I’ve taken up cycling. Along with running and swimming I am now a triathlon in parts. My husband is completely bewildered. We have known each other for most of our lives, and he has never known me to put my hand up for cardio-vascular exercise without a litany of complaints. Granted, I’m not doing the Iron Man here, but for someone who is known for saying things like “the only time you’ll see me running is if someone is legging it out the door with my wine” you can forgive him his surprise.
I’ll confess I don’t love running. It’s hard on the joints and even harder on the mind. But I quite like the feeling you get when you are done, the coffee catch up afterwards, and having “running friends”. And I like that I’ve managed to conquer my hatred of it and run 5km on a regular basis. It is rather perverse, I think, that while I am currently stuck with some sort of recurring hip injury that renders me unable to run without pain for days afterwards, I miss it.
Cycling on the other hand is unexpectedly glorious. I started down this road because I wanted an additional arrow in my quiver of exercise options. But I found something else. Joy. And I mean real, bubble-up, smile-on-your-dial joy. It’s a surprising feeling. A visceral, childlike feeling of pure pleasure that fizzes in my chest and shines out of my face.
Maybe it is because I, like many kids, grew up cycling, charging about the neighbourhood with a gang of friends. A Christmas morning ritual in our house was to go for a bike ride along Durban beach front while the turkey and ham did their thing in the oven. Cycling is connected to the freedom of childhood, and with it the wind in your hair (Helmets? Not in our day!). Perhaps the sense of unadulterated joy is an embodied memory of a previous self in a simpler version of life. But perhaps it is even more elementary than that. Maybe cycling is physically pleasurable because you are moving through the world almost weightlessly. You’re flying free and unencumbered by gravity and the weight of your limbs. And you still get coffee and friends at the end.
But there is something else here too. Something quite new and refreshing to me. A sense of doing something entirely for the pleasure of it. For myself, disconnected from any sense of purpose or reward or obligation. A feeling I had quite forgotten existed. I do a lot of things “for me”, but so many of them are framed within the context of a need to prove myself good enough. They are achievement orientated. Even running is achievement orientated. Not in a competitive way though, because I am so unutterably rubbish at it that even my distorted perfectionism leaves me in its dust. But there is still a sense of obligation to keep fit around it, and a determination to win against my dislike of it.
But I like cycling. I feel like it’s a hobby with a nice side effect of fitness. I like the funky outfits and the fact you can see sides of a city you can’t get to in a car, and that as you move through the environment, you are a part of it. Yesterday I made my way down to Parramatta via walkways and tree-covered cycle paths that run along the river. It was gorgeous. Who knew we had such beautiful corridors of nature right on our doorstep? Cyclists, that’s who. Even the “what if” anxiety generating machine that runs full tilt in my head seems easier to silence on my bike. And given how many people fall off bikes and break things, that’s quite a thing.
I’m obviously not alone in embracing my inner MAMIL (I’m a mama though, not a man). Doing laps around Sydney Olympic Park I am passed by gaggles of others, bunched together, legs pumping, chatter flowing. It’s a friendly and warm environment. Everyone is smiling. I may have started out with a fitness agenda. But along the way I discovered something else. Joy.