There are occasions, in life, when you agree to take part in something that may be beyond the usual parameters of your day-to-day existence. Those occasions usually come at a time when you are most relaxed and at peace with the world, the sun is shining the beer is flowing. Climb a mountain 'sure', run a marathon 'no problem', cycle 100 miles 'no sweat'.
You agree because the event seems so far into the future that with casual arrogance you convince yourself that with training, diet, sleeping, meditation, a complete change in lifestyle you will be able to take on the challenge.
Then you wake up the next morning and think, 'not again'. Did I consider the consequences, has my ego got the better of me, did alcohol convince me I was an athlete? I had one of those moments, over a few beers, when a friend asked 'Do you fancy cycling 100 miles?'. This was early Spring, the event was the end of August, far enough away to be confident that, despite not be a regular acquaintance of exercise, I would be fit, able and willing to rise to the challenge.
The weeks and months passed and the realisation of a commitment unfolded. This was not a light Sunday excursion, this was one hundred miles in the saddle, and a very thin, hard saddle it is. This was also a commitment to a cause, a fundraiser and a chance to help improve the lives of others. We often get into these situations and take part in these events to recognise an innate altruism, to feel good about ourselves, to fulfill a sense of achievement and to become better, stronger human beings.
The chosen charity and the selected event give us the drive and purpose to be audacious. Our charity was the Rose Blossom Trust, a trust that supports sufferers of Dravet Syndrome, and their families. Dravet Syndrome is a neurodevelopment disorder beginning in infancy, characterised by intractable seizures. It is very rare and requires almost constant care. Cycling 100 miles is a mere token gesture to the friends and people who live with this condition everyday.
With a cause and a responsibility, the training began. The commute to work became a 13-mile cycle from Bolton to Manchester instead of the train. The sunny summer mornings were perfect conditions to get bike-fit. There was a test run event, Manchester to Blackpool, 65 miles in four and a half hours. I gradually became more prepared for the undertaking ahead. Something like this will focus the mind, help you to prepare, eat well, look after yourself, we all need a goal, a benchmark. I felt I had done enough to complete the journey.
Despite preparation, you can't predict being knocked off your bike three days before the event, lying in the road worrying about the consequences of being broadsided by a taxicab. So you pick yourself up, brush yourself down and pick the gravel out of your knees.
Then the day arrives, if you could you would have done more, but you didn't and it's here. Filling up on pasta and drinking plenty of water the day before may help, porridge may help on the day, but now you've just got to get out there and pedal. And we did, we pedalling for six and a half hours, with a few stops for traffic lights and re-hydration. The weather was kind, the motorists were tolerant and roads were mostly flat.
From Wythenshaw Park down through the Cheshire Plain and the muddy, moneyed lanes we rode. Hundreds of luminous, lycra, lidded participants, huffing and puffing striving and gliding from there and back again. Like runners in a marathon the psychology takes over to get you to the end, there's practice, there’s training, there’s fitness but when you are feeling tired, the energy has drained and the muscles and joints are screaming, it is willpower and brainpower that drives you to the line. We needed it, we were flagging, we were spent, we were chafing. At 85 miles it became willpower, just 15 miles to go, nearly there.
We stuck together, my friend and I, we helped each other along, we pushed each other to the line, and we crossed it together. It was done. The challenge was met, the fears were conquered and the cause was championed. We beat personal bests, broke through our parameters, and the coffers of our cause were boosted with over £900, generously donated, by work colleagues, friends and family.
To go beyond our comfort zone and to push ourselves that little bit further for a personal cause, a personal best, to raise the bar ever so slightly will always make it easier to achieve the next challenge with more confidence and vigor. To quote Albert Einstein, ‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving’.