This weekend marks my first time lining up for a road race since I stepped off the bike over a year ago.
I genuinely thought I’d never say that. I was reluctantly convinced not to call it a retirement in case I wanted to go back to racing in the future, but this felt unnecessary to me at the time. I was done. Physically and mentally I couldn’t see a future in which I was capable of racing again, let alone be as excited about the prospect as I am now.
I’ll have to concede that I was wrong, and that perhaps you should never say never.
It’s obviously been a roller-coaster year for me, and I’ve gone through pretty much every phase of being a cyclist, and every phase of definitely not being a cyclist. I would say it’s all gone past in a blur, but it’s actually felt like I’ve aged about ten years. I’ve found every part of it hard, and that includes this one.
The only phase of being a cyclist that I’ve not been through in the past year is the peak race-form phase. I’ve not got to that one yet. Partly because my targets this season aren’t until the summer, so now is not the time to be pinging fit, and partly because it’s a long long road back from the bottom.
One of the silver linings of this whole experience has been the ability to step back and see the mistakes I made first time around, the little things that took the joy out of racing for me. One was that I could never accept it not being perfect. Even if it was supposed to be a training race I would have to try and be there in top form. That’s unsustainable every way you look at it.
I also couldn’t switch off the part of me that cared what people thought about my performance, or the part of me that had decided what other people thought for them.
That’s changed now. This weekend is simply about getting comfortable being back in the wheels, experiencing the whole process of being a racer again, and enjoying it. If I cross the finish line having achieved that then this will have been a success.
I’ve chosen to keep the news of my first race pretty quiet so there wasn’t too much pressure on it, and also because I wanted it to be just mine for a while. I’ve found myself feeling quite emotional about it over the past week, and that’s taken me by surprise.
I expected to be nervous in the lead up, I expected to feel as though I wasn’t ready, and in all honesty I expected to dread my first time back in the bunch. In reality that’s not how I feel at all.
I was on my bike today and I looked back on how differently things could have turned out. Not in the way I once did, with sadness at everything that could have been, but with happiness and gratitude that my story didn’t end a long time ago.
This feels like day one of a new chapter, and it’s only right that it begins on a start line.
It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be beautifully imperfect.