Sometimes when I am promoting nnoodl events it can seem like hard work - I know it can be difficult to reach the right people and to tell them about the joy involved in being out of your comfort zone. Then I am reminded about how it feels by things I do myself and I approach it all with a new vigour and enthusiasm!
I wanted to tell you about how I have found myself in a few challenging situations recently where it would have been easy to walk away, or choose an easier option.
This involves my new found passion for triathlon. Let me start by being clear that this is my own way to challenge myself, and nnoodl events will never involve this level of extremes! Well triathlon sounds like a difficult challenge in itself I hear you say. Of course the main thing here is that you have to train for 3 sports, although to me that is part of the appeal. If your legs are tired from cycling, do your next session as a swim. Running injury? Do the lower impact cardio workout on the bike etc. The thing I have really noticed though is that being a 'triathlete' is whatever that is to you. Perhaps you want to try a short distance event, or maybe you are at the other end of the spectrum and have your sights set on an Ironman! Then again, maybe you would like to just join a club for the camaraderie and some training tips. For me, I joined Hampstead tri club for various reasons, and mostly to improve my weakest of the three disciplines, the cycling.
How ironic then that I signed up for the run sessions and the swim training with the club, but still felt freaked out at the prospect of joining the club for any cycling sessions! I was encouraged to come to 'Sportive' events throughout the early part of the new year, but still couldn't work up the courage to do them. My big break through opportunity came when one of the ladies at the club told me about the Liv cycling group which ran out of the Giant bike store in Kentish Town. This is a cycling group for women set up under the cycling brand of Liv. I was told that they did a ‘ride out’ on the first Saturday of every month where they welcomed new members. This seemed like the ideal introduction to me. On my first ride a group of about 18 of us met at the Giant store and were given an introduction to Amy and Sandra who would lead the groups. They did a great job of giving us an overview of the various hand signals and etiquette involved in group cycling. We did a trip of around 60k to Shenley including a pit stop at a great little tea shop.
And so my initial fear was set aside and I was well and truly hooked in!
Various Saturday and Sunday rides followed including cycles to Cambridge, Whitwell and some real challenges in the Surrey Hills. Now here is the thing about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone – it’s like stretching a muscle (to use an exercise analogy). Once you start to get better at it then you can stretch a bit further. My major challenge that came from this small acorn was that about 4 weeks later I decided to attempt what I really needed to do and test my speed on the bike. Some of the Liv group apparently gathered early on a Weds morning to do laps around Regents Park. When I say early, I really do mean just that – meet at 6am (and so get up no later than 5am to cycle there!). What comes into play here is the power of the Whatsapp group. Like most groups of any kind nowadays, Liv are no exception in having a dedicated Whatsapp cycing group for sharing tips, arranging rides etc. It really is a great support network. The key thing for me here though is the commitment factor. Once you have said ‘Yes I’ll be there at 6am tomorrow!’ it is hard to take that back, come rain, shine or, well, early morning laziness. For anyone who knows Regents Park, the road around it is just under 5km and with only one real junction in an anti clockwise direction it is often used by cyclists to gauge their speed relatively uninterrupted. The early start is to take advantage of the main gates to the roads around the park being closed until 7am.
I was given a crash course (excuse the pun) in group cycling. Mainly the instruction was ‘stay as close as you can to the wheel in front’. Eek, this was very non-intuitive for me, as I am generally a bit of a chicken about even going down hills fast, or anything that presents an element of danger. Our group of about six set off at a very leisurely pace from the Royal College of Physicians up to the top end of the park towards the zoo. I should have known that this was not the pace we would be going at as suddenly the person at the front shouted ‘Let’s go!’ and we were off at speed! The plan was that each person would take 30secs at the front and then signal to pull out and drop to the back of the pack. It started well, as I managed to cling on in the middle and then move up to take my turn at the front. I pedalled like mad as I realised I was hitting about 35km/hr – unheard of under my own steam. At a set of lights though, I misread a signal and missed getting back on the back of the group. One of the team tried to pull me back in but by that time we were going up an incline and there was no catching up. I cycled round another 5 laps on my own just barely keeping the group in sight, arrgh, that was a workout and a half. Back home though, and having covered a total distance of about 40k, I was anything but despondent. In fact the support on the Whatsapp group was great as I was reminded that in future I could cycle back round the other direction to try to link back onto the group rather than play the futile game of catch up that I had gone for.
Well that all sounds horrendous, I hear you say. I can understand that on the face of it, this might not encourage you to push out of your comfort zone. However, the happy ending is in sight….I think the second session I did took even more courage in fact, as I set my alarm for 4.50am fully aware of what was ahead of me this time. Well in fact this time I hung on for TWO whole laps. If this is the point where I realised the benefit of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, the real reward was yet to come. I had signed up to do a triathlon at Eton Dorney which had been my first triathlon in 2016. That was a standard (or as I like to call it ‘Olympic’) distance triathlon with a little extra distance on the bike, so 1500m swim; 42.4k bike and 10k run. Last year I had done this event in a time of 3:10 which I was pretty pleased with. My aim of course was to do a bit faster. I realised when I got to the venue that this seems to be a place that whilst it is flat (yay!) seems to be eternally windy (boo). However, on my side was the warm weather from earlier that week which had meant that the lake was a balmy 21deg, meaning that wetsuits were optional. I thought this would encourage many of my fellow competitors to dispense with the evil rubber and avoid the hassle of getting it off in transition. It seemed I was alone in this thought though, and standing at the start in just my tri suit thought I caught the attention of the swim safety man who came over to remind me of the dangers, and to take my race number down. Hmmm…I decided not to mention that I had swum in hailstones in Loch Rannoch at this point, just in case it all went wrong for me in the swim. I had no need to fear though, apart from being just generally hard, the swim went pretty well and I came out around the middle of the pack, and then of course saved about a minute not peeling off a wetsuit and so I was off on the bike. Now HERE is where the benefit of the scary cycling sessions kicked in. With 8 laps of the course to cycle, I found myself overtaking people all along the way, including men! There was nothing so satisfying as shouting ‘on your right’ as I overtook men to see them swerve as they turned around to check that it was indeed a woman’s voice, hee hee. I don’t need to bore you with how hard both physically and mentally it was to do these continual loops, which then led onto 4 laps of a run route. What I WILL tell you is that I completed the event in 2:54, taking 16mins off my previous time! No wonder I look pretty pleased with myself in this photo.
And so the moral of this story, as they say, is simply to emphasise that those moments of discomfort and challenge certainly pay off. Cycling in a group showed me what speed I was capable of and got me through the challenge on the day when things got tough. The word ‘challenge’ I have to remind everyone does not always mean something physical. It can be or trying a new skill, or even just putting yourself into a room of people you don’t know, or going to a new place. And the thing is, the more you do it, the easier it gets, even verging on slightly addictive. I have since agreed to do a ‘singing showcase’ with some other students through my singing teacher. Even as I write this I can’t believe it. This from the person who just 18 months ago was terrified at the prospect of going to a singing lesson. Go nnoodl !!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.