One day my friend mentioned that he and some of his friends had come up with an idea to raise money for charity, (Yorkshire air ambulance) a challenge to cycle from Leeds to London in 24 hours. He asked me if I thought it would be hard for him and whether he should do it or not. I said it would be hard but so rewarding; I would love to do something like that. Little did I know… that last statement I made had officially signed me up for it!
I didn't have a road bike at the time and hadn’t been on one for over 20 years, so had to start thinking about buying one. I managed to get one in the end of season sale as the new year’s models were all out. Training started straight away and it completely took my mind off of ‘me’. Although it was still winter, I had a turbo trainer and started using Zwift about 3-4 times a week. I was also going out a few times on the MTB, which I love to do in the snow (I am strange I know) so started clocking up the miles on Strava.
It gave me something to aim for and definitely stopped me from being alone with my thoughts.
Before too long we were all doing online cycling it didn’t actually feel like training. Once the weather started to get warmer, I went out for a ride on my own... wow... so different from a MTB, it doesn't weigh anything!? I only went slow and still was worried that I would come off the bike at any given moment, Lycra and tarmac do not mix well! After a couple more short rides on my own I was away... the miles clocked up so easily on the road bike. I was cycling, I was free and nothing was going to stop me.
Then it was time for my first group ride, early one Saturday morning. The forecast was terrible, but I thought I need to get out and check my pace against the others riders (hoping I would be able to keep up).
It was throwing it down and about 2 degrees. I set off to meet up with the group and it turned out (about 15 miles in) that everyone had decided to give it a miss due to the bad weather! I carried on regardless following the route I had downloaded to my bolt. Another few miles and freezing, I could start to feel the water getting into my shoes. Still, I carried on, not sure why I was still going, there was just something in me that just wanted to be on my bike. This was the feeling, the change in me, the freedom of being out on the road and not being held back by my thoughts, I was smiling, I was living. As the rain was coming in sideways and was starting to sting my face, I had to start to think seriously now as I could not feel my toes, I decided that the 60+ mile route was not going to be achievable. So I turned back towards home and stopped at a cafe for a drink and to warm up. I spoke to my friend on the phone and he offered to pick me up, which was the best news. As I sat there warming up, I was thinking, it's not even 11am and I have cycled 32miles! I was proud of myself... and although I probably didn't realise it at the time, it was my healing process and much better than staying at home, alone with my thoughts.
Away from cycling I was having trouble sleeping and struggling to concentrate most of the time. I went to the doctor and I was diagnosed as having Depression. This was quite a shock to me as I had no idea. I realised that my life wasn’t what I planned and I was struggling with so many things. I was offered anti-depressants; however, after a short discussion with the doctor, we decided not to go down that route just yet as the training and all the cycling was making me feel great.
I started going to counselling to help me understand the things I was going through though. As the weather became warmer and spring arrived, I started getting more and more miles in, started doing a few 50-60 miles rides and they became easier and easier. My friend and I started going out every weekend, and when we went to Kettlewell for the first time it was magic.
The weather was glorious, not a cloud in the sky and once we got out past the towns, the roads were quiet and smooth(ish). It felt amazing to be out and not a bad thought in my head. I was happy.
Soon September came around and the big event. This was going to be hard. We set off at midday on Saturday hoping to reach London by midday the next day. We were off, the pace was good, the cyclists were a great group, we had a lot of banter and it was fun. Cycling through the night was tough, the mental awareness and concentration you need was a hard slog for hours on end. In the early hours we were all feeling it, we had cycled 180+ miles and we were all tired, even the banter stopped. The sun started to come up and it was like we were all just waking up, it gave us the lift we needed to complete the challenge. We arrived into London slightly earlier than planned having cycled 257 miles in just over 23 hours. What an achievement. However, this is when I started to feel down. I don’t know what it was exactly; maybe a mixture of emotions from completing such a big challenge, maybe the fact everyone from the ride had someone close, a loved one, a family member to greet them… I had no one. I felt so alone for the first time in months. The challenge was over, the target had been hit. The mental freedom that cycling gave me seemed to melt away in minutes. I really struggled to keep myself together, I wanted nothing more than to close myself away and just hide. Everyone was cheering and so happy. I was smiling on the outside, but in a world of pain on the inside. Soon after the ride had completed, the weather changed for the worst, I hadn’t been on the bike since. I felt the worst I had in ages. The run up to xmas had me… I thought I would just get through it, I thought it was just a phase, I would get past this. It would get better.
Then one Saturday morning, I couldn’t face the world. I stayed in bed all day. I had no reason to get up, nothing to make me feel like I was wanted. I have never ever felt so low. I couldn’t control the thoughts in my mind, I was scared by this as the thoughts made me feel a certain way. They were dark and not something I had ever had before. I had always been able to control my thoughts, now it felt like my mind wasn’t mine anymore. I eventually had to pull myself out of bed, and call at the supermarket to get a few bits. I have no idea what was about to happen. I still don’t know what triggered it but I had a complete mental breakdown in the supermarket.
This was something I wasn’t able to control. My mind was racing with a million thoughts at once and not one of them could I stop. I was there on my knees in the middle of an aisle, just sobbing. Security helped me to my feet and took me to sit down in a side room… I couldn’t speak. The words just wouldn’t come out of my mouth. It took me a good few minutes to come round as I had to stop them from calling an ambulance for me. I didn’t need that. I eventually calmed down enough to get myself home.
This was the worst day of my life! I booked myself back in at the doctors and I was seen straight away. I was prescribed anti-depressants and felt like this was the right decision as I wasn’t cycling anymore and needed help to get myself out of this. They seemed to work straight away, I could get a full night’s sleep for the first time in months. This made each day easier, I didn’t realise how much I was sleep I was missing.
I have now started training again, and although I haven’t set myself a challenge as yet. Spinning classes and the urge to get out on my bike are there. Let’s see what 2019 brings.