Day 4. “When my legs hurt, I say: ‘Shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do!’” Jens Voigt, German cyclist

It’s 2017, which means my triathlon training has begun. Properly begun, not just in my head begun, with me telling myself I will start training, with my imagining the day and how it will be, with crowds applauding me as I run energetically to the finish line, tanned, lean and fast. And most probably last. I’m not competitive. Yes, I’m actually doing it, training for real, doing some form of exercise every day and I love it. Many of you will squirm at the words exercise and love joined up in a frenzy of adoration. But I do love exercise. I love having exercised even more, especially as I reward myself with nutritious treats. With swimming and running coming along well, with 5k nailed and a freezing cold pool I haven’t actually jumped in since a charity swim in November – Crystal Palace pool, make your waters warm for me – cycling was the next thing to tackle.

With all that talk of a lovely friend lending me a MTB (remember what that stands for?), I decided that having my own bike would be best. Of course I have a wonderful wife who supports my every sporting need. She bought me a bike; she even cleared out the shed so I could store my bike (the bike shed was too far away, I’d need to drive there to get my bike). I went to the local bike shop, was measured for the right size frame, of course me being me, I’d done heaps of research into which bike I might like as an entry-level bike. I was shocked at how expensive some of them are, shiny and many geared, with all sorts of accessories available. And cycling clothes ARE SO EXPENSIVE. Anyone want to sponsor me? I’ll happily have your name embroidered on my lapel. The lovely men in the bike shop helped me and answered my many questions. I even signed up for a maintenance course, which saw me and three men try and imagine changing a burst inner tube. Isn’t there a cycling version of the AA to do that? When I went to collect my bike, I realised I had to cycle home, up a steep hill and in traffic. Terror struck. I was used to driving those roads in a car, not on two wheels with a bus chugging out fumes in my face and a racer boy desperate to overtake me without forcing me into a ditch. Four wheels have been my friends since I was seventeen. I’m usually the one who carefully overtakes cyclists, who raises my fists at those on two wheels going through red lights or down one-way streets the wrong way. It’s bad enough when swimmers overtake you in the slow lane, but now I had to get used to other cyclists overtaking me. I’m not competitive. Really, I’m not.

Before I walked my bike to the road, the nice men in the bike shop showed me everything, where the gears were, how to use them, they ensured my seat was the right height, we changed the pedals to ones without toe clips, mostly because the pedals that came with the bike were not very good. The man in the bike shop asked if I intended to get clipped-in pedals? No, I said, of course not, I’m happy with my trainers and regular pedals. What kind of a cyclist do you think I am? Ok, he said, and fitted my new pedals. While he did this, and attached my pump and lock, I looked around at the people in the bike shop, mostly men with big bellies and cling film Lycra and road shoes that tapped along the wooden shop floor. And one other middle-aged woman, who, like me, was nervous about having a first bike for many, MANY years. A kindred sprit, I suddenly felt I was not alone anymore in my cycling world.

The nice man in the bike shop gave me my bike and off I went, taking my time, aware that no one but me knew I was terrified. I don’t remember much about that short journey home, other than a roundabout, my arms trying to indicate (it’s so easy in a car) that I was about to veer around it, my brakes giving me the shock of my life and almost catapulting me over the handlebars (I wonder if anyone heard me scream), and the steep hill, which I bravely took like a pro (it’s so easy in a car), sweat dripping down my face, face red with blood pumping through my body, my heart ranging away. What was that I said about tanned, lean and fast?

I am now in love with my bike. My friend Lizzie thinks it needs a name. Her bike is called Robert. Any suggestions? I never thought any other bike could surpass the love I felt for my orange Chopper, when I was age 13, but this one is special. It has been in the shed for a few weeks because I won’t ride in the rain, I won’t ride in traffic and quite frankly, finding the time to fit in swimming, running, cycling, the gym, Pilates AND yoga AND work AND my mum AND my life, requires a PA to create a spreadsheet for me. But don’t worry, my wife has found me a lovely local route that will take me away from traffic, and last week we cycled from our beach hut to Reculver and back…on a fold up bike (NOT A BROMPTON) which is much harder because its wheels are smaller! It was hard but we did it. A little windburn is good for the soul. Those of you who think cycling shorts are stupid are SO WRONG. I love my padded pants.

I’d hate you to think I’m not cycling. I am. Several weeks ago I had a great idea. To get fit on a circuit I knew I could make every week, that would be open unless it was raining heavily or was too icy. Herne Hill velodrome, close to home, on a track, no traffic and lovely people and cost £5. It is the home of the 1948 Olympics. Thursday mornings are for the over-40s, and women’s easy riding. I did my induction course and off I went. Let’s just say that it’s not that easy, and there’s a big difference in energy levels between those who are just over 40 and those of us who are 57 and not regular cyclists…I had no idea track bikes have no gears and no brakes…Olympians, watch out.


Up next…Riding a fixie.



6 thoughts on “Day 4. “When my legs hurt, I say: ‘Shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do!’” Jens Voigt, German cyclist

  1. This is great. Great that the training has started. Great that you’re shouting your love for exercise. Great that you’re talking honestly about how scary that first (hundred) cycles are. Great. (Make sure you add in “cycling in a group” to your training else the event will come as a shock, I hadn’t considered that before my first event).

  2. Enjoyed reading these. Having never been remotely sporty, I decided to give triathlon a try as I much prefer being outside to in a gym. I’ve done a few sprints now, very much on the basis of complete rather than compete, and have really enjoyed them. A couple of suggestions: contemplate wearing socks, 5k is a long way if you do get a blister, and consider Gatorskin tyres, they’re very tough and I haven’t had a puncture yet (famous last words!)

    1. Thanks so much for this, are Gatorskin tyres expensive? My biggest worry is getting a puncture and not having a clue what to do, despite going on a maintenance course. I have the spare inner tube, the pump, the tools…I don’t have the WHAT THE HELL DO I DO? Appreciate your comments.

      1. Hi, they cost about £30 each, but mine have lasted several years on lumpy semi-rural roads, and have given me massive peace of mind. I also did a bike maintenance course, but if you don’t keep practising things like changing tubes (there are youtube tutorials) it’s easy to forget.

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