Virtual Altitude Training

I watched a documentary on Live Aid on BBC2 last night: a behind the scenes look at how Bob Geldof and a bunch of pop stars managed to pull off what was probably the gig of the 20th century.

There was a bit after a few hours of the show (Live Aid, not the documentary) where all of the attention switched to Geldof blowing a gasket in the BBC portacabin studio. It was the bit where he was famously misquoted as exclaiming “Give me your money. Give me your fucking money!” They replayed that clip and he didn’t actually use the F word: but the manner in which he delivered the appeal was enough to write that episode into Live Aid folklore.

Straight after that appeal, the phone lines went crazy and the rest is history. In reflecting on that moment, Geldof tried to make the point that while the music was all well and good and people were having a good time, Live Aid wasn’t actually about the music, it was about raising funds for starving kids in Africa. After four hours of the show, the money was only trickling in and that’s what set him off.

And that set me thinking. It made me take a long hard look at how this charity gig is evolving…

After the Fire Tiger blog last week, someone in the USA donated $50 to the Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma Just Giving page. That was just the fifth personal donation in twelve months. Fortunately, there have been significant group donations during the same period from the prisoners at HMP Shotts, the parents and staff at Nether Robertland Primary School, the PE student cohort at Ayr Campus, and Irvine AFC: all of those donations put together have enabled Ride2Cure2 to exceed the initial target of £2222 that I set a year ago. But that’s not the point.

Without investment into research into a cure, kids will keep dying from neuroblastoma. Fact.

Solving Kids Cancer and Neuroblastoma Australia are helping to fund that research.

Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma is helping to fund Solving Kids Cancer and Neuroblastoma Australia.

Just as Geldof didn’t scream “Give me the fucking money” into the camera, I’ve no intention of demanding your hard earned cash in a similar straight forward fashion. But the fact remains, five personal donations in twelve months means that either I’m not selling this right or people have just got bored because I don’t give up.

So let me turn that on its head: the “Doesn’t give up” angle of Ride2Cure2 should be the very thing that pulls people in. Forget the fact that between them, LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma and Ride2Cure raised about 18 grand, half of that money was raised in three weeks while I was in Australia. My track record of fundraising in the UK is pretty appalling by comparison.

I guess I got complacent when the personal sponsorship dried up about four years ago. It was easy to refocus onto going long and raising awareness because that’s what I do best. I’ve appealed before for a group of people to come onboard and take over the marketing of the R2CN concept, but that idea fell on stony ground. So I just keep on doing what I do, because it’s what I know best. It’s a vicious circle.

Lockdown could have killed the whole thing. I could have said “Good innings, but this is where it ends.

But I didn’t.

COVID-19 was just the latest, albeit biggest obstacle to keeping the R2CN show on the road.

After I’d virtual cycled across Australia again, I cycled around the coast of Ireland.

But then what? That’s the challenge. How to keep yourself motivated and the journey fresh. That’s when I hit upon the idea of cycling the F1 circuit. Then I discovered just how feckin hard that is. A practice day, to discover where all the hills are, and what gears to use to best effect, a qualification day that includes a flying lap where you just bury yourself, and finally a five lap race against the clock.  I learnt the hard way that it’s three days of torture. Both mentally and physically, the F1 routine is a tough ask.

Then I had this really daft idea that the best way of learning how to cope with riding at high levels of lactate was to train by riding at high levels of lactate: down mountains.

Yes, people will suggest I’m cheating by riding 20,000ft down a dirty great hill for 40 or 50 miles.  But I’ll counter that by explaining that if you’re riding in the Himalayas, there is no such thing as a straight downhill. Hundreds of feet of climbing is par for the course in 30 miles of descent, and that’s pretty much par for the course in what I’ve been doing for years anyway. The difference is at the top end.  Riding down mountains brings no benefit of gravity. You are riding a big gear, the biggest that you’ve got, and that gear burns your legs like fuck. For ninety minutes if you’re lucky: longer if you’re not. That is a whole different ball game from having an easy time.

My thinking goes that educating my legs to cope with the workload of 25mph for two hours will play dividends when it comes to riding for one hour round a Grand Prix circuit with screaming legs.

To date, I’ve cycled down the world’s top 6 mountains:

Everest                 50 miles                              496ft of climbing

K2                          54 miles                              292ft of climbing

Kanchenjunga     35 miles                              997ft of climbing

Lhotse                  44 miles                              242ft of climbing

Makula                 26 miles                              830ft of climbing

Cho Oyu               31 miles                              1003ft of climbing

Today I boarded the magic carpet after ten days of virtual altitude training then parked it at the Circuit De Catalunya in Barcelona, home of the Spanish Grand Prix. It’s a short lap at 2.9 miles, so you can afford to push the boat out rather more than at the longer circuits (shorter circuits translate into more pain for a shorter time, thereby producing a faster overall performance).

Barcelona’s not the flattest course on the circuit and by the time you’ve banged in five laps, as I did today in practice, you’ve got yourself a thousand feet of climbing in just fifteen miles. That’s absolutely on a par with my LCFN rides into a Glasgow when I started this caper. A thousand feet in fifteen miles, at pace, burns your legs. Fact. But it is what it is and I have to keep finding ways of keeping the journey both meaningful and challenging.

38 weeks on the spin at 200+ miles. That’s where R2C2 is at. By the middle of this coming week, the climbing will be at half a million feet in 380 stages. Tomorrow I’ll have been on the R2C2 bike for a thousand hours: that’s almost 42 days solid, just riding a bike in the last twelve months. It’s a long time.

To make matters worse, I tweaked a muscle in my back a few days ago, just below my left shoulder blade, and riding the bike has been feckin sore. Deep breathing’s sore, yawning’s sore, because it invokes deep breathing, but top of the pile of agony has been sneezing. Anything dust and sunshine related has been pure agony. But the show must go on, so I ride through the pain barrier. The pain is very reminiscent of that I endured on Stages 11 and 12 of Ride2Cure in Australia after I fell off and cracked a couple of ribs (apparently). Shit happens and you have to learn to deal with it.

All of which brings me full circle back to where this particular story started. I thought of calling it Pain Aid, but the experience of virtual riding 20,000ft down big mountains in a high gear with shallow breathing has brought a whole different complexion to the journey…

Virtual altitude training.

And in case you’ve got any pennies spare from your COVID furlough, if you were lucky enough to be selected by the government, here’s somewhere where you can deposit them:

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