I had a bike as a kid, a hand me down from my cousin Vincent. It was a ticket to freedom. Growing up in the east end of London I could ride into town and see the sights, Buckingham Palace and St James Park. There used to be a pelican on the pond there.
Another favorite outing was through the Blackwall Tunnel and back on the Woolwich Ferry. It’s a miracle I grew up really. And ain’t that the issue. Freedom on the one hand risk on the other.
The family had a strong tradition in cricket and soccer. I was good at both but when I discovered basketball there would be nothing to match it. I wasn’t tall but I could jump like a frog and put on a mean show of acceleration. I had a successful and enjoyable career as an elite sportsman a long long time ago.
What do you do when it comes to an end?
Training had become a habit, so had eating. I took up running. Initially it was agony but stamina came in time. I ran a few fun runs and then came the marathons. I could never be competitive. My muscles twitched so fast I would be leading the 100 yard dash at the half way mark and be half way back through the field at the finish, let alone 26 miles. But finish I would, my best marathon was just a couple of minutes on the wrong side of three hours.
I also revisited the bike. Living in a Melbourne suburb and working at the Royal Melbourne Hospital gave me the chance to commute by bike. I did it for about six months. My first port of call was the emergency room on three occasions just for soft tissue injuries. A friend didn’t get off quite so easily. Broken arm, soon back to normal – it was the imprint of the truck tyre on his neck that ended the commute by bike craze for me.
Then came the triathlon fad. I spent a winter having swimming lessons in an effort to tidy up my technique. Drunk on endorphins I had to have a new bike. The guy in the shop talked me into road racing the new bike. Just as part of my training of course.
The bike leg of a triathlon is in the style of a time trial, no drafting, just head down bum up belt it out. Road racing is quite different, there’s tactics and sufficient team work to provide opportunity for both the beanpole with the power to weight ratio and the muscular sprinter to be in contention. If I could be in touch at the final bend, teamwork ended and it was all up to me and the lactic acid.
There was an entry fee for each race. Get a place and you get your money back. Win and you scoop the balance of the pool. It cost me nothing to race that season.
Swimming was a chore. Swimming serious laps means getting to the pool early while there are a few lanes roped off and sharing them with people that are too slow or too quick. It’s deadly dull and it makes your eyes red.
Cycling is way more exciting. Trouble was promising young cyclists were being killed or injured with an awful regularity. I will get fit if I don’t get killed. I gave away the cross training and stuck to the jogging.
Somehow when I hit fifty it just faded away. Or at least the periods of training became shorter and the intervals between became longer and so did my belt.
Then the hip became sore. I had a hip replacement in my mid sixties. I was sent to the cardiologist pre-op. The heart passed muster but when he learned of the marathons he said, without a trace of irony, ” No wonder you need a hip replacement”.
The last thing the orthopod said to me was, “No more running”, and he said it in front of the wife.
I now live in the bush. Country roads can be just as dangerous as city roads but there are plenty of quiet gravel roads and forestry tracks round our way. I’ve bought a bike. It has nice fat tyres.
Now it’s time to buy the Lycra.