Cycling and Triathlon mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but there is common thread between us. Exercise, in whatever form it takes, helps us to feel happy.
After a stressful week at work, a few hours out on the roads can let us claim back a little control over our lives. Few things will relax us like the endorphins from a good workout, and as our fitness builds, so does our health and general well being.
Most of us will be able to see how cycling or triathlon has had a positive impact on our lives. But for some, the difference cycling or triathlon makes can be much more pronounced, a simple change which throws a lifeline to feelings of helplessness or desperation. My name is George Bright, a member of the Clapham Chasers triathlon club, Yellow Jersey Cycle Insurance asked me to describe the impact of discovering triathlon had on my life, and here is my story.
When I moved to London in the early months of 2013, it was not under circumstances of my choosing.
Life in Cornwall, where I grew up, had become untenable for me in the wake of a rather public mental breakdown. Almost a year after I had shuddered to a halt, I was going nowhere, trudging through each day like another battle that I didn’t have the tools or energy to fight. It was decided (I say this, as I was incapable of making decisions at this time) that I would relocate. London seemed like the best option. Off I went, to get lost in the big city.
Things did not get better immediately. Nor did they get better in the longer term. For two years, I stumbled from job to job and personal catastrophe to personal catastrophe. In public I was, more or less, a ghost. I wandered through crowds, head down, trying my hardest to be invisible. I was pretty good at it, as it turns out, although London is the kind of city that makes that easy. I tried only hard enough at creating some sort of normal existence for myself so as to assure people that I was, indeed, trying. Secretly, I just hoped to be forgotten.
Privately I had quickly returned to self harming at an alarming degree. Attempts at causing myself more significant and permanent harm followed. I taught myself to disappear discretely, coming up with lie after lie to justify not being around, visits I never went on and friends I never saw, while I saw the inside of psychiatric units and respite homes. Years of living a completely different narrative inside my head compared to the day to day runnings of the world had taught me to be an excellent disaster planner. My life seemed, to me, to be heading towards an inevitable and tragic conclusion. Worse, I welcomed it.
It was only in the dying summer months of 2014 that this began to change. The exact reason for my decision still escapes me, but I decided that I’d slip on a pair of trainers and go for a jog. This was most unlike me. I’d dabbled with various sporting pursuits in the recent years, but nothing had stuck much past being a fad. I aimed to jog for about half an hour, so when I cut it short after twenty minutes I was quick to assume that those trainers wouldn’t stay on for long – just another fad to pass a few weeks before the motivation fades.
Those few weeks, though, were key. I managed to keep it up, running two or three times a week. A month in, I went for my first parkrun. Not long after I was a member of a running club – Goodgym, a community-based fitness club. Oh well, another few months and you’ll be bored of this, I thought. So I carried on running; my attendance to club nights were flaky at best, but it remained a semi-permanent fixture in my life.
As I pushed on, it became apparent that I actually had some kind of talent for this running lark. Not likely to set the Olympic stage on fire any time soon, but consistently improving my pace. Soon, though, running alone wasn’t enough. An old thought that had cropped up from time to time resurfaced – wouldn’t it be cool to do a triathlon? I’d long thought it was an interesting sport, but not for me. I wasn’t a sporty guy. But as those running times kept dropping, I started to find a little bit of confidence: here was something I was capable of; moreover, here was something that I, and only I, had control over.
At the start of this year I took the plunge. A little Google-fu, along with a friendly recommendation from a fellow Goodgym runner, led me to Clapham Chaser’s beginner triathlon program. I pitched a bike, a wetsuit, the other bits of kit I would need to make a start at this.
Still just a phase, said the nagging voice in my head. A twelve week training program followed that I threw myself into with previously unknown levels of wild abandon. I was hooked before I’d even done my first race, signing up to handful of other events after just a couple of month’s training. It wasn’t just the thrill of the sport itself (although that undoubtedly helped). It was being part of a community: one that pushed me, and made me push myself; but one that had already shown itself to welcome, encourage and celebrate. It wasn’t just the community I had entered, though; something had changed on a far more personal level for me.
The thing was, for what felt like the first time in years, I felt like I had an identity. No longer just another blank face walking down the street with a coat pulled up against the constant wind, I had a pastime I enjoyed, by which I could define myself. I had some amount of pride – look at me, sticking to an actual plan for twelve weeks, gearing up to compete in actual events against other functioning people. I had goals, and I had the motivation and encouragement to tackle these goals.
In short, I became alive in a way that I did not feel previously. Sports has given me a new lease of life – not just physically. I have had to force myself to be disciplined – regular training, not necessarily when I particularly feel like it. This has led to more discipline in my personal life; wallowing in your own misery is the easy option, but now I force myself to act, to try and tackle my problems rather than let them tackle me. I have had to push myself, to attempt things I’m not sure that I had, or have, the capability to do; but things that, for once, I feel like I have the ability to at least take a damn good shot at it. I recently volunteered to build a new website for my team at work. Did I know how to build a website? Did I hell. But I managed, because I was willing to apply myself and learn rather than just throw my hands up in despair.
If you want to read more from me check out my blog Half Rust
Thanks George Bright