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02 October 2012

I've Fallen in Love with Cycling - Please Send Lycra!

Cate Cycle
For my birthday this year, Iain bought me a bike.

I was at an event for work in the evening, and he came and met me at the venue, standing outside with a shiny new Specialized bike with a bell. And it was mine.

Before that night in May, I hadn’t been on a bicycle since I was about 15. I was wearing heeled Dr Martens but as we walked down the Mall, I couldn’t resist. I climbed on, and wobbled down the path, right across the NO CYCLING signs. I felt the rush of the warm, pre-summer air on my face – a feeling I hadn’t felt since childhood. This is what freedom feels like.

I was wobbly and in heels and it was dusk so I couldn’t see very well, but just doing a couple figure eights on a path where cycling wasn’t allowed to thrilled me to no end. Oh, the places we’d go, me and my bike.

The few weekends later, I had my new wire basket and the holders for my lights attached, and I was ready to ride.

Or, so I thought.

My euphoric introduction to my bike didn’t exactly match up to my first cycle.

Firstly, I’m now 27. My body has changed quite a lot since I was 15.

Secondly, in the UK you ride on the street. You don’t cycle along the massive sidewalks like I did in America. And on said UK streets, there are cars. And buses. And pedestrians crossing on their mobile phones. And other cyclists who think they’re Bradley Fucking Wiggins.

The leisurely cycle we embarked on was surely a Ride To My Untimely Death, and I was scared shitless. I was shaking, I was riding with my knees stick out, and I couldn’t cycle in a straight line.  I struggled with the gears, I didn’t understand how they worked (“Why are there gears on BOTH SIDES!? WHAT DO THEY MEAN???”).

I’m sure from Iain’s perspective, my birthday present started to seem like perhaps the not best idea.

I put off my next cycle like the plague. I blamed the weather, tiredness and working on the reasons why I didn’t want to go back out again…because I was scared. I was afraid that no matter what we did, I was just a horrible cyclist who was always going to be scared shitless by the Possibility Of My Untimely Death.

But then I was like, hey, self. Stop being such a fucking pussy.

Iain is a great cyclist and I knew he could give me advice and wouldn’t put me in harm’s way when we were out. So, we went on a couple of cycles and I had a good time, but other than puttering to Kingston and then maybe eventually to visit family that lived nearby, I didn’t expect to use my bike that often.

And then I saw Lizzie Armitstead win a silver medal. I saw her cycling like a machine through my streets – literally – the streets of Surrey near my house and places that I had cycled to. I saw her go through Richmond Park, where I used to walk through with Iain back when I first moved to Richmond.

 I saw her sprint to the finish line – on the Mall where I had first got on my new bike only two months before. She had pearl earrings and a sense of disbelief that she had done it -  not only win a silver medal, but Team GB’s first medal of the entire games. 

A thought went through my head: “Why can’t I do that?”

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Three days later, as I watched her fly by me during the Time Trial event, my own bike laying on the curb behind me, I knew.

I wanted to be a cyclist.

Now, I am 27. I’ve generally be unfit most of my life. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I realized that the gym was important. It was about 3 years ago that I finally tried running. It was one year ago when I found out that I had very weak and stiff hips and had a plethora of exercises and stretches I was meant to be doing to better those issues.

I had started attending spin classes a few months ago, but as my schedule is so ridiculous it’s hard to attend them religiously, so I usually end up going only once a week, if that.

And despite my low fitness level, despite my doctor telling me I’m overweight (yeah, really) and despite wild but perhaps naïve love of my bicycle… never before have I been so entranced by female athletes.

By the Olympic track cycling started, I was introduced to Victoria Pendleton. And then Laura Trott. And then Dani King and Jo Roswell, who grew up around the corner from where we live.  The legend that is Sarah Storey.

Never before in my life have female athletes inspired me more to be like them. Victoria Pendleton is 31 years old – she’s older than I am! How incredible that there’s a female athlete of her caliber that isn’t 15 years old! Their bodies are fit and beautiful from hours and years of training – not because they’re vain and want to look good in music videos or “just love clothes too much” to not be a sample size.

And, I have something that they do: a bicycle.

I can put on Lycra and my helmet and hop on Olivia Dunham (my bike's name, obviously) and with the wind on my face and the pavement disappearing underneath me, I am Victoria Pendleton on my bike. Sure, I’m barely breaking 20 MPH, but in my head I am flying around the Velodrome. I am Lizzie Armitstead climbing Box Hill.

This whimsical fantasy quickly wears off when I am climbing a small hill, panting, with my legs burning and moving slower than the 12-year-old boy who has just passed me.

But – the best part is – is that every time it is hard, every time I see club cyclists flying down the streets  near us, or I see a courier cyclist in London on a road bike gritting their teeth and pushing through the traffic, it makes me want to try harder. It makes me want to be better.

For the first time in my life, I have found a sport I am passionate about.

And I have a goal. A “happening in 19 days” goal:

I’m riding my first 40 kilometer Cycletta, in New Forest, on October 21st.

And then, after that, I want to ride a 80k Cycletta. And then I want to ride from London to Brighton. And then after that,  maybe to Paris.

That might seem like a huge ask to some, or very little to others, but being able to do 40k ride without dying – and having to train for it seems like such a marvelous achievement to me I get choked up thinking about it.

It’s going to take a lot – and as I’ve been training for three weeks, it already has.

You may not see me in Rio, but you’ll definitely see me on the streets of Surrey, pretending I’m Victoria Pendleton, having the race of my life. 

Next up: What it’s like to train for something when you’ve never trained for anything before in your entire life.

Both images courtesy of Iain.

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