Long-distance riding offers more time for reflection than any other discipline in the sport. ‘The Distance Diaries’ is a series of journals penned anonymously by a randonneur and this, the first in the series, is a revealing and personal tale of the obsession behind distance.
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Caught up in the focus of preparation, then the high of competition – the comedown of normality is embarrassing. Months on from the ride and the reality of what this experience has cost me is apparent. The effort and the exhaustion has triggered a series of pending injuries – a bulging mass of scar tissue on my knee, persistent hamstring tendonitis, a back riddled with knots and hips that won’t bend. All of which has made cycling unbearable at any intensity and the pain refuses to dissipate despite rest, physio and a string of alternative therapies. I’ve become distanced from the sport I love and the people in it. The isolation plays games with my perspective whilst the pendulum of motivation and confidence continually sways.
Cycling is the barrier between myself and my destructive perfectionism. I continually need a project to focus on and refine – it hypnotises and medicates my busy mind. Drip-fed on exhaustion, suspended in a state of survival, there’s no energy for anxiety or useless self-doubt here. It’s a beautiful place to be and I’ve come to depend on it. Purpose frames all things positively. Every difficulty is an opportunity to become stronger, all downtime is rebranded as rest periods, income is sponsorship, and friends and family are my support team. The greatest fear attached to injury and immobility is to lose that purpose, that optimistic tint to the world. Without it I fear I will turn on myself.
I have the eternal itch of someone with something to prove. Despite my injury I must keep showing myself that I’m strong. There’s a desperation and momentum to continue putting pressure on the pedals, to push up against the inflammation on a daily basis. I belong to a community founded on movement yet without my speed I can’t possibly keep up. After months of wasted time I’m learning that injury is the greatest catalyst for honesty. To practice suffering for it’s own sake is nothing but torture.
I know I can’t go on hurting myself, I accept I’ll keep making mistakes, but I am trying to let go – of the pain, the progress. My plans, my patience, my hidden expectations. My identity as nothing if not a cyclist. My white noise static.
Amidst the letting go there is something to be enjoyed in appreciating things for what they once were. Training weekends revert back to time to spend with my partner, exercise of all kinds is fun with a refreshing novelty, while my job becomes a career that I can engage with. But most importantly my support team of friends, family, colleagues and mentors are unveiled as a collection of beautifully unique and colourful characters, each with their own challenges and triumphs that I have an opportunity to play a part in. I’ve done these things for myself and I’m proud of my achievements. But if asked when the last time was that I had a meaningful impact on someone else’s life – I wouldn’t be able to answer.
The ‘letting go’ needs to encompass the ‘giving back’, the repaying of social debts owed long since my dad lent me his bike for my first race season. Friends that I’ve barely seen since I picked up cycling, those who are too slow or disinterested, while I’m too focused to pass up on training. Those who aren’t bad people just because they’re not great athletes. My brother’s surgeries, my best friend’s depression, my parent’s retirement. These are people that deserve my time and attention. I’m awake now and I’m sorry. I’ve been dreaming for so long, of everything and nothing, of a place where I was happy and confident in myself. Please know I’m thankful and I miss you. I look forward to seeing you again.