The pain running down through the back of my leg is hard to describe. Kinda like a trapped nerve or being crushed by something large. Tense, try to relax, try not to scream! It’s hard to hold down, yet difficult to ignore. Difficult? No, impossible. I’m “being stretched” by my physio and he’s a strong guy who takes no nonsense: just the type of person I need to work with. So I breathe in deep and try not to tense, it is all for a purpose, I try to think of something else: how did I end up here?
It’s fair to say that I’ve spent the year near-invisible. A brief step into the light to collect my UK MTB Hall of Fame trophy before slipping out the door quietly and disappearing from bike world. Gone. More or less forgotten, the way that racers are just as soon as the next crop of hopefuls make their mark and repeat the cycle.
It’s been interesting to disappear, almost enjoyable, comfortable, inevitable? I don’t think so, more a matter of choice and internal interest: nothing quite feels right. The energy has gone, the hunger subsided and the near-addiction to training has (almost) passed. Mostly though everything just needed a rest, reboot and potential to rebuild.
20 years of pushing myself in cycle didn’t come straight from zero. Before that came skateboarding, cross-country running and an athletic propensity combined with an unabashed competitive nature and desire (unacknowledged at the time) to push to, and beyond, my limits. The past 25-30 years have literally scared my body.
When I broke my arm skateboarding some of the reaction came as a surprise – too old to be skating, should know better, what was he thinking – all comments, mostly second-hand I heard banded about. In my life though, one I’ve dedicated to the pursuit of sporting achievement and athletic endeavour, nothing comes without occasionally crossing the line and coming unstuck. I have too many trophies to display, too many memories to forget, and too many thank-you emails from athletes I’ve helped to another level to believe it’s any other way.
And for every success there are at least as many failures or mishaps to mirror them. Just take the breaks: left ankle, right foot, right ankle, left wrist (twice) right collarbone (twice) both thumbs, two other bones in my left hand, left elbow, too many ribs to keep count, cheek bone and nose! It’s quite a list for non-contact sport and an athlete who prides himself on playing it safe more often than not. And that’s just the bones. Imagine the scars – the run across, but mostly through, my body, joints and between everything else that’s been torn or broken. Even the mind cannot escape unharmed when you push so hard that everything in one moment hinges only on success in that moment.
So I’ve gone from cycling, for now at least, and the skating was a perfect remedy for two decades of training. Regime: binds me, made me, destroys me. It was time for a spot of mental rehab and the arm was worth the cost. It gave me a new focus and a fresh positive environment to rebuild some passion. The arm took that away, but from the ashes I re-found cross-country running and again learnt what it feels like to really try, not just be 20 years good at a sport, but really try and sweat and bleed. Turn myself inside out just to get through the session.
But running, ah running… and that competitive nature? Yeah I’m broken again. Well not again, just found out, you see: I’m 40 years old, I’ve done nothing but push myself my entire adult life, and the scars just run through everything. A crossroads for me, a point of no-return: fix it or lose it. No decision to make. I’ve stepped out, but it’s nothing permanent, it’s the point in a big-hit race when the letters DNF take on new meaning: no longer Did Not Finish, we move to Did Nothing Fatal. And that’s me right now, right back at the start, the foundation, no excuses, no ego, nothing to prove. Just the desire to do it all again, in whatever sport or discipline I fancy, refuse to be stopped or broken by time and my ageing body. Repair, rebuild, rinse, repeat.
The pain running down through the back of my leg is hard to describe. Kinda like a trapped nerve or being crushed by something large. Tense, try to relax, try not to scream!