Active embarrassment

When it comes to exercise, we all know that we should be doing it often, that it is good for us and the benefits of doing it are all very positive. We are rewarded with greater cardiovascular health, increased fitness, more energy, we maintain a healthy weight and we lower our risk of serious illness and early death. Exercise also increases our self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and reduces our risk of depression. So that all sounds very motivating. But what you are never told about exercise and doing sports must be written in the small print that no one reads: Exercising and participating in sports inevitably involves a good dose of humiliation, many failures and some injuries. This becomes even more apparent when you take part alongside your children.

Recently, I have been training with one of my children for the upcoming Macmillan Cycletta, a women’s only cycling sportive, and I have had to face one of my biggest sporting fears: cycling with cleats. I am not completely new to cycling but I have been riding for several years using clip-in pedals that I usually cram my trainers into without thinking twice. However, it seems that everyone else on two wheels wears shiny, fancy cycling shoes with cleats that requires them—insanely—to LOCK their feet onto their road pedals. I never understood the willingness to use something that actually made it more difficult to put your feet on the ground quickly enough to keep upright. I think you only need to have had one bad fall to scare you off the very concept of using cleats and I had already ticked this box off. Besides, I couldn’t see that there were any advantages of using cleats and had managed to cycle in several sportives and triathlons just fine, thank you very much. I may have stood out from the other cleat-using participants but at least I hadn’t fallen (much).

However, after many months (ok, years) of harassment by own pro-cleat family, arguing the case of greater advantages in increased power, efficiency and speed and witnessing very young children effortlessly using cleats as they breeze by me, leaving me in their dust, I have finally relented and swapped over. I am currently relearning how to cycle without falling as I train with my daughter and like Bambi learning to walk, it has not gone smoothly. I thought I would share a couple of tips that I have learned along the way that I think are applicable to starting any new sport or type of exercise.

Tip no. 1: Don’t be a scaredy cat, you are only making it harder. For me, this meant: Do not unclip your feet too soon. At the start, I was overly cautious and afraid that I needed to have my feet free from the pedals in plenty of time to be ready to stop myself toppling over at every intersection and roundabout. This meant I tended to wave my legs around trying to avoid accidentally clipping-in again which made me look like I was trying to stop my bike ‘Flintstones-style’. It also prompted many shouts from my daughter who clearly disagreed with this technique and I had the occasional near-collision due to swinging legs.

Tip no. 2: Concentrate on getting the basics right. For me, this meant: Do not forget how to actually unclip your feet. As I got braver and better at all the clipping in and out, I could cycle for hours, doing it with the ease and confidence of a Tour pro. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, this new confidence meant I relaxed and completely forget the essential basics when I had to stop unexpectedly. Several times I surprised myself by unclipping the wrong foot or completely forgetting to unclip. I would follow this up by slowly timbering down from my bike like a fallen tree as my daughter watched on like a resigned lumberjack. There is nothing worse than that moment of realisation when you are just falling and simply waiting for the pain of the pavement to hit you as you hear the voice of your child telling you off. Even at a standstill, the road is really hard!

Tip no. 3: You may be older but you are definitely not wiser. For me this meant: Don’t copy everything your child does on their bike because it will hurt. I have already realised that my children are now faster, more skilful and just better at every sport than I am and they always beat me. However, I always forget this when they start to talk me into trying new things by making it look easy and I foolishly go along with it. Sometimes it miraculously works out. However, shadowing your child as they swiftly manoeuvre through a hairpin turn and attempting to bunny hop over pot holes can have very different results.

And finally, Tip no. 4: Don’t be complacent until you have actually finished. For me this meant: Don’t forget to unclip again when the ride is finally over. You know what it feels like after a hard workout – you just want to get home, get cleaned up and refuel. So when I know I am nearing the end of a long ride, I begin to mentally make the snack I want to eat as I cycle up to the door. The problem is that because I arrive feeling so tired and relieved that it is all over, I forget that I am still on my bike which causes me to topple over in front of my house into an embarrassing, sweaty heap. By this point, my daughter has also given up for the day.

Fortunately, there are a couple of more weeks to fine tune my cycling finesse before the Cycletta and the training is beginning to pay off. But I expect that as I continue to participate in different sports with my children, I will never be far away from some more humiliation, failures and injuries. At least I will be sharing it with them.

After all that cycling, this is what we ate for a recovery meal: Orzo with tuna, orange and sundried tomatoes. It is very easy, quick to prepare and the leftovers make a great packed lunch or picnic.

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