I watched an interview with Lewis Hamilton today, Martin Brundle firing the questions, and they focussed on the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, a wet race, when Hamilton made a set of intermediate tyres last almost fifty laps, bringing them home completely bald rather than risk an off on the slippery entrance to the pit lane. “Why didn’t you come in and change onto a new set of inters when you had a pit stop in hand” asked Brundle. “Because China 2007 was at the forefront of my mind” came the reply. That was the time an over aggressive pit entry saw Hamilton beach the car in a gravel trap: it cost him the world championship in his first year in F1. Without that mistake, when he had a double world champion in Fernando Alonso as his teammate at McLaren, he would already have that elusive eighth world title in the bag.

The bottom line is that when you’ve been at it a while, experience is everything. Just like history, you simply cannot buy experience.

Why is any of this relevant right now?

Because taking on Around The World In 800 Days post COVID is only possible because of what’s gone before…

I still remember those early days of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma, going into the winter of 2013/14, when I was just starting out: riding to and from Glasgow on unlit roads on first of all a folding bike, then for that first winter, an old mountain bike. “WTF have I taken on?” very quickly became an unwelcome bedfellow at 5am.

I still remember the lead up to Ride2Cure across Australia: it remains the greatest sporting unknown of my life. There was only one way to deliver that journey, and it wasn’t to be scared of it: embrace every day of the challenge, adapt to how you feel, then nail it. I learned so much about myself on that journey.

And most vividly of all, I still remember the 41 mile round trip to the physio at Prestwick on July 1st 2019: the first stage of Ride2Cure after nine months off the bike: the injury that necessitated the gig was from a fall on Ride2Cure. I guess that as you get old, stuff doesn’t heal as fast as it used to.

Those flashbacks give me the confidence to believe “Take each day as it comes, but never lose sight of the fact that you can do this.”

All of which brings me to COVID, the aftermath, and perhaps the biggest mental and physical challenge of them all. First up, I am not the same physical specimen that I was before COVID. I get more tired, I’m not prepared to push myself as hard as I used to, by conscious decision I might add, and the 800 stages that this journey is going to take are longer than any that have gone before in terms of the time that I’ve spent on the road in a single segment of LCFN/R2CN. With rest days, recovery days, illness days and so on, this could easily take three years, or at best two and a half. That’s a hell of a commitment on its own. Right now, I’m leaning very heavily on July, August and September of 2019, and thinking back to how I felt in the early days of what ultimately became 776 consecutive stages at 36 miles a day. It’s not about thinking six months down the road, it’s not even thinking a week ahead, it’s about today, tomorrow and the next day.

I never know until I’ve finished one stage how I feel about taking on the next one tomorrow. I might feel great when I get off the bike, but then I might fall asleep in the chair two hours later at midday. Every stage is scheduled at virtually no notice because I need to know how I feel before I take it on.

I post selected stages of Around The World in the RGT User Events Facebook group thinking that one of these days, there might be some traction from within the RGT community. Not everyone’s a racer, but the fact that my rides are scheduled during the daytime probably rules out the majority of UK folk who are working at that time. But there’s plenty of time to engage with the world, and I’m safe in the knowledge that every post, every update of the map to date and every scheduled ride is a chance to make people aware that neuroblastoma research is a long game and that R2CN ain’t planning on running away anytime soon. I guess it’s beyond cycling Joe Punter to understand that someone is prepared to lock themselves away, solo, for three years to take on the boringly impossible, but hey, I’m in my happy place: I’ve done this three times before, and now I have the luxury of being in my garden shed with a telly, where I can escape the worst of the Scottish winter. If I can come out this journey with a team on RGT, then I’ll have done my job. That’s pretty much how I’m looking at it just now.

The route is the 2017 gig that Mark Beaumont used in his quest to break the world record. The fact that he completed the 18,000 mile journey in 79 days should be daunting in itself but I just slapped a zero on the end, added ten days for contingency and branded my virtual journey Around The World In 800 Days. 23 miles a day average having knocked in 35 a day for the past eight years? Yeah, I can do that, even in my reduced post-COVID physical state.

Confidence builds with every successive day that I can post a stage: that ultimately is the key: to get into the groove, to quote Madonna. To make today as good as yesterday, and even if it turns out harder than I’d hoped or expected, to finish the stage nonetheless, and live to turn up and fight again tomorrow. That’s what this is all about. COVID just happens to have made this my fight against adversity. For eight years, I had to pretend I knew how it was to overcome daily adversity: now I understand just a little bit more from the inside of the tent: schedule, plan, wake up, deliver: repeat…

And so to the risks.

As I write this piece, footballers are collapsing on the field in increasing numbers. Are they post-COVID or are they post-vaccination? I don’t plan to enter that debate. But the facts are that young, fit athletes are falling over. So where does that leave an auld bloke like me? I’ve got fifty years of ongoing athletics, cross country and cycling behind me, I’ve been triple jagged, and I’ve had COVID. Does that mean that if I keep on riding my bike, that I’m not gonna come out one day? I don’t know. But I’m sure as hell not gonna live my life thinking that that’s gonna happen anytime soon.

The workaround is to minimise the risk. Since I got back on the bike, I’ve used a heart rate monitor. Apart from my 7am Sunday morning weekly team trial, where I usually get dropped anyway, I ride to a heart rate. My red zone kicks in at 139. Max is high 150’s. Wherever possible, I try to limit my effort to 130, and even then that’s only for a few minutes at a time. If I can bring a stage of ATWI800D home on the back on an average heart rate of 125, then I’m happy: job done, lived the dream, another session ticked off, move on to tomorrow.

Am I concerned? Yes. Every day I’m concerned. Am I going to stop doing what I’m doing because I’m concerned? No.

I don’t get to make the rules: I just get to push the boundaries and hope that I’m gonna be okay. Today, tomorrow and the next day. I don’t plan beyond that.

Today I (virtually) cycled across the border from Germany to Poland. That felt like a big deal.

So till tomorrow, and stage 35 from Lemierzyce to Skwierzyna in western Polska.

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