One Undred Un Eighty!

There’s a certain irony in knocking out 180 while the World Darts Championship’s on the telly. I would love to have done it in style with a big checkout but alas, I ended up sealing the deal with an obscure treble.

Let me set the scene…

In the first part of the Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma trilogy – the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma leg – I was only cycling five days out of seven and taking weekends off to recover. Feck, I needed it. So it was only when I got made redundant that the concept of runs – consecutive days on the road – came into play because that was when 18 miles every twelve hours became 36 every twenty four. There’s a subtle difference: twice the punishment in double the time.

Of course, after the big R, I was still working (for myself) and trips down south always took priority over the bike so runs were somewhat intermittent. However at the start of 2018 I managed to put a good one together, at least I thought it was good at the time, of 97 days at 35 miles a day. I was pretty fired up back then because the Ride2Cure gig across Australia was scaring the shit out of me, because I didn’t want to let anyone down, and I viewed every day that I got out on the bike as a day that I would be stronger once I got over there. The rest, of course, is history: fifteen days at an average of 93 miles a day, and seven ton plus days after an absence of 22 years without one.

Who mentioned the number 22?

After that I sat on my arse for three months, drank beer and wrote the book about the previous five years: you can still buy it here

So when I got back on my bike on 1st July of this year, I’d been off it for exactly 290 days.

I was in the middle of Walk2Cure, which had at least kept my legs moving, but I was in no way really ready for Ride2Cure2, which burst onto the scene on the second anniversary of Eileidh’s passing. Fortunately, I had a physio appointment on that first day – they had a practice in Stewarton – but luckily for me they also had one 21 miles away in Prestwick so I went there instead. On the bike. The great thing about there and back gigs is that once you turn for home, there’s only one way back…

And that’s what got the run started.

Very much against my will, I currently class myself as semi-retired: I get bits of work from time to time, but unless something comes in, I’m pretty much left to my own devices, and that means miles on the bike at a time of my choosing.

It pains me a bit that I spent all that time studying back in 2017 yet I haven’t (yet) managed to change the world with SNOMED-CT. I kid myself on that maybe what’s happening on the bike will make a bigger difference instead: my punchline is that one day, someone will donate the last pound, the last dollar, the last Euro, that allows scientists to unlock the genetic code of neuroblastoma. The search goes on…

I had a wobble – a big wobble back in September and October, when I questioned whether I had the bottle for another winter. Then the weather turned shit. It has a tendency to do that around this time of the year. I’d already survived Ireland by taking the bike, and survived Coventry by borrowing one off Gringo. Then I survived two named storms, the first two of the winter, by heading out the door at daft o’clock.

Basically, by hook or by crook, I managed to keep the show on the road, and then bit by bit, I got my mojo back.

Cue December 1st

153 stages in a row, and 5000 miles knocked off in five months. I’d only done that once before, in the run up to Australia, and immediately followed it with 6K in six months. But I’ve never done seven.

That set the scene for December. I don’t mind the wild wet stuff, as unpleasant as it is: at least you can get out the door in relative safety if you pick your moment. The problem was, I’d never cycled more than 718 miles in December, and I needed 964 to seal the 6K deal. See the problem? Weather, short days, cold days, windy days, wet days, big days. And attitude.

It was the storms that set this thing up. Why the hell would you head out the door at 3am in the rain, to avoid 50mph of wind with the same payload nine hours later, and then chuck it on a nice day a couple of days down the road? Couldn’t be arsed is not in my book of excuses. I thrive on adversity.

But thirty one days is a long time to stew over a target as big as 964 in the middle of winter when it’s 35% above your best. Every day is a struggle, except you hope to catch a wave when the hardship seems worth it, whether that’s in the shape of miles, speed or feet of climbing. Occasionally, miraculously, you can get them all on the same day.

Of course December is dominated by Christmas, and Christmas is dominated by Christmas Day. The last thing you want to be doing is decimating the family day by heading out the door for three hours at midday. I’ve long held the view that as the perpetrator of the deed, it’s my responsibility to weave the bike into whatever else is happening. So I reckoned that if we weren’t going to bed before midnight on Christmas Eve, on the off chance of catching a glimpse of the sack man, then the rest of the tribe were unlikely to be surfacing much before nine. And therein lay my window of opportunity…

I’d long since decided that I wanted the Christmas Day gig to be different, and to have a purpose. I’m a semi-regular visitor to Troon, and in particular to Vanessa’s memorial bench on the seafront. But I’ve never been there in the dark. That’s what made Christmas Day special.

I left the house about 6:45am and it was baltic. It took a while for the mercury to adjust itself to the air temperature, but once it did, it settled on the positive side of -1C: ice was a problem by the direct route of wee roads and bike paths. But it was like the target was drawing me in and by the time I got down to the seafront at Barassie, with not a soul or a motor to be seen, I felt a real sense of privilege and honour that I’d made the effort. It’s always about making the effort.

And when I got there, there were flowers sitting in the corner of the bench. Beautiful.

All of which brings me to today: Stage 180, and a chance to inch myself closer to that elusive 6K.

I had Irvine AFC fitness training to oversee at 9:30am so my preference on such occasions is always to get my work done first, which basically means being out the house at the back of six, driving over to Irvine, dumping the motor then doing the miles on the flat roads along the coast. It worked a treat on Saturday morning, but alas today a mechanical in the dark, in the rain, at half seven threw me off course. I aborted the ride and walked the bike a mile to a place a light and shelter – a train station waiting room – where I diagnosed and quickly resolved the issue. Cue Stage 180B, which got me to training on time, but with less miles in the bag than I’d planned. Then I stood around for forty minutes and got cold: and all the time that the guys were doing their session, I was questioning myself whether I should just go home and get warmed up, put dry stuff on then go out again later in the day. Or should I just bite the bullet and get the job done?

The bike was already in the car of course, so it was really a case of which dog in my head barked the loudest when I turned the ignition…

I drove just over a mile to the football ground at the Maress, got the bike out again and set off. I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet. But by the time I got to Kilwinning, by the river route, in the rain, I had enough miles, and some, to exceed the original target for the day.

Job done. It may have taken a treble, but there you have it: one ‘undred un eighty! And barring more accidents, tomorrow will see 6K in six months. And the day after that, Sunday, will see a thousand miles in December: all because it’s always worth making the effort.

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