Saturday, 10 November 2012

Needing permission

Yesterday was one of those days where I felt that summer wasn't just teasing- she was actually here. I woke up to glorious sunshine and the sound of the kids next door playing outside with a noisy exuberance that was perhaps not entirely welcome at half seven in the morning, but nevertheless was an incitement to get out of my nest and Go Do Something. After looking at both my noble two-wheeled beasts I plumped for a day on the trails at Woodhill, got my stuff together, and headed up the highway to the playground.

I recently bought some MTB clip-in pedals and shoes from the awesome, and I was desperate to try them out. However, whilst I have a semi-decent toolkit (thanks, dad!) I lacked the leverage to get the old flat pedals off. In a moment of genius I decided to take them to Woodhill with me and get them swapped over at the pro shop there.
It's like a gym and a nature trail and a playground in one!

I've been steadily accumulating bits and bobs for cycling since I recently rediscovered the joys of throwing a bike round a forest, and turned up with my shiny new shoes, a Camelbak, and iPod on one of those armbands that makes you feel half cyborg badass, half poseur who belongs on a crosstrainer at Les Mills. However, my bike is ten years old and has been, well, neglected is a kind way to put it, having been used variously as a commuter vehicle (London, once ending up under a car), a scourge of cycle tracks (Glasgow), an occasional off-road beastie (everywhere), and room/garage/outside ornament (also everywhere). I can do basic maintenance things to it but intermittent use and my epic levels of procrastination (hello, facebook and tumblr!) mean that it's a bit munted. As I wheeled it towards the pro-shop I got a hit of social awkwardness. Would I look like a prat for getting new clip-in pedals put on an outdated contraption that I've been riding my entire adult life? Would they look at my new shoes and "rehydration system" and think I was the worst kind of track-blocking waster?

And this is the crux of my post. That paralysing feeling that you somehow need permission to do something, especially something active. That unless you are a world champion you're not allowed to take part. That if you have new gear you're posing and if your gear is crap you're not taking it seriously. That you're too fat to wear workout gear, too old to skate. Whatever.

Like running, I'm slow on the mountain bike. I pull over for people behind me. I'm cautious on the downhills (though with every sortie into the woods I improve my skills and my speed) and my knee means I take it easy on the uphills. I wear cycling gear I pick up from the Warehouse or clearance sales. I'm new to the sport and it's like learning to ride a bike all over again a lot of the time. I see the "cool kids" with their disc brakes and their carbon shocks and feel a bit intimidated. What happens in the playground comes back to haunt you in adultland sometimes.

I guess that's where my experiences in roller derby have been so valuable. I felt that fear, that lack of "permission" to be there when I first started out. I felt it doubly so when, on my second ever practice, I got a bollocking by the coach for not being able to do one of the falls properly. If it hadn't been for some of the other skaters there who talked to me, made me feel like I DID have permission to be there, I probably would never have gone back. It was that feeling of inclusiveness and support from pretty much everyone there that kept me going back and made me determined to do well.

It was a lesson I remembered when I started coaching. Give people permission to be there. Be friendly, don't judge them for coming with a complete set of new gear bought online before even setting foot on the track, or for coming in skates bought when disco was in, or for coming with nothing. It doesn't matter. Elitism just strangles the enthusiasm that every sport or activity needs to keep going.

I remembered all that as I asked for some help getting the pedals swapped over. The guy who helped me out clearly didn't give a stuff about how old my bike was, or that I was wearing a Kathmandu jersey and pink gloves. He just seemed happy to help out someone as keen on throwing themselves about the woods as he was. As ever, that feeling permission is needed came not from the experts, but from myself.

Of course, the bike suffered a major mechanical fail on the trails which means I might have to look at buying a new bike anyway, but that's beside the point. Don't feel you need to be brilliant at something just to start doing it. Don't feel like you need permission from the elite to enter their territory. Be honest about your skill level and confidence and you're only going to improve. Which you won't if you sit and wait for permission from people who in reality are just stoked to have you take an interest in their sport to begin with.

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