Promoting the well-being benefits of cycling.


About 7 years ago at the age of 41, I suffered from a perforated bowel and almost died.


I survived, thanks to the Colorectal team at the Northern General Hospital and now live with a colostomy bag which saved my life.


Obviously this isn’t ideal and not what I would choose so, in the years since, I did become seriously depressed to the point of feeling suicidal at times.


About 18 months ago, I was as low as I ever got and thought about ending it all on a daily basis. I read a lot of self help books and articles online, some helped, some didn’t but it gradually began to dawn on me what I needed to do. I read an article called “Are Hunter Gatherers The Happiest Humans to Inhabit Earth?”


That was the start of my return to happiness. I realised I needed to change my lifestyle to that of a hunter gatherer, exercise myself, a bit like you would a dog, to earn my food and rest. I was really unfit and the operation had really made a mess of my body and didn’t really feel capable of getting fit, so, on a holiday in Spain.

I started off slowly, swimming as much as I could every day for a couple of weeks. Doing stretches in the pool and walking as much as I could. On my return from holiday, looking for different exercises I could do, I came across another article about something called Fartlek training. (Yes, it starts with Fart) this became a big source of amusement in our house. “Dad’s going farting” became one of the most used phrases of my kids. It’s a Swedish term that basically means “speed play” It is a form of interval training where you start out walking and vary your pace fast, slow, jogging, running a bit if you can and gradually you can build up until you are doing a worthwhile and effective amount of exercise. I did this for several weeks until I was capable of walking several miles at a reasonably fast pace, round Mayfield Valley, Houndkirk Moor and Redmires Dams.  


This affected my mood and I was starting to feel the fog of depression begging to lift.


I even gave up smoking after years and years of failed attempts and one day, noticed my old Giant hardtail mountain bike in the garden shed. I thought to myself, let’s take this up a notch. I started off cycling to Endcliffe Park and back, slowly at first but gradually increasing the pace and the distance until I could ride for up to 10 miles.  


By this time, my depression had started to fade and I loved the freedom and the feeling of being out in nature, seeing the world through fresh eyes. I started to search on Facebook for anything and everything to do with Mountain biking and I started to see how I was barely scratching the surface. I joined the Facebook group Coggers, run by Mini Mansell and one day, I plucked up the courage to go on a group ride event that he posted. I met Mini and several other guys at Rivelin Fire Station, one November evening and we started a ride which went through Rivelin Valley to the junction with Manchester Road, up Rails Road, along bridleways and up Wyming Brook all the way to Stanage Pole. At the time I can remember likening it to that scene in the film Lost Boys where Kiefer Sutherland show the others how to fly. We would be riding along, then all of a sudden, the other guys would just disappear of the edge of what seemed to me to be an almost vertical drop. I was too scared to follow but a few seconds later, I could hear them whooping with Joy, enjoying the adrenaline rush that I now know this type of activity brings. On the way back down to Rivelin Fire Station, I started to get a bit braver and tried to keep up with them a bit. I fell off a couple of times but wasn’t seriously injured and when we got back to the Fire station, 15 miles later, I was filled with joy for the first time in several years. I started to go on mountain bike rides as often as I could, mainly on my own but sometimes with Mini. We went on one on a Saturday morning from Hope, where I hired a Santa Cruz Nomad from 18 Bikes. This bike is an absolutely awesome full suspension enduro bike that can take on just about any terrain. We rode in places that I previously thought were unrideable round the hills near Castleton, over to Ladybower and down the Lockerbrook descent (google it).  


Mini really encouraged me to take some risks and they paid off!   The bike was so capable, I just couldn’t push it to anywhere near its limits and the feeling of excitement and achievement had me hooked. I heard about Ride Sheffield and how they had created the Lady Canning’s Mountain Bike Track. I started to ride up there as often as I could, slowly at first but I’ve now got to the stage where I can “get some air” as they say and I’m constantly looking to improve my times on Strava and my technique. This also introduces a competitive element to riding and I am always looking to catch up with and beat my friends and fellow group members segment times. In the months since, I have started to ride on an almost daily basis when possible, day or night and immersing myself in the local landscape and wildlife really has been life changing for me. I’ve ridden for 20 metres or so with a Stoat running at my side, chased Badgers, Hares and Rabbits and Squirrels though the darkness and even had an Owl flying almost at my shoulder.  


I’ve become an MIAS qualified ride leader and for some time I’ve been thinking of starting a guided ride to help friends or anyone really who has suffered depression. Recently, I saw a Facebook page called MTB for Mental Health which was doing a similar thing and I credit Katie Marlow for inspiring me to finally do this.  


If you are interested in joining me on a ride, feel free to join the page. I will organise an easy going beginner friendly ride early in the new year. You don’t really need much to start, just a reasonable quality mountain bike, a water bottle, helmet and gloves. One way to get into this slowly, if you are really unfit is to borrow, if you can or hire/buy an electric mountain bike. You can then start with the bike on full power and gradually reduce it as you become fitter. Thanks again to Mini and Katie for inspiring me to do this and I hope to hear from anyone and everyone soon.