After I completed London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) in August 2017 I felt lost without the goals or ambitions that previously motivated me. It’s widely published how good cycling is for your well-being and mental health but I didn’t feel proud of myself, I felt ashamed of what it took to finish that ride, the depths I had to go to and how long it took my body to recover. When my body finally felt well again my mind was floating in and out of the dark and I never celebrated my achievement. I wasn’t sure what sort of cyclist I’d become, I tried to ride for the enjoyment alone but I wasn’t putting in the same effort. I was the spark, igniting ideas of fun and adventure and encouraging others to come with me. My first school report said I was good at motivating others, it was recognised in me from an early age and cycling had highlighted this but I’d left that behind somewhere.
Last summer my friend Jen sent me a text with the details of a 6-week Cyclocross racing course. The course was run by the coaches at our local cycling club Team Milton Keynes. I had a cyclocross bike, I was riding it through winter and my enjoyment for cycling was coming back on the local trails but I didn’t have the skills, speed or fitness to race. I’ve been on some exciting adventures with my bike but I never considered myself a bike racer, this was something other cyclists did.
Cyclocross racing is heart-pumping stuff where you feel equally scared and exhilarated, it’s pushed me outside of my comfort zone to be braver and learn new skills. For all the fears I had about racing it’s helped me worry less and laugh more. When the whistle blows (to start the race) the bunch spreads out, no one really knows where you are, you just need the will to keep going for 40 hard minutes. You don’t have to win to enjoy a good race, we’re racing and enjoying friendly competition at the back too.
You don’t have to win to enjoy the friendly competition, we’re racing at the back too.
My dismount and remount over the hurdles is finally starting to come together after a year of practice but there will no doubt be a few more falls.
Savannah is racing too and this gives me a fascinating platform to parent from. We discuss our fears, failures and achievements and we can match them to everyday life happening around us. We set ourselves challenges and goals, it increases our resilience and most of all it makes us really happy, it’s so much fun.
Savannah enjoying all the lovely mudsplats in her first racing season at a very wet Hillingdon race. © Blue Shark Images
CCXL Round 1 – Savannah lining up on the start grid ready to race. © Blue Shark Images
CCXL Round 1 – Savannah’s pedal came off in the race, cheered on by the supporting crowd and against all odds she kept going, cycled a lap with one foot and finished the last lap running, she pushed her bike across the finish line to win. © Blue Shark Images
Savannah without a pedal and running to the finish line. © Blue Shark Images
There’s a wonderful community of volunteers giving up their time to make the races happen and encouraging others to get involved. From our cycling community, we have a group of women racing and together we motivate, congratulate and inspire each other to stick with it especially when it’s raining, scary and cold. There’s a really strong social connection with family and friends, we’re creating lifelong memories and friendships. Savannah’s playing outdoors with a sense of freedom and independence that I enjoyed as a child. She’s learning to deal with disappointment, be gracious in defeat and proud of her achievements.
At the end of the race there’s smiling faces, beer and Belgian frites.
At the end of our first racing season, I found myself wishing the spring and summer away so I could be back outside in a muddy field raising my heart rate, scaring myself and cheering for my friends. I’ve written this today on World Mental Health Day, I struggle and from those moments I find my sparkle.
Crossing the finish line at CCXL Round 3 Velobants record breaking women’s race with 165 women on the start grid – it was an amazing and unforgettable day.