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Decathlon Summer of Cycling winner finds it’s a case of mind over matter

In the aftermath of a family tragedy and subsequent battle with depression, Rob Jenkins was determined that his 2019 would be dominated by the sporting challenges he took on. He recounts a memorable year...

My 2019 Summer of Cycling – make that Summer of Sport – has drawn to a close and it’s been quite the adventure. Whether I’ve been cycling, swimming or running, it’s been a year of constant activity, of pushing my stamina onwards and upwards. I’m already looking forward to the sporting challenges that lie in wait for 2020.

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There were two big reasons for my busy summer: to raise money for The Samaritans, the charity that helped me and my family when we needed it most following the death of our daughter in 2013, and to improve my own mental health by focusing on the physical.

Not everything I’ve taken on this year has come off. In 2017 our youngest daughter challenged me to do my first open water swim, and I upped the ante this year with my attempt to swim around Lake Coniston in the Lake District in September. Unfortunately, it was curtailed after two-and-a-half miles – it was just too cold in 15-degree water.

A week later, I did a sportive in Surrey that I also pulled out of mid-way through because I was feeling dizzy.

Decathlon winner
Rob hopes to use his summer exploits as a springboard for 2020.
Joseph Branston

But pulling out of these events didn’t dampen my spirits and there have been successes too: the Suffolk Coast Bike Ride in September was a superb ride on as good a mid-September day as you could imagine; and the Great East Run, a half marathon which was a huge step up from the 10km runs I’m used to.

Then there was RideLondon, my big target for the season. Although I finished, I didn’t do the full 100 miles. At the 40-mile mark, all was going to plan and I was hitting my target, but crashes further up the course brought the ride to a standstill several times and by the time I got to Leith Hill and Box Hill, the course had been diverted around them.

That meant I missed out on the showpiece climbs. It was disappointing, as was the fact they’d run out of medals by the time I got there, but it remains the highlight of the year for me. Riding at high speeds, with thousands of others, and flying (legally) through red lights – what’s not to enjoy?

All this has improved my stamina, but cycling continues to be a natural remedy for my mental health. I’ve had tough periods over the last few years and riding definitely helps combat that, by getting away from life’s worries. I can switch off and focus on what I’m doing, rather than the thoughts going around my head. It was, and remains, the main driving force for getting back into exercise.

Decathlon winner
Suffolk’s countryside is an ideal training ground for Rob.
Joseph Branston

I’m already thinking about next year. A triathlon is on the agenda, for sure. It can’t be that hard to string all this running, swimming and cycling together in one go!

Winters in Suffolk don’t tend to be as bad as other parts of the country but I’ve already got my old bike rigged up to my turbo trainer to keep me fit when the weather doesn’t allow me to get out. My wife says I should go to the gym and do it, but sitting on those stationary bikes just isn’t the same as my own bike. Zwift has been recommended to me so it might be something I look into.

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As for the Van Rysel, I’ve been surprised how big a difference it’s made. It’s about 2kg lighter than my old bike and you really notice it, especially on the hills. It’ll come in useful for those triathlons next year!