I wanted to use this post to pay homage to cycling. Before my stroke I was a keen amateur cyclist. I never even tried to do anything professionally because I was already nearly 40 when I got into it.
I was overweight and worked in London which meant long hours. It was difficult to see how I could fit exercise into my life. I started off riding a Boris Bike instead of taking the tube. The journey from my station (Waterloo) to my clients was only a couple of miles, but I did this for several years, really skinnied out, and got bitten by the bug. I didn’t use Boris Bikes for long before I started leaving my own bike in London. My own bike had only cost £100 ten years earlier, and had mostly gathered dust in my garage, but it handled far better than a Boris Bike. I used to ride from Monday to Friday, and on Fridays I would park the bike up and not see it again until Monday. This was way before I did any cycling whatever at home, but I began to miss my weekday rides and saved up for a bike to speed around the New Forest.
I shelled out for the first bike, and of course, with that came the lycra and the gadgets. i got one of those GPS bike computers, which meant I could spend hours looking at maps on my laptop, then upload my route to this device. It also recorded my position, speed etc. too. That was probably a bit anal, given that my ability was so limited, but whilst I could never “feel” improvements from ride-to-ride, I could certainly see them by looking at one ride, compared to, say, that same ride the year before. Over this period of time I also progressed from rides of a few miles, to rides of tens and even hundreds of miles.
Plus, as kind-of knock-ons from my cycling, I used to go to watch professional races, and when the money from my parents’ estate allowed me to take a career break, I even trained to be a bike mechanic.
But yeah, I think one of the best times I had was when I got the ferry over to France, and then cycled along the French coast, touring along the way, to one of the other ferry ports to come home. Alone, just me and the bike. All told, I cycled in lots of western Europe – France, of course, but also Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and even down in Spain. And in terms of watching, I visited several Tour de France stages, ranging from Brittany to the Pyrenees, and watching the climax on the Champs Elysees in between, and was a regular attendee of the Gent Six Days event (track cycling) over in Flanders. I really felt like I was going home, to watch that one, even learned some Flemish!
With the stroke, I’m no longer able to ride (yet) and don’t have the same level of interest in the professionals – it’s not as good when you can’t do it yourself. But actually, stroke life has several parallels with cycling life. In cycling, if you’re climbing a hill, you push yourself to keep going, until you reach the top, you can have a rest at the summit. You feel the lactic acid building up, and your muscles leave you in agony. But you have to keep going – you can stop, of course, but then the hill has defeated you – plus when you get some energy back, you just have to climb the rest of the hill then. So you try and discipline yourself to keep going. Stroke is much the same – you walk (doesn’t need to be a hill any more 😊), and you get tired and the lactic acid builds up in your legs. But you have to keep going, for all those same reasons. You grit your teeth and push yourself forward. You can stop in a moment – fifty more paces, then, if you can manage it, maybe fifty paces more? The secret is to make yourself run on empty, just like with cycling. And you’re that much slower and more laboured, but you get to places in the end. And whilst I don’t capture metrics to the same degree nowadays, I know I can walk a route and, over time, I get quicker – just looking at my wristwatch tells me as much. I mean, I suppose it must be the same with any sport that someone takes seriously – you build an attitude that says you will do something, despite your body (at least initially) tells you that it’s not possible. But you push yourself; you keep going.