I haven’t written much about cycling this year, and there are a number of reasons. The main one is that I allowed the stress and exhaustion of my horrible job to get on top of me, and have neglected to get out on the bike on weekdays – even when the evenings were long. So I’ve only really been out on the bike at the weekends, and even that I haven’t managed every weekend.
When I have been out, I have not enjoyed myself, and have even questioned why I’m doing it at all. I’ve complained on the Twitter a few times about the wind. It has been windy this year! It has. For example, at noon today, the wind speed around here was 25km/h – and so it has been, most of the times I’ve been out since April. Anything over 20 km/h, frankly, feels like something I don’t want to be in, especially in the negative frame of mind I’ve been in of late. Doesn’t matter that I’m on a loop: the wind direction always seem to be such that the wind feels like it’s against you all the way.
So I’ve not been out much, and when I have been out I’ve suffered. I can only think of one time when the legs felt better, stronger, than they had on the previous ride. There have been other positive signs, though. On my most recent ride, I encountered three other cyclists around my age. (I’m assuming their ages based on hair colour – all were greyer than me, but then I’m mousy and the grey doesn’t show much.) Usually, this means me being overtaken, severally, as I struggle up the slightest gradient. On this occasion, however, I managed to catch and overtake one of them – not because I was racing, but just by dint of my steady pace being slightly faster than his steady pace. I try to ride with the same level of effort all the way around, which also meant that when the second of these cyclists overtook me, I eventually caught up with him when he was resting at the side of the road, obviously having overcooked it.
I was aware he was probably going into the ‘old man red’ as it were, because when he did overtake me (and the other guy, the one I overtook too), his legs were spinning in a very low gear, comparative to the one I was in. He’d clearly put in an extra effort to overtake the two of us, but I saw him stop twice to let his legs recover, which is when I went past him.
The third guy also overtook me, and went off a hundred metres or so ahead, but then stayed at a more or less fixed distance in front of me. This was clearly another case of a guy putting in an effort to ‘breeze’ past and then having to dial it back a bit. Again, I wasn’t chasing, but I was being the tortoise to the hares. This last guy turned off the route I was on anyway, so we’ll never know if the tortoise would have caught him.
All of this stuff – this measuring of myself against other people – is not really me. I have never seen cycling as a social activity, and I have zero competitive spirit. Which is not to say that these guys are the same as I. Clearly, at least two of them saw a fellow cyclist ahead of them as a challenge to be met. This is the part of manhood I find depressing and boring. All that said, I am always in a battle against myself, my pathetic legs and my lack of stamina. The ultimate project here is simply to prolong my active life. Both of my parents became more and more immobile as they got older, and I don’t want to end up like them. So, yeah, it did mean something to me that I was out there on the road with other 50-somethings and able to sustain a reasonable pace – for an hour at least. I remain concerned at the lack of stamina. If I could manage two hours on the bike I’d be happier with myself, but that would probably mean dealing with the hip/back/foot pain problem all over again.
So I’m off to France, and the bike is coming with me. Last year, I reached a level of fitness before the summer that meant I was more ready for the mountains than I am at the moment. Then again, I have also felt in the past that I peaked too early in the summer, and struggled for the last couple of weeks in France. No danger of that this year.