It’s Sunday morning and while sitting comfortably, I’m watching lastnight’s session from the European Athletics. Just finished is the women’s 5000m final and a mighty impressive run, following the 10,000m race earlier in the week, from Jo Pavey. Incase you didn’t know (unlikely) she’s 40. So once again I’m reminded that it’s never too late…
I’m also reminded, perhaps by the close up shots of gritting teeth, of those moments where your body is screaming ‘go on without me, I’m holding you back. Go on!’ As if it believes it really is separate from the thing that brought you here – your head.
And so to my journeys on the bike from this past week. My commute is 25km each way from the dry of my temporary home, to the dry of my office – Teddington (TW11) to Spitalfields (E1). In this last week, hurricane Bertha’s tail has been taking swipes at London, typically when I take to the saddle to leave my work day in the depths of the city. Now, one thing Ross might not quite realise about me and cycling is that I hate the rain. Hate it. It’s not the wet or even the cold – although both make me feel like death is imminent – it’s the slipping wheels, the wet carbon blocks that once behaved like breaks, and the fact that other road users behave like the apocalypse has arrived and they must make it home to watch their last episode of Coronation Street before the world as we know it, ends.
On Wednesday, within 5 minutes of me setting off, a beautiful, black, cumulonimbus cloud planted itself over head and deloaded. Along with the icy rain, wind struck from every direction. Forget head-wind, this was body-and-bike-wind. Not pleasant when you’re riding with wide wheel rims, believe me. 8k later, the storm had passed and I was able to return to my usual pace, and then some, to warm up again and get this journey over with.
However, my legs felt very odd. Sort of tingly and jelly-like. My arms too felt like that time Marty McFly’s body starts fading in that photo of him and his brother and sister when the course of history starts changing. My head was a little slow, a bit like that time I decided to cycle down the road after a few beers (I say ‘that time’…I mean ‘those times’) and everything looked like it didn’t quite belong. I realised that it was happening… All of the times I’ve talked about it happening to other people and joked about it with Ross, it was happening to me. This was my first bonk.
I refused to believe it for a while – I’m fit, strong and can cycle for hours on end, I told myself. But then I remembered that it had been 5 hours since I’d last eaten (Ross will know this is very unusual for me) and as well as my commute this morning, if been for a little jog at lunch too. So as the minutes passed, my legs continued to fade and every turn of the pedal felt like pushing weights in the gym with fatigued legs. My head felt lighter and lighter and every part of me was now tingling.
I didn’t quite reach the point where my life was flashing before me but I’ve never been so happy to see a costa. I dragged my sorry self and bike inside, gasped and pointed at a granola bar, scrambled for my debit card and shoved it into my mouth. The other patrons looked pretty bemused and in my head, I was communicating with them and letting them know that this was my first bonk, it was never going to be attractive.
As soon as my blood sugar returned to near-normal, I realised I still had another 13k to go. Bugger. I was cold, wet, a little traumatised and desperate for a hot bath. So here we have it; one of those moments where my body is willing me to go on without it. Great.
I turned my thoughts to our Bont Ride and reminded myself that there will be times during that 247mile journey that my body will feel this way. To this I thought, ‘just bloody make sure you’re not riding on an empty stomach’, and ‘you better invest in some good waterproofs’, and ‘this is great training’ and ‘stop being a wimp’. I got back on the saddle and slogged my way back, getting rained on just once more.
In the hot bath I reflected on my body’s protest and realised that actually, it’s not my body that was protesting, it was my head. As it registers that my body is suffering, it tries to convince me that my body can’t do it but actually, just like Jo Pavey and all of those other athletes, our bodies can do anything with the right fuel, practice and faith.
So here’s to the Bont Ride; rain, wind, bonks and mental challenges. Ross, this will be fun!