It really is laughable how little I know about cycling – I’m not much more than an enthusiastic amateur driven by a desire to push my own limits. For me, every challenge has become an opportunity to learn something new – some things obvious, some not so much – and to get it more right next time.
I’m in the process of writing up how the Pure Three Peaks challenge went down, but in the inevitable gap before that happens I thought I’d write something a little more light-hearted. So following on from my previous Cycling, a list to end all lists, which I wrote on completion of my 9 day JOGLE challenge, I’ve come up with a further 10 things I’ve learnt as a result of the two challenges completed so far in 2018.
So here are the musings of a man who is just enjoying the learning process that has come from long distance cycling challenges;
Mornings really are the worst time of day – it’s when that 4am alarm goes off and you question whether you did actually sleep because, surely you only just put your head down on the pillow. It’s knowing that when you go to swing your legs out of the bed, legs that already have many miles in them, that it’s going to be painful and all those aches from the evening will have only going to have got worse. Despite the physical discomfort, the worst bit for me was how I suffered badly with sickness in the mornings – trying to squeeze food, coffee and packing the bike into 45 minutes before setting off really took its toll on my stomach.
Don’t waste your time – faffing around with your packing or looking at your Facebook / Twitter / Instagram feed will only serve to delay the inevitable start to the day. Take care not to fall down that rabbit hole as you’ll only pay for it later when your at the end of a long day and you’ve still got an hours cycling left. I’ve spent many hours getting grumpy and grunting to myself as I curse the faffing and the lost miles.
Research your route – properly…some bridges in life just can’t be crossed (particularly if you want to cycle across the Mersey). I took it for granted that I’d be able to cycle across the bridges over the Mersey River, Liverpool, because I’d checked that I wasn’t able to use the tunnels as a cyclist. I had no plan B and wasted a lot of time trying to make one up on the fly, resulting in a significant detour and extra mileage (and a load more getting grumpy and grunting to myself as I cursed my stupidity).
It’s not a race (unless it is actually a race, then…well…it’s a race) – what I’m trying to say here is don’t be a slave to a schedule or an itinerary, you’re probably cycling through somewhere quite beautiful and interesting – just don’t lose sight of where you are in the world. It is important to get your head up and enjoy the simple pleasure that is cycling through some of the best natural and man-made wonders the world has to offer, doing so will serve to lessen the pain and make it a more enjoyable experience. The 150 miles through Scotland will long be remembered as some of the best cycling I’ve had the pleasure of doing – rolling through Glencoe, down through the Highlands and along the banks of Loch Lomond just put a huge smile on my face.
Peanuts can be the hero or the villain of your cycling story – Salt can help maintain cardiovascular function and improve athletic performance, dusted around a nutritional superhero of a peanut you’ve got a winning combo to stave off the worst bonks. My hero…well that is until their throat-hole sized shape demonstrates their evil choking ways. Moral of this good vs evil story? Don’t eat nuts while cycling, stop to enjoy their salty goodness.
Always take two USB mains plugs – no amount of cables will charge your phone, your cycling computer, your watch and your power bank if you don’t have the means to connect to the national grid. This lack of access to electricity both annoyed me and meant that I was in a constant state of panic about either getting lost (due to my poor sense of direction) or that the effort would be logged on Strava (and therefore I wouldn’t have the proof of my effort). Huge amount of unnecessary worry for a few extra grams.
Devon is officially the hilliest place to cycle in England – genuinely its official according to geographers (see here). Hills, and therefore climbing, are inevitable and you have to learn to embrace rather than fight them. I just find the hills in Devon mildly offensive, the way they mockingly rise up and down sharply in a bruisingly consistent way (sorry to all you Devonians – it really is a beautiful County, and maybe my view is tainted by the fact that I always seem to at or near to the end of a challenge when I’m going through Devon).
Your bike doesn’t care about you – it doesn’t care if it’s raining or if your cold, it certainly doesn’t care if your cycling 200 miles or if your suffering after 2. But, it will give you back exactly what you put in to it, and as such you can make it fly. That feeling when it all clicks is something pretty magical, and I certainly found my own sweet spot on Day 1 of my Pure Three Peaks Challenge.
Sit your butt down – endurance cycling is just riding a bike…a lot…for a really long time. That said, when it comes down to it, it need be no more complicated than simply sticking your bum on the seat and turning the pedals with a smile on your face. There is a certain beauty in that simplicity.
If you can’t suffer, you can’t complete – Giving up is easy, these challenges take you to the dark recesses of your mind, where negativity, doubt and fear live. When you’re there, exhausted and alone, it is so easy to stop and say “I can’t do this”. If you don’t have a why – a reason that burns like a flame in your heart – then you simply cannot endure the pain and the suffering and come out the other side with a smile still on your face. It is the why that gets you up, it’s what drives you on. For me, having a why is more powerful and more effective than any training session you could ever do.
So there you have it, 10 things I wanted to share – none new, but all good points for me to remember. What would you add to the list?
Finally, on a serious note and back to the aforementioned why – there is nothing I could do to my body that will come even close to the challenge of living with a critical illness. I don’t know what that must be like either as patient or parent, but no child should have to suffer, or live a life of appointments and hospital wards, or be defined by an illness or a disability. In my heart, I just cannot bear that thought and that is why I believe in the magic that Make-A-Wish provide to those children. Make-A-Wish provide life changing wishes to children at a time when they need a little magic the most.
Make-A-Wish UK have a number of open wishes that you can sponsor today and help be a part of something that creates a lifetime of memories for a family and improves the life of a children with a life threatening condition. Please take a moment to find out more about these brave, inspiring and amazing children like;
George, living with the rare Batten Disease which is a form of childhood dementia, wishes to go tobogganing in Austria,
Grace, Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, who’s wish is to have a trike to explore the outdoors, and
Preye who lives with Sickle Cell Disease and wishes to go shopping in Paris.
So if I need to take a little discomfort for just a few days in order to support Make-A-Wish UK, so that they can make a difference to a child’s life then I will do it, time and time again.