Something Inside, So Strong

Six long years pushing the boundaries of my own endurance and occasionally breaking bits of my body in the process.

50,000 miles.

On my own.

Until now….

I’ve had a few false dawns in my time so I chose to sit on the Shotts story until it was pretty obvious that something was going to happen. And now that I’ve met the guys, and experienced their desire to do this, I’m happy to announce that for the next wee while, I’m not going to on my own.

I’m going inside to ride with the prisoners of HMP Shotts.

As this upcoming project is as much about empowering the guys as it is about raising much needed funds for Solving Kids Cancer, I’m not going to second guess exactly what form this challenge is going to take, but I can say that I’ve heard some pretty exciting ideas being bandied about. And I have more than an inkling, based on the experience of this week, that some of the prisoners who came forward to shake me by the hand at the end of my 90 minute spiel, are going to be on this journey long term (absolutely no pun intended)

Right now, I couldn’t be more proud of where this journey has led me.

So let me roll this story back three months to big Lardy’s 50th. The Big Man asked me to say a few words about Solving Kids Cancer and afterwards a lady came up to me and said she was a prison officer at Shotts and thought the PTI team would love to hear a longer version of my story. It took about six weeks to set that up and I’d be a bigger liar than Bozza if I said I wasn’t nervous stepping deep inside one of Scotland’s prisons. But that meeting went well, so well, in fact that Wednesday came about on the back of it.

I took the Powerpoint presentation that I used at Kev’s school in Chapelhall last year, and added some new stuff to take in Ride2Cure2, before giving it a prison flavouring to make the guys feel both wanted and involved. Wednesday wasn’t about me, it was about them. For over a month, the image of me holding aloft the Ride2Cure bike at Seymour College has been plastered all over the prison walls so now I had to deliver.

On the drive over, I thought about the night I went out with Theonie in Adelaide, and she asked me if I was nervous about the next day. There are moments in my life that I will never forget, and that was one of them. But what I will say is that I was a whole lot more nervous about standing up in front of the prisoners than ever I was sitting down with Anna Meares. This was absolutely a journey into the unknown. But just like lunch with Anna, I played me. I apologised to one of the groups that I wasn’t Chris Hoy or Bradley Wiggins, but that I was instead just a bloke who got a folding bike aged 60. It broke the ice. It didn’t necessarily make me one of them, but it did put us all on a level that suggested, quite forcefully once it was all over, that actually, we can do this thing together and all get something very special out of it. That’s why I think some of these guys might be in it for the long haul, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense.

When every single prisoner came forward to shake my hand, both in the morning and in the afternoon, I knew that I’d done a good job. I’ll tell you now: I can’t wait to go back and get blethering to the guys when we’re all cycling away on our spin bikes, motivating each other as we go. Back in November 2014, I rode 50 miles with Mark Beaumont on a spin bike in a car showroom in Paisley. He was attempting the world record for 24 hours indoors and I rolled in at 3am on a Sunday morning for no other reason than I thought he might need the company. These are the things that you do for people that you care about.

And there’s more: One of the guys, who knew about Strava, told me about the hill coming up out of town to the prison. I’d just driven up it so I knew exactly what he was talking about. And I also knew that it was bound to be a Strava segment…

Stuartie’s Hill. 0.2 of a mile at 4.7%

We won’t bother about the KOM because at 40 seconds, that’s probably out of my league. But the KOTP at 1m 34s is absolutely in the crosshairs. I’ve promised the prisoners that the next time I go back, which will probably be to kickstart our project, I’ll take the bike that went to Australia, and plant Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma on the top of the leaderboard for pensioners. Right now, I can’t think of anything more inspiring for them, than knowing that the bloke who comes in to cycle all day with them (you think I’m joking?) has planted a flag for all the world to see, on the other side of that wall.

If ever there was inspiration for paying it forward, HMP Shotts is going to be it.

That was the good news for the week.

The bad news is that I’m injured. Twice over.

The initial injury, which I’ve been carrying for weeks, is a wrist injury just forward of the sticky out bone on the outside of my right wrist. I did it lopping overhanging tree branches with a pair of ropey secateurs on a two mile stretch of the Dreghorn to Killie bike path back in July. Because the secateurs were shite, I basically had to strangle and cut the thicker branches in a single movement and over the course of two hours, that created a repetitive strain injury that just refuses to go away. Three hours riding grippy (ie shite) roads every day puts enormous strain through your wrists and that’s basically why this injury hasn’t gone away. At best, if I adopt a more upright stance with my hands on the top bars, I can get away with a dull ache. But hands on the drops doing 20 on rough roads is like holding a burning candle to my wrist. For now, 82 stages in a row into the journey, I’m putting up with it.

Perhaps more concerning, because it’s a new injury based purely on circumstance, is what I discovered is termed “gastrocnemius medial head tendonitis”. Basically, I’ve fucked the tendon that connects the big calf muscle on the outside of my left leg, to the bone, through pushing big gears going uphill without getting out of the saddle. I read in a cycling magazine a while back that it’s supposedly good form to stay in the saddle while you’re climbing because it’s good for developing power. Well I think I may have overdone it, probably by attacking early morning hills in Ireland last week (20% more ascent in half the distance compared to back home) topped by a brutal effort up onto the Fenwick Muir at 6am on Wednesday morning before I headed into Shotts. That was the day I went “ouch”, and it’s been sore ever since. Am I for resting it? What do you think? For now, it’s a diet of daily ice and ultrasound, coupled with reduced mileage, easier hills (1200ft of climbing instead of 1500ft) and Grannier gears. There is zero chance, eighteen days off a ton of stages, that I’m giving this run up to a sore leg and a bad wrist. I’ve never cycled a hundred days in a row in my life, and certainly not for three hours a day. I ain’t for chucking this now, so close to three figures. Somehow, I’ll ride through it and come out the other side.

R2C2 is gathering pace, albeit at a somewhat slower pace than I would have liked. Nevertheless, I’ll be through 3000 miles next week, and to have achieved that in Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, before three months of the journey have passed, is very satisfying.

Something inside, so strong….

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