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My slog up the hillside

Tour de France can be won or lost on one single mountain stage. A several of the favourites have already abandoned through injury. Many of those who are in the sprint for victory on the flatter stages just have to be content with hauling themselves over the Alps and the Pyrenees within the time-cut.

I can only dream of the kind of fitness levels that the pros have. As I look at the drawn faces of the pros as they push up one of the famous climbs in Pyrenees such as the Tourmalet or the Hautacam, it reminds me a little of the mental and emotional tiredness that comes with depression. With the memories of that slog up the hillside come the accompanying feelings of relief. The moment of cresting a climb and seeing a long descent ahead, freewheeling, feeling the breeze, seeing the view, knowing that the legs can recover a bit. It’s hard not to make a rather clichéd comparison of cycling over a mountain with depression and subsequent recovery – it is rather appropriate, after all.

Cycling has played a vital part in my recovery from depression at various points over the last 10-15 years. It’s well known that physical exercise can help those who experience depression but cycling can tick a number of other boxes too. It gets you fitter and gets you out of the house. Concentrating on the physical exertion can help you to stop over-thinking the things that stress you out – you’re too busy being aware of your surroundings and turning the pedals. It makes you independent – so you can go as far as you feel like at the time. It provides an opportunity for the kind of headspace which comes with getting away from your usual surroundings. Going on a group ride means you can make new friends, gain riding skills and learn good local riding routes. Even if you can’t access quiet countryside roads cycling in the city can bring a sense of freedom; why be stuck in traffic when you can cycle through it? And aside from the initial cost of a bike and some basic equipment it costs little to run. A new inner tube here, a service there, but overall much less than public transport or a car, or even a regular gym membership. Riding around a city you get to know it much better than you would otherwise. It’s a great way to explore.

All the above I have found to be of benefit. I discovered cycling, almost by accident, when recovering from depression about ten years ago. For me it was a revelation. Sometimes it can be too much of an effort to get out of the house but, when I can, there are very, very few occasions when a low mood can’t be turned around by a ride out into the countryside. I couldn’t imagine not cycling now... it keeps me healthy both in body and mind. Ok, I’ll never win an international race, but heck, who needs that pressure?!

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