Friday, December 11, 2009

Coffee Corner

The Coffee Corner articles are light-hearted articles meant to serve as an inspiration to the starting cyclist or by building on the social aspect of the sport, so if you have some time, grab a cup of coffee, relax and enjoy the read. The first article is an account of my first mountain bike race - Iwan

2009 Through the Eyes of a newbie - Part A: That thing called sport

Sport. It’s always been a word that struck me with an odd sense of nausea. Just the word made me feel exhausted, even before the overweight gym teacher blew that damn whistle, setting dozens of awkward teenagers in PT shorts off on a lap around the rugby field. Some of us were race horses, snorting and heaving as we ate up the meters, pounding perfectly shaped legs step by step to the finish line, hoping to shave a few seconds from our personal best, but alas for most of us, its was a relentless torture that lasted at least 400 meters, only to find ourselves at the same spot that we started.

I hated it.

“…but alas for most of us, its was a relentless torture”

My continual hatred of it continued into my twenties, where I, once the skinny A-class nerd had now transformed into a … well, skinny A-class nerd, with a peculiar bulgy mid-section. This beach ball stuck in my abdomen had to go. Many fitness magazines, boasting perfectly chiselled okes splashing through water, promised a ‘flat stomach’ and ‘bigger arms’ in 30 minutes a day, it seemed that all my troubles would be away in three weeks! I had been saved. But I could not be more wrong. My gym teacher was now replaced by an 8 foot Schwarzenegger impersonator yelling that the weights won’t lift themselves, and while my beach ball stomach remained, I was continually in too much pain the next day to lift my coffee cup.

I hated it.

After a couple of months at the gym my wife started chatting up a spinning instructor and her hubby, who was apparently quite into cycling. They convinced her to do the 94.7, and with a couple of spinning classes she was there, out on the tarmac, with what seemed like a 100kg cast iron bike, starting her first race. She finished a nervous 4 hours 22 minutes later, but with the strangest smile on her face. We have been married four years and I had not seen this smile. Very strange indeed.

November turned December and away on holidays I decided to find out what this Lance Armstrong guy is really about, and bought his first book, “It’s not about the bike”. It’s a fantastic read about how this cancer survivor turned around from the brink of death, to return to the world of cycling and win 7 Tours de Frances. If this man can return from such a dark place, my journey to recovery seems much less daunting, and at the start of the year I entered my unfit body into a triathlon in February. This gave me six weeks to get into shape, but where to start?

After chatting to the spinning instructor’s hubby, who became known as Ryan, I decided to get a mountain bike, as this gave me the most options, but as I was not sure how serious I would be about all this exercising nonsense, even the price of an entry level hardtail seemed completely outrageous. I mean really, who pays this much for a bicycle when Game sells them for 500 bucks!

But with the damage done, my eyes were set on that triathlon, nothing would get in my way. I cycled, I swam, I ran. I reached levels of tiredness that would be fit for medical studies, but with shoulder to the wheel, I pushed on. I cycled, I swam, I ran.

“It would be so much easier to just turn around and go back.”

A month into the training Ryan suggested I join them for a mountain bike race in Barberton as it will help with the training. Sure that I have now built up a reasonable amount of fitness, I would show these silly mountain bike guys what a (prospective) triathlete can do! But I could not be more wrong. What Ryan conveniently left out was the 15km climb from the start of the race up the Barberton Mountains! I battled, we all did. You could see the worry on all the faces of the backmarkers as we took on this obstacle, this Goliath, that stood in our way. It would be so much easier to just turn around and go back. I wanted to, so badly. My legs were burning and my back was aching. I was only half way up, and upon getting to the top I would still have 30 km to the end, which by looking at this sadistic sport was bound to be riddled with many mammoth obstacles. It was at the point of letting go I remembered something Lance said –

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”

If I quit now, I would be a quitter. Something I have never been, not once. I received the 12-year school attendance prize in grade 12 as I refused to let illness get me down. Right then I reminded myself – “I am not a quitter!”. So I pushed on and 4 hours and 40 minutes later I finished 45 kilometers of what Barberton had to offer.
I was completely shattered, broken emotionally, mentally and physically, so much so that if anybody gave me a hug I would have bursted into tears and as I returned to our hostel room, Ryan nervously noticed this and decided washing the bikes would be more beneficial for this young friendship. After a long shower and many recovery remedies supplied by Ryan, I lied down. It was at this point that my thoughts collected, my pains subsided, my heart rate eased, and without warning, I smiled. It had been the same smile my wife had after 94.7, and at long last I understood - we don’t cycle so we can become fit, we become fit so we can cycle. I didn't just like it -

I loved it.

{To be continued…}

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