I began this year hungry but unable to get on my bike. An over-zealous festive period on the bike left me unable to ride for five frustrated, impatient weeks. I stretched, massaged and foam rolled by way back to recovery and, having learnt the hard way, have done everything I can to avoid it happening again.
Alex, with whom I've ridden many of my 10,000km this year, found himself in a similar position more recently. Here, in 10,000km.cc's second guest post, he charts the mixed emotions that his journey to recovery contained and his return to the road, which I was happy to enjoy with him.
It’s happened to many of the keen cyclists I know. One day you’re out there, enjoying every undulation of the road and the next you are physically unable to cycle.
Earlier this year I took part in Rapha’s Manchester to London ride, an incredibly challenging one day event that covered 350km of mind-blowing roads that took me southwards as I propelled myself down the spine of the country.
In preparation, many gratifying hours were spent in the saddle with friends Richard and Alex (also taking part in M2L) as we trained to cover this epic -- and to-date uncharted -- distance. One such weekend was the already covered London – Bournemouth – Oxford route, which saw us cover just shy of 400km in two days.
And what a weekend it was.
However, when Monday morning rolled around my feelings on it were rather different.
I awoke almost unable to walk, an excruciating pain in my left Achilles tendon making itself known as it shot up the back of my leg. Dumbfounded by its sudden onset (I had been completely unaware of it during the ride), I was frantically trying to cobble together reasons why it might have happened --Four months later, I’m still not entirely sure.
I rested up for the big event, praying for a speedy recovery. It wasn’t. A few hours into M2L the pain was back. I pushed through to the end but new I was going to be out for a while as a result.
Being unable to cycle (or run) left me feeling robbed, as though something had been taken away from me. I wasn’t quite myself. I was a little more introverted, a little more irritable and there certainly seemed to be less of a reason to get up early on a weekend morning -- which in itself was kind of depressing.
Sitting on the bus for 40 minutes each day, wishing the driver had accelerated a little harder to make the light, was significantly more frustrating than an inevitable cut up from an aggressive motorist. I deferred to daydreaming, drawing on memories of weaving through the slow-moving traffic on two wheels rather than being imprisoned on a steamy-windowed bus and ending up smelling of whatever the person next to me had decided was appropriate to eat in public.
On top of this I was getting sick of the tedium of nightly stretching, massaging and icing without any obvious reward. I felt compelled to get back out there.
An early Wednesday morning start saw me take the plunge and tentatively set out on my first ‘real’ ride since M2L in September. I had been commuting to work for the last few weeks, but a 6km through London’s traffic cannot be compared with the freedom of the open road.
Well, sort of open.
The city cyclists’ mecca that is Regents Park seemed a good place to start. Not too far from home with the ability to call it a day after any number of laps helped calm the trepidation.
A little nervous, I woke before my alarm. It was a crisp winter’s morning, the rain had subsided and there was a shimmer of sunlight behind the overcast skies; an almost perfect morning to be out on the road.
It was exhilarating being back in the saddle: chatting with friends; feeling the tears stream from my eyes on the faster (or windier) stretches; feeling my heart pound whilst struggling to keep up with the others on the park’s cloest thing to a hill (more of a slope -- I have been out of action for three months, remember).
My injury was in the back of my mind constantly. Was that a twinge? Am I pushing too hard?
I wasn’t and slowly relaxed, eventually able to take in the joy of the ride.
There were myriad groups of people out for a pre-work ride, enjoying putting in the distance either by churning up the base miles or simply getting from A to B. We even passed a father and daughter on a tandem.
The sense of camaraderie amongst the riders was magnified at our post-ride stop. That morning Workshop Coffee’s Marylebone Coffeebar felt more like a cycling café as we stacked our bike up against several others and were greeted by a group of lycra-wearing, cycle cap-clad cyclists warming their frozen hands over a cappuccino.
Post ride I was tired, hungry and thirsty and had lost most of the feeling in my feet.
But I was still beaming.
The enjoyment was perhaps in part due to the feeling of overcoming injury but mostly just from being back doing something I really enjoy and had missed immensely. I didn’t break any records or see anything I hadn’t seen before, but it still felt new and will certainly go down as one of the most memorable I’ve done.
Whatever was missing, I have taken it back. And this time, I’m keeping it.