For the past five years, cycling has been a massive part of my life: inspired by the London Paralympics to ‘give it a go’, it soon grew from a hobby into a sport and then an obsession. My dreams of competing at Rio may have ended prematurely, after a stint on the GB development squad, but my love of the sport – and the freedom, fitness (and cafe stops) it brought was relentless.
But cancer has robbed me of that enjoyment this year. I’ve simply been too ill and exhausted to ride. Sure, I’ve been on the indoor turbo trainer (watching my power numbers drop dramatically week-on-week) and I’ve pottered about with the kids on canal paths in-between chemo sessions, but I haven’t ventured out onto the roads because, frankly, I’ve been too scared.
You see, you need guts to ride a bike on the road. Especially when you’ve only got one leg and your balance is ‘off’. You need confidence and a dose of devil-may-care attitude to dodge the potholes and brave the drivers veering too close with a ‘punishment pass’. And having cancer has made me doubt myself in so many ways, including my ability on the bike. Being ill changes your mindset: instead of thinking, “Of course I won’t get knocked off my bike/it’s just a bit of rain/it’s not that windy”, you start worrying, “If anyone’s going to fall off it’ll be me/I could break my wrist again/an injury could jeopardise my treatment”. All of which explains why I’ve been trapped inside, sweating it out on the turbo, even as the sun shone outside.
But today, I went out for a ‘proper’ ride. I only managed 19 miles and I was absolutely knackered, and I didn’t get any Strava cups or PBs. I struggled up the hills and I fretted about my low average speed, but the sun was shining and the wind was in my face and the freewheeling downhill felt great. And I realised I need to stop comparing the condition I’m in now with the old me. It’s dispiriting to remember how 70-mile weekend rides felt easily achievable and power numbers were quadruple what they are now. And I know my fitness will soon be taking another hit, with fatigue-inducing radiotherapy.
But for now, there’s still joy to be found in a short and steady amble into the Yorkshire countryside, and new cafe stops to discover (see photo). So I’m turning off the Garmin and lifting my eyes to the road ahead. I’m starting again: Cycling Ground Zero.