Well, I was there on Sunday morning as promised. I completed the 50 miles. In fact, I did 60 because I rode up to the start too.
Just a day and a half after lying still for an hour in hospital for the latest MRI scan on my brain tumour, I lined up my lycra clad legs at the starting flag for the kind of cycling event that a month ago I’d lost hope of ever being able to join again.
It wasn’t a big deal. A sportif: just 50 miles at relative speed around the Essex lanes, in groups according to a target time. A local leg tester, all the usual old faces, all the familiar club colours.
For the last six months I’ve been avoiding cycling in a group. I’ve been too scared that the inevitable seizures I would have on the bike would be at best inconvenient, at worst dangerous for my fellow riders.
More recently, I’ve been taking new drugs. Temporarily at least, the seizures are sufficiently under control to allow me to again tentatively dip my toe into the waters of group riding.
So, there I was on Sunday morning, starting the ride with the Silver group, aiming to complete the 50 miles in 2hrs 45 minutes, give or take.
If I have a seizure, I thought, they can go on ahead. I’ll drop back and wait for the Bronze group or some other stragglers and ride with them.
To start with, the pace wasn’t too hairy. For the first time in months, I rode in close proximity to others at 18, 20, 22 miles an hour… sometimes more. Cyclists within elbow distance either side, wheels within a meter or so, to the front and to the back.
And it felt wonderful to be carried along by the peloton again, sharing the work, sharing the protection from the wind. I felt like a proper cyclist, albeit one hanging a little at the back just in case.
I blame Greater Anglia trains for what happened next. The Norwich to London train was inexplicably on time.
At about six miles we hit a closed level crossing. Our group had to wait for over five minutes for the train to pass, eating deeply into the Silver target time. When the gates did eventually go up, the guys at the front sped off at a frantic pace to make up what we’d lost.
For another five miles or so I stuck with them, but as the terrain became more rolling, I had to work harder and harder to stay on the back. And when my heart starts beating quickly, my head starts worrying: am I going to bring on a seizure here?
I’d like to say I could have stuck with them for the whole 50, but I doubt even the old me could have kept up that pace.
“Don’t try to be a hero,” I told myself. “Just take it easy.”
So I dropped back, allowing the bulk of the group to scurry off over a ladder of short rises and into the distance.
Soon, I was joined by a few others who had dropped off the back, and a couple of riders from behind who were trying to make up time. Around eight of us took turns on the front, as we cycled the surprisingly picturesque Essex coast between Manningtree and Harwich.
In the smaller group, when a seizure did eventually come on – as I knew it inevitably would – I was able to raise my arm (international cycling language for: go round me, I have a problem). The group left me behind to pull in at the side of the road.
Only they didn’t.
A good friend and fellow cycling club member who knows about my condition turned back to check on me. Once the seizure was clear, we cycled another 10 miles together, our group just a little too big, and a little too far in front, for us to catch them without wrecking ourselves in the process.
It was then that I really started to flag. I started to dip in behind her for rests from the wind; to drop off her wheel on the longer drags. It wasn’t the seizures I feared. My legs were knackered, pure and simple.
Just over the half-way point – 35 miles or so of cycling so far for me – and I could have turned there and then. The route dipped in close to the race HQ, and I could have cut my ride short. I knew the way and I had had a seizure after all.
But I didn’t do that. The sun was shining, my pedals were still going round, and I was alive. I decided I was going to finish. When another group came past us I urged my companion to jump on the back. To leave me to grind it out.
Now it was just me and the road. I love riding in a group, but at times like this riding alone can be just what I need. I wasn’t going to be awarded any medals, Gold, Silver or Bronze. But 50 miles is what I’d signed up for, and 50 miles was what I knew I would do.
So, I pedalled on. And I remembered to enjoy myself.
I could have spent that final 20 miles embarrassed at having lost so much cycling fitness. I could have grumbled about being consecutively spat out by the Silver group and then the Bronze. I could have spent those miles worrying that I’d have another seizure. Worst of all, I could have fretted that I’d end up Tail-End-Charlie. The last one home. Le Malliot Brun.
But what went through my head as my thighs felts like dead weights, but my calves just kept on pushing, were wise words shared by my father-in-law after another blog I wrote.
Stop complaining about what you can’t do anymore, went the gist, otherwise you’ll miss the enjoyment of what you can still do.
The way I figured it, I could either spend these miles fed up that I wasn’t the cyclist I used to be. Or I could look up from my handlebars and enjoy what I was doing right now.
I could spend my whole ride worrying about having another seizure, or I could count myself lucky that I wasn’t right now standing at the side of the road.
A little sunshine and a bottle of raspberry Lucozade Sport from the petrol station also helped to lift my spirits.
In the end, I did have another seizure. About six miles from the finish. I let it pass, climbed back on my bike, and just carried on. This is me now, I thought. Just keep on pushing.
I hit the HQ about half-an-hour later than the Silver’s target time. Two seizures and a stop at the garage excluded, I was probably only 20 minutes off pace in the end.
I wasn’t the last one home, and there was even some cake left when I eased my aching backside off the saddle and shuffled it into the village hall.
I’d done it. 60 miles. Some with a group, some with a friend, some on my own. The cyclist with the brain tumour. Happy, today at least, to be just exactly what I am.
Tomorrow doesn’t matter, when today is so good.