Up here in the Northern Hemisphere, this off-season is the time for rest and repair. The body and bikes need some extra refurbishment. It’s fun fixing up the bike; buying new bits in the bike shop is easy. It’s not as much fun fixing up the body.
I’d been putting it off for months; the minor surgery that I knew would force me off the bike for two weeks. First it was put back due to me preparing for the season, then of course, it was put off by the season itself. I don’t race, but there were numerous big days planned and a weeklong pilgrimage to the Dolomites that wasn’t about to be scuppered. I determined that the best place to afford two weeks downtime was at the very start of November, ahead of my launching in to serious preparation for 2014.
And so it was that on November 1st I found myself under the knife. I’m not going to go in to details of the procedure, but suffice to say that Tom Boonen would empathise and I’m not talking about my elbow. I knew full well that riding was not going to be possible for those two weeks. Well, sods law often comes in to play when you least need it to and so it was with me. Two weeks after surgery and healing wasn’t happening. Infection had set in and the medical folks were prescribing antibiotics and telling me that “in these circumstances we recommend that there is no exercise contemplated for another month.” What? That would take me to mid-December at the earliest and they weren’t guaranteeing anything. At this point, I needed large applications of mental Rule #5 and regular talkings to by my coach as I was already having very bleak thoughts about a season being lost, which at forty-seven years of age, is not a good thing. There are far more seasons to look forward to at twenty-seven than at forty-seven!
Then came the hallelujah moment. The medication quickly started to kick-in and I started to see light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The day after I’d been incredibly fortunate enough to meet Sean Kelly, I determined to get on my turbo for the first time and spend no more than thirty minutes spinning at the lowest resistance that bastard machine could manage. The weirdest thing was, as I was dressing for the session, slipping in to bibshorts and jersey for the first time in a month, I felt as nervous as a kid on their first day at a new school. Maybe it was the weight of expectation I’d built up – this was either a restart or dead stop situation in my mind.
The session went well. Really well. Painful at times but nothing I couldn’t deal with. Over the next week I spent time on the turbo each day; pain subsiding, time gradually increasing. I started my core routine again; one set rather than three to take it easy.
Then the big day came, 6th December, five weeks since the procedure. I was going to get out on the road for the first time. The previous day we’d had serious storms in the UK but I awoke to calm weather, cold with clear blue skies in south east England. Regardless of it being winter I shaved my legs and donned my Flandrian Best of V Kit, gilet, cap under my helmet, arm and knee warmers and headed to the garage. I may have been about to do myself no good at all, but I was going to be sure to look good doing it. Again, that nervous feeling that is stupid after only five weeks kicked in.
I set off on a local loop, and suddenly found myself immersed in sensations that I can easily forget when I’m riding as normal. The sound of birds and the breeze, the smell of early winter; damp leaves at the side of the road, dewy verges, car fumes lingering on the air, the sound of my tires on tarmac, the sound of my breathing. They were all an affirmation of what was happening. I was on my bike, on the road, not in bad pain, turning the pedals very gently, training properly and smiling my face off! I only rode for an hour. I admit I was tired at the end of that. It’s very true about how quickly you can lose condition but equally true about building up gradually.
I haven’t written this as some kind of self-congratulatory text but as a nod to the wonderful process of coming back; of returning to cycling, to this that we love, of flushing away the dark demons that so easily creep in to our minds. I’ve made a start, nothing more than that. But I’ve made that start and there are endless roads and mountains to look forward to. For any of you either off the bike or knowing that you will be at some point in the future, try to think positive and look forward. It’s damn well worth it. Thank you cycling.