Finishing the year and starting the year doing the work.
2018, I wore a heart rate monitor for all my training, riding, climbing, yoga, whatever. It felt a bit much. 2019, I stuck to riding only. All of which I keep notes of in a training diary in my calendar, ’cos I’m like that. So, 121 rides last year, and 150+ ‘yoga’ (core, strength, stretching, body work type, as well as actual yoga). Less riding than 2018, fewer long rides, virtually no climbing, and other year without doing a ballet or any kind of dance class in a studio, in front of a mirror.
Interesting stuff: The month of May, with almost no going into the red, and plenty of green and blue zones, that was Ramadan. The hole with nothing in it, June and July, that was me having my face peeled off in Spain. The first big ride, in October, was the Women’s 100, and the second was riding the Berliner Mauerweg on Tag der Deutschen Einheit. In retrospect, I can already see in my gappy training that chronic fatigue from a year of over-intensity and stress (surgery was only a part of it) was getting to me, November and half of December is that burnout.
Bike is currently in need of complete rebuild and new components, most of my cycling gear is similarly needing to be retired, but whatever. I keep riding. Every ride has had something in it for me, and it’s been so, so good for my mental and emotional health, as well as keeping my physicality ticking over. And it’s winter, a broken, very much not cold and snowless winter, barely ever below zero, but even that, riding in the cold, wet, dark grot makes me smile.
Seen on the corner of Dresdener Str. and Oranienplatz. Hectic sick Fiat Abarth 595 in eye acid Adrenaline Green. It’s like they saw the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera green and went, “Hold my barolo.” Absolutely the loudest colour in Kreuzberg. Also one of my all-time fave over-achieving small cars. 180 turbo’d horsepower for a bit over 1000kg is frankly hilarious. 5-speed manual and tops out at 225km/h. And it’s the only one of the recent-ish trend of “Let’s do our old compact city cars again,” that didn’t add, “but bigger and crapper,” to the end of that sentence (Volkswagen Beetle and Mini, I’m looking at you.) Have you ever heard such pretty hoonage? Probably the best, cheap, burbleburblebraaaaapchitterchitter since the WRX slapped a turbo on the boxer and STi’d their way to blue and gold rally glory in the ’90s. “Look like a baller, Ps and that.”
Like I said to the guy behind the counter at Rapha while we yarned about Taiwan, me with a way more alcoholic than I expected Weinschorle in me, buying the Women’s 100 jersey because it looked so good on the other riders, and I’m a sucker for certain intense colour combinations which make my eyes ping, “I feel kinda manipulated here.”
This morning, I discovered the quote in the zip pocket, which for some stupid reason touched me, even though I know fully well the “have it all, do it all, your only limit is your belief” thing is very much for and available to a certain, specific subset of people, while the rest of us have to navigate the intersections. Still, just as others have done the navigating before me, showing paths in the liminal spaces, so too do I do this with others in mind.
I also expect next year’s jersey to have 2019’s Transcontinental overall winner, Fiona Kolbinger’s dead brilliant quote in the pocket: “I could have slept less.”
“For a long time I failed to believe in my own capabilities but on a remote dirt road near the town of Krivača, close to the Bosnian border, I realised that there really was no distance I could not handle.”
— Emily Chappell
First placed woman, 2016 Transcontinental
Time taken: 13 days, 10 hours 28 minutes
And repping my trans and non-binary sisters & femmes.
Earlier in the week, I did a 60km ride. Unintentionally. I’d planned for 40–50km, to see how I would feel in the ride and after, and whether physically I could handle a few hours on the bike and 100km, having not done a long ride since before Ramadan. More importantly, whether post-surgery recovery had progressed far enough that the duration and intensity wouldn’t throw up weirdness, either during or after. Three months, or thirteen weeks, felt long enough to get away with it, even while I still can’t really push hard or do fun stuff like headstands. But having my face peeled off has been and is all a very unknown healing process.
I’d pretty much committed in July to doing the annual Women’s 100 ride, and it would have taken some pretty gruesome post-ride post-surgery fuckery to have kept me away. My other anxiety though. That kept me occupied.
I’ve seen and lived for decades how trans and intersex women get treated in the world and in sport. Most recently like Kate Weatherly, who’s smashing it in downhill mountain biking, but took so much shit for doing so. Or gender non-conforming people, including cisgender women who get judged as ‘not feminine enough’, like Caster Semenya, who had the rules changed on her to prevent her competing. And non-binary feminine people, who are pretty much entirely absent. This is my lived reality, my truth, my selfhood — along with everything else, along with my endless love of movement.
And I’ve been in Berlin long enough to know it (and Germany) is 10 to 20 years behind on this shit. So, y’know, ‘Women’. But not all women. And not all feminine people either. Cycling is also frankly bourgie. It’s a leisure activity that hoovers up thousands of euros — and yes, cyclocross is the working class Belgian national sport, it’s still mad expensive. It has a certain aesthetic, which in turn denotes who’s going to feel comfortable and see themselves in the imagery — and in skintight lycra, whose body type, whose skin colour, whose history, all this. Who’s going to feel like they can roll up on a Saturday morning and fit right in, and who’s taking a risk.
I was at least going to roll up, carrying all that not as a burden, but as something I’m coming to understand (’cos I’m a slow cunt and it takes me decades) as an honour. The people in my life, closest to me, I would not have them without this, I would not be invited into their worlds without this, I would not see and experience the world as I do without this.
And it was pretty fucking good. Sunny late summer, a very leisurely ride through parts around Potsdam and Brandenburg I’ve never been to before, and skimming along parts I know from my Berliner Mauerweg rides, ice cream at the ferry stop, doing it all in the slow, social group, plenty of very tasty bikes, plenty of very friendly women. A couple of odd moments, but y’know cis people, they don’t have much range.
And for the slow people up the back, this isn’t a criticism of Rapha (the very expensive cycling clothing brand that organised this worldwide event), who seem to genuinely be taking cycling advocacy and outreach seriously and turned on a fun day. What I’m talking about here is simply beyond the scope of what this kind of event (or straightland generally) is familiar or has experience with, which is nonetheless vital, fundamental, critical, if the intent is meaningful enfranchisement. If the intent is to sell expensive, event-themed gear, well shit, I biked home with a Women’s 100 cycling jersey. It’s dope as fuck.
Which brings it all around to me again. Who am I in this situation? Who do I want to be? How much of myself do I want seen, and how much am I prepared to compartmentalise myself? A corollary, existing before and simultaneously with this, is, what are my obligations?
I want my trans sisters and femme siblings to feel — to know — this is something they can do, that they’re not going to be the only one in straightland, to see themselves in this. Just like I want this. And I’m already there and doing it, and have been doing it for years, and I while I might have anxiety about what potential shittery cis women are going to bring, I have absolutely no fear. I’ve been doing ridiculous physicality for decades. This is who I am. Literally embodied in the word, ‘professional’. So I have an obligation to step the fuck up and be seen, and rep this.
And when I say trans sisters and femme siblings, it’s always on my mind, not only this. I’m the secret multiple immigrant multiethnic Muslim (crappy Muslim, but) with neurofuckery, who’s also trans (whatever that means and whatever else I don’t know), who uses ‘she’ and ‘her’ knowing those pronouns only make sense to me outside a binary, cis-heteronormative space, and defo not a young bitch anymore. If I’m going to do this kind of ride, put myself into that space, and fuck it’s taken a long time to feel like it could be possible, if I’m going to be in an event that says it’s for women, I need to be very damn clear about what kind of woman I am, and what kinds of women and feminine people I expect to to see there, to not only be encouraged to be there but to be actively enabled to turn up. This shit is political, and it is entirely about representation, about intersectional feminism, and about all those lived realities, all those people who do not have an easy place in the world.
Yes, I am serving Trans Femme Athletic Realness at the Rapha Women’s 100 in Berlin, and my bike’s top tube notes said, “kia kaha [-o-]”.
’90s ’00s JDM import tuner spoiler red alert. Seen a couple of times on Weserstraße, the curbside rear quarter panel taken a beating, but oh child observe those rims. Observe the hood vent and spoiler. Observe millennial coupé hatchback hoonage. Tight. Apparently a Toyota Celica 1.8 VVTLi T Sport, or possibly a 1.8 VVT-i, defo 7th Gen. and pretty sure post-facelift, so, 2003 or later. I seriously worked out that from the side indicator lights. Memories of Chapel St. on a Friday night, bass bins rattling glass, underside lighting, proper hoonage backed up both sides from Toorak to High St. “See man driving a German whip.”
I thought it was nine, and if I’m forgetting where I’m up to, obviously I’m well into recovery. I’ve been like a nana driving along in first wondering why I can’t go faster and it’s not because I don’t know how to drive, it’s because it’s a fucking automatic and it’s stuck in Limp Mode (that’s a thing, yes it is). Which I try to accept, but fuck me it’s trying. Some days are good — some hours are good, and then I go back to sleep, or deal with weird tension pressure tingling numbness swelling low grade discomfort that wears at a bitch. And then there’s the pimples and other skin fuckery, which I also accept as my face’s pretty natural reaction to be half pulled off. But no pretending it isn’t distressing as fuck.
And then there was today, a Friday at the end of a week that was a real struggle in keeping any energy. It was sunny, 25° and feeling hotter, which I know from the last five weeks of riding complicates things. So I kept it simple, just make it through four laps, that’s all I had to do; three even, if I felt shit. I was concentrating on keeping my elbows bent, and breathing through my nose, right back in low energy Ramadan training there.. The bent elbows thing, particularly when they approach 90° is for me a constant movement of pushing forward, down or pulling back with my hands, so my arms are supporting much of my weight, and hovering, so I’m holding my position with back and hamstrings, as well as moving forward and back on my saddle. It’s constant work. The result of this is also I am more aerodynamic, and put down more power more easily. So I ended up feeling rather good.
Rather good as in maintaining 30km/h+ for 2/3 of each lap. Very unexpected, that. And feeling solid. It’s the first ride since surgery where I actually had energy and could push a bit. Gentle pushing, but consistent and way above where I’ve been until now, and for a duration, and repeatable. Slowly getting there. Slow time all the way.
I was doing laps of Tempelhoferfeld this morning and had a realisation I’d definitely gone over another hump in post-surgery recovery, ’cos I was back to my usual getting way too excited and loudly, “Yes, bitch! Eight weeks! Fucking nailed it!” carrying on. Which is the first time I’ve felt this good since having my face peeled off on June 13th.
Last week I managed training on five days: three shorter and lighter than usual rides, and two of a mix of core, Pilates, stretching. The week previous to that, I’d ridden twice early in the week and felt like I’d been ambitious in even that — the “six weeks until you can resume training” thing is real. Mid-last week, I felt frankly fucking horrible, like dirty anaesthetic was leeching out or some other vileness. Maybe the lack of endurance training for 6 weeks was churning stuff up. The surgery itself was also unimpressed with me. This week though, tiredness and soreness is very much from doing the work.
Not the full work, and still a long way to go, but getting work done nonetheless. I can neither push into all-out efforts, nor maintain a long endurance effort. Doing hard, core training with weights is also out, as is most of yoga, and anything upside down is not worth the scummy feeling. I’m not going to beat myself up for this though, I tend to recover slowly from surgery, or rather, I seem to take my time, and there’s more than enough I can do with is directly beneficial to rehab and recovery.
I also, for me, put on a bit of weight these last eight weeks. Plenty of not training and plenty of post-op eating (so fucking hungry, I swear I was in overdrive). Which on one side was difficult for me, feeling my muscles lose the density they have when they’re being used all the time. And putting on some fat is a new physicality for me — all of which is relative, as I have a default weight I end up on when I’m training heavily, irrespective of how much I eat. This is not about self fat-shaming, rather about how my physiology swings from skin and bones if I’m training heavily and stressed, to where I’m at now, which is one of the longest periods I haven’t trained for in many years — the not-training is what’s been difficult. On the other side, I really fucking love it. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been this curvy before and I am down with this shit. Which I’ve always known, it’s just for my physiology thrashing hard and being curvy are a ‘pick one’ reality, and I go with the former ’cos stupid is as stupid does.
So, like I’ve already said to someone who’s probably going to read this, I’m torn. I like where physically I’m at right now, and I know ramping up training (with two big rides coming up) will strip this off. I have no solution for this, so I’m going to eat chocolate. Also to celebrate eight weeks and still 110% No Regerts!