Have the Heart.
Take the Risk.
Enjoy the Ride.
My resting heart rate is 34 bpm. I have Bradycardia. On being diagnosed, my Dad proudly told me that in his heyday, his resting heart rate (in the low-40s) made for interesting dinner party conversation — I imagine his fellow diners were no doubt more impressed by his pièce de résistance: a standing back somersault onto a mantelpiece. Not much has changed. Only last week at a friend’s, my wrist was handled by many an index and middle finger, the lethargic pulse rate causing quite the stir. The feeble backward-roll onto the hearth was less well received.
That aside, believe it or not, my Dad and I are in good company. 5-time winner of the the endurance cycling event, Le Tour de France, Miguel Indurain has a heart rate in the 20s; Sir Bradey Wiggins in the mid-30s. And the good news by association with the endurance cyclist does not end there. In a 2013 study into Le Tour’s effects on competitor lifespan, researchers found that the average cyclist who tackles the route is likely to pop his cleats 6-years after the general population of age-matched French males who choose to line the course.
Unfortunately however, that is where the comparison with Le Tour cyclists does end. But rather than getting up even earlier, taking on a few more calories (and the rest!) and setting out to win the world’s greatest cycling competition, I choose to compete instead for space on London’s roads, commuting daily on my bicycle to and from work. Come rain or shine, cold mornings and dark evenings, I’ll make the 2-mile journey from N5 to N1.
On a good day the return journey will total 24-minutes. Over the working week, this is 120-minutes. On a bad day this journey time will be increased by inclement weather and heavy traffic — not to mention the potholes and wayward pedestrians that keep your fingers hovering nervously over the brake levers. And this is all without factoring in other journeys made: to the gym in Holborn; to a squash game in south London; to a networking event in east London; and to my sister’s place in Kentish Town. In an average 7-day week, I’ll clock-up around 4-hours of cycling.
I’m not complaining. I love the freedom cycling gives you, not to mention its health benefits — cyclists’ calf. However, whilst I don’t complain, I do worry. A recent statistic from the Department of Transport noted that:
“For every one hour cycled in England, a person is 16-times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than if driving a car”.
This isn’t something I dwell on (though it did make me stop cycling with a single headphone in) — if I were to, I fear it would mean selling my bike and taking the bus everyday. It is, however, a risk I’m willing to take and without doubt the riskiest part of my day. But what of the risk? Would some other people admit to not cycling because of those risks inherently associated with it (obviously it goes without saying that there are risks inherent to every mode of transport — driving, walking, taking the bus or using a Segway)? Short answer, yes, with half of British adults of the belief that their local roads are too dangerous to cycle on. They are not willing to take the risk and prefer to be 16-times less likely to be injured having hopped into their car to go wherever they need to go. This is fine. I don’t blame them.
Not for the first time, this got me thinking about risks, those we choose to take and how we justify taking them.
A few weeks ago I found myself in a quandary: quit the full-time job leaving behind the fantastic people, the 10th floor office view, the annual salary and pension, and commit all of your time and energy to the company and vision you have worked evenings and weekends on for the last 3-years? And as if my deepest thoughts weren’t already constantly being occupied by this hypothesis, Nike’s summer advertising campaign for the FIFA World Cup 2014 was in full flow. Nike implored us to #riskeverything in The Last Game, urging football fans globally that “[t]here is no greater danger than playing it safe”; helpful when I was trying to set things straight in my head for a life-changing decision.
In making this decision, I sought advice: my parents proffered that “… a certain degree of risk is part and parcel or our daily life”; my brother — despite his neurotic, superstitious, obsessive tendencies, he still gives good advice — said that “… in this day and age, it seems that risk is very much associated with ambition”; and then there were the hours spent scouring the web for quotes that complemented whatever frame of mind I was in at that particular moment — “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done” [Lucille Ball].
And of course Woody Allen: “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else”. But that’s for a different blog entirely.
The advice I received was almost always positive and supportive (a couple of friends did suggest I wait until the festive season had come and gone so I could overindulge without worrying about finances). After all, everyone loves a success story. But at the end of the day, the risk was only going to be mine. So how did I square this with myself? Aware that basing my decision on the following should really have made a living room ornament of my bicycle, I figured that the potential of foregoing economic stability greatly outweighed the potential to change the world. The time had come to risk everything. On a side note, it goes without saying that I ignored the fact that Nike’s campaign was ultimately a tadge underwhelming. Of the eight footballers who flew the brand’s flag, only one flourished whilst of the remaining: one fractured his spine; two were on the first plane home; one made a mockery of his £50m price-tag in a 7–1 humiliation; another remained inconsistent and egomaniacal on the international stage; and two didn’t even travel to Brazil!
Here goes nothing…
So I ignored my two friends — “Hold the mulled wine! Mine’s a water!” — and quit my job. It was a risk I willing to take dictated by my circumstances, at a point in my life when my decisions are not being influenced by things such as a relationship, children or a mortgage. I guess I hope that, having taken the risk and jumped the corporate ship for the bobbing driftwood that is a start-up, when all’s said and done, I will be remembered as a person who had an ambition to change the world.
But regardless of the risk associated with my employment status — or rather lack thereof — that still leaves something unanswered: is rolling up one trouser leg, strapping on my helmet and cycling to and from work each day a risk too far? This is also dictated by circumstances — ask me if I would cycle to work after kissing my children goodbye — but right now I stand firmly by T. S. Eliot:
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”.
Mainly though it’s because using the stairs on the bus is bad for my heart.