So I get the VERY long train to Penzance tomorrow morning from Glasgow Central.
It won’t be a surprise to many to find out that I’m quite nervous. It’s the eve of the journey which has been a long time coming and has been the result of a big change in myself personally. I’ve struggled with depression in the past and found cycling has significantly helped with keeping me buoyant. It’s also stopped a strange stress related arrhythmia which got really bad during University; the human body is a peculiar thing.
When I first started cycling it was purely for transportation to University and back. A vague attempt to keep fit (though the journey from Pentonville Road to UCL in London wasn’t really enough to get me sweating) soon fell by the wayside as I got supremely lazy and … then my bike got stolen.
I finished my Masters degree and graduated and realised London was damn expensive to live in when you didn’t have a student loan. Even with multiple zero hour or part time contracts I wasn’t quite scraping the money together to pay for rent AND transport from Dalston so I moved out of London. To Harrow. Thus began a 26 mile round trip to work and back and led to me my first road bike.
Isn’t she pretty! And boy did I get fit. But it was still mainly just to get to work and back.
Time passed and I ended up in an accident with a police car during rush hour which shook my confidence greatly. It was genuinely an accident – I went over the bonnet as they turned across me from the opposite direction but a taxi was in the way so we couldn’t see each other. A low speed collision but I landed on my forehead and skidded, cracking my helmet and tearing my jersey but no other major damage.
Anywho, I got back on the bike and did my first 60 mile sponsored sportive (woo!) to make sure I found the enjoyment in cycling again. I don’t remember at what point I decided to take the great leap into multi day trips but I signed up to the British Heart Foundation’s London to Paris ride almost exactly a year before it was due to happen. That was precisely two years ago. One year ago this weekend I was cycling to Paris with the great support of my parents and succeeded in culminating a time much quicker than I’d anticipated.
The preparation for that trip was the first time I had to properly get my miles up. I was doing weekend rides of up to about 90 miles which tired me out but were doable. I discovered that I had a huge hurdle to overcome in this preparation – the enemy within. That little voice inside your head. Of course, I’m talking about our ordinary inner speech; I wasn’t ever battling any other mental illness other than depression. Even though I hadn’t suffered from depression seriously for a few years I still had the negative thoughts which came with it and lingered for a time afterwards.
When I was finding a ride particularly tough, or the head wind was too strong, or my legs felt heavy my inner voice would spiel off the usual “you can’t do this”, “you’re not good enough”, “just get a train back home”, “stop peddling” “you’re pathetic”. I remember one ride around Surrey, vaguely along the route towards Brighton, which had a relentless headwind. I stopped after about 20 miles to take an energy gel and texted my boyfriend that I hated headwinds. I was so angry at myself for being so pathetic and rubbish at this thing I’d been doing for a couple of years and that I felt like a fat lump of nothing for not being able to succeed. He texted back saying he’d just been out for a longer ride and was home already and I just got back on the bike and carried on. Because what was the point of stopping? It wasn’t going to do anything other than prove to that voice in my head that it was right. It wasn’t outside my capabilities, I was just finding a way over that wall which seemed too high to climb but with a step back to gain a new perspective it didn’t seem that high anymore. I wasn’t ever going to *really* stop and get on a train. I discovered my will to not let myself down is greater than that voice in my head.
After I completed my London to Paris ride I was very aware that I still had more in me. The saddle soreness was getting unbearable but my legs were shaky but OK. My immediate thought when finishing was “what next?”.
So in January 2015 I began planning my solo and unsupported attempt at LEJOG, which I’ll begin tomorrow. At the time I didn’t expect to be living in Glasgow when I was due to start, but that’s a whole other story for another time over a wine or G&T. I’ve had one very bad weekend in the training for this trip which saw a return of the old negative voice in my head. I wanted to do consecutive days of almost 100 miles so I planned a trip from my home in London to my parents’ home in east Kent. I learnt two huge lessons on logistics that weekend – pack light and plan your route extremely carefully. I did not do these two things well that weekend, though I took that knowledge forward into planning for what’s coming tomorrow. I can laugh it off now but on that second day when my bike was too heavy for me, the hills too long and the route too Sustrans-y I ended up crying 3 times on the side of the road and really struggling to NOT get on a train each time I passed a station.
But I bloody did it. I did the 90-something miles back to my home in London. It took 12 hours (5 of which were taken up trying to either cycle through deep mud on a Sustrans National Cycle Route, walk through deep mud on a Sustrans National Cycle Route, cycle down non existent bike paths or walking on the verge of extremely busy A roads using google maps when I’d given up with my Garmin mapping, or stopping for a break when it got too much). I’ve never cycled anywhere so slowly. But I didn’t give up.
That negative voice in my head stayed with me for a few weeks and I really struggled to get back on the bike properly. I eventually got back into form and resolutely concluded that longer distance cycling is so much about mentality. I knew this from those days before London to Paris but I’d never experienced such a deep low as I did on that ride back home.
Cycling has done such a marvellous thing for me with this new attitude. It’s affected all parts of my life, particularly my working one. I don’t actually think I’d be living in Glasgow if it wasn’t for the way I now think. I think about things in terms of what I can do rather than what I can’t. I also never thought I’d speak in such clichés.
Ever since the bad cycle home I’ve remained pretty buoyant and positive about my abilities although the nerves are kicking in this evening. Genuinely the thing I’m worried about the most is the saddle soreness. I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have even just the opportunity to do this. I’m a woman in a full time job with annual leave and no major responsibilities holding me back. Even just feeling safe enough (particularly pertinent with the current shittiness going on in the other parts of the world) to travel as a solo woman across my country shows my level of privilege which I’ll never not appreciate. I’ll need all the support Twitter and Facebook can muster in the next two weeks even though it all really does come down to that little voice inside my head keeping my legs turning.