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Cycling & Pain – a package deal…
It takes something special to get into the mind-set of a genuine cyclist. Many cycle through utility – and that’s great. Honestly, I really love seeing the old guy on his way to the shops; working the Sturmey Archer 3 speed or the suited and booted commuter astride a Brompton on the way to the station. I have hope for the future of mankind when I see kids on bikes – enjoying them as we did when we were their age. But, for me, the real connection comes when I see another roadie – Lycra-clad, on the drops, heart in their mouth, pain etched into every line on their face, wishing that the suffering would end – but doing all that they can to prolong their torment.
For me, the transition to full-blown cyclist has been a life-changing event. You only have to read my Bio to know that this is true. But, it’s changed me in so many ways that I can’t describe. The one fundamental thing it has taught me though is to value that which is hardest won.
Let me give you an example. I’ve never been a natural hill climber but I knew that if I wanted to be a good cyclist – which I did as soon as I got my first roadie – then I would have to take on the hills and win. I could have backed out – resigning myself to a life on the ‘flat’ (well, I do live in Essex, hey!) Instead, I booked my first Sportive – the Kentish Killer. Although I only did the 50 miler, I did it weighing 40 kilos more than I do now, on a mountain bike – with a backpack full of tools, tubes, gels, maps, Sherpas – you name it, it was in there.
That race was my first Sportive and it nearly killed me. I rode hard, I suffered (badly in places). I quit on some hills and did the walk of shame – but I never gave up. And, from the moment I saw the “1KM to go” sign; I knew what this was all about. As I crossed the finish line (probably one of the last to finish) I may as well have been stepping on to the podium under the Champs Elyse!!! As my mate greeted me on the finish line, I felt pride, relief, elation, pain, exhaustion…..the list goes on. At that moment, I consider that I became a bona-fide cyclist. Since then I have pushed myself as hard as I can. I have improved incrementally and enjoyed every minute. But, for me, there is an added pleasure; I have helped others become addicted to this need for suffering.
A cyclist with a passion…
Anyone who knows me will know that I am a genuine enthusiast – passionate about cycling. I love what I do and want others to experience that too. Oddly, some of this enthusiasm rubbed off onto my long-suffering wife who, in the spring of 2012, decided that she would like a road bike. To be honest (perhaps brutally so) I always thought this would be a 5 minute wonder – another thing that I would be listing on eBay in a few months; how wrong could I have been! From the moment she stepped aboard her Trek Lexa, she adored it! I recall sitting at the café after our first roadie ride together and she said, “I love that bike – it’s so much fun”. From that moment, there was no stopping her and through the summer of 2012, she continued to hit milestone after milestone – her first half century (during the Essex Countryside Sportive), her first experience of drafting and riding in the wheels (in the same Sportive),London to Southend…..the list goes on.
Personally, I knew that she had the bug badly when she suggested that we get up at stupid-o-clock one bank holiday morning and go cycling. Right there, right then, I felt like the luckiest man alive – a 5:30 blast with my lovely missus under cobalt skies and glorious sunshine. Really, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Delaying the inevitable…
Throughout the summer, she fought with a shoulder problem. Cortisone injections provided a temporary fix but, by the winter, her consultant had concluded that surgery was the only way forwards. Reluctantly, she agreed and a date for her ‘op was set – mid January. Naturally, she had concerns about the operation – as we all would – and, high on the list of concerns was the fact that it would keep her off of her bike for several weeks – possibly months.
On the Saturday before she went into hospital, we went riding. I can still see her passing me as we approached Church Road and then gracefully going ‘aero’ on the drops for a balls-out descent to Lower Road; that’s my girl! Despite the weather, we had a great ride but, as she hung up her lid, there was a tinge of sadness about both of us – possibly her last ride for some considerable time.
A week later and the deed was done – the dressing and bruising little to show for having had the bony joint sawn out of your shoulder. She has always been feisty (part of the attraction, I guess) and she was determined that this would not set her back. She actually insisted that I go out for my Saturday ride (which I did) and then just got on with recovering as best she could.
On the mend…
By Thursday of last week, she had recovered enough to try a Spin class. Let’s be honest – a Spin Class is hard enough when you’re not in constant pain; but she did it. And it proved to her that she could probably try a ride on her beloved roadie.
On Saturday, we necked some porridge together, fettled the bikes, clipped in and struck out. To be honest, I was concerned but, in the early part of the ride, she was being brave and doing well. All the same, we shortened the route – this was about testing the shoulder; not breaking it!
Our route led out through Wakering and then swept back onto Southend Seafront – to take us home to Leigh on Sea. All through the ride, the wind was brutal and, as we turned on to the seafront, the horizontal flags, fluttering wildly at the end of their poles told us that this was going to be tough.
Into a constant 15 MPH headwind, she managed a 15 MPH average. If you ask me, that’s good going if you have two perfect shoulders; with one now partially destroyed and healing, it’s bloody incredible.
Being at sea level, there is only one way to get off of the seafront – upwards. There are two routes of choice; Pier Hill (10% - wind in you face – nasty) or Chalkwell Avenue (Average about 6% - kicking up to 9% - a longer ascent and not fun). Approaching Pier Hill I simply said, “Wanna try it?” She thought for a moment and said, “Let’s do it”.
Courage mon brave; courage…
Striking into the hill, I felt the need for a sprint. She said, “I’ll see you at the top”. Standing on the cranks, I put in one of my best times up that nasty little stretch up tarmac and then stopped to wait for her. I’ll be honest here – I was fully expecting to see her complete the hill on foot – pushing the bike up those last few brutal yards of the climb. So imagine how I felt as I saw her lid bobbing into view as she stood on the pedals and beat the hill. Honestly, I was like the proudest parent at the school sports day – there’s my girl; she’s a proper cyclist and she’s just done something super-human; fighting the pain: becoming stronger for it.
As she drew alongside me, her suffering was evident – she could barely speak and I respected that. We rode in silence for a while whilst she recovered.
Sitting outside our favourite café and refuelling with highly indulgent sausage rolls, I reflected on the ride. How many people would have done what she did this morning? How many people would have bit the bullet, taken the pain, climbed the hill and benefitted from it. That showed true guts – something that defines the spirit of the cyclist.
An effort like that deserves a reward beyond endorphins (which she undoubtedly got by the bucket load). On our way home, we stopped by Richardsons Cycles and picked up a little treat that should make hill climbing a lot more fun for her in summer (all will be revealed later). When we got home, she was in pieces – but buzzing from having got back out on her beloved road bike.
This pain is temporary…
And, there you have it – the reason that we all do this. Pain is temporary, but the rewards are long-lasting. Susan suffered terribly on that climb but the pain passed and she can now reflect on the personal victory. In a way, it’s a bit like my Benfleet 15 story – it’s about pushing yourself and your senses until you think you can take no more and then basking in the endorphin-enriched glow that follows and the knowledge that when the time came to dig deep, suffer and triumph, you did not back away.
As cyclists, we spend every weekend in pace lines and on hills with our hearts in our mouths. We suffer and in doing so we stimulate every sense and every emotion available to us. But, as I have said, pain is temporary – it is here and it is gone. What lasts though are the memories and the good that it has done you. The subtle art of suffering for your cycling makes you stronger both physically and mentally.
Ride, suffer and enjoy!