Push, pull, push, pull, push, pull.
I said those two words to myself, over and over, for a total of 4.5 hours on Saturday morning, interspersed with bursts of Prince/Little Mix to keep things entertaining.
I cycled, as I have done for a number of weeks, from 7am (which is too early to be doing ANYTHING of a Saturday morning), until nearly midday, when I finally stopped turning the wheels over and used my legs for their much preferred option of walking on solid ground.
This is my current reality.
I’m in training again. Only this time, at this point, I very nearly, almost, sort of hate it.
Three years ago, I bought a bike on a whim. Two and a half years ago, I used that bike to cycle myself to Paris. Turns out the bike wasn’t really fit for purpose, and also I didn’t really know anything at all about cycling up until the day I set off to casually ride to another country.
I had, however, diligently spent the previous four months in the gym, making myself physically strong enough to get there. To survive the 200 miles and do it with a smile on my face. I gave up alcohol, any possibility of a relationship and my social life, but I relished every single minute of all that it entailed. It’s my greatest achievement to date, and was a huge personal journey that showed me how incredible the body is, and that I in fact could see something through if I put my mind to it, and that I didn’t need anyone else to make myself the happiest I’d ever been.
The challenge I’m currently training for makes Paris look like a breeze. Despite actually having a proper road bike this time, and despite even succumbing to bike cleats – which I still haven’t totally made friends with yet, despite having Ian by my side to do this one with me.
And despite it potentially being an incredible physical achievement… currently I just don’t really want to do it.
So why am I doing it? Because I said I would. Back in October, when it was all quite hilarious and far away and not that real (and I failed to notice the bit about the climbing). It was a more innocent time.
So what is this great burden you speak of, Jen, you poor, unfortunate soul?
<If you immediately sung that in the style of Ursula from The Little Mermaid, give yourself some kudos. You’re SO my kind of people>
In June, I’m attempting to cycle from one side of England to the other, climbing a total of half the height of Everest as I go. That’s 150 miles, and 4500 metres of climbing.
In. One. Day.
Now, my enthusiasm is just leaping off the page at this point, right? Or not, because there’s no room for it. Something else is busy taking over, something I’ve never experienced outside of girls who have great hair, and authors who are published.
Resentment. And it’s SO ugly.
Yes, it was my choice to sign up. And yes, I am such a passionate advocate of exercise, for emotional wellbeing as well as physical. And for gritting your teeth, sucking it up and getting the job done. Especially when that ‘job’ was something you voluntarily signed up for. Idiot.
But there is one precious, rare thing that this challenge is robbing me of, that at the moment I just cannot get past.
Blood sugars, sore backsides, cycle safety and physical capability aside, I am now spending at least six hours of my weekend training, and a whole load of my week thinking about training. Turning, turning, TURNING those wheels in order to go further, to climb higher, to last longer. Explosive moments, delicious swishy moments, lungs-are-on-fire moments – they’re all there, and some of those moments are incredible. But I simply have to get my bum in that saddle, long and often, if I’m going to stand a chance at this thing. It won’t do to pop out for a 30km ride, three times a week. It won’t do to turn up on the day and hope for the best. I have to rack up the miles. Serious, gruelling miles full of snatching highs and pronounced lows.
Here’s the heart of the thing: currently I have just two days in my week where I’m in the vicinity of my nearest and dearest. Last December I pulled myself away to take a job in Manchester, and I now head back to London on the weekend. That, like this challenge, was my choice. The challenge came first, when London was home, but then came the job which, in the grand scheme of things is much more important. And never the twain shall be friends.
My time, just like everybody else’s, is so precious. But it’s so stark, so clear, so tangible now. It’s physical and logistical and finite, as opposed to a concept that we’re constantly reminded we can’t quite grasp, or organise, or appreciate.
Is this post just a whinge? Maybe. It’s an articulation of personal thoughts at a given time, just like every other post I’ve written, which I continually hope someone, somewhere may relate to in some way.
So dedication and focus are being tested – the very essence of a challenge, and for that reason quitting is just not an option. It doesn’t help that I’m yet to complete a long ride without some sort of emotional drama – my insulin pump has repeatedly failed on me, there was the snow that means I still haven’t got full use of the nerves in one of my fingers. There were the crashes I had on the first ride out on my cleats that left my elbows and knees black and blue.
But then, of course, there are soaring highs. I’m putting on muscle by the kilo, and my body is yet again defying all expectation as I feel it move smoother, stronger, better with each session. Speeding down hills at 60km an hour after beastly climbs feels like you’re flying, and that’s not something many other people get to experience at 7am.
There is the elation I know I’m going to feel as we descend into Whitby at the end of June, tired and emotional and ecstatic, having cycled the distance and seen this thing through, wondering why I moaned so much about something so rewarding. There is also the pure joy that will come from hanging up my cleats for a little while when this is all over, and wholly reclaiming my weekends for much more inadvisable activities with my dear friends, like spending too much money on cheeseboards, and accidentally getting boozed on Sundays.
But is it going to be worth it? Yes, of course it will, whatever happens on that day, for the reasons above. I will show up, and I will crack on.
But am I going to be able to do it? To climb up (many) hills with gradients of 20% and more? To keep the wheels turning for 12 hours plus? To preserve my bum, knees and lady parts in the process? TO GET ACROSS THE WHOLE COUNTRY ON A PUSH BIKE!?
I have six weeks until I find out. Time will, inevitably, tell.