Sam is a loyal VeloVixen customer and a fixture within our VeloVixen Chat Group. She kindly sent us this account of how the end of her running chapter opened up a whole new world of joy to her. It's a story so many of us can relate to!
My husband has always been a keen cyclist. It was his thing.
I loved to watch pro cycling on TV and even went to see live stages of the Tour de France a few times, but I was not a cyclist. I was a runner and a gym-goer. I did a little mountain biking with my husband but found the technical side of MTB riding beyond me.
In essence, my bike handling skills were zero and I could not negotiate narrow, obstacle-strewn trails. Cycling, I thought, was not for me.
What changed? After the birth of our third child, I was told by a physio that it was best for my body if I did not run anymore. I was devastated.
Running was freedom, my time away from the pressures of work and motherhood. I was very low for some time.
My husband suggested I get a road bike after a friend said that she and a few other women went out cycling together once a week.
I was worried.
My husband’s stories of competitive club runs, where people raced to get to the next lamppost, or split themselves into groups determined on speed, were not at all what I was looking for with exercise. It was more about myself: my freedom, my fitness and my mental health.
Nevertheless, I got an entry-level road bike and went out for a ride with my husband. I had flat pedals with trainers, the male saddle that came with the bike and wore a very old and baggy MTB top.
The ride was agony! We cycled barely 10km that day, on a flattish route (not much flat in the Chilterns) and the headwind made the last 2km really exhausting.
I still remember the first time I felt the complete and utter joy
My husband said to be patient and I had done well. He said that there was nothing wrong with my fitness and we could swap the saddle for one that I would find more comfortable.
* * *
A few weeks later I felt able to join the women’s group. At 6am that Saturday morning I headed off and was so utterly nervous.
My friend had told me that they were going to do an easy 25-mile route as they had completed a tough, hilly sportive the week before.
“What if I can’t keep up? What if I can’t go that far?” I asked her.
She looked a little surprised and told me that it was not a race and they all cycled at the pace of the slowest rider. No one was competing with each other and if I felt unable to go that far, someone would head home with me.
This was a revelation. The ride was when I first fell in love with cycling, my kind of cycling.
It felt like I was flying
About eight of us, all mothers of young children, rode the quiet country lanes chatting and moving through the group so everyone got to talk to everyone. I kept up and I did the distance. I was hooked.
From then on, I went out with them every week, although I still felt nervous before each ride. I upgraded my cycle clothing, my wheels and eventually my bike.
I went further and faster. I even started to enjoy climbing the hills. I did not love descending though! It took me longer to learn to relax on a long, steep downhill.
And then I started to cycle by myself too.
On those rides it was all about what I was doing. I would push harder as I was not chatting. I occasionally used the rides to think through problems or challenges at work or home. Mostly I enjoyed not thinking, just riding.
Sam, looking every inch the consummate VeloVixen!
I still remember the first time I felt the complete and utter joy of being in exactly the right gear at the right time – and it felt like I was flying.
Then there was the first time I finally managed to climb my nemesis of a hill, all the way to the top. I got into turbo training in the winter and understood what it really meant to sweat during exercise!
I moved to another part of the country about four years ago. I have discovered much about the area I live in through cycling on the back roads. I have found beautiful villages, great pubs and places to take the family.
2021 favourites to help inspire your cycling
I have also found some new friends to cycle with and I am working to convert others to cycling! But I still love jumping on the bike, early in the morning, and cycling by myself for an hour or two.
The ability to ride much further than I ever could when I ran, the freedom of being out on my bike and the immense sense of joy that cycling gives me is something I could never have imagined.
But also, the joy of cycling with other women: sharing stories, sharing pain, sharing worries, sharing news. This is cycling for me.
I think this ethos is very much what I see on the VeloVixen chat group. I am not a regular contributor, I am still a little shy about that, but I am regular reader.
It is this support for each other, the sharing, the encouragement and the understanding, whatever kind of cyclist you are, that is what makes it so special.
And I still have zero MTB bike-handling skills!