Having a bit of a moment. No blogging for ages then two at once. Sort of. Forgive my laxity of late.
January and February felt a bit tough going. I had a few slumps and at one point felt miserable enough to seriously consider going back on anti-depressants again after a break of two years. Twice weekly turbo sessions and park runs kept my physical fitness up and helped to split the period into manageable chunks – for the most part. I tried to get a ride of 35-ish miles in on Sundays too, though ‘allowed’ myself the odd weekend off. A dear friend of mine who’d been away for a while arrived back in London in January – their company had been missed and I was cheered by being able to catch up again. But the short days were a struggle, and the grey cloudy days were a struggle. I found myself searching for every little sign that spring was on the way and I even felt something akin to relief when the daffodils and snowdrops emerged from slumber. Then the crocuses.
I’ve not been hibernating though, despite the occasional urge to do just that (I’m sure many of you are all too familiar with that feeling).
Back in January I was invited by Club Peloton to speak at their evening event in Surrey Quays – discussion around cycling, mental health, and the workplace. Evidence shows that those who cycle to work are generally more productive, happier, more energised, than people who don’t. They’re also healthier both physically and mentally, take fewer sick days. It’s worth a company providing for those staff who cycle – secure parking, bike to work scheme, showers etc. It all benefits the workplace in the long run. I was on a panel of three, alongside Rachel Morris and other guy – we inhabit different cycling worlds and it was interesting to discover our differing opinions on certain subjects, as well as our similarities.
I managed to fit in a week away at the end of March (something to look forward to!) in Southern Spain, staying with the lovely Anna Glowinski. Anna went through some very tough times last year with fibromyalgia which, at one point, made her so ill she was considering how to live her life beyond cycling. We had some great chats about managing your mental health or not when you can’t do the activity you love so much and which is such a huge part of your life. My own wellbeing was very much boosted by a week in warmer (if not exactly hot) climes and the sheer bliss of being able to ride day after day in a amazing landscape without having to consider the daily grind of work and usual responsibilities.
A week after that was the London Bike Show and Danielle of Casquette had asked me whether I’d take part in a panel discussion with Molly Weaver and Josie Perry around cycling and depression. I was glad to participate and the whole Casquette Live stage at LBS was great; engaged audiences, wide variety of topics, and a chance to chat to many other amazing cycling women. Again, we on the panel approached our subject from differing angles and were able to complement each other – Josie as a sports psychologist, Molly as a pro rider, and me as an experienced rider and mental health worker.
I’ve been talking, too, to Bella Velo, the SW London-based women’s cycling network regarding an upcoming evening panel discussion on cycling and mental health which takes place on Thursday. (Links in the previous blog post).
I’ve mentioned in the past about trying to find alternative ways to benefit from riding when I have become disillusioned with my riding. For a while I wasn’t fit enough to find any satisfaction in racing and even training rides with my club felt too much of a push. I ended up riding alone so as not to compare my fitness unfavourably with that of my friends. I did feel a bit unsatisfied with my cycling for a while until a spell of sick leave led to joining a gym and, for the first time out of choice, undertaking Some Running. There were other factors too but taking up other exercise helped me get my fitness back. That I was signed off work was key – there’s no way I could have exercised the amount I did each week whilst working 9-5 and being stressed from work. After months slow slide into exhaustion I began to feel more emboldened – my confidence in the abilities of my own body gradually seeped back. I’d forgotten how long it can take for this to happen. As it did, however, I started trying new things or revisiting activities I’d participated in in the past. Aside from the riding I went dancing once. My dreams of Strictly are entirely imaginary though. I’m shit at formal and structured dancing. Still, I did it and that was WAY out of my comfort zone. I also nourished my mind and visited galleries and museums. I’ve always been a passionate advocate of feeding ones intellect, drinking up new knowledge with the thirst of a desert island castaway discovering a source of fresh water. As an aside, I’m currently taking part in a series of workshops at a local museum to help develop a wellbeing resource – so many possibilities here to get the old grey matter bogling. But I digress. I’ve rediscovered bmx-ing in the last 2-3 years, tried touring (I’m a late bloomer!), and played around on penny farthings, velocipedes, rovers, sociables, tall bikes, and more. I’m currently having pangs for some off-road too – tempted to find a cheap mtb that I can thrash a few trails on. The current N+1 situation is more like N+5; a penny, mbt, Brompton, gravel bike, BMX… Last Autumn I acquired a Velocino, which is ridiculous and fun. Perfect for marshalling the Tweed Run recently. My outfit was made by the wonderful Kat Jungnickel from Dashing Tweeds material.
If there is a tip of sorts to be taken from all this, I guess, it would be that if for any reason you find that you have fallen out of love with the specific riding that you are doing… try another type. Try riding without any set goals other than just to ride. The Countryside Appreciation Ride generally does the trick for me and especially around this time of the year. The recent warm weather in the South of England during Easter was a gift – I spent a significant part of it barrelling around Sussex, Surrey, and Kent ecstatically yelping at the glory of the bluebells. Once I even alarmed some walkers emerging from a woodland path with a yelled “AW WOW!” as I descended from the ridge down towards Pilgrims Way and Otford. I can see the headline now –
WHOOPING BLUEBELL DEATH CYCLIST MAULS INNOCENT HIKERS.
Anyway, it’s time to get down the BMX track again – a number of the London tracks have dedicated women only coached sessions and I attend one SE London regularly during the middle of the year. The ages range from early 20s to mid 50s. It’s a great workout, it’s social, and it’s fun. There’s an initiative from Access Sport called BMXercise aimed at getting women on the bike. It’s a bit different to some sessions out there but I can thoroughly recommend them. I’ve attended a couple at the Lee Valley VeloPark in East London. The Olympic track is definitely more technical than my local (though they have dropped the height of the start ramp since 2012!) but there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of learning to handle the lumps, bumps, and jumps that have been ridden on by the likes of Shanaze Read even if one can’t pretend to be as accomplished as her on 20″ wheels. I’m still excited I’ve properly learned to bunny hop… and have the scar to prove it.
What are your bikes plans for the summer? Do you have any particular goals set or is the joy of cycling in warm weather and not wearing ALL THE LAYERS enough of a plan to bring you joy?