Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Business time, and time to reflect on the journey so far

As I write, I’m sitting on a TGV from Paris bound for Nantes.  My team-mate, Stu Lowe is up ahead in the first carriage, while I’m on the very last row of the train.  The countryside is passing by at about 300km/h, an order of magnitude greater than the speed we’re likely to cover much of the next 3350km.

I’ve just been farewelled by my parents and daughters – we were lucky enough to be able to share a typically French dinner together last night – though I hope to see them again after the team and I complete our first or second stage.

On the face of it, we’re at the business end of the trip – the main event; the thing we’ve all been preparing for; the route of the toughest and most prestigious bike race there is.

At the risk of jinxing myself, after the last few months, I’m really looking forward to the simplicity of jumping on my bike and riding all day, in the heat, and on some of the most beautiful roads the world has to offer.  Yes, it will be tough, but we’ve trained well, and all with the goal of making this next bit easier.

It has been fascinating for me to dip back into my diary from 2013, the only other time I’ve ridden here in France.  I was struck by how positive my experience was, but also by how well I managed it (oh, and how much coke I drank!!!).

Despite that, I decided eight months ago, when I signed on to this trip, to go all in, and not rest on those laurels in any way.  That meant fully committing to Hayden’s training and nutritional plans.  As is my nature, I’ve stressed about every session that I haven’t followed to the letter, while (in)conveniently overlooking the ones that I nailed, or even blew out of the water.

Historically, I’ve been a 10-12 hour a week kinda guy – short commute rides aside, I’ve only really been able to spare that amount of time before putting pressure on my work and/or home lives.  Physically, my body laps up more time on the bike, but the loss of time available for other things has generally been, on balance, too costly.

The training for this trip has averaged 15-20 hours per week, and that has been but one of the extra commitments I’ve made.  Two other aspects have been just as significant, and they have at times been just as time consuming.


The first of these was fundraising for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.  I’ve done most of what I planned, and most of what I did do, exceeded my wildest expectations in terms of its success.

We’d been told to try to raise $3000 each, but after my first brainstorm session, I ambitiously set myself a target of $5000.  While I’d thought it would be tough to meet, the Hill Climb Series raised about three-times as much as I thought it would, and by the time the parking-garage-criterium at the North City Shopping Centre was done and dusted, I’d had to revise the target to $10,000.  Next cab off the rank in a full-on month, was my Virtual Everest attempt on the Victoria University campus - it tipped me over the lofty $10k mark, and that in turn triggered an unexpected act of generosity.

The Everest pulled in almost $4000, though a third of that went to the Victoria University Student Hardship Fund

Early in the fundraising effort, I’d had a very vague offer of help from a couple who were close friends of my brother (and friends of our family as a result).  I’d let them know of my plans then, and had from time to time sent them updates.  While fascinated to know what they intended, I didn’t for a moment expect to hear “we see you’ve reached your $10,000 target, and we’d like to match it”.

That incredible act of generosity brought with it a nice life lesson.  Go all in.  Even when things bear rewards which don’t appear to be commensurate with the efforts, this highlighted that at the time, you cannot necessarily know what the true rewards will be.

My thanks go not only to the Hoku Foundation for their incredible gift, but also to the many individuals who entered my events, or donated to show their support – had it not been for all of them being as generous as they were, the almost-$21,000 currently showing against my third and final target of $25,000 would have remained a pipe-dream.  Each and every one of us can regard our own part in it as perhaps being the tipping point.

As useful as all that money will be for MHFNZ, personally, it hasn’t felt like the most valuable part of this project.  This brings me to the final dimension – raising awareness about issues around mental health.

Talking about depression

I thought long and hard before asking my employer, Victoria University of Wellington, for financial support to be part of this trip.  The challenge was convincing myself I could offer something in return.

With some obvious exceptions, it can be very hard for us to judge our own talents.  Often, the things we each do really well are the things we have grown to find the very easiest, and from our own viewpoint, they become unremarkable.   (e.g., I now think nothing of riding my bike 200km or more in a day, and feel a greater sense of achievement I’ve been brave enough to make a phone-call I’ve been putting off.)

And so it is that talking about my own depression here on this blog, or more recently at work, or even on live National Radio (!!!!) has fallen into the “no big deal” category, from my perspective at least.  It is only through the response to it - from family, friends, colleagues or strangers – that I’m able to appreciate that this is the most useful thing I’ve been doing.

One aspect of this blog that I’ve always enjoyed, is that the process of writing has forced me to work out exactly what my content should be.  Just as I don't know how a blog will take shape until I start writing, talking about my own depression has given me some insights I’ve not previously had.

I spoke for 20 minutes at the University’s Health and Safety Committee, during which time I was asked “how do we know if someone in our team is depressed?”  I found myself pointing out that the nature of university work is such that it may not show up in productivity, and at the same moment realised that for years I’ve worked non-standard hours so to give the best time I’ve had to work, no matter when that might be.  My periods of lowest mood have always been on my own time.  On the one hand helpful, but on the other, catastrophic for my work-life balance.

The university, like society, is a complex and slow-moving environment.  But, there and beyond I really do sense a willingness to better understand and therefore confront the growing problem of poor mental health in our populace.  By supporting me on this trip, the university has empowered me to be part of that there, and by virtue of the university’s role in society, perhaps even to make a contribution beyond it.

The training, fundraising, and new work based around promoting the goals of the Mental Health Foundation have certainly taken their toll on my own mental health, and put pressure on those that are closest to me.  At times it has felt like an ordeal, and now it is time to step away from it all for a few weeks.

Life is about to become very simple:  eat, ride, eat, sleep.  I’m a big fan of making the training sufficiently hard that the main event seems almost easy.  While I don’t expect that to be the case here, I am confident that because of what’s been crammed into the last 6 months, the next one will at times feel like a real holiday.

On the days that the rest of the boys are flying, while my own legs are AWOL, I’m going to look around and explicitly acknowledge how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing.  Even when riding a bike is hard, it’s got nothing on adult life, and I get to be a kid for a while.

There are too many people to thank individually, but it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge a few who’ve made particular sacrifices to get me here:

  • Sarah, Khulan and Kaitlyn, for putting up with my distractedness, absenteeism, and self-indulgence.  I love you guys more than anything.  
  • The Vice-Chancellor, Provost, Vice-Provost (Academic) and Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Commerce at Victoria University of Wellington, for seeing the big picture, perhaps even more clearly than I could when I put this all to them.
  • Trish, Jude, Catherine and Marc:  the “JR Cycle Project Team” who’ve made the initiatives at work a reality, and have made sure I’ve been safe throughout.
  • Everyone who’s donated, liked, commented, given kudos or otherwise reached out with encouragement.  You’ve genuinely spurred me on through the hard times.

Time to hit the road...

A few hours after getting off the train - my first ride in France (2018), with team-mates Paul and Stu

* * * * * 

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.
To make a donation, visit  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.


  1. Allez, John! Much love and supportive vibes being sent your way from me and your many fans!

  2. Fantastic statement John a truer word has never been spoken. You have created your own special journey and allowed us to be along for the ride - what a privelege thank you so much. We will be thinking of you so much through the next few weeks as you experience this incredible ride, the challenges, the beauty and can’t wait to see you safely back once finished. Enjoy every special moment xxTrish