Riding It Out

As I approach a dreaded birthday in lockdown, my bike has become my only solace

I’m turning 55 this week, which seems like a terrible birthday.

In marketing terms, I’ll no longer belong in the company of anyone who’s still in their early 50s, and I’m dead to hip young 45-year-olds. 

Also according to the people who sell us things, I’m now likely to think, buy and do the same stuff as someone who’s 64.

By my own reckoning, turning 55 means that I truly am moving from middle age to old age – but without the wisdom and perspective to appreciate getting older.

Instead, I’m still infantile enough to be in thrall to stuff I’ve lost – like hair, beauty, youth and energy.

I did give myself a pep talk the other day, saying that I’d got to the cusp of 55 without anything truly terrible happening to me. Given, that I was healthy, relatively well-off, and loved, perhaps I should count my blessings and enjoy life a bit more?

I wanted to show I wasn’t past it – whatever ‘it’ is”

But I can’t. Not yet. I’m still fighting the idea of ageing, which is why I wanted to celebrate my 55th by running a (socially distanced) half marathon. I wanted to show that I still wasn’t past it – whatever ‘it’ is.

And then I got injured and forced to admit that, maybe, I was getting too old for this shit. Infantile me, of course, found this quite hard to take.

But, in my defence, running 13 miles wasn’t just a vain attempt to hold back the years: it was also a way to do something meaningful on my birthday, in lockdown.

As well as a central part of keeping me sane – especially during a coronavirus winter –  I’ve always found running a fun thing to do.

And because I couldn’t go to a restaurant, an art gallery, or a cinema to celebrate, the endorphins that I was going to get from that run would have been the high point of my birthday. 

Thank God I have my bike”

Thank God, then, that I have my bike.

Although my knee was worryingly bad for the first two weeks, and while it’s still far too fucked to run on, I have gradually been able to increase the minutes that I’ve spent on two wheels in the last week or so.

Having started very gingerly and slowly by my usual standards, I’ve now got to the point where I’m cycling almost normally – and where there’s only a very minor price to pay the morning after, in terms of pain and stiffness.

On Sunday, for want of anything better to do, I rode for an hour to take a picture of the Taskmaster house near Chiswick Bridge, and then rambled back.

Increasingly, as it became clear that my knee was holding up OK, I sought out more challenging slopes and hills.

The trip was a finely-judged thing – seizing a brief two-hour window of rain-less-ness while braving the sharp south westerly gusts London gets at this time of the year. But the careful monitoring of weather apps and occasional nervy moments were worth it just to be able to exercise normally again, and feel more ‘myself’.

Exercise turned a lockdown Monday into a day bright with possibility”

Yesterday morning, I went for a shorter, hillier ride around my ends and felt the exercise do the same trick: turn an aimless lockdown Monday, which might have seen me sink into a funk, into a day bright with possibility.

So, while I worry about riding my road bike in the wind, I’m definitely going to do it every day this week, and finish with a long one on my birthday.

Then I’ll ride home, open my presents, have a pizza delivered and watch a film with the family.

I’ll have some beers to toast my promotion from middle aged to simply aged, and all these things will be just great.

But without riding my bike, the day won’t feel truly special.

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