In a break from my usual Dartmoor-related posts, I’ve decided to post about the cycling challenge I’ve set myself for the end of this year. This is the blogging equivalent of asking people to stick hot pins in their eyes, so if you’d rather skip straight to the sponsorship, my Mo Space is here. Thanks!
To me it doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or the sun. is shining or whatever. As long as I’m riding a bike, I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world.Mark Cavendish
This year I’ve managed to cycle 2,269km, cycling to work every day and doing an occasional ride to enjoy the glorious Devon countryside. This is a lot less than previous years. As a result, I’ve been feeling generally unhealthy and not as mentally strong as I usually am. Christmas is the time of year where I normally spend all my time relaxing, drinking and overeating, and I want to start the New Year feeling good rather than bloated.
So my plan is to tick the GPS over to 3,000km for the year, meaning I’ll have to ride 731km – Torquay to Berwick-upon-Tweed – in just three weeks. I don’t have an indoor trainer, so I’ll be doing it all out on the road or track. In December. And in Devon, where at every turn there’s another sodding hill. All while working, getting organised for Christmas, and generally having a bloody good time as outlined above. It definitely won’t be easy.
I set myself this challenge last week, while turning the pedals unenthusiastically in the twilight rain at the Velopark. I’m now five days into my challenge, and so far it’s going pretty well. I’ve managed to somehow squeeze in 212 of the 731 required kilometres, or about 30% of the total distance. If I was out on the road, I’d be somewhere near Cheltenham. I’m not sure if that fact makes me feel like I’ve done well, or reminds me that there’s an awful long way to go.
It’s fair to say conditions so far haven’t been ideal. I’ve fitted my rides around family time and work, and my spare time is usually first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I’ve never been great at getting up early in the morning – I actually quite like being up early, it’s just the motion of swinging legs out of bed that doesn’t sit well with me – but I have occasionally experienced the thrill of blue skies and clear air at 7am on a summer Sunday. It’s not quite the same in December, when 7am means cold, dark, often drizzle, and an urge to just go back to bed for a bit. On Sunday, I dressed in full waterproofs to slog out to Bovey Tracey and back in the morning drizzle. I left home in the dark, my grippy winter tyres and wet leaves on the track made progress painfully slow, and I cycled back from Newton into a sapping, drizzly headwind. It was horrible.
But there have been highlights, too. On that same ride, a kingfisher flew along in front of me for ten seconds or so, no doubt surprised to have company so early. Yesterday I made it to Berry Head just in time to see the rising sun vanish behind a cloud while the sky above Torquay blazed red. I’ve ridden at the Velopark on my own in the dark while tawny owls hunted rabbits around the perimeter. I feel stronger, fitter and happier, and every ride is a little easier than the last.
It does remind me that looking after yourself physically can have a big impact on your mental health, too. When I’m out on the bike and walking regularly, I feel good about myself. It gives me time and space to process work-life stresses and reset my mind. The hardest bit, especially in the context of a busy work and family life, can be to find time to do it. It’s much easier to find time to sit on the sofa and have one too many beers, then stay in bed a bit longer the next day. The problem there is that you never actually work the issues out, or find any kind of genuine peace with yourself. I often struggle the most when I feel like I’ve lost the time in my life to just be me. The last few days have given me a bit of that back.
I’ve often suffered from poor mental health, and this is one of the reasons I chose Movember as my charity. They also do a lot of work fighting cancers, diseases that affect so many of our lives. All of us will have a loved one or friend who becomes ill with cancer, even if we are lucky enough to avoid it ourselves. I don’t know what it must be like to go through it but for what it’s worth I offer all my love and support to anyone who is. It’s a terrible analogy, but you’ve just got to keep getting back on your bike, every day. Even when you throw back the curtains and everything is black outside. Even when your legs have gone and you’re miles from home. Even when the summit is out of sight. Keep pedalling, because you’re never riding alone. One day you’ll open the door to that crisp summers air, and your legs will be strong, and there’ll be a glorious beer garden at the top of the hill with your name on it.
Tomorrow is another day, and it looks like another wet and windy one. 519km to go. Wish me speed, strong legs, and let’s hope for at least a couple of dry sunny days between now and the New Year.
Finally, thank you so much to my awesome sponsors, without whom I’d have probably given up at some point on Sunday morning. If you’d like to increase my motivation to complete my challenge even further, please feel free to sponsor me via my Mo Space. Thank you!