Why. NW Scotland.

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Why? 

I’ve spent the last few days cycling around northern Scotland.

I dipped my toes in the North Sea to one side, and the Atlantic to the other.

At times, the road across to Lochinver felt as if it were on the moon. Remote, desolate and windswept. A water-coloured and washed-out landscape dripping with drizzle and mists. The wind blew on and on – even when I fell asleep at night it still echoed in my ears, then in my dreams.

The skies were of every conceivable colour – all at once. From a single viewpoint I could see greys, blues, whites and blacks – and every combination in between. Parts of the landscape were bathed in sunlight, whilst, way off in the distance, I could see what looked like heavy rain.

It felt good for the soul.

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To a cyclist long-used to the pottering, enclosed country lanes around the Cotswolds, the scale of the Scottish landscapes were pretty breath-taking in grandeur. Mountains, lochs, coastal inlets and isles disappeared to the horizon.

These roads have existed for longer than I have, but an interesting phenomenon has taken place over the last couple: these roads have been packaged up and sold as a product ready for tourist consumption – “The North Coast 500”. Designed to boost the remote area’s economy, these beautiful roads have been given a name, T-shirts and memorabilia have been put on sale and sign-posts have appeared reminding foreign visitors not to drive on the right. In this way, this landscape, that isn’t ‘owned’, has somehow been boxed up (and gift-wrapped) for the hoards – and the impact has been remarkable.

All the locals I spoke to relayed an enormous growth in visitor numbers; and I was overtaken by a procession of foreign number plates: French cars; and German, Dutch & Danish campervans.

When I stopped at picnic sites, I overheard families chit-chatting in Italian, and tour-guides calling out in one, two, then three, languages. The hosts seem a bit begrudging of this ‘boost’ though as the roads have crowded up and litter bins have filled to overflowing. Even the hostel-owner I spoke to lamented that they were now fully booked all the time (oh no!).

Whilst acknowledging that this was peak season, some bottlenecks did feel at capacity. And some drivers’ patience with cyclists was wearing a bit thin.

“Why don’t you get a feckin’ car?!”

And, the slightly more constructive,

“Turn your feckin’ lights on!”

(I preferred the, “Go! Go! You crazy cyclist!”)

Cars drove from one designated viewpoint to the next. Coaches followed.

The hassle of disembarking proved too much for some – I saw one couple stop in the middle of the road as the driver filmed from his seat, and his passenger leant fully out of the window to take a photo.

Coinciding my arrival at one spot with a coach-load of snappers, I tentatively asked a rather rotund, friendly looking man if he’d mind please taking a photo of me,

“No, no, I’m not at work now.”

His “North Coast 500” T-shirt, replete with bus logo, barely covered his sitting-in-a-coach-for-500-miles belly.

Luckily the area I covered was large enough so that much of the time I felt removed from the busy world. At one point, I came to a stop because a cluster of four stags were blocking the road barely ten metres in front of me. We eyed each other nervously for a minute or so before they slowly walked off and into the trees.

On my second night, I ended up cycling almost 30 miles to find anywhere that would sell me anything that I could eat for dinner (a can of bean-hash, and a bag of Scottish teacakes that had gone out of date yesterday).

And, the next morning, pretty hungry, I rode for over three hours before I eventually found an open cafe. At 10am, I was the only (rather bedraggled) customer.

“Hi. I could really do with a hot drink please.”

“Hmmmm.” The hostess looked hesitant.

“We are booked up for lunch.”

The neatly laid tables all had notes reserving themselves for the next coach party at midday.

I managed to twist her arm into a quick 10 minute window for a coffee and soup.

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If the first two-thirds of the trip were the joyous pleasure of a new landscape explored, the last leg was more of a battle as I was buffeted by wind and rain.

My right knee was hurting (and neck and back and metatarsel) and I was having to adjust my pedal strokes accordingly. I was feeling far from my best.

Increasingly thirsty, hungry and getting a few shivers – I wondered whether my snood, which was now wet, was still shielding me from cold, or exacerbating it.

Ruminations and concerns of earlier in the ride – mortgages, jobs & healthcare – had dissipated away and I was left with the basics of needing food and drink, and riding back towards my love for my family.

The meditation of cycling does mean that, when all else is stripped away, what really matters can step to the fore with an overwhelming clarity.

I considered how I must keep this perspective when I get home.

Maybe this isn’t “The Why” – but it feels like something important, worth writing about.

Love, life. Wind on your back, rain in your face, and fresh, clean air.

The glorious North Coast 500. Or 350 miles of it anyway.

 

 

 

Whey?

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It’s funny old game, cycling.

Especially cycle-touring.

Trying to do something bigger, faster, more adventurous, more exciting… more new… more “more” than before.

Seeing what you can do, and where you can go, seems to be an exercise in, bit by bit, identifying limiting factors, then one by one trying to overcome them.

Planning to do some high mileage adventuring this summer, my latest concerns have been calorific. The challenge was to try and take on-board, then usefully digest, sufficient foods, all in the right proportions, to keep me running steady, rather than slowly descending down & down until I hit empty (which I do sometimes find to be the case).

The issue appropriate “food intake” has got harder as I stubbornly stick to my self-prescribed “MS Diet” (simplistically, I avoid saturated fats (and dairy)). Having surmounted the initial hurdle of the logistics of new shopping lists, the biggest challenge for me has been taking on enough proteins to keep me fuelled. I’ve spent too much time eating bowls of delicious, fresh and nutritious salads, quorns, veg and pasta – but craving more building blocks before I go to bed.

I strongly believe that listening to your own body (as carefully as you can) is the best measure of what you’re eating too much of, or not enough of, but, in this regard, I haven’t best worked out a way to answer my own demands.

Given all the tablets that my MS condition has necessitated I’ve long eschewed any additional artificial supplements to my diet. I’ve been steadfast in the belief that I didn’t want to consume products born more from the science labs than from the countryside…. until now…..

My stubbornness was ultimately broken when I listened to an interview with long-distance cyclist extraordinaire, Mark Beaumont. In amongst countless other invaluable tip-bits, he was eulogising about the power of the smoothie. I have long turned to smoothie’s for post-ride nutrition – and, off my own back, completely unscientifically (just listening as best I can to my own body), I’ve long gone for milk (non-dairy), oats, banana, (linseeds) and cocoa. And this was a good as I could get it. But, in this interview, Mark was stressing the value of additional whey powder – for the extra protein that a tired body needs.

So, rather against my intuition, I bought myself one of those massive, industrial looking tubs of weight-lifters powder. The packaging even had a bodybuilder flexing his outrageously over-sized biceps on the front.

And I’ve started the course – 1 scoop before a ride; 1 scoop after.

And, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m now a complete convert.

That edge of hunger that I’ve had so often for my many years of cycling has had the edge taken off it.

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My cycling (hobby/habit/obsession) can roughly be described as doubling my calorie needs.

~4,500 a day compared to ~2,200.

Random google-searching suggests that I should therefore be doubling the recommendation of ~60 grams of protein, up to ~120.

The most common hard-hitters, protein-wise, in your average UK diet are red meats (10g per 100g meat). But, as my MS diet has abandoned these, I’d been turning to chicken breast (~8g) and white fish (slightly less). Quorn equivalents slightly less again.

A dinner-serving of each roughly multiplies these figures by x2.5 – i.e a helping of chicken being 20g protein), quorn more like 12-15g.

To get these levels of protein from pulses/beans/lentils you’d be having to eat roughly 1-2 (pre-cooked) cups in a sitting.

My main, and sometimes only, protein-boosts were coming at dinner – my other meals would major in carbs – grains, cereals, pasta, oats – salads and fruits. And lots of coffee.

These (extremely rough) calculations didn’t need too much finessing to see that I was suffering a considerable shortfall in proteins compared to the ~120 grams a day guess-timate I’d come up with. I was probably consuming half (if that) of that figure.

So, 2 scoops of whey protein a day now – that’s a protein-boost of 25 grams. Regards the remaining ‘shortfall’ I’ve been trying to look out for other more ‘natural’ sources to add to my diet as well.

Still trying to listen to you, body – but acknowledging that I sometimes need a nudge in a more sensible direction.

In anticipation of an amusing blog called “Whey? Wye”, I rode my bike over to the Wye Valley and tested my protein-filled legs on some hills. So far so good.

Come back in a few weeks and I wonder if my newly bulging biceps will still fit into my aero cycling tops….

La Maratona 2017

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Two years ago I rode a bike event called “L’Etape” – a hilly, mountainous stage plagiarised from the Tour de France. In the week leading up to it, my MS had been rumbling away with rising menace, and on the day itself I somewhat disintegrated on the bike, beset by cramps and issues with my eyesight. It occurred to me then that I might not ever ride a similar event again. Maybe this was something that  I was going to have to surrender to MS. Certainly I still recall most vividly those sensations of body malfunction, clear mental scars that beg future caution.

As I type the above, I consider again how far I feel as though I have come since that day. For last week I rode “La Maratona”. A similarly challenging parcours, this time in the Dolomites rather than the Alps. The total climbing was going to be more; and the hills were going to be steeper.

I may not have “raced” the course – I paced it more akin to a sociable audax – but I did complete it. My MS did briefly raise its head above the parapet, but it was barely a whimper rather than a battle-cry.

Cyclist 1, MS nil.

 

The Event

Road cycling can be a sport so beautifully pure in its simplicity: get on a bike. Ride it.

But, because one of its pleasures is the experience of landscape, I often lift-up the whole process, just so I can drop it down again into vistas anew. Of late: Wales; the Cairngorms; and, on a few memorable occasions, overseas.

Entering “events”, especially abroad, is another matter again: it feels as though you’re transporting the whole circus of bike, bike bag and equipment – like almost moving house for one brief weekend of riding.

Getting to the Dolomites was this to extreme: our party of 5 converged from our far-flung homes via plane and car – with disassembled equipment, wardrobes of kit (“for every season”), bags of energy gels, bar and pills, suncreams and gloves.

We checked into an apartment. We ate pizza at the nearest restaurant we could find.

We spent hours building our bikes back up again from flat-pack – testing brakes, gears and re-inflating tyres.

Registering for the event entailed an hour long queue amongst hoards of fellow cyclists. It meant copies of passports, doctors certificates and insurance forms.

All this just to ride a bike.

The travel, queuing and stresses were exhausting – MS or not. My friends must have been mystified as I slept over 10 hours both the first 2 days. My MS was pricking away; and I had left home without the catheters I sometimes need.

On the morning of the event our alarms went off at 4am. (yes…. FOUR am!), but, when we got to start, we were far from early – and had to join the massed ranks of queuing bikes as we shivered in the pre-dawn cold. I was underdressed; veterans around us donned winter jackets and beanies.

My limbs and muscles felt a bit washed up and tired.

When the ride did slowly crank into action, my core felt cold, but the roads were too busy to get up any pace or rhythm. The first climb was clogged with cyclists – many tutting at the frustrations of slow progress. At several hairpin bends an approaching wave of clicking sounds washed down the road towards me – cyclist after cyclist clipping out of their cleats as they came to a congested standstill.

By the time I reached the first summit and started to descend I was still grumpy with cold, and the downhill had to be ridden with the hand-brakes on, as swarms of bikes edged and wobbled round the sharp bends. On one tight turn I had to lock my rear wheel amongst the clutter.

The dark skies were threatening rain. God forbid. I was already wearing my every garment and any rain would have pushed me over the edge. With surprising clarity of logic I realised that if it started raining I would need to give up.

Upon completion of the initial circuit, a large number of riders left the road onto the shorter course – and the tarmac freed up. At last I developed a rhythm on my pedals and my body warmed up. Bit by bit, my muscle aches began to loosen up.  And the temperature was lifting at last – arm warmers even rolled down on the ascents. The next downhill was an exhilarating pleasure and my grumpiness began to melt away into smiles.

Rather than slaloming between a forest of bike, I began to look up and soak in the views. The stunning valley-scapes and vertical outcrops of rock. Local residents out to support, rang colossal cow bells as we passed, and I fell into amiable conversation with a young lad from Dublin who was riding at the same pace as me.

Some 50 miles in, I hadn’t needed a food-stop and had the two largest climbs still to go.

I was difficult to gauge how much energy I had initially burned up just staying warm; against how much energy I’d have saved riding at a jogging pace for the first hour or so. I decided to gamble and to hit the penultimate climb without further provisions – little did I know what an absolute beast of an ascent it proved to be.

After the first few kilometres of steepness I grew more and more convinced that it was about to flatten out (it had to?) – but, if anything, it kicked up even more – and I could no longer hide from the fact that I was going to run empty (the dreaded cyclist’s “bonk” when the body’s fuel dramatically runs out). It hit me with about 3km to go – and those last 3,000m were ridden through desperately gritted teeth at barely walking pace. My new friend from Dublin overtook me again, and after a brief chat, kindly handed me an energy gel and joked that he didn’t want me to overtake again before the top.

At the summit’s food stop I drank a litre of coke and sparked up as though I’d be given a shot of adrenalin to the heart.

I hurtled down the last descents, and rode the last long climb (and the final, short one) at, what was for me, race pace.

I effectively time-trialled the last 20km and finished with a sprint alongside a couple of other riders – as we lunged for the line…. (in 1423rd place….)

Upon finishing my body coursed with endorphins and I was buzzing. Over the last miles I had asked my legs, again and again, for more and they’d been able to provide.  I had felt strong, and capable.

I was so invigorated I could barely sleep that night with flushes of excitement, caffeine and sugar-highs.

That, I realised, is why they do it. Those crazy cyclists who transport their lives to the Dolomites just to go on a bike ride.

 

It can make you feel so alive.

 

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After the long, long journey back home my back ached. So did my knees. And shoulders. And muscles and bones.

As I unpacked my bike from its box, I discovered that the rear derailleur (which shifts the back-gears) had snapped off in transit.

They’re not easy, these so-called events. This so-called life.

But if you don’t do such things, your life would just be a straight-line…. I quite like the bumps, and the hills.

Hill reps

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I’m making some big cycling plans for later this summer – some serious undertakings for adventure. I’m planning to do what I love doing: getting out on my bike; travelling to new places, on new roads, through new landscapes.

I hope that my blog will soon see a steady drip-feed of happy ride reports as the season unfurls, so more on this to follow…. I hope.

However, I know that I can’t just pursue these dreams on a whim. Preparation will be ‘all’: logistics; equipment and, of course, body. ‘Preparation’… then very much keeping my fingers crossed that my MS remains locked in its box.

Of course, in many ways, cycle-touring is what I’ve already spent years gearing up for: as I’ve commuted by bike and entered events which have dangled goals just beyond my easy reach. And I’ve long sought to explore new roads and find new hills, be it on my own, or out with clubs or friends. But the time is now nigh to train specifically for this summer’s miles, uncertain weathers and rugged terrains; and to get ready to ride with the inevitability of the unexpected. So, to this end, I’ve been doing some “hill reps” – i.e. finding some hills then riding up them on my bike.

As any cyclist will attest, it can be a tough medicine. But I’m of the opinion that every such obstacle surmounted now, can only stand me in better stead for the future.

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On the 23rd June, I started early on my bike – the summer solstice. Even at 5am, it was already uncommonly hot – the previous, truncated night I’d spent tossing and turning beside the biggest fan I could find.

Because I wasn’t planning to venture far from home, my bike was as light as it could be: race wheels; new tyres; and even a cleaned cassette. I was in shorts and a T-shirt. If I was to be climbing hills, I couldn’t have done it any lighter.

So I sought out some gradients…. and rode up them.

I rode up hills, paused for breath, then turned around and descended back down again.

The pain I’d been having with my right foot had gone. I had only the merest hint of MS pins and needles.

I felt good.

 

The ascents ticked past. The first became 4, then 5. Then I began to lose count as I lost track of water breaks, and stops for food.

The temperature was slowly rising. And rising. It hit 20 degrees when it was still early morning.

I tried to drink as much as I could – and I soon realised that dehydration would become my biggest impediment – but the drip-drip of my sweat soon became a flow, and salt began to sting my eyes. My pauses at the summits became longer, and my recovery breathing deeper.

I knew I wasn’t drinking enough – but couldn’t manage to get more liquid down.

The thermometer reached 33 degrees.

 Tiredness began to creep in. Firstly my calves, then twinges of cramp in my thigh. The pressure points on the balls of my feet and palms of my hands began to hurt in the heat. I was beginning to get a dehydration headache.  But I chose to carry on: once a year I choose to ride to my max until I’ve got nothing left to give, just to see where I am. Today was going to be that day.

Another ascent to the same summit. Back to the same starting point again. The Grand Old Duke of York.

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 I recalled a memory from my childhood when my mother would read me a book of fairy tales (” fairy tales and fantastic stories”). I always found them unduly spooky, and a bit unsettling before bed. But I couldn’t help but be enticed by the sensation of eeriness.

As I started another climb, I remembered tale of a goblin, tempting a young girl to the magical “goblin city”:

“Short or long to Goblin City?
The straight way’s short
But the long way’s pretty…”

I found the image of the goblin unnerving, as was the beat of this repeated rhyme.

As it turned out, the girl was so beset by indecision over this choice that the tale ended abruptly with her invite removed

I turned back down the hill again.

Back to the start.

The long way round

I mulled over that I would have chosen the long, pretty way. Unless I was late for something important I guess.

A straight line through life would feel no more than a race to the end. Without the hill reps

I was getting more and more tired as I climbed my bike back up again.

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I had known when I started that the heat of the day would be my biggest impediment, but I just couldn’t do enough to counter it.

I was beginning to feel seriously dehydrated – I began to wonder if I was dangerously so. I had drunk ~8 litres of water – and hadn’t gone to the loo once. It wasn’t enough.My ride began to feel as though it was almost done

I was low on energy, but stopped being able to get food down. I tried sucking on some boiled sweets as I rode but had to spit them out as my body refused. I began to feel pretty sick

What was this all about?…. Setting the bar for the summer.

Putting down a building block.

Seeing where I was, and where I could go.

 

Eventually I stopped my bike for the final time that day. My hand was starting to cramp up on the brake levers.

Tired.

I had done 8,950 metres of climbing.

Slightly more than the height of Mount Everest

When I got home, I lay down, both my legs pulsing with cramp. But nothing was going to stop me drifting off into the deepest sleep.

 

The long way round indeed. And, like life, certainly not straight.

I’m really happy for that to be my choice.

 

Remittance

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Two years ago my MS felt out of control.

New symptoms were appearing every few weeks and, by late 2015, my neurological consultant had accelerated me onto a course of “Campath” chemotherapy.

I had a second dose in October 2016.

It had become difficult to separate the side-effects of the drug from further MS activity but, in summary, it’d be fair to say that my health had been patchy over the intervening 12 months.

 

When first diagnosed, of course the hope was that my variant of the condition would be towards the less aggressive end of the scale. This basically translates into a “relapsing-remitting” type (i.e. one that dissipates (or remits) between bouts (or relapses)), right at the benign end of the spectrum.

The very best possible scenario would be that my MS actually remits entirely. There have been cases where patients diagnosed with MS have gone on to live long and healthy lives with no further interference from the condition at all, but the fact that I had already suffered so many relapses, and had so many visible ‘lesions’ on my brain and spine to show for them, makes this less likely.

The law of averages dictates that 85% of newly diagnosed patient in their 30s (i.e. me) will have one of those relapsing-remitting types, likely to appear, then diminish, over a period of years. And I’m afraid that the most likely overall trajectory is one of deterioration: 65% of patients become “secondary progressive” within 15 years of diagnosis – this basically translates as a “sustained build up of disability” with little or no recovery between relapses.

My relationship with my MS is now one of seeking to avoid this mathematical probability; to avoid the occurrence of relapses; and to rejoice as much as possible in the fact that I’m not there yet. And, of course, fingers crossed, might never be.

 

I don’t know the exact reason why, but, June 2017, I’m certainly feeling much, much “better”. My MS symptoms feel like no more than murmurs, and I’m recovering from the minor bugs of everyday life within normal timeframes, rather suffering from them for weeks at a time.

Statistically, this is probably no more than where I should be: a period of remittance in between relapses. But I can’t help but be more optimistic than that: I’ve now got 2 bouts of chemotherapy under my belt; and have now been adhering to a much healthier regimes of MS-Diet and careful sleep patterns for 30 months. Although I remain mindful to the false dawns of ‘hope’, I can’t deny myself the excitement of feeling so very improved:

I would judge that I have been as healthy as I can remember for perhaps 8 or 9 years.

I am pushing niggles to the side – and I’ve been out cycling; working full-time; painting garden fences; and mowing the lawn. All things I have stopped taking for granted.

I’m lining up big cycling plans for the summer and have been getting myself ready, body and bike, for adventures to come.

 

I gritted my teeth when a stress fracture in my right foot took 6 weeks to heal; and I continue to do so now with an issue with my right knee. Frustratingly the pain there is being caused by a titanium pin inserted there many years ago- the surgeon is reluctant to do anything whilst my post-chemo immune system remains low: my latest blood results still show my ‘lymphocytes’ (read: infection killers) struggling at 0.5 against a ‘normal’ minimum of 2.

So I ignore my arthritis, cope with my grumbling optical neuritis and aim my bike at the horizon. As fast as I can.

 

65%. 15 years.

 

I chase more time. I chase life, perhaps always thinking that I might find it at the top of the next hill.

I feel pretty tired today but I’m planning a quick spin at lunch.

Despite the drizzling rain, I don’t want to risk missing it.

 

<< drink them in, for the gifts of life are why we are all here>>

Potential stress (fracture)

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One barometer of my MS that I’m currently reflecting on, is the scope of my “future gaze”: whether I have the capacity to look at future months & years, or am just focussing on the next day. Everyone will empathise with how your world view and forethoughts shrink during periods of stress or illness (I’d have thought that everyone with children will empathise with that sensation of just trying to get through each day, juggling water and herding cats).

To some extent, I have been living in week-long blocks for the last couple of years. I’ve been making plans for each weekend, but being a bit tentative on a grander scale. My confidence had been a bit dented when I had to drop out of a long planned Alpine Cycling trip – letting a friend down at the very last minute as I tried to work out what was going on with some grumbling MS symptoms – and I was finding that pre-planned weekend plans were proving to be the source of anxiety, rather than excitement….. But this year, I do think that things are definitely evolving (for the better). I’ve been booking summer holidays, both en famille and solo – and have (somewhat cagily) been letting my optimism grow. Over the next fortnight I’ll be dipping my toe back into the water of a night out in London, and a weekend playing golf with some old friends; although I approach these “MS-tests” with trepidation, there is also the definite emergence of a new confidence.

Reading between the lines above, you’ll see that I’m currently feeling pretty good regards the various challenges of my MS – a “block” of time that I’ve been awaiting for quite some time….

So – to use what I believe is the technical term – I cycled the hell out of April.

I raced up a hill or two with my friends at “lunch club”; made new friends climbing up to the ridge and viewpoints of the White Horse above Avebury; did a 200 mile ride up to the “Heart of England” (and beyond); and enjoyed a weekend away in the stunning hills of Southern France.  These latter 2 days certainly hit the “cycling sweet-spot”: a friend and I toured the “gorge du verdon” upon roads that clung to precipitous cliffs and hair-pinned through tunnels and caves; up to ski-resorts and mountain-top expresso-stops; and down to cobbled French villages, where we filled our water bottles in age-old fountains. We even fitted in a “gastronomic” 7-course dinner in our remote overnight stop-over – our ravenous 200km-cycled appetites were given a lesson in patience as ‘amuse-bouches’ followed one bite-size course after another. “Encore du pain, s’il vous plait?!!”. But ageing, arthritic and MS, I can’t just click my fingers and do weekends like that – 400km and almost 30,000 feet of climbing required some serious base miles under my belt: these were the archetypal “summer smiles” earned by “winter miles” – and a labour has been necessary to bear these fruits:

April started with my slightly murky, MS-related left foot ataxia. I’m pretty used to the symptom now, and wouldn’t even say that it was hindering. But as I started peddling some greater miles, I started getting muscle strains dotted around my left calf as I increasingly favoured a ‘pull’ of that pedal, rather than a push. A tendonitis in my left achilles started to niggle more and more. I started to consciously favour my right foot and the hints of cramp, then strain, transferred over to my that calf. A week later, as I was finishing off my ‘200’, my right foot started to ache more and more as my pedal strokes started to rely almost entirely on a ‘right foot push’. The next day, on my commute to work, the pain in my right foot started getting sharper, a couple of slipped gears (when the pedal suddenly slips/drops dramatically) hurt. Another trip to Southmeads hospital and it seems that I’ve got a stress fracture in my right metatarsal. Talk is of 4-6 weeks rest. I contemplated this as I cycled home. [I recited that song, my experience confirming the lyrics, “hip bone connected to the thigh bone… etc etc”. One body, one holistic system only as strong as it’s weakest link]

So, another little hurdle. But – let me check – my “future gaze” barometer still reads well. My thoughts and ambitions are still looking at the summer and beyond – so all is well. Roll on.

Putting March to bed

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March started with my MS grumbling away.

Quite how much of this was in my head is difficult to say – but for several years I have had MS relapses in March, so I was watching the month like a hawk.

And although the saying goes that a watched pot never boils – this rather misses the fact that, if you’re watching a pot carefully, you can see every little change in the water’s surface, and every little ripple is a potential simmer.

I had tiresome pins and needles – especially at night – and was struggling to focus on my work, and on the screen I was meant to be working at.

Both possibly just indirect symptoms of a wider anxiety and nothing to do with MS at all (?) – who knows….

 

On 6th March I rode in a local bike race, the “Chippenham Hilly”. The headline news was that I finished – and afterwards felt a nice euphoric glow of vaguely-competitive endorphins (rather than the blurred vision vertigo I had feared).

The fact that I finished 28th, I must face, is of no interest to anyone except for myself. I’m going to have to consign it to my own personal memory bin (alongside that time I holed out a 7-iron in 2008; and scored a first time volley for Cockfosters FC under-16s, in what must have been sometime in the previous century). Never to be mentioned in polite company again.

 

Then March started to take its usual turn.

Over the next fortnight I had 5 days off work.

I moped about complaining of vertigo and incessant tiredness; and towed my same old line about my vision “not feeling right”.

I started going to bed earlier and earlier, having more and more broken night’s sleep, with cold sores and buzzing legs.

 

Towards the end of the month, my project at work finished and I saw a light in the tunnel – a week of pressure-free work. My little piece of the project-jigsaw had been delivered in time (just!), and it was now up to more senior bosses to discuss and present, whilst I kept my head-down – my job description became largely not getting in their way.

Because of this, or just a pleasant coincidence of timing, I almost immediately started feeling better.

Certainly the correlation has made me re-visit the extent to which I exist under too high a level of “normal-stress” – a pressure release at work seemed to trigger an improvement in my condition almost overnight.

Any adult, any adult with children, or any adult with MS would say that life can be pretty tiring at times – I’m afraid that work isn’t quite an optional choice just yet.

 

Anyway…. I immediately started riding my bike to excess – with growing delight that I seemed to be fit. Healthy. And, quite suddenly, MS free.

So, although there had been a dodgy fortnight, looking back at it now, I can say that this is the best March-health I have been in for over 7 years.

Of course I don’t really know why. Luck perhaps? But I’m realistically optimistic (if that’s a term?!) that I seeing some of the benefits of my latest chemotherapy treatment from last year. I very much hope that’s the case.

 

Certainly the last week or so has been hugely buoying, but one irony is not lost on me:

As I rode my bike last week, I was once again going to bed early.

And my legs were feeling pretty fatigued.

And, as it took a while for the adrenalin of those rides to wear off, I wasn’t sleeping brilliantly.

But I was really, really happy.

Maybe “good” and “bad” are not so removed, just dictated by the eye of their beholder.