I must be honest I’m not quite sure how I managed to find myself in a car park attaching a race number to my trusty steed, but Saturday saw me take part in my first ever cycling event. I say event as I don’t think the inaugural running of Clifcross was technically classed as a race but more an adventure event, but there was a start and finish line, timing chips and winners which sounds like a race to me. As I’ve mentioned previously this year I’m embarking on ProjectSnail whereby I look to have more fun on my bike, have new experiences, get fitter and try to increase my skills and confidence. In my head I’ve sort of got the idea that I might try and enter some cyclocross events next winter but after some cajoling from Emma Osenton and a patient recce of the route I took the plunge somewhat earlier than I’d have ever anticipated. Quite why I decided to have a crack at this I’m not totally sure because I knew that I was going to be totally and utterly outside my comfort zone but I guess that’s partly the point. As the quote below from Oliver Burkeman in one of his columns outlines it’s important to have new experiences, get outside and encounter new people and places – it’s these things that make us happy and I think brought me to the start line.
happiness has a mixture of causes; that it involves trial and error, and broadly chimes with common sense; that there isn’t a single secret or quick fix, waiting to be uncovered, and that looking for one might make you miserable. The advice is straightforward. Remember to be grateful. Spend your money on experiences, not objects. Volunteer. Nurture your relationships. Spend time in nature. Make sure you encounter new people and places. And never assume that you know what will make you happy. Some of this sounds like familiar folk wisdom, and some of it like a string of corny clichés. But it’s worth considering, surely, that this might be because it is true.
My kids have also been fantastically encouraging, turning my own advice to them back on me. I’m not in the least one of those pushy parents, instead my advice to them is simply to keep your eyes open for opportunties that you might enjoy that come along and if there is something that you think you might want to do it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at it have a go and if you enjoy it then that’s all that matters. This of course is exactly what they said to me when I mentioned I might enter an event but was a bit unsure about it all.
My unsureness increased when looking round all the athletes getting ready before the start and I do mean athletes I’m not sure there was an ounce of fat on the lot of them, unlike your good self built for comfort not speed. If felt really weird going through the signing on ritual and picking up my number, time chip and goody bag like I was some weird imposter and that any moment someone would say OK Ian jokes over, but no I was soon to find myself lining up and ready to roll. I knew that I’d finish last (that’s not defeatism just the reality of my abilities) and I was totally fine with that as for me this was a big test to see if I could get round and I knew that everyone would vanish away from me within the first few pedal strokes and I’d be spending several hours on my own. Knowing this is going to happen and having it actually happen are too different things. It’s hard not to feel utterly demoralised as everyone around you simply vanishes and you prepare yourself for a mental and physical battle with yourself for a few hours. I found the mental thing really interesting the way that sometimes my mind would wander and I’d lose concentration, other times on the tough climbs it was saying to me just get off and push Ian what are you doing but it would answer no I’m going to try my best and push as hard as I can. I did have to get off a couple of times but mostly I just pushed and pushed as hard as I could to get to the top.
With no one else around I tried to pick small steps or landmarks along the way to help me round and I found the directional arrows perfect for this as I focussed my attention on when are where the next arrow would appear and having a little smile each time I passed one (I did have a slight panic that I might be so slow the organisers might go round taking the arrows down before I got to them but fortunately that didn’t happen). Despite the difficulties I experienced I did spend a lot of time smiling as well (not least when a couple of children out with their dad clapped as I went past) not quite believing the surreal experience that I was finding myself in. The weather was also absolutely fantastic and I have to say I was so thankful that the hard winds of earlier in the week had died away otherwise the experience would have been fairly horrific I think. Strangley I did have a few niggles and pains as I went round that I could have done without, some lower back pain and very sore pins and needles in my feet. I could not undestand what was causing this and tried shifting things around as much as I could but not to any great avail.
I felt hugely sorry for one of the fancied riders who I came across having all sorts of techincal problems, he was running 4th but got a puncture on his tubular, had problems with his sealant, broke a valve borrowed a spare inner off another competitor which then punctured. I chugged past him a couple of times, offering to help but there was nothing I could do. First time I saw him he was just getting off and going again and the second time he had another competitor helping him. He had to abandon in the end I believe which must have been hugely frustrating for him.
Finally after 4 and a half hours I rode over the finish line, the lantern rouge comfortably mine by a huge margin but the round of applause I got will live long in the memory. I really couldn’t have put any more effort in and was immensley proud of myself but it I also have a huge new found respect for the people who do this sort of thing on a regular basis. Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird don’t judge a person till you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Well I’ll never be a racing athlete but I did a couple of yards in their shoes and am in awe of their ability. Finally thanks should go to all the people who put on the event, massive amount of work with a great pie at the finish line, cheers to you all.
The photos of me in action were taken by SportSunday and you can see the full gallery of the event here