Sunday, 16 August 2020

Doing the 101

‘Did you enjoy the summer?’ asked the newsagent this morning, as I walked into the shop from the rain. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘pity it was just for one week’. We both smiled, knowing that summer here is often brief and fleeting. At least we’d had an unbroken week of fine and warm weather, before grey skies and rain had returned. I told him that on the last day of summer (yesterday) I’d gone for an all day bike ride and had done 101 miles, my longest ride since 1997. ‘That’s some ride,’ he said, ‘you don’t look knackered, you must have been doing plenty of freewheeling.’ I laughed and told him that I was feeling reasonably okay today. ‘Weren’t you in hospital again recently?’ he said. ‘That was almost three years ago,’ I said. I told him that I was completely recovered from all my cancer treatment and that, strangely enough, I felt I’d even gained things from the ordeal. ‘Well done,’ he said, ‘that bike ride proves it.’

Riding for 100 miles is an endurance challenge, which has two main aspects: physical and mental. The physical challenge is to be healthy enough to keep going at a good pace for eight hours. Here the series of major operations I had was more of a disadvantage. I was chopped open three times in two and a half years, which left lots of internal scar tissue, muscle and nerve damage. Some of these limitations have been overcome with the help of physiotherapy and regular stretching; some just have to be lived with. The other problem was that each time I recovered and built myself back to health after one operation, I was put back to zero by having to return to hospital for yet another operation. This meant that I experienced an accumulated loss of physical health that has taken several years of uninterrupted building up to regain. During my long ride I’m glad to say that I had no major aches and pains, just a few niggles from time to time.

Nutrition is obviously very important too. When I returned, I calculated that I had burnt 4320 calories on the ride. However, I reckon that what I ate during the day came to almost 4000 calories, for I stopped every 20 miles to eat. I began the day with a big bowl of porridge with maple syrup. During the ride I ate one and half malt loaves, eight cereal bars, six bananas and four mini-cheeses. At the end of the ride, I demolished a big slab of pannetone before I drove home for a huge pasta meal. It wasn’t cow pie, but I might well have managed one.

The mental aspect of an endurance event is probably the greater challenge. Keeping up a high level of physical activity for eight hours does require significant determination. This is where I think the ordeal of the cancer treatment, particularly the series of operations, has helped me. Coping with all the setbacks of my treatment required great resilience and mental strength. I had these qualities beforehand, but I know they developed significantly during this ordeal. I experienced two very severe operations with several years of significant post-operative pain. But I found the resources to survive these and to rebuild my health. So I know I have the resources to cope with an eight hour bike ride.

Oddly enough, the most difficult time mentally was from 50 to 60 miles. At 50 miles I stopped to refill my water bottle after completing the hilliest section of the ride. I was starting to feel tired and it suddenly struck me, I now have to do all that again. In a flash, the end of the ride became an extremely long way away. Drawing on my cancer survivorship skills, I broke the challenge down into smaller parts. I didn’t think of 100 miles, but of another ten miles, to get me 60. When I got there, I had a short break, ate some food and relaxed. I was sitting beside the River Blackwater, on the border between Armagh and Tyrone. The sun was shining, no-one was about and it was pleasantly warm. Just before I left, a fella drove down to the riverside in his car, wound the window down and spoke to me. ‘It’s too damn hot,’ he said, turned the car around and drove away. Typical, I thought, we’ve only had one week of summer and people are already complaining.


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