My symptoms were still there. Every morning I still wake up thinking that they’ll have gone. 3 weeks since diagnosis and my legs still feel like two foreign attachments appended to my body. They’re both numb and tingling at the same time – some points have no feeling at all, others smart with hypersensitivity. My feet feel swollen with pins and needles. And I feel tired.
The LVIS 200km
6.30am. The alarm has gone off and I need to decide what to do. I sit up and feel achy. The wind is howling outside and I can hear the rain lashing against my bedroom window. My wife is asleep.
An hour and a half later I roll across the Start Line of the LVIS Bristol 200km Audax. The rain has abated slightly but it is still terrifically windy. I figure that if I get started and my legs warm up, the hollow feeling in my feet will disappear. A couple of guys from my cycle club start with me – which is hugely cheering – and soon we’re cycling up through Ashton Court Park with its view of Bristol and I begin to dare think that everything will be ok.
At that stage I’d no idea no far I’d get, or how my body would hold up, but I found that I could still pedal. The first hill made me feel a bit giddy as my heart rate picked up, but I could still cycle.
A huge tailwind billowed us North to the first checkpoint. I’d checked the route’s loop to see when and where I could abandon if I had to: an hour later we’d be cycling within a couple of miles of my house. I’d see then how I was feeling.
The conditions were hard (for everyone): fierce winds and wet roads. I hid within our little group, sheltering behind other riders, head buried in my waterproof; but no one was complaining. Despite the weather, cycling is, afterall, what cyclists do; if you don’t want to be there, you go home.
I didn’t want to stop at the second checkpoint, because I knew stepping off the bike would be painful on my pins and needles, but we all needed food. Although I didn’t feel great when we stopped – my legs were buzzing and felt alien – I was growing in confidence that I could carry on.
An hour or so later, the rain was calming down and the route headed up and over the Mendips. After a sharp descent on the far side, I got to Glastonbury tired and weakening, but increasingly elated. Some early warning signs were creeping in though: my vision was blurring and I was struggling with my body temperature – there were no two ways about it, it was going to be a tough last section of the ride. It was getting late too; I didn’t want to be cycling in the dark with blurring headlights if my vision was going to be having issues.
The home leg
Heading back to Bristol my mood was good. I had some good company and enjoyed idle chats at an easy pace, but I was also nervous: the last thing I wanted was an emergency pick-up the first time I’d been back out on my bike. So, at the first opportunity, I cut short the route and made a bee-line back to the start. By then, my vision was giving me all sorts of distortions: the sensation was as though I had sweat running into my eyes, but my brow was dry. I clipped a deep pothole that I thought I was missing. My bike wobbled.
My last 20km were painfully slow, running on empty; but I did them. Did it. Could still do it.
Afterwards I sat in my car looking at my pale face in the mirror. This diagnosis is going to change my life. I stared at my own eyes wondering what was going on behind there that I couldn’t see. That no one can see.
On the way home I ate a packet of cashew nuts, felt tired and wondered what my future held.