MOUNTAIN BIKING GIVES ME SUCH A HIGH
Discovering mountain biking, its amazing community and the thrill of adventures in the great outdoors has been a game-changer for Adele.
People don’t usually associate mountain biking with women in midlife, but actually it’s perfect for us. When British Cycling researched what puts women off cycling, the number one thing is traffic, but when you’re mountain biking there is none.
And every time you go out on your bike is a little adventure. You take yourself off into the woods, with friends or on your own, and because of the changes in weather and conditions, each time the trails are slightly different.
“My whole life was completely full on and I felt like I needed something for me”
I got back into cycling when I was about 40. What with work and three small children under the age of eight, my whole life was completely full on and I felt like I needed something for me. And on the plane to a skiing holiday I noticed a magazine sticking out of the pocket of the seat in front, open on a page about the London Triathlon. There were pictures of men swimming and running and a woman riding a bike. Noticing her I thought “I can do all those things and if she can do it I can”.
I wasn’t very fit, but I decided to enter the triathlon. This was in January and it took place in August. Training was essential to get me fit enough to do it. I borrowed my husband’s mountain bike and did all my training off road in the woods near our house. I soon got into it. Amazingly, in August I completed the triathlon, a massive thrill. And of the three sports the one that stuck with me is mountain biking.
“It’s an adventure you can have where you’re kind of safe, because you can decide your level of risk”
I’m lucky to live in an area where there are lots of woods and I joined a group of women who meet up every Friday to ride their bikes. I still ride with them now, 15 years later. I’ve become part of the big mountain bike community in my area and it’s such a wonderful thing.
There’s so much more to mountain biking than just fitness. The biggest thing is how it makes you feel. I read the results of a survey that found 90% of the respondents ride a mountain bike for the benefits to their mental health and I can see why. There is also the community and the friendships. It’s quite a small sport and everybody knows each other.
But a massive plus is the sense of adventure. It’s an adventure you can have where you’re kind of safe, because you can decide your level of risk. On a road bike if you get into an accident with a car it’s probably not going to be your fault and you’ll come off worse. On a mountain bike you’re more likely to fall off but it will be self-inflicted, because you’ll have chosen a line that’s too tricky for you or the route is slippery – and you’ve made the decision to do it. Of course you can always choose to jump off and walk.
“You see sunsets, sunrises, Nature changing through the year. It’s really special”
Getting out into the outside is a huge benefit. You’re in the woods and it may sound a bit hippy but I think we came from the woods, so it’s very healing to be in that quiet, nourishing environment. You see sunsets, sunrises, Nature changing through the year. It’s really special.
The only sports I can compare it to are skiing and horse riding, because of that sense of taking off on an adventure, finding your own trail. But it’s much more amenable as an outdoor sport because you don’t need a horse or ski resort!
And it’s fun. You can really frighten yourself, or just go low-key. I’ll say to myself ‘I’m just going to go for a ride and have a really lovely time, nothing extreme” but within 20 minutes you can guarantee I’m thinking “Ooh I’ll just go and try that trail”. There are always challenges that are just beyond me and I’m always going to try them. And doing so gives me such a high. That and all the endorphins from the exercise mean I come back in the best mood ever. I’ve been in a beautiful place, I’m full of endorphins and I’ve had a lovely time with my friends.
“There are always challenges that are just beyond me and I’m always going to try them.”
We have a saying that ‘What’s said in the woods stays in the woods’’ – you’ll share things you wouldn’t normally say because no one else is around to hear! In this way we put the world to rights. The women in our group have gone through good times and bad over the years, and you always know that a ride in the woods is a safe place to go and talk about it. But you can’t dwell on it too long because you’ll suddenly come to a technical section and have to concentrate on what you’re doing rather than talking. The very nature of mountain biking doesn’t allow you to wallow and indulge.
Mountain biking has changed my life in so many ways, not least because I write about it. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I am really interested in issues such as motivation, fear and self-confidence. Fear is fascinating. I spoke to a sports psychologist who’d done research on it and how it links to how you behave in life.
My daughters now ride too, and when they’re nervous about something in their day-to-day lives, I say it’s like being at the top of a sheer drop. You look over the edge and you think “I don’t want to do that’ and you just have to turn round, set the bike up and ride through it. And when you’ve done it you feel so happy. Applying that to life, you face your fears – like, say, a job interview – see it through and you feel that amazing sense of achievement. Because you can do it – it’s just fear holding you back.
“You look over a sheer drop and think “I don’t want to do that” and you just have to turn round, set the bike up and ride through it.”
Has mountain biking made me braver? It’s made me aware of areas where I struggle to be fearless. I’m not braver but more philosophical about how to deal with things I’m not happy with.
And when you’re riding up hills you have to find your rhythm and just keep turning your legs, Just keep going. It’s how you get up hills and it’s also how you do difficult things. Don’t rush, don’t panic. Just get into a rhythm and keep going.
I’m lucky because I live somewhere where I can ride from the house, but the realty for many people is they have to put their bike in the car to get to biking trails – so it’s a commitment. But road cycling is brilliant too. I do a lot of that in summer and cycle three times a week, either with friends or just on my own.
I’ve made amazing friends through our shared love for mountain biking and we now go away together. Eight of us went to Wales to a purpose-built trails centre, all over 45, all women. Nobody’s going to go “I’m too old for this” about a particular challenge. We might say “I’m not fit enough right now” or ‘I haven’t been out on my bike much recently”, but never that we’re too old. I know someone who’s 63 who does really extreme downhill stuff. She’d had cancer and got better and she just said ‘Why shouldn’t I?’.
For me the best thing about mountain biking is I’m out in the woods, where we’re meant to be. I’m not in a gym, looking in a mirror. There are no mirrors – just me and the great outdoors.
Words: Marina Gask
Insta: adele_writer Twitter @adelemitchell
Above: Adele riding out in the woods.
This picture: Adele’s group of mountain biking friends