One woman & her bike
What better past time is there? Whether you start off with friends or you're looking for some quiet you'll never be alone for long as the cycling community is such a friendly one so you'll soon be greeted along the way!
When I first started riding it was for a challenge (and with a hope that my body would look like the one above!). I'd just dropped a day of work a week to allow some 'me' time and along came a bright spark with the idea that we should cycle to Paris. Approaching my 40's it seemed like a great idea and soon four of us had signed up, paid our challenge fees and committed to raising £2k each for the chosen charities.
The longest ride I'd ever done prior to this was 24 miles... once... 18 years earlier. How hard could it be? We had nearly 2 years to train - it was ages!
Two of us, keen to get started, went on our first practice ride. It was hideous. My bike was old, heavy and definitely needed some loving attention having spent a large part of its life outside. Of course the wind, and then the rain decided to make our maiden voyage so much harder than either of us needed. As we split to go to back to our respective homes we quietly reflected on the challenge ahead of us and barely managed a goodbye, just in case we vocalised our fears and made them bigger. We had a long way to go and neither of us felt our fitness was anywhere near where it needed to be.
What did we do to pick ourselves up? We went shopping! We didn't have a clue what we were looking at and heavily relied on the advice given by staff. It took 3 shops until we found someone who seemed to remotely care about our journey (physical & mental) and our fears of getting such a big purchase wrong.
There is so much to consider! None of us had ever had a road bike before - it felt utterly daunting. Would we be able to use clip-on shoes? I mean - what if you can't get your foot out? Carbon, steel, composite? How much difference would the weight make? How many gears did we need? I'd only ever used 3 before! If we spent a bit more would we really feel the difference, I mean it's not like we were professionals looking to shave off fractions of a second but we wanted to have every advantage to our disposal so that we stood a chance of completing the task in hand!
Ultimately we didn't want to be limited by our bikes and it seemed so difficult to find someone who appreciated our concerns and gave us due time and patience. I finally chose a Merida but felt this constant need to check my decision but she has been an absolute workhorse.
We nervously headed out on our first ride - which was a 50km sportive - on our new bikes with paddle gears, cleats an' all. At the start line someone in a group disappeared... flat on the floor. Literally there one minute and gone the next. Being the supportive friends that we are we all burst into hysterics, before checking that she was ok, then laughed some more before setting off across the start line.
It was a lovely sunny morning and we were all feeling optimistic... it felt good. Cyclists everywhere, finding their pace, smiling and chatting freely along the way. When I found an up-hill tough there was always someone who would be coming up behind you, ready with a word of encouragement.
Now, I don't mean to put anyone off cycling - and for context - I have always been a nervous cyclist (odd challenge right?!) and to this day I may be seen grunting up a hill and then possibly walking down the other side however on this occasion I was beginning to love it & look forward to my big ride. It was early spring with friends, the sun was shining on my back, the gears where intuitive and the cleats had posed no problem.
With my new found confidence I picked up some speed, chasing to keep up with my friends, I came across a tight turn... and froze. I didn't break, I didn't turn, I just went straight for a gap in the hedge planning the softest landing. I know it doesn't make sense but fear isn't logical. Thank goodness for my helmet as I hit an upturned concrete post and learned a valuable lesson.
I am pleased to say that I have now completed many rides without any further bumps and have joined cycling events or local cycling groups all over the place. Not only are they a great way to start the day but they always make you push yourself that little bit harder as the adrenaline (and maybe a little competitiveness) kicks in.
I may not have acquired the legs from above but my body shape has changed and I definitely have more tone but beyond the superficial, I feel better about myself and it even led me to starting running (an activity I had been put off many years earlier by the obligatory cross-country runs where the teacher would hunt you down in her car as you hid the bushes with your mates.
Some people like to ride out by themselves but I typically ride with friends. I enjoy the camaraderie, I need the encouragement and love having the time to take in the world around me.
The best bit? Well, maybe it is the lunch that is usually factored in 2/3's of the way round.
Not only is it a lovely day out with a good catch up but... we are secure in the knowledge that by the end of the day I stand the chance of still being in a calorie deficit!
Facing this new lockdown is going to be a challenge. Last time we got to enjoy the glorious long days of sunshine along with quiet roads that stretched for miles. In my opinion, the best way to beat your personal lockdown is through giving yourself time to offload the stresses and by building your health & immunity. I am going to dress up warm and invest in some waterproofs and give cycling by myself a try. I'll pack my flask of coffee and plan shorter, more powerful bursts that challenge my mind and body before heading home to my family and a hot bath.