It’s never too late to take up a new sport

In our ‘Staying Healthy’ series we meet inspiring people across the UK.

Debbie Pollard had always ridden a bike, but in her 40s she notched it up a gear, bought the Lycra and became a serious cyclist. She explains why

What was the trigger that turned you from using your bike to potter to the shops to covering 40 miles in a day on it?

The change is completely down to reading about a cycling club in the local paper and deciding to join it. I had wanted to join a club for some time, but there hadn’t been a local one until West Lothian Clarion set up.

Was it simple to join in?

Well, the first time I went along I was terrified. I have a son who’s severely autistic, life was stressful and I had recently been diagnosed with depression, so it was quite daunting. When I got there, it was all blokes in head-to-toe Lycra with racing bikes and shoes that click into the pedals. I had my sturdy Raleigh Metro bike and was wearing a pair of old trainers. I did nearly turn and leave, but the club secretary, Matthew Ball, came over and talked me into staying and riding with them for a wee bit.

And could you keep up?

Not that day, they rode slowly for me. I realised that my type of cycling and their type of cycling were completely different. I loved it, but I had to decide: “Do I really want to do this? Is it worth buying a new bike? Is it worth putting a lot of effort into improving my fitness?” When the kids went back to school and I had a bit more time, I decided it was and I set about getting fitter.

How did you do that?

I started doing more miles – it was as simple as that. If I’d done a five-mile ride, my next one would be seven miles, the one after that would be 10 and I’d gradually build it up. I bought a new bike and a year after my first meeting with West Lothian Clarion, I was back.

What do you think it is about cycling that appealed?

I’ve always been quite determined, so at first it was about being good enough to join the club, to be able to cycle 40 or 45 miles in a day. Then I got even more competitive and entered a few races. At my peak, I cycled 10 miles in 27 minutes, which is quite an achievement. Now I just love it. It’s a joy to be out in the beautiful countryside of West Lothian and Lanarkshire. You can go by yourself and clear your head or go in a group and have a blather. It is a great stress reliever.

Have you found cycling has improved your depression?

It has certainly helped. The depression is still there, but it’s under control at the moment. That’s not just cycling, it’s NHS care and medication, too. Cycling has definitely improved my fitness, though, and I also run and swim now.

How often do you cycle?

I cycle to work two or three times a week – that’s 40 minutes each way. And then I go for a ride with the club most weekends for four hours or so.

What advice would you give to other people looking to get into cycling?

Do what you can and build up gradually a wee bit at a time. Lots of good kit and bikes are available on the second-hand market, so take advantage of that. And you’re never too old to start something new*. I was 39 when I first went along to the club and that was seven years ago now.

Do you have a fitness story to share? We’re looking for stories to inspire others to take up or return to sport, whatever their age. Email stayinghealthy@benenden.co.uk if you would like to feature.

*Although moderate physical activity is safe for most people, health experts suggest that you consult your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a history of heart disease, asthma, lung disease or diabetes.

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