Guest Blog by Evan Champion, McPin Rider 2016
When I feel the black dog sniffing around I’ve learned to hit the gym. I suppose I’ve always dealt with depression, though generally it’s nothing too serious. I went through one period of doing every intensive aerobic session I could find at the YMCA in Montreal. And while some people eat when they’re anxious, I lose my appetite and get thin.
Mental health issues run in my family: depression on my father’s side, and anxiety on my mother’s. There are good attributes too! But I seem to have an excess of feeling in general, and it tends towards melancholy and worry. My great-grandmother was noted for her somewhat negative view of things. Someone once pointed out the beautiful flowers growing in her garden and she responded: “They’ll soon be covered in snow.” It was July.
Lately I’ve taken up cycling, something I loved when I was 16, but other than commuting and doing spin classes I let it go. It just didn’t seem compatible with living in the city I suppose. Now that I’m living near Epping Forest, the lanes of Essex are handy, and everyone is doing it. Last year I upgraded from my 1987 steel Bianchi and went carbon fibre. Wow! When the offer arose to take up a place in Ride London and raise money for McPin it was just the sort of challenge I needed. I started training quite seriously.
It’s not the only serious training I’ve done since those early cycling days. I’ve run intermittently, including a few half-marathons, and this past year I’ve done circuit training twice a week and some swimming too. But cycling is my first choice. A lot of people assume that doing many hours of cycling would give you a lot of time to think, which, for someone who tends towards melancholy and anxiety, isn’t always the best thing, but actually I find it makes my mind quiet.
Along the way I’ve discovered that meditation also helps me to deal with my mental health. Putting myself into a very calm state, not too far away from sleep, and then giving myself some positive thoughts has been very helpful. And I can usually do this for about 15 minutes at a time. When I’m really good I do it every day. When I feel fine I forget.
But cycling has the same effect. While cycling my brain just shuts off and I don’t seem to think. Partly it’s because I like to go fast. And to do that I seem to put all my focus on breathing, not crashing and pushing myself hard enough to go as fast as possible, but not so hard that I explode, or don’t make it back home. With training I’ve been able to do this for longer and longer.
At first, only about an hour. Then an hour and a half. Then a few hours. Ride London was 5 hours. One minute under, actually! Ride London had the added benefit of a very real potential of crashing into other cyclists, so really my brain was completely occupied; there wasn’t a moment that my brain could stray out, just complete focus. I suppose that for me is the answer. When I’m in the zone I’m ok. And when my body is almost exploding in exertion I’m really in the zone!
Ride London was great for a few other reasons. Happily it was beautiful weather. A bit chilly at 5:30 when I rode over to the start, and waited around for my 6:15 start time. But when the sun came up it was splendid. There’s always one moment on my long cycles when I feel deliriously happy. I look up, see the sun, or some nice scenery, and I’m cycling fast and not yet in agony, and I think, this is perfect, this is bliss. I remember those thoughts in Richmond Park. No cars, just cyclists all moving in the same direction, a light breeze in our direction too, and beautiful sunshine.
That mood lasted until the first hill at mile 60-something. Then some pain set in! I’d detached myself from a couple of riders in the club I’d recently joined, with whom I’d been riding. They just weren’t going to go as fast as I wanted, and at that point I pressed on. The last 30 miles were intense. The closer we got to the finish, the more I realised I’d get in under 5 hours, if I could just keep pushing. The muscles were screaming. I attached myself to someone going just a bit faster than I could and hung on. The last 10 miles were really hard. I just kept pushing. Seeing Trafalgar Square was joyous, though pushing down the mall, I had nothing left.
Seeing all those people, happy, doing something important to them, for a variety of reasons, was great. I felt good about raising money for mental health research, and being upfront to my friends and colleagues that mental health is something that people can talk about. I know exercise doesn’t help everyone, and there are a variety of medical opinions out there regarding the efficacy of exercise as a way to improve mental health. But I do know it works for me. The endorphin high is great, as is the exhaustion that puts me right to sleep at night, along with all the feelings that I have when I’m in great shape. It makes me feel strong and in control. And I suppose I can admit to a little vanity with regards to my body too! Cycling makes me look good and feel good. Since Ride London I’ve been doing club rides. In particular, the Saturday fast rides have really made me push myself further. I’ve set myself some new goals and I’ve got some real momentum. I don’t think that black dog is going to catch me, and if I see him, I’m just going to pedal faster!
If you want to challenge yourself like Evan and raise money for life saving research McPin is looking for riders for next year’s Ride London, please get in touch!