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Cycological

This lockdown has brought things into our lives, many of them unpleasant and that which we would wish to end soon. However it has introduced for some, including me, a new approach to a life that was, in the pre-COVID era, in complete disarray on multiple levels. For me, lockdown has bought me time and energy.

How?

My whole working life has been about the commute, the before and the after. In most recent years, at the very least, I was spending 3 hours a day, 5 days a week travelling from my home to my place of work and vice versa. It was such a normal part of life that I had just normalised it and excepted it as fact. A trade off for having a career and a job that I loved and valued. However I was always aware of just how much it took from me physically and emotionally. I was often too tired and demotivated to try and make a significant change. I will admit that my change in job from inside to outside the M25 was in part to end my long and frustrating inner London commute but I had found that as the years passed on, my commute was getting just that little bit longer, until one day I found it was taking me just the same amount of time. It felt like nothing had changed.

But suddenly at the end of March 2020, that all changed. The UK was placed in lockdown on 23rd March, just twelve days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared a pandemic, and working from home, for those who could, was to be our new way of life. It happened to be halfway through two weeks of my annual leave, you know the left over days hurriedly requested for the end of the financial year. Also for me the week in which I was meant to be abroad with a friend, but with the whole world on shutdown, our holiday had been deferred to 2021. I will admit when I left my office on 13th March, to start my leave, I did have a feeling I would not be returning to work in quite the same way again, I was right. Since that date, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have been back to my office.

I am sure that as lockdown eases and we find ways of working that are safe and protect all of us, I will no doubt be going into the office more frequently. In the mean time I have experienced the wonder that is having time in the morning before work and in the evening after work. What on Earth do you mean Francesca?

It means that I have had time to prepare and enjoy a cooked breakfast. I have even had the time to properly read the British Medical Journal (BMJ) for the first time since I subscribed. In the evenings, I can make and eat dinner before eight. I have time to read the unread books on my Kindle, I can watch films without falling asleep. It’s like a revolution. Of course, by no means has everyday been like this. I have had my share of COVID-related ‘mental funk’. Days when I have felt so anxious about what was happening around me that I could not sleep until the sun came up and my ‘commute’ time was used to catch some zzz’s before rolling out of bed to my laptop in the next room and straight into my telephone clinics. There have been evenings when I have ignored my husband’s five-thirty alarm (we promised we would practice yoga every evening, lasted three evenings…) and carry on working until well past eight, fuelled by a nebulous sense of guilt, worry that seemed only to be calmed by checking clinic reports, reviewing records and tackling months old tasks.

We are over 60 days into UK lockdown and I have managed to find a better balance of being in my home, in a crisis and trying to work. I have caught up with my tasks, my letter writing is as up to date as it can be, I sleep much better at night. I have more energy. With this energy and fine weather came a renewed interest in cycling. It seems this was infectious as my husband also decided that he would join me on my increasingly frequent cycles along the river.

I have found being on my bike a lifesaver. It is the thing that has motivated me to close the laptop just after five pm and explore the otherwise unexplored Roding river valley close by. The weekends have a new routine and rhyme – Zoom exercise class on Saturday morning and afternoon cycle on Sunday. I found all the worry and anxiety that had been building up over the day or week, just melts away as soon I am on the move on my two wheels. We have been incredibly lucky with the weather so I have just been drinking in the sunshine and also taking the opportunity to make more vitamin D!

I cannot remember now if I was looking for it or it turned up on my Facebook feed (the latter event is too sinister to dwell on) but I found myself looking at the Cancer Research page asking me to sign up to cycle 50 miles in a week to raise money for this charity. I thought about for a few days. It certainly appealed to me. I have been running and walking for Cancer Research since 2008. In 2014, the last time I ran, it was the year my father passed away. It was and still is a devastating loss.

I signed up.

At the time, I was not sure whether I would even be able to finish this. I did not have a concept in my mind on how long 50 miles was on a bike. I know that I drive 50 miles to work in my car on 3 motorways and it takes me just over an hour, on a good day. I just thought, lets try it.

I downloaded the Strava app because I thought that would help me keep track of my miles and off I went.

D1. The first cycle was to Roding Valley Meadows Nature Reserve, it is in Buckhurst Hill and the way that I am familiar with accessing it, is via the David Lloyd club. So I cycled there and then followed the cycle path. The nature reserve was a place that we used to go to often as a family. There was another area by the club where we would park and then cross a bridge and end up in the area near the lake. I did not take that route on this day. I wanted to try something different and ended up being surprised by how much more space there was! I managed to cycle 9 miles that evening. I was surprised by how well I felt afterwards, I thought I’d be tired and achey but I was just dandy.

D2. The second cycle was to Wanstead flats. I wanted to cycle past my old secondary school and through Wanstead park. As a child I remember driving through this area multiple times but walking on the flats was not something that we did frequently. In fact I can only remember once going to a fair in the summer. However I thought it might be a ride that did not have too many hills! It was OK, I think I got too caught up in nostalgia to notice any gradients that did come my way. It was a lovely evening, felt a bit sun drunk when I got home that day, 10 miles under the belt.

D3. The third cycle was my most ambitious. I decided that I wanted to go Hackney Marshes. Why, I know not. Anyway, somewhere along the New Woodford Road I changed my mind and decided I’d like to see Stoke Newington, the place where I spent my early childhood. It was a very long cycle…but I made it. The interesting bit was the way back. I am not sure what happened but I lost balance while on the cycle path and was thrown off my bike. I landed on the pavement and bashed my right shin. I was in more shock than actual pain but it meant that that cycle was over for me but not before I had clocked 13 miles.

It felt like my little accident was the universe’s way of telling me to slow down, or at the very least pay attention while cycling. I spent the rest of the evening with a bag of frozen sweetcorn on my leg and distracted myself with watching the Expanse. The next morning, I did manage to take part in the Zoom exercise class but there was no cycling.

There is not much to see but it was swollen and painful. Or maybe I’m just a wuss…

D4. The next day, I was able to put weight on my right leg. So off I went. This time Claybury Park and Woods. A fairly new discovery, curtesy of a local running club that I used to be part of a few years ago. I cycled around the area a few times, a little bit nervous at first, fearful I would fall off my bike again. It did not happen, I took a detour to Ray Lodge Park, another childhood favourite and I completed 8 miles without too much bother.

D5. Bank Holiday Monday, I planned this to be the day I would complete the last 10 miles. This time my husband came with me. We cycled up to Clayhall Park and then Claybury Park and Woods again and then did a few laps around Elmhurst Park.

Then that was it 50 miles done.

It almost felt too easy but I know it was not. My right leg is still bruised and sore. I have more or less just, work, slept, cycled on repeat for the past week. It has taken all my energy but that which I might have used for commuting.

So what next? Well, some lovely people sponsored me, which was good. I achieved what I set out to do. We are living in Coronavirus times but cancer still blights the lives of many. I will still keep cycling. As I am writing this blog, I have not been out yet, my body is signalling that it needs some more rest. When I am ready I’ll be out there again cycling as if my life depends on it.

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