MONTE-RUSH MAN 80m — 0%

My name is Hamish Duncan and I’ve suffered anxiety for the last 12 years. I broke my back snowboarding in 2004 and thought everything was over. I’ve come a long way since then, have learnt a lot, put my life back together and want to share some of my lessons with you all. We’re all in this together, so let me tell you a little about this blog series.

It’s dedicated to my good friend and travel partner Nelson Pratt who, in the words of Whitelines Magazine Editor-In-Chief, Ed Blomfield was “one of the most talented and popular snowboarders in the UK… friendly, funny, loyal and above all humble”. He tragically died in 2012, but his legacy lives on — we celebrate his life in an annual cycle sportive. I’m taking part again this year, have set out an intense 8-week Propello Training Program, and will be joined by a selection of different MEN to share the experience and talk about the problems that many of us face.

Vulnerability is strength. It’s the cornerstone of confidence. I’ve never knowingly come first — or last — in anything. As a snowboarder, travelling the world with Nelson we were always inspiring each other rather than competing. Naturally, cycling has always been a non-competitive activity and one that I know we would have enjoyed together.

I walked around for two years with serious difficulty but soon realised that all the things that we view as negative can in fact be our liberation should we choose to accept and rise to the challenge we face. You won’t be truly happy until you fully accepted it. Accepting a new situation will help you come to terms with yourself. So, as you read the first entry to this blog, think about the future of MEN? What does it mean to be MEN? What can MEN be? This is important. We must learn to be flexible and change. It’s all about being happier! Masculinity can be a problem, let’s choose to celebrate it. That’s how we can become, and most importantly, stay happy in the future.

It’s five o’clock on Thursday evening and I’m riding out along the Bristol to Bath cycle path with my friend Simon. This will be the second of three rides I’ve done this week as part of the 8-week Propello Training Program ahead of this year’s Nelson’s Tour De Test Valley in Grately, Hampshire, on the 17th September.

Threshold is definitely a word I understand, I know all there is to know about pushing past my limits. But when it comes at the beginning of three rides of which ‘level up’ each week, the first mention of anything ‘Aerobic’ fill my already weary legs with dread. Having just returned from a football tournament in Germany I was hoping for a mellow introduction to this training program. Fat chance. For the past week I’ve been talking about a ‘VO5Max’ ride and not ‘VO2Max’ — I think people must think I’m advertising a new hair gel.

Heading out through Easton, Simon rides fixed gear so each of the 3x10 min drills at 95 rpm would mean I ride on before slowing to a recovery pace whilst he catches up. After the first drill I was surprised to see Simon up with me all the way, which he went on to explain is all down to the rhythm that is kept across a regular cadence. Feeling less than knowledgeable on cadence or rhythm at this point, I nodded through somewhat uncontrollable breathing and prepped for the next drill.

As mentioned above, I’ll be going out on these rides with a different MAN each week to raise awareness for CALM and propel the conversation on mental health — specifically male suicide which accounts for a staggering 76% of all suicides and is the single biggest cause of death in men aged 20–45 in the UK. Simon never knew Nelson, but we talk about health, cycling and the stigma that surround mental illness.

This year I’ve been focusing on clearing my anxiety that came following my spinal injury. Through meditation, regular yoga and adopting an anti-inflammatory food regime I’ve been able to clear the tightness that has been lodged in my chest for the past 12 years. It’s incredibly rewarding to come out the other side and realise that you can actually have good days in succession without regular panic attacks, however mild they may be. Positivity fuels itself, I’ve learnt to carry all my positive achievements with me along the way and now I can draw on them in times I need an extra boost.

As our ride continues, Simon starts to open up as we prepare for the final drill. It seems as though his energy is beginning to falter, then suddenly he explains his own anxieties from days gone by. A weight is lifted from his shoulders, his pace quickens and he looks lighter, his cadence increases and he smashes through the final drill of the session. I’m right behind him all the way, we settle into the recovery period and close out the ride feeling much closer for the shared experience and shared conversation. Sometimes all it takes to feel better is to have the balls to speak up and show the world your own slice of madness, we all have it! Many hands make light work, so don’t feel like you have to carry all the weight by yourself.

Heading into the second week I’ll be venturing even further out on the road, traveling around the southwest to Devon and Cornwall. The conversation is sure to open up even more as the training regime intensifies so check back here in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading!

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