If you’d have asked me at Christmas if I knew what a turbo trainer was, I’d have guessed it was some kind of Joe Wicks character. Then Covid-19 came along and changed everything. Like most people I got into a new sport during lockdown. This wasn’t really a conscious choice, more a reaction to utter boredom. And the undeniable fact that drinking and eating my way through the days wasn’t exactly a recipe for the body of my dreams. I’m not really a person who is overly fussed by my appearance. I rarely wear make-up and quite frankly it is a miracle if I manage to brush my hair sometimes. (Thank god for ponytails). However, the fact is that a week after lockdown I turned forty. Life and the general passing of time were beginning to take a toll on my body. Something needed to be done.
Days of Mountain Biking Past
That being said, I don’t know if I would ever have chosen mountain biking as my sport of choice. If I had wrote a list of potentials, I’m not sure it would have been on my top twenty. But, it’s not totally out of character, I did have a mountain bike as a kid.
I used to love jumping on my bike and cycling to god knows where and finding mischief. Seeing how far we could pedal into the local ford before getting stuck and falling in was a favourite. As was ploughing round the local BMX track as fast as possible. Until one day I did this on a borrowed bike, mistimed a jump, tore my knee to shreds and buckled the wheel. The long walk home through the woods, blood pouring from my leg, dreading the bollocking that I was bound to get from my Mum was not my finest moment. I don’t really remember how my friend reacted to what I had done to their bike. But I do remember the maternal lecture that went on. And on.
My biking days came to an end soon after that. I hit my teens and the hormones kicked in. Suddenly all my adventures seemed to revolve around who I fancied and who might fancy me. Fooling around with boys seemed more important than fooling around on bikes.
A Bad Plan Running
Fast forward 25 years and bearing many more scars than I care to count (although most of them emotional. Looking back I think it would have been safer to have stuck to cycling!) I find myself back fooling around on bikes again. Of course, I was led here by my boyfriend who seems to be trying to rival the peloton for bikes and cycling bits around the house. I think there are five bikes scattered around. Or is it seven? And those are only the complete ones. Several more could probably be assembled from the scraps that seem to burst from tool and storage boxes.
We got eighteen months into our relationship before I even got vaguely interested in any of them. And then it was only because I set myself the target of getting into running. Actually I set myself the task of getting fit. But since I am notoriously tight with cash (because I often don’t have any), I decided that running was something relatively inexpensive that I could do. Looking back this was a mad plan. I have been told several times over the years by various physios that I absolutely should not, under ANY circumstances, do any impact sports and this this meant, in no uncertain terms that running was 100% out.
Well bah humbug, I’m not really one to follow rules like that. What did they know? Mind over matter and all that. So I downloaded the Couch to 5k plan and started running. And I lasted precisely five runs before I set out one day, finished the two minute walking warm up, took my first running step, thought ‘hmmm that doesn’t feel good.’ Took my second step and let out a little yelp. Turned around, walked home and booked myself back into physio again.
Meet the Turbo Trainer
It was then that my boyfriend suggested that perhaps rather than permanently cripple myself, I might want to consider using his turbo trainer. Now for those of you, who like me, aren’t familiar with all things cycling, a turbo trainer is a piece of kit that sits under the back wheel of a bike so that you can use the bike statically. The back wheel rotates on the turbo trainer and you sit on and pedal. I believe that you can get ones that you can add resistance to to make it harder to pedal. Judging by the adverts interspersing the Tour de France footage, it looks like you might even get ones that mimic the hilly terrain of the French countryside. But don’t take my word for that, I was actually reading while J was watching it, I’m not that much of a cycling geek.
Anyway, back to the Turbo Trainer. J’s suggestion was actually a bloody good one. It was appealing on a lot of levels.
Why Turbo Training is a Good Plan
1. It was free. The bike was literally already set up and ready to go. In the kitchen. That might give you some ideas about how much bikes are a part of the literal furniture.
2. It meant I could still use the couch to 5k app to get fit. I like having a goal to work towards and I hate having to quit early
3. It didn’t matter what time I exercised. (Except the time we moved the turbo trainer into the lounge and the neighbours came round to complain how much noise I was making.) Turbo trainers are quite noisy and his walls are paper thin. Aside from that, being able to exercise in the house meant that I didn’t need to worry about lights or reflective equipment or traffic or…
4. Weather. This was a big plus for me. It didn’t matter if it was raining or windy or cold or icy outside. I could jump on the turbo trainer and pedal away without having to worry about inclement conditions. This was a big plus for me. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I hate being cold, wet, or besieged by wind. I’m more fussy than Goldilocks when it comes to weather. It’s a wonder I’ve managed to live in the UK for 40 years.
What the Turbo Trainer Taught Me
My time on the turbo trainer was a journey of self-discovery.
I learnt that when my body doesn’t fail on me, I’m actually pretty good at sticking to goals. I carried on using the couch to 5k app but instead of alternating walking and running, I switched between steady and fast peddling. It was a good way to improve my general CV fitness and it meant only committing to 30 mins a few times a week. Before long, I was getting on the bike and cycling fast for a steady 30 mins. OK when I got off my legs (and other bits) were sore but I achieved something that I couldn’t have imagined doing at Christmas.
I learnt that men ride with really bloody uncomfortable saddles. Two pairs of cycling shorts barely did anything to ease the discomfort. I can only assume that the designer of the saddle was looking at the profile of his razor blade one morning and thought to himself ‘that seems like a good thing to sit on’. It was possibly the most uncomfortable I have been down there since childbirth. Every time I would climb off and I would be tingling. And not in a good way. It was painful in the same way that plunging your feet into a hot bath after you have been stood barefoot in the snow for two hours would be painful. I started wondering if bits might drop off. So I bought myself a very cheap but pretty well padded seat cover from Lidl and that solved (some) of the problem.
A Place of Rare Serenity
I learnt that cycling, especially inside when you don’t have to worry about cars and pedestrians and potholes, is a really good form of mindfulness. With a good music soundtrack, somewhere between the rhythmic cycling of my legs and my mind being able to wonder where it wanted, I found myself in a place of rare serenity. Some of my best thoughts happened on that bike. I thought a lot about my concept of a higher power during that time. I thought a lot about the benefits of learning to surrender. Yes I would think, my legs hurt but just keep pedalling. I learnt to be OK with discomfort and how it leads to better things. And that sometimes you have to sweat, pant and wonder if your bits are going to fall off to achieve your goals.
It feels like I rode that bike for months, but actually it was probably only a few weeks before I found a new, deeper and more fulfilling passion. But I look back on my turbo trainer time with a real affection and gratitude.
Even if the thought of getting on that saddle again brings me out in a cold sweat.