How can the best race you’ve ever had not actually be the best race you’re ever had ? It all seems nonsensical and contradictory but that is exactly what happened to me at Hit the North 2017.
I had started the year making quite a monumental decision regards my health; I have been carrying an illness for a considerable amount of time that had been quite low level, but if not checked was only going to get worse. I had chosen to follow the ‘watchful waiting’ path, in part due to the side effects and duration of the treatment that would be needed to resolve this issue: 12 weeks of anemia, debilitating tiredness and headaches none of which, surprisingly, are conducive to bike racing and riding.
(Photo courtesy of SportSunday Event Photography)
I was due to hit fifty years old in February and after consultations with family and health care professionals, who told me success from this treatment was now almost 100% guaranteed, I decided to take the choice of putting everything in my planned season back a few months and tackle a problem that had greater magnitude than missing a few races.
All was going well during this time and though I had to tinker with the medicine as the headaches were excruciating, I was going in the right direction with blood tests all coming back positive. I was even managing a few easy to steady paced rides.
My fiftieth birthday came and went but then things took a slight turn for the worse when one night I was taken to hospital with a suspected stroke. I was prodded, poked, stabbed with needles and scanned. The upshot was that it wasn’t a stroke but what is called a hemiplegic migraine, it’s a migraine that presents like a stroke but isn’t. They also have the more exciting name of ‘brain attacks’. This was concluded as being caused by one of the medications which I was no longer taking but has a extremely long half life and has now left a lesion on the left side of my brain.
Well fast forward to two weeks before HtN and I had finished the treatment and my blood tests had come back clear. I hit the road training and felt as good as I ever had, in fact better. The Hit the North race date had been moved so I could now take part, my first race as a half centurion and to say I was excited would be an understatement. Then, out of nowhere, man flu. I had endured all of the stresses over the past 12 weeks and then a common cold appears and add to that the much dreaded realisation that every asthmatic will recognise, ‘no, it’s on my chest’.
It was now a week of constant self analysis, which was something I had become adeptly skilled at. Each day I ruminated over whether I was going or staying or racing or riding and it wasn’t looking good. My stomach muscles were hurting as I had been coughing so much and I sounded like a seal on crack. Finally on the Friday morning a ray of hope – something had shifted enough for me to consider at the very least visiting family based in sunny Horwich and glamorous Little Lever plus helping out at the race.
I packed the bike and gear and left the safety and civilisation of the Chilterns and prepared to enter the rough edged north west of England, the place of my birth.
I hadn’t ridden a bike in ten days and had been full of green phlegm and painkillers but it’s testament to the love I and others share for this event that once I was awake Saturday morning and had entered the area of outstanding national beauty at the Park of Philips in Cote D’Prestwich, wild horses wouldn’t have stopped me from crossing that start line.
As for the race, looking at the results it wasn’t my greatest performance, but after twelve weeks of drugs, a suspected stroke, a brain lesion, turning fifty and a chest infection it was without doubt my greatest performance. I got covered in mud, didn’t crash and was complimented on my skill on the gnarly descent. Got lapped, got served and told off by Phil for taking what I thought was the man’s way down the bermed descent and not the chicken run, met friends old and new and had a bloody ace time.
Can we do it again?