With the days blurring into weeks and now months in this unending lockdown I, like everyone else, have been trying to fill the vacant days. One thing I have been enjoying is trawling through my old notebooks. Thoughts scribbled down in scattered ink, plans whispered in lost words and meeting notes never revisited; a time capsule of another life, bound in leather.
In one notepad I found a blog post that at the time I did not have the confidence to publish. These slapdash and jumbled together sentences were written on a train home from London back in September in my vain attempt to comprehend my swirling thoughts. But the fear and doubt in those words juxtapose so well with me finally attempting to learn something that most have done effortlessly since childhood.
It is from six months ago but may as well as be a lifetime ago:
September 21st 2019.
I hurriedly walked past the door three times before finally attempting to enter. As I got near to lacing my fingers around the handle an inner monologue full of doubt and hesitation crescendo-ed, withdrawing my hand from the handle. I hated myself in those timid, doubtful moments, self-loathing eroding my self-confidence. In the warm September heat, I free fell, regressing back to person I once was; unsure and insecure. The door was not to a hospital ward, interview or date. It was into a bike shop to buy a helmet. This shop meant facing a truth I have so often hidden from; that I cannot ride a bike.
This is something I’ve struggled to talk about in the past, buried it deep within. After finishing my first marathon and then every race after that, people would always ask me if triathlons were next. I would laugh it off with a thinly veiled excuse or joke, dodging the question entirely. When friends would suggest a weekend bike ride to the pub, I would flick through my mind to find a reason to not. I’ve had years of experience so it is not hard for me to find an excuse, to hide my insecurity through fear of judgement. I imagined ridicule coloured pity if they ever knew the truth.
I have spoken many times before about my avoidance of any form of exercise when I was a kid and that stretched to riding a bike. I can’t recall why I didn’t learn as a child, the past suppressed into insignificance, fuelled by embarrassment. By the time I was old enough to learn by myself I was overweight and far too self-conscious to ask for help so I never tried again. I became convinced that it was something I simply would never do. By avoiding it so much I developed a complex about it all and so I stayed in my comfort zone, suffocated by its safety. I’ve lived so much of my life in that comfort zone but running has made me realise that I flourish outside of my self constructed limits and I made it my motto to live a life that is worth talking about once I am gone. Living within limits will never create that life.
I used running to regain control of my life, gifting me physical and mental balance.
Running is pure, you have complete and unthinking control as your body knows what to do. Cycling has always had a level of fear to me because of that potential loss of control. In truth the idea of cycling terrifies me. My friends make jokes about the bike accidents they’ve had in the past and I feel that pit of fear within open like a great chasm. It lingers long after the conversation has moved on, a fog upon my ambition of ever learning.
I tell people to push themselves, to do what they can’t. It has been the tagline for this blog for years. I encourage people to use their fear as fuel but when it comes to riding a bike I am not practicing what I preach. I needed to do this, I had to do this.
Even with these words of self made motivation spun around my head I found myself still stood outside the shop, frozen in place through my own manifested fear. My hand was now awkwardly around the handle but I could not make the next step. With the shop assistant now glancing towards the strange man seemingly unable to open a door I turned and speedily walked away. I found the nearest coffeeshop, ordered a coffee the size of a small child and slumped down in a chair in a secluded corner, hiding in the safety of the familiar. Back in my comfort zone once more.
But the anger at my defeat ate away at me as I ate my way through the triple chocolate muffin that was destined to manifest an actual muffin top in me. But with the gentle rumble of conversation and background music I could not motivate myself to return to the scene of defeat. I did not want to let the old version of myself hold back who I should be anymore, I have had a lifetime of that already I told myself. So, in a move I am not particularly proud of; I put my headphones in and pretend to have call, vocally giving myself a pep talk. It made me sound, to those eavesdropping over their lattes, as if I was giving this poor soul on the other end of the line a rousing speech about making themselves proud about their actions, to do something that scares them in spite of the doubt throwing roadblocks. As the final bitter sips passed through my pursed lips I told myself that this fear is just a sign of something truly exciting manifesting. With that thought echoing in my head like a mantra, I slammed down my coffee like a man possessed, slightly terrifying the old lady sat next to me and made my way back to the bike shop. Fourth time’s a charm…
I wish could say that I walked in with newfound level of confidence, that AC/DC played and smoke filled the room. Instead, emulating Gollum, I lurked around the shop pretending I knew what I was doing. I feared the realisation and the ensuing ridicule. I felt the same way when I went into my first running shop to get some shoes, I felt like a fraud all over again.
This fear of discovery resulting in me sweating, not a light subtle perspiration but drug addict flop sweat. Knowing that I was visually sweating only made me more anxious, which lead to more sweat, and so on and so on. I pretended like I was just browsing the whole store, but I kept looping back to the selection of helmets. A sea of colours and mind-boggling prices with technology that sounded like it had come from NASA. My eyes would dart around a few before I felt an assistant’s eyes upon me and moved on to look at a sea of biking equipment that more like torture devices than fitness gear. It was during this that a member of staff came over and asked if I needed any help in a crackling voice like a boy going through puberty I replied with; “just browsing thanks”. Then after five minutes of surreptitiously trying on helmets while no one was looking, only catching my beard in the buckle three times, a second assistant came over. I bowed to the inevitable and admitted that I was clueless as to which one to pick. Turns out I have a massive head so none of the helmets I had tried on felt right not because I was clueless but because I was big headed; feels like a Buddhist parable that sentence.
A few awkward minutes later I was out of the shop; £60 poorer, my self-respect a bit bruised but crucially helmet in hand. Even though it was just a helmet it felt like a big step forward towards become a cyclist without even jumping on a bike because this was the first step I had ever taken in that direction. By buying that helmet I was removing an excuse as to why I couldn’t learn and creating the very first reason to do it. I now had a tangible reminder of a promise made; a vow to do what I can’t, no matter the fear that seeks to shackle. However, it would take 6 months and one pandemic later for me to actually try and get on a bike…