The Race

When my husband caught Covid in December, the last thing I could think of was exercise, and yet, at the close of 2020, I’d managed an achievement that would have been unthinkable before. There’s still a part of my brain that isn’t sure how it happened either, just that it did. Without Dave, I’d have never cycled at all: a lot of my fitness inspiration has come from his deeds on a bike. He’s completed every Ride London since inception, after all. This year, despite that event’s cancellation, he managed a ridiculous number of miles before being laid up sick. There was then an understandable determination to finish the year with the Rapha #Festive500, a suitable single-finger to both sickness and the pandemic generally.

So, I decided to support him. Had there not been the option to participate virtually in an official capacity, I would have done the work regardless, on reflection. Looking at the opposition to this decision on the Official Strava page, an important realization was made. Lots of people believe that the only way you ‘win’ properly is their way, any deviation from a certain world view, a precise method of completing certain tasks is met with anger, disappointment and ultimately entitlement. It transpires that 2020 really was the year when lots of people grasped that their version of reality isn’t actually the whole truth, it’s just a facsimile. My decision to read more about philosophy in 2021 was a sound decision as a result.

However, we had to get there first.

The furthest I’ve ever cycled anywhere, regardless of static or normal bike, was the London to Southend route, which is 52 miles, so it was decided that at least one day would include 100 km (62.14 miles) to beat that. I’ve used Zwift since forever as my static training bike programme of choice, and so started there on Christmas Eve with a gentle 68 km. It’s odd how your self-image slowly begins to alter when every day starts with a challenge: for me, it has never just been the physical that’s held back progress. Having raised nearly £2000 for mental health charities over the last four years through various fundraisers, the understanding that mental toughness is as important as leg strength is not lost on me.

My mental health journey has been particularly tough this year: anxiety I thought was under control was crippling during March and April, and for the first time in probably a decade, depression returned with a vengeance. Exercise literally kept me capable of functioning as an adult, and without it, I shudder to think what kind of person I might have become. Static cycling, as a result, has become a vital part of my coping mechanism, and to those who think that 100 km on a bike in a garden shed is somehow less worthy or significant than being out on a road? You clearly aren’t living where I do, and you’re clearly far stronger than I am. Your validation, however, is not required to keep me moving forward.

Taking a grip on your newly-precieved goals is incredibly empowering. Understanding that your strength and power have improved, that doing this kind of exercise daily is possible and needs to become a constant, that the rest of your life can easily accommodate the changes… all of this has undoubtedly improved my personal outlook. Add to that the exhaustion of a week so full on during a period of traditional excess and… well, the Universe, my personal miniscule portion thereof has undoubtedly become a little brighter and more vital. Most significantly of all, the time to think without having to worry about traffic or weather or other people… some people don’t like to be left alone with their thoughts.

May I never, ever, become some people.

Building mental toughness as an athlete is a hard ask. Other people’s mantras become your own, digging deeper past fatigue and discomfort plus the general feeling of I just want to stay in bed brings benefits that… well, writing this for starters would have been impossible. I am not a fan of people’s lives being used as lifestyle choices, for starters. Over the years I have flirted with the idea of becoming that kind of person. Except, in the end, it is always apparent that there is no one, hard and fast answer. All the video and targetted social media content in the world didn’t change me. None of that inspirational stuff mattered at all.

It was the love for my husband and the need to help him feel better that did all this, and nothing more.

I grew tired over 2020 of the reality other people presented me. There were so many of them, and so much of the point to their significance was that I was the one in control, that power remained mine to wield and direct as it appeared fit to do so. Deep down, all of this is of course my doing. My strength and ability was never the issue here. I’ve not written all this as some kind of demonstration of how to achieve anything you want without effort, because that’s just rubbish. Doing this is really, really difficult, and it takes a phenomenal amount of emotional and physical energy to complete.

The reason why all of this is written down is twofold: I never properly thank my husband for what he does for me, how his strength and good humour has supported me and kept me sane. This therefore is for him, as proof his love and care has properly altered the person that I was into this new, better person. Most importantly, this is to the people who think anger and narrow-mindedness over what constitutes ‘proper’ exercise is the correct response when things change for the better. Without virtual exercise, and its proper recognition in the wider world of competitive sport, many people like me would have been lost this year, maybe for good.

Sometimes, it is about the journey, but occasionally having considered change at all is the real achievement.