It’s Now Or Never

On Thursday afternoon, a journalist phoned me from the Daily Record, Scotland’s oldest and arguably it’s traditional red top tabloid newspaper. I forgot to tell him that I wrote their financial advertising system thirty years ago.

He wanted to know about the Ride2Cure neuroblastoma adventure.

I told him that this isn’t a story that starts on 24th August 2018: this is a story that began on August 19th 2013. The bit that’s going to happen in Australia in four weeks’ time is only possible because of what has gone before.

I told him about wee Oscar and about Vanessa. I didn’t need to: he already knew. I told him about Mackenzie and how she is still defying the odds: that he didn’t know, but he knows now.

There is no way of separating the future from the past. There is no way of pretending that what’s going to happen in Australia is going to change the world. It isn’t, but in terms of the symbolism, in terms of the message that the Ride2Cure is going to send out, Australia has the potential to make a real difference.

For five long years, I’ve waited and hoped that someone would reach out and tell the story of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma to an unsuspecting public. And for five years, I’ve waited in vain: until now. I’m sad that’s it’s taken this long, because the real story of neuroblastoma is what it does to the families, and just hanging in there, winter after winter, racking up 9,000 miles a year on average, was just my way of saying “kids, I’m still with you”.

The guy asked me how much I’d raised doing LCFN. “Ten grand” was my response. It’s a total I feel embarrassed about because it’s barely changed in three years: you see when you have a full time job and you’re riding 200 miles a week, there’s no time (or mental energy) left for marketing the cause. That’s what makes me sad. There was no one able to take the concept of the ongoing longevity of the event, and sell it bigtime to a sponsor to raise money for desperately needed research.

Until now perhaps.

I’m not expecting a major reaction to the Record story, albeit that it will fleetingly inform casual readers that neuroblastoma kills kids at the rate of fifty a year in the UK (20 a year in Australia), and of the 50% who survive the first battle, the relapse rate is painfully high.

That’s why this story matters, and it’s why the Ride2Cure matters where seemingly LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma did not. Neuroblastoma Australia have set the bar incredibly high: to raise $111K between now and the middle of September, on the back of a guy they’ve never even met. All of the money will go to the Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia to fund new research.

As a team, we have just seven weeks to promote the story and raise the money. The PR machine in Australia kicks off its effort this coming week, and they will keep trying to get the message in people’s faces as day zero gets closer. On this side of the world, I’ll be increasingly ‘doing a Mouldy’ and getting up people’s noses on social media. I will not leave you alone. It’s not just your money I’m after, I’m looking for your friends’ money, and your friends’ friends’ money. The objective is to go viral: the hook line is that a pensioner from Ayrshire is putting his body on the line to travel halfway across the world, to a place he’s never been, to take on the unknown.

Now, I mentioned last week that the lasting legacy of LCFN is to leave an audit trail of awareness scattered across Strava for following generations of grandparents to sit and take note of. The age 65-69 segment leaderboards around these parts are littered with the same names, guys who I can only imagine have been stalwarts of the club scene in central Scotland for years: and to one, Fred Connor, I owe an apology for wiping so many of your times. I haven’t counted, but I suspect I may have deprived old Fred of about 50 pole positions.

In terms of where I am ahead of Australia, two things matter: speed and endurance, but ordered the other way around. I don’t really think there’s a problem with the endurance because the last thirty weeks before this one have all been 200 milers, and I’ve already cracked 7,000 miles in this calendar year. So on that score, I’m more than happy. But speed is much more interesting…

I fully intend to leave a trail of destruction across the outback as far as Strava is concerned. I’m not remotely interested in fast descents because I’m not a good downhiller, and in any case it’s much more important to stay onboard and get to Adelaide in one piece. No, it’s the climbs I’m after. Anything that goes significantly up, that has a Strava segment name on it, I want it to read 1. Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma by the time I’ve gone past. That is going to be my legacy to Neuroblastoma Australia. “Ah, but how will you know where the segments are” I hear you ask: simple… big Gabby’s gonna be my strategist on the road. He’s gonna be telling me when I’m approaching one, how long it is, and what the current best time is. Then all I have to do is the simple maths and translate that information into a target time on the Hammerhead Karoo on my handlebars. Ideally, I need about ten to fifteen minutes rest between assaults, which in terms of effort means time spent spinning a large gear slowly, or a smaller gear with no great effort at all.

Let me give you an idea of how that translates into on the road action: yesterday I was out hoovering up segments that I hadn’t previous attempted with any great purpose: where 8/15 on the Top Gear leader board means you really haven’t focussed on that stretch before…

Three segments in three miles: half a mile flat out followed by three quarters of a mile (five minutes) recovery: then a 0.9 mile segment slightly uphill, requiring a controlled effort, followed by just 400m recovery then half a mile uphill straight into the wind.

I already jointly owned the first one on 2m 01s, but joint doesn’t hack it in my book: I always like some daylight, so the segment got big licks: 1m 43s. Now that’s daylight! I tried as best I could to get some juice back into the legs before the second one, but I was fully aware of number three waiting just sixty seconds round the corner, so controlled caution was the watchword: wum seconds sliced off the top mark: that’s almost 15%. That just left the ‘bury yersel’ and hang on in there, lad’ trilogy leg: the record stood at 1m 22s to the guy (not old Fred) who I’d just demolished on the second leg, but his efforts came on different days, probably because it’s so incredibly difficult to bang in back to back segments at pace. Into the wind, off just sixty seconds rest, I posted 1m 16s.

That’s now 146 KOTP segments promoting Neuroblastoma awareness: 19 new ones in the last week. And by way of putting some context into those efforts, old Fred Connor is currently out in France following Le Tour and in the week just past, I notice that he posted the 34th fastest time of all time by a rider aged 65-69 on the feared Alpe d’Huez. Fred is clearly a guy with a fantastic pedigree and I’m just pleased to be operating in such esteemed company while I’m on top of my game.

So with four weeks to go until the off, I’ve called time on the 200 mile weeks. It would have been nice to have extended the run of thirty but I’ve committed to starting R2C on 44,444 miles so I’ve started the descent. Further 200 milers and 44,444 are mutually exclusive options.

Returning to what’s going to happen in Australia, we’re talking 20×70 mile days, where 70 is the average. I’m thinking of targeting 111 Strava segments, one for each of the thousand dollar milestones on the money board. That’s half a dozen a day. But what if I can double that on double the distance? Is 222 even possible? There’s only one way to find out.

In more ways than one, now that the training is almost done and dusted, it’s now or never.

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