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Tag Archives cycling

Where I gloat about how wonderful it feels to be able to run.

Running on the moors

…and, blessed as if a soul escaped from purgatory, I bounded, leaped, and flew down the steep road; then, quitting its windings, shot direct across the moor, rolling over banks, and wading through marshes…

-Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

I leapt across an icy puddle up on my moor this afternoon. The ground was frosty and hard, except in spots where dark mud oozed through and my trainers sank and the cold reached my feet and I thought ‘eww’. And I laughed.

Another such habit that I am reliant on is going outside. Not just walking between the house and the car, or hurrying along the street to get from the car park to the hairdressers, but being and enjoying being outside.

“I’m never doing this again,” I swore after the father dragged me up Snowdon as a rather unfit teenager. And yet, now I’ve taken responsibility for my body and I’m not so squidgy, walking is something I really enjoy doing. It’s bliss whether it’s giggles and chatter with a companion, the slow unravelling of life’s problems, or a quiet occasional exchange of peaceful thoughts. When I’m on my lonesome, where fellow walkers glance around expecting any moment to see a dog leaping through the heather there’s an undistracted, invaluable calm.

If I could go back and convince my younger self of anything, it would be that I need to use my hands, and I need to feel the sun on my face, or if not the sun, the bitter coldness of a fresh winter breeze, or the murky drizzle. My body doesn’t feel alive seated in front of a computer. It doesn’t matter how ergonomic the chair is, I’m still missing the joys of movement.

Swooping down the hills on my bike is the closest I know to being an eagle. It’s not so easy as walking. Initially, my body resists giving up its comfort. It’s understandable. We’ve got hills here. There’s also a haunting fear associated with being reliant on a piece of machinery which I don’t entirely understand. When I swoop down those hills I’m depending on the breaks to work. As the wheels spin faster, and gravity pulls me down, I’m praying that I’m not about to end up in a hedge. It’s a risk. Adrenaline. Fun.

And then there’s running. For me, cycling is the better sport, but it’s also the one I fear more. If I fall over running, I’ll have a grazed knee. I know I can manage a little disaster. I’ve run back to an apartment in a foreign town, 3km, with blood pouring out both my knees and been fine. However, if I come off my bike, the damage is likely to be more than just a grazed knee. If I get stuck on a run, I’m going to be a couple of miles from home at the most. On a bike ride, I’m hopefully going further. The risk is higher. I’ve still never managed to mend a puncture on the side of a road, or replace an inner-tube. And yet, to soar…

But running has its own delights. When you go running for the first time in a long while, or after a cold, or when you’re forcing yourself to go rather than wanting to go, it can be miserable. It can be more than miserable. It can be horrendous. You feel like you’re dying. However, for those days where you’re running and your breath isn’t wheezing or drowning out the rattle of your house keys, you feel powerful. That satisfaction of all the cogs in this great machine working together. I look alive.

Exercise makes me feel better – stronger – and it makes me feel more confident about my body. As sad as it may be, the truth is that for most of us, image and self-worth are intricately connected. It’s all too easy to develop a negative relationship with your body image. Which is another reason I like running and cycling. It’s hard not to like yourself when you can climb a steep hill on your bike, or when you glide past a couple walking their dog and they smile at you with respect for the efforts you’re extolling.

Even if I can’t see it in the mirror, I can feel how amazing my body is. With exercise, my confidence exists independent of the mirror’s reflection. This isn’t to say I’m not insecure about how I look, or at other times vain, or that I don’t love make-up, high heels and pretty clothes. I do. Applying make-up is painting on the most interesting canvas I own. But make-up can’t give me the belief in myself that pushing my heart can.

I know which one I value more.

For me, respect for my body isn’t simply theoretical, it’s a physical sensation that’s earnt through hard work. The more I see and feel what I can do, the more I realise that my ideal body isn’t an idea sold to me through a magazine or an advertising billboard. It’s a body that knows how to ache joyously.

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Without imagination, how can we achieve anything?

cycling

This isn’t about cycling, but…

Cycling has become interesting over the last few days. At one point, my cycling buddy pointed out, the section of hill I’d just come to the top of would have been coloured black on the Tour De France magic map. And black means steep. I was too exhausted to respond with anything remotely intelligent. My thighs were burning.

Not every hill has been a successful climb. Luckily on the rural roads there’s nobody who could hear me curse, loudly, as I struggled to push my bike up the last few metres of a particularly steep section in my cycling shoes. It’s like trying to walk with a pair of heels on back to front.

Côte de Goose Eye
A short and savage little 20% ramp, yes 20%, that will hopefully catch many by surprise. There will be those powerful riders who will eat it up like a ripe apple but the rest will grind to halt on its savage slopes that rise, twist right then left and will hopefully provide one of the highlights of the whole weekend.

Cycling Weekly

I’ve cycled most of Goose Eye, but ‘grinded’ to a halt not far from the top of the particularly steep initial ramp. However, by the first twist right I was climbing back on my bike with my determination to keep on going.

Jelly babies I adore you.

…imagination…

The other night, I watched the Imitation Game, the film about Bletchley Park which is a place I’ve visited a number of times and is held in a warm place in my heart because it reminds me of watching the father excitedly talking about valves and British genius and maths and logic and secrets. Such excitement is infectious.

The repeated quote in the film is:

“Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

Which is a beautiful way of saying that sometimes people surprise. Now I wouldn’t make any comparisons with people who are real cyclists or real geniuses, but the one person I can compare myself to is myself. A number of years ago, I remember having a big stress about a hill which was 0.8km, had 26 metres of elevation gain and an average gradient of 3%. This week I’ve done much more than that, much more than I could have imagined anyone imagining me doing.

However, I don’t believe The Imitation Game quote really works. I struggle to believe that if you are someone ‘who no one imagines anything of’, then you will ever gather enough self-belief to imagine much of yourself at all. If you can’t dream of having a success, how are you going to walk the path? Alan Turning had Christopher, Joan and presumably his mother, not to mention he was generally known to be incredibly intelligent from a very young age which inevitably results in academic support (even if he was a pain to teach).

I couldn’t cycle the route I’ve cycled without believing it might be possible. I’ve looked into a pair of eyes which taunted ‘you can do this’ and this made me believe.

Failing to imagine the possibilities of life keeps us grounded at the bottom of the hill looking down at our chubby thighs. Perhaps the step between the ego driven dream and the impossible ‘just do it’ is imagining ourselves actually pushing through the pain. It’s easy to laugh at our inadequacies; it’s harder to imagine that you could actually have success.

The friend, the colleague or the coach who believes is the catalyst. Maybe the biggest gift anyone can give to another is to believe in their potential.

…and belief

At the beginning of the week I considered Goose Eye, laughed and said no. Despite this, and despite failing to get up it, I believe I will climb that hill.

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Yorkshire. Home sweet home.

Yorkshire cowsCows graze in the field opposite. The grass they chew is brighter than I remember, as if someone had added a little extra yellow from the paint box. Unlike the neatly mowed lawn of the house, the field is uneven, scattered with thick tufts of dark green and clumps of light brown that catch the sunlight and almost look pink.

I stare for a while.

For me, there’s nothing ‘normal’ about this setting. The clouds mask the bright blue sky, with a brilliant white that makes the ceiling of the study in which I work look dull. Bright fuchsia foxgloves grow on the bank of the winding stream, choked by something my mother calls ‘bindy weed’. She has a names for all the weeds which in no way represent their Latin counterparts.

The house smells of freshly baked bread: rich wholegrain spelt flour and the sweetness of honey. It’s deceiving, if you go into the kitchen you might be disappointed to see it’s been me at work rather than my father who actually knows what he’s doing.

There’s a comfort that comes with this place. The house is full of furniture from my childhood. Black and white faces with my nose or my chin look at me from the original black and white wedding photos. My sister and I dominate the coloured photos:  me as a grinning toddler, grinning child, grinning teenager and grinning adult, all with a scrunched up nose. These things make it feel homely, but it’s also the land itself. I can’t say why. I don’t know exactly. I didn’t grow up here. The land is just the right colour.

Our Yorkshire hills aren’t huge, but there are a lot of them. They look down on the valleys and the reservoirs. The roads, with their bends and dips are the sort that bring a smile to your faces as you’re driving along. I often wish that I had tough, strong legs to peddle up the hills like the Tour de Yorkshire riders.

Except, actually got some pretty strong legs now. I sometimes forget how much I’ve changed. I use to detest going on long countryside walks. Some years ago I recall the misery of clambering ungainly up a hill in the Lake District, feeling that it was entirely unfair that I was incapable of enjoying myself as others bounded up the hills in front of me, chatting and laughing without whining for another rest. I was unfit, carrying more weight than I do now, and my unused muscles were in shock.

Today, things are different. Yesterday, I took my bike out and within minutes was heading uphill past a sign that said 17%. I focused on my breathing – a trick I learnt from meditation – dropped down to the lowest gear and told myself that as long as I made a good effort to get as far up the hill as I could then it would count as a reasonable first ride out. I could always cycle a little further the next time.

I had the rubber clips to put on my cycling shoes in the back pockets of my jersey for when I needed to walk. Yet I never needed to walk.

I kept climbing, went around the corner and glanced up and saw the top of the road. At the top I kept on cycling, turning left and heading further up. Up and up I climbed until eventually the road flattened out. I paused for a drink, for my banana and to look out over the stunning view across the valley which is now my home.

If you’d told me a few years ago my life would look like what it does now, I’d not have believed it was possible.

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Does it matter if I’m not mending my own bicycle?

bicycleThe boyfriend is outside mending my bike. His hands are black with grease; his white shorts will never be white again. It’s steady work, a mechanical hands-on fixing job. He holds the bike like the Italian chef tosses pizza dough.

The wire that goes from the handle bars to the gears is catching. I knew the bike wasn’t changing through the gears well. I didn’t know why, but he did. He knew how to fix it.

But I shouldn’t let him just get on and mend it, even if it is what he’d prefer. It’s my bike. I should take the time to learn, the time to really know how my bicycle, which I depend on, works.

Or maybe I shouldn’t. There are lots of things I’d like to be able to do. I’d love to play the violin. Of course the phrase of note is ‘to be able to’. On occasion I amuse myself by picking up the Midget’s violin. I’ll even play at it for a while, or at least until there’s discomfort in my fingertips. I enjoy it, but I don’t love it. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, I must get my hands on a violin. It’s the romantic notion of being able to play that calls to me. I’m no violinist, I’m no bicycle expert.

Why cycle at all?

Cycling is addictive. Starting out might be hell. In the early morning, when it’s bitterly cold and not quite light, why would I want to get out of bed and exhaust myself trying, and failing, to get up the hills. But when I’m on the road, when it’s quiet and there’s nothing but the smooth repetitive motion of my legs – feet clipped in moving as one with the bicycle – my mind can float, half focused on the road, and relax.

This is different to running. When I run I’m more attentive to how my feet strike the ground. When I run, it rarely feels smooth, and at a slower pace my mind is more aggressive. It has problems to solve and it’s going to make them known.

Tour de Yorkshire / FranceI have no great aims of being ‘a cyclist’. My challenge is to climb one specific hill. And, more importantly, to be healthy enough to keep my fitness from being a barrier. I cycle for the sake of my poor body, which spends its days slouched in an office chair craving motion like a coiled spring. I cycle because it makes me feel free.

My bike, my responsibility?

Mending the bike is my responsibility. It’s my bike and me who uses it.

I can either leave the boyfriend out in the sunshine, where he’s content tending to my bike, or I could go get in the way. I could go take responsibility for my own belongings, or I could accept that I have my own abilities and my own contributions to make.

He looks content in the garden. His mind is focused on the task at hand, and I know he wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t want to. If he felt I should be out there, if he felt I should be the one with greasy hands he’d say so, wouldn’t he?

[Yes, this lived in a drafts folder for far too long.]

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