I turned 35 last week. This unwanted birthday coincided with a periodontal abscess, a round of tortuous self-interrogation about my lack of (ahem) job or even employment prospects, and inevitably pressing questions about when I was going to start a family. From my mother.
Mostly for me, my birthday brought home a pretty unfortunate biological truth of another kind – that one about peak fitness only lasting so long. Over the last few years, injuries and niggles have become more frequent, breaking up my training more and more. I get sick more often. I recover more slowly. I’m still exhilarated every time I jump on my bike, and I will always ride, but being able to scrape through an elite race? Well, those days are numbered.
I’ve always been, and still am, a very fortunate cyclist. I’ve had crashes and illnesses and injuries, sure, but none of them has ever been bad enough to keep me off the bike for long, or to make me alter my training or nutrition or routine. Until now. My birthday coincided with a long period off the bike – an illness and an injury (plus a wedding – my wedding) one after the other, and it’s all added up to most of December and January away from training or resting completely – right when I’ve been really galvanised and optimistic in my ability to reach some new goals, and right after I’d already had a three-week break to refresh at the end of 2015. I’ve learnt most of my important life lessons on the bike. This latest course has been in patience.
Time off hasn’t been ideal, but it has taught be that when I can’t train, I can still cope. My body doesn’t turn to mush overnight (in two months it didn’t noticeably change at all). I don’t lose my drive or my eccentric enthusiasm for training or competing, and I won’t necessarily lose all that much fitness. In a broader sense, I’ve learnt to be just a little more patient in other facets of my life – to chill out when things don’t go to plan. To worry less about ‘wasting time’ (like in line at the bank), to be more tolerant of setbacks – or at least to realise that any setback that isn’t major – is minor.
I’m annoyed that getting sick and injured might mean that the big goals I’d set myself for the first half of the year are a bit far-fetched, but I’m so glad to be back riding that they’re secondary to the pleasure of being healthy and fit. I’m sorry that I missed out on racing The Pioneer stage race in New Zealand with Mike, but I got some other great things done while I stayed home, obsessively performing physio exercises and hanging out with some great roadie friends.
If you want to read a bit more about patience, here are a few blogs I’ve read recently from other women in various cycling disciplines dealing with much bigger struggles and long-term recoveries:
Ride Like a Girl interview with Felicity Wardlaw on recovering from surgery to repair thickening in her common iliac artery.
Or a story from Velonews about MTB and CXer Georgia Gould’s struggles with fatigue and doubts.
Something most of these women have in common is that they’re edging into their mid-to-late-thirties, just like I am. It’s a pretty galvanising time for any elite athlete, but particularly, I think, for many women (and their mothers), for obvious biological reasons… So while I am writing about the virtues of patience, the message of this blog is actually the opposite: Don’t be too patient – don’t let patience dip into complacency. So many opportunities came up for me when I was in my early, mid- and late-twenties – opportunities I was too immature, or insecure, or just plain naïve to take. Opportunities I didn’t take because I thought they’d come up again. It is highly unlikely they will come up again. Something I don’t have in common with these women is that they made it to the top.
Put away your tissues! I think a bit of regret is healthy and we all put way too much energy into pretending we don’t have any.
But. I don’t care how old you are, things pan out differently for all of us and we all have different goals – if there’s something on the table that you might possibly be able to do but you’re too insecure or worried or logistically-challenged to imagine it happening, say yes now. Say yes and do it, before you find yourself with a periodontal abscess and an injury or some other wonderful impediment, like a family or a job.