Wacky Baku

It’s been three weeks since I knocked out a Ride2Cure blog. A few weeks before that I missed a week but brushed it off because every day had become Flobberday and kidded on that it was because I was out of my routine. Routine was always having a fridge full of beer at five o’clock on a Friday and dumping my tired brain into a Word document. When it didn’t happen for two weeks in a row, it wasn’t because Word wasn’t working, it was because my brain wasn’t working.

A couple of weeks ago, in one of my daily updates, I let it be known that I wasn’t coping with the R2C challenge. That in itself, whilst not exactly a first, was quite concerning (for me) because this was the worst attack of “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore” I’d encountered. It brought a welcome response from a couple of people whose words I respect, and it made me take a step back and look at where the event is at.

Some things I have no control over. Fundraising basically dried up a long time ago, except for Irvine AFC, who wear the Solving Kids Cancer website URL on their shirts, and myself. I still back myself at a penny a mile. So with little or no money coming in from regular fundraising, you start to ask the question “What’s the point?” That’s a dangerous place to be.

The point” is that coming up for seven years since I first got on my bike, the question arises about where the finish line really lies. In 2016 it was supposed to be at 25,000 miles but because kids were still being diagnosed at the same rate as before and there was still no cure, I carried on.

Next up the finishing line might have been at 44,444 miles when I brought LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma to a close ahead of Ride2Cure in Australia.

And it was actually meant to be at the end of that outstanding gig when I arrived in Adelaide. Retirement lasted just nine months, during which time I’d sat on my arse, drunk a load of beer and started Walking2Cure.

Looking back, it may well be that Walk2Cure brought about the current instance of the journey. If Walk2Cure taught me one thing, it was that I was missing the bike. And by the time I’d been back to Australia just over a year ago, and revisited some of the places and the people who made that adventure so special, the flame was alight again.

A new spirit, a new drive, a new everything in terms of devoting my working life to being on the road, the miles rattled along at a respectable rate: so much so that R2C2 compared favourably with everything that had gone before.

Everything was rosy in the garden.

The Shotts prison gig came along, and a whole new audience tapped into a journey seemingly without end: and Solving Kids Cancer benefited to the tune of almost two grand. Throw in the Christmas concert proceeds from Nether Robertland Primary, where I did a school visit not long after Shotts, and the R2C2 two grand barrier was breached inside a month.

To date, the whole Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma journey has raised around twenty grand. It’s something I’m proud of, but not in the context of being able to retire with a cure lurking just around the corner. So the journey goes on: at least for now.

Storms came and Ride2Cure2 skirted round them. Heading out at midnight on a Saturday in the middle of winter, in the pissing rain, with the mercury just above zero, takes a special kind of I will not be beaten, and through four winter storms, the bike prevailed. There wasn’t a single hour on the 24 hour clock that the Ride2Cure bike hadn’t been out on the road by the time that springtime came around.

And COVID-19.

I took lockdown seriously. The rules in Scotland still say, to this day, that you can’t travel more than five miles to engage in leisure activities. The lockdown rules weren’t designed for R2CN. They weren’t designed to accommodate a bloke who wants to cycle 40 miles a day. I could actually have complied with the rules by doing a loop (or loops plural) and staying within five miles of Stewarton. But that would have crushed my free spirit. I locked down before the country did.

I bought a bluetooth enabled turbo trainer and stuck the Oz bike on it. Wednesday will be one hundred days since I was last out on the road. Maybe that’s where the problem was sourced two weeks ago: maybe the loss of focus and direction was down to not being outside. But I dispute that line of thinking. I had no loss of focus when I recreated the Ride2Cure ride in virtual mode from Brisbane to Adelaide. I had no loss of focus when I left Belfast on a circular tour around the coast of Ireland just two days after boarding my magic carpet in Adelaide. And even as I approached the end of the Ireland gig, I had no loss of focus with what was coming next: the virtual F1 tour.

But hindsight is a wonderful thing. I suspect it’s the F1 tour that laid the foundations for the breakdown. Let me be clear, by breakdown, I mean a sudden and complete loss of mojo. Why? Because I give everything to every stage of R2CN. I leave nothing out there on the road. I never have and I never will. Every day builds on the physical and mental tiredness of the last: that’s how you learn to deal with the adversity of what you’ve let yourself in for.

Ironically, the daily average of 36 miles a day in the five years of LCFN were significantly ahead of the 33 miles a day that Ride2Cure had clocked up when lockdown came in. But the lockdown miles have come in at 40. That’s a big difference, albeit that you don’t actually have to get out of the saddle to honk the bike up hills and into the wind: you just kill your legs with a gear that works instead. It’s shorter, it’s sharper and it’s every bit as painful: which brings me back to the F1 circuit….

When I committed to taking this on, the challenge was to do ride every one of the F1 circuits, in the right calendar sequence, just as if I’d rocked up on a race weekend ready to do my thing:

First practice.

Second practice.

A flying lap.

A five lap race against the clock.

I use MapMyRide.com to create the circuits, then download them onto the trainer. I create a one lap, a two lap and a five lap version. Two laps are for learning the circuit, and by that I mean finding out where the hills are. When you watch F1 of the telly, it kind of passes you by that it might actually be hilly (except for Spa and the end of the lap at Interlagos). Not on a bike it doesn’t.

Australia wasn’t bad in that respect, but I quickly learned that you can totally burn your legs in this game. Bahrain was hilly in sector one and sector three. I will always have respect for that circuit the next time the motors go there. China was flattish, and it was a course I loved. The layout is superb with its technical sweeping curves.

Where I went wrong was in thinking that I could replace Tour days, when it doesn’t really matter whether you’re operating at 70% or 80% of max, with F1 days, when it absolutely does.

I did Australia, Bahrain and China in a little over a week. Forget the magic carpet lag, it was the lactate lag that did for me.

Practice is relatively straightforward because you know it has to be. It’s about finding the gear ratios that work, as in producing speed with comfort. But all the time, you’re holding back because of what’s coming the next (day).

The flying lap is brutal. Absolutely brutal. What you’ve learned the previous day, you now have one chance to create in reality. There are no second chances once your legs are gone. The warm up and the warm down are key components of qualification, because race day is guaranteed to be worse. You’re signed up for an hour of pain. By now you know where it’s all likely to fall apart, so you hold back a fraction on the hills just so it doesn’t. And I have a self imposed rule that I allow myself one stop of no more than five minutes. That’s as much to allow bits of me that have gone numb, to recover, as it is about any form of recovery. And in any case, five minutes is no way long enough to flush away the rubbish that’s currently poisoning your legs. That stop is always tactical, and a real battle of mind over matter. Make it before halfway, and you risk being in serious trouble towards the end. Lap three is good: two to go is mentally comforting.

China made me fearful of having taken the F1 circuit on. I came to realise just how feckin difficult a proposition this is when you’re giving it your all. That’s probably when I had a bit of a mental meltdown. So I walked away from the circuits for a couple of weeks and vowed not to go back until I felt able. That was this week.

I’d taken myself off up the virtual west coast of Argyll for a few days, knocking out some hills and some longer days. Then for some daft reason I decided to virtual pedalo across to Islay and do the whisky trail. And by the time I finished on Jura, I’d re-found my mojo, or at least enough bits of it to make a magic carpet trip over to Uzbekistan a feasible proposition.

Baku is my second street circuit, after Albert Park in Melbourne. What I didn’t know, until I created the circuit, is how feckin hilly it is. I’m estimating that of that 3.7 mile circuit round the city streets, less than 5% of it is flat. And at halfway, as the road hangs a right, you are confronted with a half mile 5% climb. If you’re at all fragile, that hill will kill you. I messed with it yesterday in practice, and quickly decided that the big chain ring was a no go zone. On the flying lap, I just hung on for dear life, watching my wee emoji man nearing the point where I knew I could throw the lever back onto the big ring and pummel my legs for four more minutes.

There will be more dark days ahead, of that I am sure, but today and tomorrow are all about the Wacky Baku.

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