The life-changing passion Pam discovered when she retired
Getting to a stage in life when you can work less, or even not at all, is the perfect time to do more of the things you love. For Pam, 65, a house move and a reduction of her working hours led to her discovering a pastime that she has not only become passionate about doing herself, but also about sharing with other people.
“Growing up I was the child who would hide in the toilets at school to avoid PE. I used to have a heavy period constantly! I was fat and I used to get stuck on bits of gym equipment, so my exercise confidence was zero.
Even as an adult I was only ever active in intermittent bursts. I had a period of being a gym bunny, when I used to go regularly, but that was only for 3-4 years, then I dropped out and did absolutely nothing. And I used to do occasional Zumba classes. But I have problems with my knees which I got through skiing, and I can’t do the sort of exercise where you twist and turn. Also I was working full-time running my own business, which didn’t leave much time for exercise.
In the early days I would think “this is just awful”
I began cycling when we moved house to a much more rural area with lots of lovely lanes which felt much more conducive to being on a bike. I found it dreadfully hard at first. Our house is in a bit of a hollow, so you have to go uphill to get out of it in any direction. In the early days, my lungs would scream and my heart would pound and I’d think “I can't get through this pain barrier. This is just so awful.” But the more you do it, the less painful it becomes until you realise one day that you've got up that hill without any pain at all.
This was a couple of years before I finished work. As I reduced my hours and went part time, I did more cycling, and then it gained momentum from there. Now if I don’t go out on the bike for a couple of days I get withdrawal symptoms. And I’m fitter than I’ve ever been at any time of my life, so cycling has made a huge difference to me
It’s a complete anitdote to my previous life
What attracted me at first was the chance to explore. I love exploring, and you can get so much further on a bike than you can running or on foot.
Being in the fresh air is another appeal. Having spent 30 years in an office, one of the things I really value now is being outside, seeing nature, seeing the seasons change, When I was running the business I used to look up and it would be autumn and and I'd somehow missed spring and summer! So it's a complete antidote to my previous life, which was desk bound and indoors.
More recently the social side has become a real bonus. As I gradually wanted to do more cycling and my husband, well, didn’t (his tolerance is about 20 miles) I googled ‘women's cycling groups’ and came across an initiative by British cycling called Breeze, which trains individuals to lead rides.
Coffee and cake are as important as the riding
Anyone can do it so long as you like cycling (it helps if you like people as well!) Once you've got their qualification and become one of their champions, you can post rides on their website - letsride.co.uk - and invite people to join you. Each champion can take eight people, but you can also do it with other trained champions, so, for example, you can have 16 people if there are two of you.
The champions are responsible for recce-ing a ride and finding a cafe stop halfway, because coffee and cake is as important as the riding.
All the rides are completely free
There are different levels of rides, colour graded by difficulty and all completely free. There are yellow ones that are between 5 and ten miles for people who perhaps haven’t been on a bike for ages.They may well be off road, because understandably, people are concerned about traffic. They’re very much focused on building confidence.
Then we have green rides which are 20 miles, at a pace of about 8-9 miles an hour. But we stop in the middle, and you’d be astonished how quickly 10 miles goes by. It sounds like a long way but you do it easily in an hour. We have a cuppa and a breather and then come back again. And along the way we stop and have a natter, drink water, look at things and take photos. So it’s a totally sociable way of cycling.
Then there are blue, purple and red rides which get faster and longer. A blue would be around 30 miles and a purple and a red might be up to 40. So there’s something for everybody.
I get so much pleasure seeing people gain in confidence
What you find, which is incredibly rewarding for a champion, is that you start someone off at that yellow end, with a lack of confidence and anxiety about being on the road, and you see them progress. So much of the pleasure of being a Breeze champion for me is seeing people develop and gain in confidence. Also, I’ve made so many friends through the groups. I’ve lived in this area for 28 years and I’ve suddenly got this huge network people I know, many of whom have become really firm friends. We ride together and we share our lives together really.
The other thing I find especially rewarding is that people come to the rides for all sorts of reasons. Health and fitness is part of it, of course, but quite often ladies in their 50’s whose kids are going off to university find they’ve got some me-time and they want to expand their social network. There are ladies who might have a mental health problem. They're suffering from stress, for example, and taking time out of work. They don't have to tell us why they’re there unless they choose to. But I know that they derive so much from from the experience. And, of course, there are those who come just for sheer pleasure or to improve their skills.
One of my big priorities was to look after my health
Of course I couldn’t have done all this when I was working full time. When I stopped working, one of my big priorities was to look after my health. Being free from responsibility and stress helped, but I also wanted to get and stay as fit as I could. If I’m going to live to an older age and have a long life, I want to do it well. I don’t want to do it, if I can possibly help it, from an armchair, or a wheelchair or a bed. I want to be physically active for as long as I can. And cycling is really good because it’s low impact, it’s much less heavy on your joints than running.
But you do need to do more than just riding. Exercises like yoga and pilates are very important to cycling and I don’t do enough of those. In the winter, when it’s harder to get out on the bike because of the weather, I do try to go to the gym because at my age you do need to be doing weights and weight-bearing. I definitely don‘t feel 65 though. Whatever that’s supposed to feel like.
I’ve set myself two challenges for my 65th birthday
I’ve set myself two challenges this year - one to do 65 new rides by the end of the year. I'm currently up to number 12. So I'm a bit behind! But I have organised a number of cycling holidays, here in the UK and abroad, to help me catch up
The other big challenge I set myself for my 65th birthday was to do the Cape Town Cycle Tour, which is a 68 mile ride, and four and a half thousand feet of elevation. I did it In March I was very worried about my ability to achieve the elevation because I've never done four and a half thousand feet in my life before. But I actually found it okay and I got a medal for completing it!
I have a very tolerant husband, who’s very understanding about me disappearing off on rides and cycling trips. But he does a passion of his own - remote controlled model aircraft. He makes them from kits, flies them, crashes them and mends them again. That takes him off without me, so there's a sort of agreed reciprocal arrangement between us.
I’d like to do more of this when I can’t cycle quite so much
I'd be bereft without cycling, but I do think about the things I might do if I didn't have it in my life. I have an idea for a social enterprise I’d be interested in starting and also I’ve qualified to be a British Cycling Level One coach. So I can do very basic bike skills coaching. That’s something I’d like to do more of in the future. Last year, I spent some time teaching women to ride bikes and I adored doing that. To see someone quaking with fear on a bike they’ve never ridden, and in three sessions, being able to ride with confidence is one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had in my life. Absolutely awesome. So if I get to a stage when I can't cycle quite so much I’d love to do more of that kind of thing.
In the meantime, I want to see as much of the world on a bike as much as I can. So my plan is to do lots more traveling abroad on two wheels whilst I’m able to.”
Has retirement enabled you to pursue a passion, or given you the time to discover something new like it has for Pam? Would love to hear your stories!
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