by Caitlin Bartlett –
At the end of last week I went for a run, for the first time in ages. It was a beautiful evening, the sun was starting to look all autumnal, and I felt restless and achey as I’d been sat at a computer all day. But it wasn’t that which convinced me to go. That morning I’d spent an hour talking to Jennifer. She’d said to me (probably not realising the impact of her words on my surprisingly sedentary self), ‘I say to people, imagine what pace you’d have to go to comfortably run 5k’. She paused. I imagined. ‘Now go a bit slower’.
I thought, ‘I can probably do that, y’know’. And so I did. Off into the fields near my house which, until then, I hadn’t explored. We’re all bombarded with so many images of what athletes, racers, competitors, runners, movers look like that lots of us often think, ‘that just isn’t me’. I’m not that fast. I’m not that fit. I’m a bit tired.
And that’s where Jennifer comes in. She isn’t a pro-athlete. She doesn’t spend everyday weighing out her pasta and protein. She’s a retired finance director, who now takes part in Ironman triathlons and is a certified ironman coach. She says, ‘I’m not particularly good, I usually come last’. For her, there’s something about enduring a little bit, keeping going, pushing yourself a little, and about finding space and time to process things when cycling or running.
Her and her family faced a choice after her eldest son died a few years ago, and Jennifer struggled with her mental health. They chose to keep moving. To be active, to cope with grief and loss by getting out there and going, even if the going’s slow. ‘You could stay at home with crisps and a bottle of wine, or you could prioritise your health and wellbeing’. After the London Marathon, and a lot in between, Jennifer took part in Ironman events in Austria, Spain, and the Kona World Championships in Hawaii. And so Slowcoach was born (her brilliant twitter handle), where she focusses on getting there, going at a pace you can manage, and doing things even if you don’t manage to cross the finish line.
Jennifer started volunteering at Broken Spoke as a ride leader on the Pedalling On project. Pedalling On supports people who are aged 55 and over into cycling, by going at a really comfortable pace (it really is comfy!), in friendly company, and stopping for a break half way round. The Spoke was recommended to Jennifer by a few different people, and she said when she walked in she felt, ‘wow!’ Having done some courses to build her knowledge and skills in maintenance and mechanics, and having bought a lovely old steel commuter, she’s started helping neighbours and friends sort their gears out, and encourage them to get out for a cycle.
She’s now working as a ride leader and, whenever I come into the workshop and see her brilliant blue Peugeot, I feel glad that she’s there. Glad that she’s part of our community, that she’s brave enough to share her story with us, and that she found a way to keep going… and that involved a bicycle!
So after a day at the desk, I feel a bit stiff and achey. In my mind, I can hear Jennifer saying ‘half an hour of slow steady cycling gets rid of aches and pains rather than causes them!’ I think I’ll get back on my bike and maybe take the longer route home.