In 2014, I had a back operation. It was pretty shit for 8 weeks. My daily routine involved waking up (slowly and painfully), being dropped off by my mum to a local coffee shop and then building up from a 2 minute walk to a daring 30 minute walk. For someone who finds their energy in doing and being part of something, it was a constant struggle having to search for purpose elsewhere.
6 months later, I completed my first Rapha womens100. At the time, it felt like a momentous moment that finished (as wanky as it sounds) a personal journey. In hindsight, I now see that crossing the finish line was just the beginning. Over the two years since then, I’ve experienced a collection of moments on the bike that have shaped and formed the world around me.
Tomorrow is the 2016 Rapha womens100, which I'm riding with the same girls as 2014 (who are now my besties). I decided to look back at some of the moments since the operation and share those firsts with others who may be starting their own story in the saddle.
A STORY OF FIRSTS:
1. First chain gang:
After turning up to my first Rapha training ride on a Wednesday after work, I realised not only the physical speed you find from a chain gang but the adrenaline high which I instantly became addicted to. Don't be scared of group riding, embrace the safety (and speed) in numbers.
2. First 100 km:
When you ride further than you've ever ridden before, you realise the limitations you put on yourself. I thought I had explored outside my comfort zone but I really hadn't (I also learnt where Richmond was. I was still new to London and got dropped off by car because I was worried about adding on extra miles).
3. First time up Swains LANE (AN 18% HILL IN LONDON):
I met the pain cave. I thought I was doomed for life on a hill, but with repetition came a romance I was not expecting. There are no secrets or shortcuts (soz). You just learn that pain is part of the purpose.
4. First 100 miles:
Your first century will be a great teacher. For me - the importance of bringing your own savoury food as well as sweet. I’d never really brought anything substantial on a ride before, but look at me here... had a bagel and everything.
5. First London to Brighton:
Unfortunately the group I was with contained riders that were either way too fast or a lot slower, and I was nestled in the middle riding solo for 90% of the journey. Key takeaway: Choose your friends wisely and your riding partners even more wiser-ly.
6. First mid week miles:
Realising that riding doesn’t just have to be at the weekend. Here is where my morning obsession probably began.
7. First ever race:
I learnt that I wasn't very fast. And shouldn't be racing yet.
8. First time trial:
I learnt that I still wasn't very fast but if you want to give racing a go, this is a much better place to start compared to the former.
9. First POINT TO POINT RIDE:
There is a basic yet brilliant beauty that lies in a train journey back from a point to point ride. M&S is usually the saviour at train stations for a post ride picnic and G&T in a can (the wonder of said G&T could be featured many times in this story).
10. First time riding to Paris:
Riding without much sleep is tough, but it's a right of passage. Taking on different challenges will not only improve your riding and coping ability, but it'll make you a more empathetic cyclist who has great stories in the saddle.
11. First real attempt to ride with no hands:
I couldn't do it. To this day, still can’t. But if you want to, apparently 'no fear' is the key. I got a lot of fear.
12. First time riding away for a week with friends:
I fell in love immediately with the routine of waking up, having a shared breakfast and then rolling out with only one objective for the day: to ride. Simply, if you haven't been on a cycling holiday, change that.
13. First time doing ‘reps’:
So THIS is how you get better at hills. Doing more of them. Even when you don’t want to.
14. First time riding a mountain:
If you want to find your legs and a mental space that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere, ride mountains.
15. First crash:
Outside of realising I can be an absolute wuss, this was a learning curve that had repercussions for months. I learnt how quickly things can go tits up and it was a struggle to get over that.
16. First blog post:
Writing is cheap therapy. The start of my blog was the start of sharing moments with other like-minded people. It also allowed me to document often over-looked moments that we never take the time to take in or question.
17. First Condor:
There is a glory that can only be felt with a bike that actually fits. Don't wait two years like I did. Get a bike fit!
18. First DNTU (did not turn up):
Know that rides don't always go to plan however much you plan (and that's a lot for me).
19. First time saying yes to a ride out of my league:
It's easy to read motivational postcards that tell you to 'push yourself' or 'go outside of your comfort zone', but in reality it's really tough. I finally dropped the ego, the nerves and the excuses. Riding with a squad faster than me has genuinely been the biggest shift in mental and physical strength this year.
20. First time riding over 115 miles in one day:
The key learning here was watered down coke can perform miracles.
21. First official time trial:
Amateur sport holds a beauty that can’t be explained. Turning up and being part of something has more purpose than most of our day-to-day experiences. Give it a go.
22. First time riding 80 miles before work:
Break up routine. Novel coming from someone who loves routine.
23. First saddle pack / 240 mile trip:
There is so much empowerment and freedom hiding in a saddle pack. Don't be intimated by that packing life. Get your miniature shower gel and toothpaste at the ready and travel somewhere new.
Whether it’s your first 100km this weekend or not, embrace the uncertainties that every mile manifests. I had no idea I’d be looking back in two years time and getting emotional about these life defining moments (nor did I see them as life defining at the time). But that’s the beauty of cycling; most adults close the door on new experiences when they grow up - fear overrules and ‘grown up life admin’ receives priority. Cycling means that we can find the adrenaline and excitement we used to feel as kids when trying something for the first time (no matter how small).
Just swap the sweet shop for the coffee shop, the stabilisers for mud-guards and instead of asking ‘are we there yet?’, remind yourself that ‘this is just the beginning….’