Taking time off the bike is a normal, and healthy thing to do. Your body and your mind both need a break from time to time, to rest, recover and recharge. But, after last year’s cyclocross season, I stepped off the bike for more than a break – it was nearly 5 month black hole… that was largely unplanned and definitely unwelcome.
2013’s CX season was my most successful to date. I had focused my entire riding season around it, keeping my miles up through the winter and well into the spring and summer, before ramping up the intensity just prior to September. The result was I had reasonable fitness going in, certainly the best I’d had to date, and I was able to peak in October and early November – perfect timing for our season here in Alberta. The shocker for me though, was that by mid Nov, I was done! It was lights out. I’d cracked. Physically, I felt drained, between building work stress, home-life with family and kids, not sleeping or eating well and then riding/racing… my energy levels plummeted. And mentally, I was zapped too. I knew it was time for a break, but the idea at the time was for a few weeks, not 5 months.
When Christmas came and went, I considered getting the stationary trainer out, but brushed that off easily enough, still utterly unmotivated. When January wrapped up, I figured it was time to get my butt back in gear again, but it was the dead of winter, with limited sunlight during the day, and I just didn’t have it in me. I was at an all time low. And with sleep problems still persisting, I decided to check in with the doctor.
It didn’t take long for her to suggest I was suffering from S.A.D, , or maybe something worse – something more pervasive. She ran some tests and I was fit as a fiddle, except my vitamin D was seriously low, which seemed to coincide with S.A.D. So, on top of taking my vitamin D, she told me to get moving again, outside for walks and to get back on the bike. And as much as I didn’t want to, she said I had to. She told me to get back on the bike, to even just sit on it and pedal for 5 or 10 minutes, if that’s all I could muster, but I had to start.
And, so I did, literally just sitting on the bike in my basement, turning the legs the first few times for no more than 20 mins. It felt ridiculous. It felt futile, and I didn’t see any point really. But, after a few weeks of that, I started to come around a bit. I had a few spins where I started to push, to break a sweat, and that started to feel good again. This was the beginning of the road back. That was back in February, just the earliest turns of the pedal, but since April really, I’ve been riding again ever since. In June I rode around 300km. In July I logged just shy of 550km, and in Aug I’m on pace for around 750km right now. Things are definitely looking up!
Interestingly, looking back, getting back on the bike itself wasn’t what I was ultimately trying to do. I was really trying to kick-start myself. Somewhere back in November I lost something. I slipped, while I wasn’t paying attention to how far down I let myself go. The bike was just a means to an end to spark things inside me again– and it’s a powerful one for me. I can find so much joy in the bike, even when that’s just riding in my basement chasing a TSS score. Now that I’ve been able to get back outside and roll around as much as I have (mostly early mornings), I’ve really felt something inside turnaround – and it permeates into everything else, my work, my family and my kids, even my sleep is improved. Although breaks from things, even the things we love like bikes, are healthy, something I won’t let myself ever do again is to allow myself go back to that dark, unmotivated space where you can’t seem to get yourself going again. That’s a place I don’t ever want to revisit.
I started writing this article a couple weeks ago now, before, as you likely heard that Robin Williams died. I was at work that day, in a bubble, and didn’t hear about it until I got home. It was certainly socking and very sad news. Something that struck me though when I heard about it, was that he was also a cyclist. In fact he was a rider, and even a racer. Then, just tonight, to my delight, I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal where I learned that he was also a passionate collector of rare bikes as well. Part of me was impressed by that, to know he loved cycling so much, but I was also troubled by it, because despite his intense passion for bikes and riding, we can only assume he felt his troubles were greater than any bike ride could ever fix…
Last Nov I may have had a taste of what many people have to face and to a much more crippling degree. I hope all the attention this insidious disease is receiving right now helps to shed a lot more light on an issue we currently barely acknowledge enough to begin to understand it. In the meantime, for what it’s worth, I’m going to keep riding my bike. I hope you do to.
Side Note: Some great cycling communities are doing some really cool things to raise awareness. Check out Cycle Against Suicide here: