 for the week, albeit down on last week’s four day 160. “No worries, all I’m really after”, I told myself, was another double hundred to keep the run going. 45 in three days was always going to be a tap in.

Cue today…

It was a degree or two warmer, and it was less windy. Straight off that was a bonus on the strategy front. I really don’t mind these out and back courses, and particularly so when the weather’s benign because the out leg, into the wind, is so much easier, and that in turn translates into less energy getting burned up and an easier run home. So today ended up being Prestwick Airport by a roundabout route but the extra miles on the way out merely served to deliver 46 precious miles, and for the second week in a row, 200 miles by Friday night: 26 of them in the last 31 weeks. Compare that with just ten in the preceding (corresponding) period.

But that’s not all: the first 47 days of 2017 (this being the 16th February) yielded just 696 miles. The first 47 days of 2018 have delivered 1,648. By the time we get to fifty days, the difference will be over a thousand miles. When I talk about momentum, that’s what I have in mind. I know now that I have the winter of 17/18 beaten. Next week’s forecast is for no rain and higher single digit temperatures. The only potential downside to next week will be an easterly wind, which presents difficulty with big miles because an easterly offers little or no shelter. But as I said last week, that’s next week’s problem: I plan on taking care of this week first. Forty five days (out of a possible forty six) over thirty miles since the turn of the year is breaking new ground for this time of the year. I know I smashed some big ones last autumn, but comparing September with January/February is chalk and cheese.

There are twelve days left of February and I need to average 34 to chalk up a twenty eight day thousand. That’s insane. A thousand miles in 28 consecutive days is difficult at the best of times but to deliver it in a freezing cold, wet February is indicative of something strong going on inside.

The first four days on this week were desperate: but the fifth was a virtual celebration of having survived and overcome the first four…

But I can’t leave this week alone without mentioning my old friend the flag: the original LCFN flag, the one that got on the grass at Celtic Park. That flag has been to America twice, it’s been to Australia, Spain, Poland and Ireland. And for the last twelve months, it’s been in Italy. But now it’s home. I dug it out in the week and laid it on the living room floor: I just felt so proud of the names that are on that flag: Stephen and Leona, who inspired the journey through Oscar; Scott Kennedy, who formed Solving Kids Cancer after his own son was taken by neuroblastoma. There are cancer survivors on there, like Vanessa Riddle and Luke Wiltshire, and Anya Bentham is on there through the words of her father Graham.

But more than that, the flag carries the words of sixteen year old Alexandra Johnston, who Mouldy and I had the privilege to meet at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in December 2014. It was today, while I was researching some stuff for tonight’s blog, that I discovered that Alexandra lost her brave fight four weeks ago, and even as I was contemplating this story tonight, there was a special mass being held for her in County Derry in Northern Ireland. Another soul lost to cancer after a courageous four year struggle.

Alex’s words were simple, and mirrored her own journey: I will remember them in the days ahead…

Just keep swimming”.

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