On making a comeback

The visiblity outside my house is about 100 feet, thick fog cloaking the neighbourhood. February.

Three weeks since I've been on my bike. Chest infection, cough, cold. The usual. February. 

I've tried to come back too soon in other years. Always ends the same. Feel good for a couple of days, then a relapse. It drags on for weeks. This time I've waited it out till my feet are twitching. I can't go another day.

My wife is taking the dog and baby out for a walk - the cold sends him to sleep and we could both use a little peace and quiet. 

"I'll come with you, shall I?" I ask.

"You need to exercise," she tells me with her knowing smile. Her knowing, resigned smile. She certainly knows me well. I've been hell to live with these last few days, I'm sure. Perhaps it's part self interest on her part, but I'm grateful anyway. I wish I wasn't this way, that I was easier to live with sometimes. I'm desperate to get on the bike.

It's hell, if I'm honest. Stuck inside my own head, always feeling like I'm on the verge of making a comeback, almost afraid to try. I'm afraid of what my start-of-season FTP test will tell me later this week - how far I've fallen back. The memory of peak fitness, long lost, taunts me.

Still. I'm pedalling now, moving forward - metaphorically at least - and suddenly I'm more hopeful than afraid. 

I'm checking periodically on the Panama 70.3 using my smartphone. Armstrong - now there's guy who knows a thing or two about making a comeback. I laugh at myself, at how seriously I take this sometimes. How far must he have fallen, in the dark days of his chemo? What did his demons whisper in his ear? Did he wonder what his FTP had dropped to as he curled around the toilet bowl, visualising the cancer leaving his body as he puked black tar? A normal person would no doubt wager that he probably had bigger worries, and consider me an idiot for even wondering. I bet the thought was there though, in the back of his mind, when his compazine kicked in and he stopped being sick for a few hours.

I bet he thought about that rainbow jersey, tucked away in a box somewhere. I'm sure of it. Maybe that's partly what got him through the bad times. What gets us all through the hard times. The promise of a better future, and memories of the past.

He's off the bike with Lieto. No surprises there. I bet there were a few surprises, though, when the main pack of pros realised he'd gapped them during the swim.  He gapped Rasmus Henning? And Chris Lieto? On the swim? Imagine getting out of the water and realising you're already behind Lance Armstrong! He's earned his place there for sure. No media circus of embarrassment - his swim is the real deal. Only question now is - how bad will his run be?

Back in the shed, the air is cold and damp.The condensation collects on my shirt, but the iPod is loud and my legs have that familiar, friendly, painful burn. Breath rasping in my throat. There's no easing back into it. Never seen the point in riding easy on the turbo. Besides, one kind of pain can bury another kind. Probably half the reason I do it. Why we do it. If you're reading this, chances are you understand.

I know the race over there is coming to a head but I can't be checking the live updates. I've got a last pyramid set to do. It's harder at the end, but strangely, easier, too. It's like the amount you've suffered already has built a foundation and you know you can get through it. With eyes closed and chest heaving, I finally drop into the little ring, check the result. Well I'll be...

He ran away from Lieto, Henning, all the rest of them. Only the unrivalled running finish of double olympic medalist Bevan Docherty has overhauled him, and only then in the last mile. Not bad for a comeback. Think of the foundation of suffering that man must have endured.

I think of how it was for my wife's father, when we brought him back home from the Christie for the last time. How we tried to get him up the stairs to his bedroom, our hands so careful, his arms fragile like baby birds' wings. How he never complained, and it never broke him, even at the end. 

Not everyone gets the chance to make a comeback.

I'm taking particular pleasure in watching Armstrong make the most of his.

If this article touched a nerve with you, you might consider donating a few quid to Macmillan Cancer Support by clicking here. I can't begin to describe how much we owe them. Thanks.