I’ve always felt a strange parallel to Rachel Cullen’s journey with exercise, despite never having met. Her first book, ‘Running for my Life’, is a moving and utterly candid account of how running transformed Rachel from unfit and riddled with anxiety and self-loathing, to a marathon-running warrior. You can read my review here.
My mental health story is different to Rachels, but the impact running had on me is very similar. Running helped me wean myself off anti-depressants and – so far – stay off them. It also re-wrote my relationship with food, and with my body. Whilst exercise can be a damaging tool for many of us affected by eating disorders, for me it was how I found the desire and self-worth to fuel myself. For the first time was far more excited by the prospect of running well than losing weight.
It was a tough read for me as well, as the book culminates in the triumph of running the London Marathon 7 months after having her daughter. I read it in June 2018, a few months after withdrawing from the very same race after losing my pregnancy. Here, my story veered away from Rachel’s as she took all she’d learnt forward into motherhood, a chapter I was unable to follow. But ‘Running for my Life’ still left me feeling uplifted and thoroughly inspired to pick up my trainers and take myself out.
Social media can add whole new element to reading biographies, as the story doesn’t end when the book ends. I’ve followed Rachel on Instagram and twitter since reading her first book (sounds a little creepy, but I promise it isn’t!). Over the last year I’ve got more and more into cycling, having decided to focus on triathlons for a bit. Once again, I found that I could take inspiration from Rachel, as she transitioned from runner to badass cyclist.
I’m very new to my bike. Having barely ridden a bike for 15 years I can tell you that it is definitely something you forget! So, I couldn’t have been more excited when Rachel announced a second book – all about her journey into cycling. Actually, that’s a lie. I was even more excited when a proof version arrived in the post a few months ago! I’ve had to keep all this in until the book was finally released last week.
When we left Rachel at the end of ‘Running for my Life’, it was with elation. She’d seemingly found the magic cure for all her internal battles, from anxiety to body dysmorphia. She just needed to run. It would have been all too easy to leave the story there.
But Rachel is braver than that. ‘A Midlife Cyclist’ is a sequel laid bare, that at times almost contradicts its predecessor in the frightening realisation that maybe running hasn’t fixed everything after all. How do you cope when injury prevents you from doing the one thing you’ve found that holds you together? When you start to realise that maybe running has become another focus for obsession and self-destruction?
There are so many wonderful stories of how life-changing exercise can be, ‘Running for my Life’ included. But few are prepared to dig deeper and write with such honesty about the fragility of the relationship between exercise and mental health. I found myself reassessing what running means to me, and whether -at times – my reliance on exercise is any different to the more destructive coping mechanisms that it replaced.
‘A Midlife Cyclist’ is a rollercoaster that any aspiring runner or cyclist can relate to. From the catastrophic lows of injury, to the soaring highs of chasing down your goals – it’s both magical and exhausting all at once. As always, Rachel writes with the candidness of a Northerner, and a vulnerability that is rare amongst athletes. You find yourself rooting for her even more the second time round.
And so, as ‘Running for my Life’ inspired me to put on my trainers, ‘A Midlife Cyclist’ has given me the courage me to grab a pair of those scary cleat shoes and wobble off on my new road bike.
Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist, or a beginner like me, you can’t fail to be inspired. So, grab a copy today – it’s miserable weather for cycling right now. Far better weather for reading!
Order your copy by clicking here and follow Rachel on Twitter and Instagram. PS – Disclaimer, I was sent a very exciting proof copy for being a total superfan. This didn’t influence my review at all, and I’ll be buying lots of copies for my friends!