As is typical with British athletes (not that I consider myself an actual athlete, but I’ll draw analogies nonetheless), I made a strong start, with a confidence and belief that had everyone fooled, made it past the half way point, got further than ever before…and then crashed out! Call me what you will – Tim Henman? The England football team…?!
This is how it unraveled:
After a few days off the bike mini-breaking in Biarritz and San Sebastián, the next stage soon came around. On the 120km to Tarazona, the riding was great, but still my knee just didn’t feel right. Although it wasn’t as acute a pain as the few days after I originally twisted it, other parts of the joint started to hurt too, which means they’re probably working overtime to compensate for the weakness. This exacerbated my concerns – what state will it be in if I push through another 1000km? As you might have noticed, I loooooove sport, and count myself lucky to have survived 15 years of footballing with totally unscathed knees – pretty rare. As much as I wanted to finish the challenge, I don’t want to jeopardise my chances of being able to play anything ever again for the sake of being stubborn!
Traditionally, I’m not very good at listening to my body or resting. But during the few rest days, I’d contrived a bit of an ultimatum with myself – if after 4 days off, it still hurts when I cycle, take that as a clear message. To give up was not a decision I took lightly, but it feels good to take action now rather than keep struggling on and making it a long-term problem. I’m gutted, as with the exception of one particular joint, fitness-wise I’m feeling stronger than ever (an unexpected statement for a 31-year old!) and have plenty left in the tank. Hopefully I can channel this excess energy towards paddleboarding the Strait next weekend!
On the plus side – I had a lovely break in Biarritz and San Sebastián with Harriet and 3 of her chums. At the risk of this turning into a holiday snaps bore-fest, it was lush – we ate well, partook in some sea-based activities, and to my delight (and, I suspect, everyone else in my immediate vicinity) I got to put my lycra into a proper washing machine rather than hand washing!
Also positive, my last few days of cycling were really enjoyable – after Winona’s multiple visits to the bike doctor, she’s behaved impeccably. Cycling the Basque Country and Navarra & Aragon in Spain has been great – very windy at times, with the threat of storms, but I managed to avoid most of the rain and despite a few wobbly moments, I didn’t get blown over again! Mostly, it’s been warm with good roads.
Cycling aside, other things have been more challenging than France, in that I speak very little Spanish at all. And those words that I do know, I’m slightly unsure of because when I took a term of Spanish evening classes, unhelpfully, my teacher had a lisp. This means I’m not in the least bit sure when to go for ‘s’, ‘th’ or ‘z’ sounds, so tend to use them interchangeably, often to the severe detriment of my counterpart’s understanding.
In Pamplona I met and stayed with Owen and Perla – both really lovely people who looked after me well, showed me around the town in the evening and shared churros with me. For those that know the wonderful Chris Ninnes, I think Owen and he share a bit of a resemblance, do you? For the true ‘separated at birth’ test, perhaps I should have asked Owen if he can leap out of the roof of a VW campervan in one agile spring, as I have previously witnessed Ninny doing.
Anyway, then onto Tarazona, which is a picturesque little fortified town:
It was here that I took the decision to bow out, so today I changed course and cycled instead to Zaragoza in preparation for a flight home tomorrow. Poor Winona got imprisoned in the hotel reception for a while at my preferred departure time, but I was successfully able to negotiate her quick release.
So, Zaragoza here I am, with a bit of time to kill and some protective bubblewrap to try and procure before cycling to the airport tomorrow.
At this point, you’re probably expecting me to conjure up something really profound about the importance of failure and how it strengthens resolve, what it teaches you, blah blah. Unfortunately I’m not a very philosophical person, so I’m afraid I have very few words of wisdom. What I thought I would do instead is list some of the outcomes of the trip – what’s different in my little world now versus 2-and-a-bit weeks ago? In no particular order:
1. I have developed a new-found hobby of spotting the great pun potential of place names
2. As a result of this trip, my parents are now both competent and frequent Whatsapp users, and even throw in a few emojis sometimes for good measure. Autocorrect still foils mother every time, though.
3. I seem to have acquired (on temporary loan) fellow-paddler Naomi’s Godmother, Debbie – a.k.a. SFG (Surrogate Fairy Godmother). SFG has sent me motivational messages every single day without fail, so a big shout out for those – thanks SFG!
4. When that little voice says ‘you can’t do it’ (pretty much at the approach to every hill!) I’ve got way better at telling it to shut up. Although sometimes it’s right!
5. I got retweeted by ex-Arsenal player Lee Dixon!? #WinonaGoesViral
6. I have achieved my all-time bruise record – Harriet and I counted over 50 individual bruises on my legs in Biarritz. Needless to say, this was an incredibly unconventional beach look
7. French people are really, really great – don’t let dismissive service in almost all of their restaurants put you off the nation as a whole
8. I’ve been reminded how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful group of people on my team. Friends and family, you’re awesome!
9. I’m disappointed not to have finished what I aimed to do, but not disappointed in myself. I’ve worked through a few setbacks, mechanical failures and some awful weather, tried really hard and propelled Winona hundred of miles across France and some of Spain
10. I’ve learnt a lot about French and Spanish culture…namely, the hours they keep. Everything is shut most of the time. I am NOT in London anymore.
11. And last, but most importantly, thanks to your generosity 30 or so refugees will very soon have somewhere safe and dry to sleep. Boom!
But it could be more: http://www.justgiving.com/pedalthenpaddle
Terminator-style, I’ll be back…with a less Lycra-orientated wardrobe and some paddling chat!