On Track

The promised legacy of London 2012 was world-class sporting facilities for the city, including, most excitingly, an indoor velodrome.

I ride, every day, a fixed gear bicycle. I am one of those people. It shouldn’t be hard for me to ride on a velodrome.

One of the things I am most ashamed of is my fear of riding on the track.

The first time I rode at Herne Hill Velodrome I turned up with boots full of swagger, bravado plastered over my face to disguise my inner terror – and I did it. Once I chose to do a track session on my birthday as I wanted it to mean something. I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday because I wanted to be the only one who understood why it mattered. I thought I’d cracked it.

I often got shouted at for not following the wheel in front closely enough and I always made excuses about the person in front being sketchy, when in reality I was too scared.

Then a day at Lea Valley Velodrome was arranged. I’d been before, as a spectator, so I knew what to expect.

I had a bad feeling about it, riding through the torrential rain on the way over to east London. I got there late and was pleased to miss the early session. I got moved to the second session and pretended to be happy about it.

I was cajoled into getting on a bike and doing a lap of the infield. I rode around, slowly, feeling like my internal organs were being crushed by a self-fulfilling sense of failure. My friends were standing about, eating cereal bars and chatting. I tried to convince myself everything was fine.

The safety briefing with Rob was a blur. Everyone else knew what they were doing. I felt sick. People peeled off and soon were passing at head height. I got on. Deep breath. Clipped in, holding the rail. Breathe.

I let go, rolled forward exactly one rotation and and grabbed the rail again. Breathe. Oh god. My eyes filled with tears and I looked away from the track, as if this would stop anyone noticing.

“You alright?” asked Rob. “Take your time. You’ve got all the time you want.”

The tears escaped and I had to unclip so I could let go of the handrail and wipe my face with my mitts. It was futile, they just coming from this well of insecurity and doubt.

I’d done a training session with Rob before, road racing, and I remembered what now felt like embarrassing bravado at Hog Hill. I’d thought I was so cool. And now I was crying by the side of the track, dissolving with every minute.

I tried to reason with myself. I knew the others in my group had more track experience and so someone would end up shouting at me to get out of the way at some point. I really didn’t want to be shouted at in this strange weatherless room with its perfect wooden floors.

I didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t do it well, and I couldn’t do it well because I was afraid to make a move, afraid of failure.

The other riders regrouped and David told me that if I wasn’t going to ride then I had to leave.

I handed the bike back, handed the shoes back. I went over to my bag and sat in the middle of this cavernous space and cried. This was the home of such great triumphs – the Olympics, the day I met Chris Hoy, the Bespoked show – and here I was sullying it.

I could see my friend’s kid, waiting patiently while mum rode, eyeing me warily. I blanked an acquaintance who was keen to find out all the soap opera details, to let everyone know how I’d bottled it at the track.

I went to the changing room. I could sense all the people who’d changed there. Champions, kids, coaches; the excitement, the tension, the thrill of riding around the top of the banking at the best venue to come out of the whole Olympic legacy. I curled up, letting the tears fall down my face, off the wooden bench and onto the lino floor unchecked, staying as still as possible so the motion detector lights would go out.

Usually I can keep in mind that situations are transient and that no matter what it is, I’ll get over it.

But sometimes something cuts too deep and I know with a sickening certainty that I’m permanently branded.


2 thoughts on “On Track

  1. Ah Hat, I think I can imagine what you went through. The only time I’ve been on track was outdoors at Roubaix, it had rained and was very slippery in places and I bottled it. One of our few took a spill – that was it. I sped up on the straight bits but crawled along the bends, hugging the inside. So I’m not sure what it was that spooked you, but for me it was fear of falling. And now, although I love the idea, I know I’ll never do it again.
    Nice writing, cheers.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. Well done for even getting on the track at Roubaix despite the rain – tiny victories. I don’t think I could bring myself to try again either. In fact I don’t know whether I could even go back to the velodrome. It all feels very silly as I have no idea why I couldn’t do it this time.

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