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Day 9: 117 Miles and the best day of my life, sports wise

June 1, 2012

Day 9 Inveraray – South Laggan

117.85 miles

9 hours 20 minutes and 55 seconds

I write this blog, around 3 weeks after this day. Its a tough one to write as I want to do it justice. It will go down as the greatest sporting accomplishment of my life. It wasn’t an easy day, it had tears, pain, stress, laughter and joy but most of all it had a stubborness and determination on my part to not give up. The start of the day was like any other day of Lejog though…

So we got up and had a good breakfast and myself and Gareth were pleased to be the first ones off. At first we took a steady pace and we were making good time, or so we thought. After about 11 miles something didn’t seem right, we’d not seen anyone on the bike ride and we weren’t that quick that no one could catch us! I phoned Mike and it turned out we’d missed the turning! We were now 11 miles off route and had no choice but to turn back. It was an hour and a half later and 22 miles when we were back on track.

Now, I tried to stay positive, It was pointless being angry as that would waste energy, but I felt low and frustrated and I could tell Gareth did too but I did my best to bury that. We had a lot of time to make up and I was sure we could catch up with some of the others if we went for it. Gareth however had a problem with his leg and was struggling. He could hardly peddle and was quiet. Gareth had been positive throughout the whole ride and was a great motivating force. If he could get through it so could we. Today however he was struggling and we had to take it steady so he could keep going. At one point he tried to get off the bike and his leg nearly gave out.

We crawled into the water stop which should have been at 36 miles but we had already done 55 Miles, Gareth was struggling and opted to get in the van to get a much needed rest. I thought long and hard about it when Mike offered, but I knew what my decision had to be. I wasn’t injured and it would not be fair to get in the van. I felt good and knew I had to continue. I said I would cycle to John O’Groats so a lift would be cheating. So I loaded up and pressed on.

At this point Mike told me I was 45 minutes behind the tail of the group. I was determined to catch them, I felt low on my own and thought if I could just catch them I’d have the support of the group to get me home. So I put the hammer down and attacked the road. Hard. In the spell between water and lunch I cycled as well as I ever have (until later…) and I was flying. I don’t know where the energy was coming from but I gave it everything I had. I contemplated what lay ahead. To finish the day I would have to cycle over 100 miles. I had done that in my life once, but that was a year before and I hadn’t cycled for 8 days consecutively at that point. I was angry with myself and did shed a tear at one point but then I remember what I was doing. I thought of dad, and asked him to give me the strength to get through the day. I was tired and emotional but knew I had to get through the day and I could worry about the rest later.

The scenary did its best to help me, Scotland is beautiful. I was flying around some stunning lochs and roads. I thought about how any other day I’d be having just a mundane day at work that would blend with any other. Now I was out here under taking the toughest challenge of my life physically. At this point, I rode past a cafe and saw Pablo waving at me! I’d caught up, and more than that I was pressing on. I didn’t want to stop as I didn’t know if I’d get back on the bike but I was getting hungry now and had 15 miles to lunch.

Then Tim rode past me, he was hungover from a night sampling whiskey with James and had ridden with the slow group. This lifted my spirits as I wasn’t on the road alone others were out there battling. I was starving but knew I had to keep going…

Finally I hit the lunch stop, Tim and James were there hanging and I was grateful for the company. I spent most of the day cycling alone, but seeing these two great lads at breaks lifted my spirits. I was a bit tired but the food had made my energy levels rise and again I pressed on, Ben Nevis awaited…

The next bit was pretty stunning! Soon Ben Nevis came into view, the sun was out and i think I was aware for the first time what I was doing. I was starting to flag but I looked at the cycling computer I was on 96 miles, from here I watched it tick over, 97… 98… come on Russ I know you’re tired but keep going…. 99 so close you can do it keep pushing…. 100… I’d done it for the second time I had ridden 100 miles in a day and had more to go and i’d done it with Ben Nevis at my side on my own in beautiful scenery and I felt so fucking proud of myself. I know that is an arrogant thing to say but i’d taken the crap of the start of the day, said fuck you i’m doing this. I never gave up and gave it my all. It was all too much and I had to stop and sob like a little girl as I thought of my dad. I composed myself and pressed on to the water stop, climbing a hill to see this…

The commando memorial, what a site! just beautiful and ‘Big Ben’ too. I then saw Mike, James and Tim at the water stop and pulled up to take it all in and they were all so chuffed when I told them i’d now done 104 miles, I felt awkward at the hand shakes etc, I didn’t feel i deserved the praise i’d only done it because i’d gotten lost. However I was on top of the world and absolutely buzzing and cold not stop smiling. It felt so good to be alive, I was doing what I set out to do, meeting great people and seeing some amazing sites:

We also noticed how much my saddled had shifted! Mike and James had great things to say about the bike which stroked my ego too. From there we had a great descent to Loch Lochy which was amazing! At this point I was just flying and the descent was stunning! I had the foals playing, the sun was shining and it was just a great end to the day. At the bottom it was 10 miles of riding along Loch Lochy which was just breathtaking:

Then I caught up with Gareth! It was great to see he’d got back out on the bike and his injury wasn’t too severe. Finally after 117 Miles I rode into the hostel. When I did I got a round of applause which was mildly embrassing! I had time for a very quick shower, then it was time for a lush and much needed home cooked dinner by the support team.  After a nice call to Em to catch up, I chilled out with some beers, good company and some games of jenga, before crashing out exhausted.

So looking back this was the highlight of the ride. I will never do anything special sporting wise, i’ll never win a premier league title, a gold medal or invent anything but this for me is the highlight of my sporting career, and the reason I never gave up. This was the day that could have broken me and a few years ago it would have but I soldiered though and got to the end. I didn’t do the fastest time ever or look professional doing it but the main thing is i did it and it seemed a fitting tribute to the old man.

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