From Mindfulness to Mind-the-Pothole

By George

It sounds disingenuous now, but I wasn’t that sure about the cycling. I preferred to run.

It was more about the shared cause, the challenge and the promise of legendary ribbons of mountain road, daubed with the names of greats, and about scenery which would leave you slack-jawed with its drama.

Pereysourde
Col de Pereysourde from www.thecolcollective.com

I’ve been told, this is my “why”, something I have to keep close, in the forefront of my mind during the inevitable ups and (first world) downs of training, and there have been many already. The focus that flows from a slightly obsessive nature has meant that the threat of injury is an ever-present worry, particularly being in the throes of middle-aged bodily breakdown or resurgence (depending on my mood). When you’re very intent on achieving a particular goal and you’re not sure your body can actually achieve it, there is a sense of pressure.

In February a prolapsed disc in my neck left me unable to lift up my left arm properly, dependent on a plethora of pain killers and in the frame for an operation. Fortunately the indoor trainer enabled me to train to a limited degree inside, without having to lean forward and absorb countless jolts from the road; this kept me sane. It was a huge relief to slowly recover with the knowledge I would not (phew!) be needing spinal surgery. I know others have had to overcome a great many physical barriers (including a deal of pain) to continue training, something the Instagram photos of smiling cyclists won’t chronicle. This is where you have to find what motivates you; all the training plans in the world, FTP workout thingummies, intervals and sweet-spot whatnots count for nothing if you don’t enjoy yourself or garner some kind of satisfaction. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the momentum going with a busy family life, illness, and just making sure everyone’s got clean clothes and eating proper food.

It’s a bit simpler once you’re on the bike.

Generally, if I start getting negative (grumpy) on a ride, it will usually have something to do with food, or lack thereof. It really is quite a challenge to stuff enough carb down one’s cake-hole, particularly when you’re working hard and your mouth is about as moist as a Saharan cave, it can be a real effort to chew and swallow food of any kind. This for me is a work in progress, homemade food is definitely preferable but it’s a faff. How easy is it to pick up a prepackaged bar, with helpfully listed carb content? Compact and calorie dense, they’re easy to slip into a cycling pocket, but OMG by the end of a five hour ride you really want to spit their sickly, chewy contents all over the road. However, I never get tired of jelly babies (berry mix only) but I’m nBerryMixot sure how good for me it would be to ride the whole of the Pyrenees powered by cubes of gummy sugar. One of our party swears by pasties for cycling fodder… not sure about that, but I’m going to have to eat proper food at every possible break and maybe drink my carbs as well, though it’s not that nice.

Somehow it’s all got to become second nature, a reflex, somehow I’ve got to get to the point where I can just ride and look around me and absorb some of the landscape I’m passing through, otherwise what is the point of riding through a magnificent mountain range? Am I displaying my naivety in thinking this might be possible while grinding/slogging slowly up a 15% gradient? Bear with me here, but when I was running, periodically (ok, when my heart wasn’t actually trying to break out of my chest) I used to experience a sense of almost total unselfconsciousness and a timelessness which I found refreshing and rejuvenating; all unhelpful associations with past and future put on hold. Could this be possible on a bike?

I have to admit, achieving any sort of mindful state is somewhat hard on a road bike where you’re scanning the way ahead for potholes, gravel, kamikaze pheasants and, sadly, dead wildlife, or watching for infrequent but potentially deadly traffic. Tractors pull out and cars might put you in the hedge or else become paralysed by fear, unable to overtake for what seems like ages. Stalkers, I call them. Even pedestrians sometimes just walk out without looking; I nearly mowed down some bespectacled old lady who hovered around a blind corner right on a junction, she was a lucky not to become a macabre new ornament on my handlebars.

Gradually, though, like a learner driver, I’m having to concentrate less and less to do the same things and gradually, I’m able to appreciate more and more of what’s going on around me, almost like I’m on a chairlift, touring around Hampshire (only with an inexplicable pain in my legs). My eyes are drawn to the horizon and patchwork of primary school colours, to the dramatic lines of perspective wrought by fences or hedges, the edge of one field to another, all punctuated by ancient churches, pre-raphaelite chalk streams and livestock. Then someone shouts “car rear!” and your focus comes back to the road, the lycra clad bum riding in front of you and squashing yourself into the verge to let that car pass safely.

river meon

Ok, mindfulness is a long way off, or at least reserved for a quiet mountain pass somewhere, but there are other compensations. For example, the tummy swoop of childish joy at flying down a massive spring hillside through a confetti of cherry blossom, like Bert with Mary Poppins on their fairground horses, all with the stirring notes of “England’s green and pleasant land” hovering on one’s lips…

Yes, I think I’m a bit more convinced about this whole cycling thing.

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