HOW CYCLING KEEPS ME FIT AND SANE by Vimal Patel

I first began road cycling 5 years ago, when I heard on the radio about the very first British Heart Foundation London to Milton Keynes bike ride. I was looking for a new challenge, and I decided that this 58-mile ride would push me beyond my comfort zone. The longest distance I had cycled before this was 15 miles, so I signed up and began training.

The day came, and my wife dropped me and my bike off at Alexandra Palace, which was the start point, so that I could cycle back to my hometown of Milton Keynes. She was worried about me, as I had never done anything like this before, but luckily I bumped into Mike Neary, who was also doing the ride. Mike is responsible for the basic life support and first aid training for the practice, and as we decided to ride together, my wife was happy that I would be in good hands should anything happen!

There was a heavy thunder storm over London as we set off, which left us soaking wet for a good part of the ride. We made our way gradually north through some beautiful countryside and over a number of hills. My legs were ready to give up after 30 miles, and I was cold, wet and tired. But my determination took over, and I dug in deep mentally. We eventually got to the finish line at the Stadium MK almost 6 hours later. It was great to see our families and friends there to cheer us on. The exhilaration of finishing suddenly made all the pain and tiredness disappear.

Since then, I have completed the London to Milton Keynes bike ride 3 more times, with a faster finish time each year. I have also completed the London to Brighton ride once (as a reward I had fish and chips on Brighton pier!) I’m a member of Broughton Cycling Group, and I manage to get out once or twice a month with them, on a 40–50 mile ride, which I thoroughly enjoy each time. Ideally I would like to get out more, but running the dental practice takes up a lot of my spare time.

Last year I decided to push myself even further, and signed up for the 100-mile Vélo Birmingham, which took place in September. Together with 15,000 other riders, I set off from Birmingham city centre and headed off towards south Staffordshire and Worcestershire. We rode through some absolutely stunning English countryside on our way back to the finish line in Birmingham. As it was a Sunday, there were thousands of spectators by the roadside and many residents standing outside their houses. The encouragement they gave us was amazing, and certainly motivated us to keep going. It was a very tough event with hill after hill, and was the hardest ride I have done so far. My legs and lower back were destroyed at 70 miles, and again, I had to let my mind take over. I pictured the finish line, and pedalled mile by mile on what turned out to be the steepest part of the course. Getting to the outskirts of Birmingham was a huge relief, as it was mostly level or downhill from there. I managed to get to the finish line after 8 hours, with a big smile on my face, and as an added bonus my wife was there to meet me.

I have yet to decide on my next cycling challenge, but I’m sure something will come along to push me further.

I find that cycling is great for my fitness, but it also helps me to free my mind of the stresses of modern life and those of running a business, even if it is only for a few hours at a time. Taking part in the longer rides has certainly tested and improved my mental endurance, and has given me a great sense of achievement.

As a keen cyclist I’d like at to make a plea on behalf of all of us on two, pedal-powered wheels. When out on the road in your car please show consideration for us as we struggle to keep our balance while avoiding all the bumps and potholes. Bicycles are vehicles, and have the same right of way as any other vehicle. We also pay for the upkeep of the roads, the same as any other tax payer.

So please allow plenty of clearance when overtaking, and only overtake when safe to do so. I myself have had a number of near misses. Cars have often passed me too closely whilst overtaking, not only risking impact but also seriously effecting my balance.

Remember; the cyclist in front of you is someone’s father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter. They might even be someone’s dentist or doctor!

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