It all started with a crazy idea, and the fact that another ‘IDBS-er’ had ridden from London to Paris in 3 days to raise loads of money for charity.
Little did I know what I had put my hand up for. The Tourmalet 500 is 500 miles across France (on a bike) in 6 days followed by a gruelling climb up the famous Tourmalet – at 2,110m the highest road in the Pyrenees. The choice of charity was easy for me – ironically I had been thwarted by pneumonia on the last effort to do something like this as part of the Prince’s Trust Palace to Palace – a mere 40 miles. But before the Tourmalet 500 this seemed a huge prospect. Given the pneumonia, and the fact that I suffered from it as a kid, Asthma UK was the charity I chose. I’ve been lucky to raise over £1,300 thanks to the generosity of friends, colleagues, family and IDBS customers. Secondary to this was the fact that Asthma is proving to be a fascinating disease from a translational medicine and epigenetics point of view.
96 miles a day and not enough after-sun
So it kicked off with a tedious train journey from Cambridge to Portsmouth Harbour – stopping only to get across London in a cab – as the bike bag didn’t sit well with travel on the Tube! We set off and started pedalling in earnest the following morning.
Little did I know how far 96 miles was on a bike. Suffice to say, I did afterwards! “How can personalised medicine help here?” I hear you say. Well, being that we could be stratified into a cohort of crazy, long distance cyclists who didn’t put on enough sun cream, the medicine was obvious – pain killers, after-sun and soothing cream … for you know where!
The next few days are now a blur of routine: get up, breakfast, cycle for 8-10 hours, shower, eat, sleep. But, I did get to talk to one of the tour guides about translational research and personalised medicine. Typically people only show interest for a little while – but she was particularly interested as she has a long family history of breast cancer. Suffice to say I am introducing her to some of our customers who research this area, as she wants to be part of studies, as do her close family.
Paradise and Oatie bars
On the second to last day – we hit paradise – a lake of Lotus flowers – more lotus flowers that I have ever seen – even in photos. We had to stop and spent around 15 minutes admiring this spectacular sight. Unlike the Greek cult that ate the flowers to induce a hypnotic state we chose to stay on the right side of the law and snacked on an oatie bar instead – otherwise we would have perhaps never left that most idyllic spot.
When we arrived in Biarritz our mood was tempered with the thought of tackling the Tourmalet – as if cycling 500 miles in 6 days wasn’t enough! Worryingly, the last day started with rain – heavy and with wind to boot – something that caused a little tension on the bus. Would we have to cycle 11 miles (18 Km) up the Tourmalet in the pouring rain, or would fate step in and sort it? Well, she did. We started the climb in almost perfect conditions – not too hot (like the first day where temps averaged 34 degrees C) and not too cold (like the 5th day we spent cycling in the wind and rain – ouch).
It’s all in the genetics
Suffice to say that some of the racing snakes got up the mountain very quickly – genetically predisposed to do so in my view – all long legs and very light. I am, however, predisposed for short sharp sprints (usually to the bar) so I’m not well suited (genetically) to racing up hills. Nevertheless, I did make it, and in record time for me – about 3 hours. And there have been suggestions we do it all again! It was stunning from the top, and I was very proud to have got there – given that as a child I couldn’t walk up a small flight of stairs without an inhaler.
I want to thank all the guys that helped me get there and to each hotel (David Bennett and others) and get back (Ryanair), and all those who sponsored my ride.
And finally to make the point – no matter where you are there will always be people who will benefit from the work we do at IDBS to help provide greater understanding of disease and, more importantly, better treatments as a result. I’m walking (or rather cycling) proof!