Masood Nawaz, London
Every time I clip onto my bike and ride out onto the streets of London, I try to embody Hazrat Khalifatul Masih III’srh words:
“Why do you stand for buses and waste your time? Exercise, become healthy and ride a bicycle. I have said it before and I say it again today – in a short time, I want 100,000 ‘Ahmadi Cycles’. An ‘Ahmadi Cycle’ is that which is ridden by an Ahmadi. And these 100,000 Ahmadi Cycles should have the ability to cycle up to 100 miles in a day.” (Mash‘al-e-Rah, Vol. II, p. 384)
These words, promulgated at the opening speech of the Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya Ijtema in Pakistan on 2 November 1973, inspirited me for the preparation of my ride from London to Jalsa Salana Germany 2017 – crossing several European borders – to follow our beloved Huzooraa and eventually arrive at Karlsruhe; a journey just shy of 600 miles recorded over six days.
During these six days, we, as the United Kingdom Ahmadiyya Cycling Club, would encounter many different types of terrain; from gravel pathways in forests to cobbled roads in Europe, ascending to gradients of 20%. To put things into context, 20% gradients alone are relatively hard on weekend rides in the Surrey Hills, a route southern British cyclist are all too familiar with, but adding cobbled roads to this, in foreign terrain, equals one big nightmare!
In goal setting, no target is insurmountable if there is a significant will, desire, passion and commitment to achieving it. Therefore, we oft en hear of people accomplishing what we, personally, may consider the impossible. But, where there is a will, anything can be achieved with Allah’s grace and blessings.
For me, my faith, trust in Allah and true love for Khilafat and all it symbolises provides the foundation and forms the very heart of any goal I seek to achieve. I often get asked how I managed to achieve the absurd physical and mental challenge of cycling 100 miles per day, consecutively over six days across Europe. How does one even decide on setting a goal such as this, let alone achieving it? When it comes to goals, it’s important to form a solid foundation, the scaffolding, as such, to ensure you are prepared and primed for success.
After many years, I returned to cycling and joined the Ahmadiyya Cycling Club. Two years prior to undertaking this challenge, I started working towards regaining fitness; riding regularly to work and participating in group weekend rides to either Windsor or the Surrey Hills. I integrated my cycling to running “household errands” and going shopping too. This was aligned with the desire of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh in the very same speech:
“…There are thousands of other advantages to cycling too. For example, many have to go out for household errands or shopping. If you have a cycle, you will save a lot of your quality time and the following glad tiding will also be fulfilled in your person that was given to the Promised Mahdias in these words: ‘You are the sheikh, the Messiah, whose time shall not be wasted’. Thus, we have to be attentive towards time-saving and obtain maximum benefit from the little time available so that those blessings may be fulfilled in ourselves as well.” (Mash‘al-e-Rah, Vol. II, p. 383).
It goes without saying that in order to become a strong cyclist, one has to ride more. It’s true, practice really does make perfect! My cycling is based on cadence (the rate at which a cyclist pedals or the number of pedal revolutions per minute – RPMs) and less on immediate speed, perse. During the winter season, I ride on a low cadence, pushing on higher gears: a form of resistance training for cyclists.
During the summer season, maintaining a high cadence is important for efficiency and speed. Resistance training was maintained until the week before the big ride. It’s worth noting that a higher cadence at a lower gear means you pedal faster, but in turn, put less strain and force on your muscles with each stroke.
As a result, your muscles are resistant to fatigue. By increasing threshold during training, I was able to maintain a smooth cadence on higher gears, which would prevent over exertion on the actual ride. In addition to this, I was focused on improving my general fitness and stamina as well as reducing my overall mass, in a bid to become as light as possible. I achieved this through backpacking across Europe, clocking up steps, drinking three litres of water daily, sleeping as much as possible and monitored my meals by size and nutritional value. This aided me in shedding as much weight as possible.
To go faster, especially on ascents, I had to lose weight. I combined this with investing in lightweight clothing and equipment. During everyday walking and hiking, I would visualise the goal at hand and run through all the possible setbacks and how I would overcome the possible challenges.
Further to physical preparedness, I focused a little attention on the cycling equipment, knowing that the right gear and tools would mitigate sluggishness on the bike and facilitate success; therefore I was very fortunate to be gift ed a new bike and purchased light weight clothing. The single most important piece of clothing for me was a pair of padded cycling bib shorts combined with arm and leg warmers.
We would start off the mornings fully layered up and as the day got warmer, we peeled off layers respectively. I invested in a new pair of road cycling shoes, with a carbon fibre sole. These would allow for a greater power transfer, provide greater comfort on long rides and would be lighter – perfect! Other essential equipment was a set of lights and a Garmin GPS bike computer with navigation and connected features, namely metrics for the ride, especially cadence.
For maintenance, I stocked up on half a dozen inner tubes, a multi-tool, tyre levers and a light carbon mini hand pump.
The day had arrived.
Our journey began with a silent prayer, seeking the mercy of Allah for our safety and success in this endeavour. In preparation of this beast of a ride, I had, on many occasions, visualised this moment and the many challenges that we would encounter. The main obstacles that we foresaw were safety on the road, waning will power, equipment issues, muscle soreness and fatigue.
One of the guiding principles I adopted from Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh was, “All one needs to succeed is self-belief and prayer”.
Following all other preparations, I consolidated my self-belief based on the underlying confidence that the prayers of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh were tethered to each Ahmadi cyclist. The prayers of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh were reinforced and compounded by the prayers of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa.
We had specifically written to Huzooraa seeking special prayers for the team of Ahmadi cyclists embarking on this premier momentous journey. The heart and key component to my entire cycle ride was to establish alignment between my spiritual, emotional, mental and physical self. I achieved this through aligning the pace, hum and rhythm of my pedalling to the melodic recitation of duas – prayers – through constant zikr (comprising of the glorification of Allah, durood, istighfar and other prayers I would recite in my vernacular language).
In all honesty, the journey and overall ride was not easy; we faced many challenges, some of which we overcame due to our preparation, while others were entirely unexpected or perhaps due to an oversight in our preparations. It is, however, the spiritual and emotional connection with the words of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh that anchored and helped me to take on any challenges experienced on or off the bike. The key challenges we encountered were saddle sores (seriously unpleasant and unfortunately unavoidable), navigation issues, poor equipment, riding on rough terrain, tyre punctures – you name it, we encountered it.
A fellow team mate had no working lights in a particular dark stretch of the ride, so we rallied together as a team and arranged for him to ride in between two bikes with lights. We rode on faith and trusting Allah and the Ahmadi cyclist ahead of us.
On one occasion, I found myself riding alone on the motorway aft er dusk, not sure how I got there and realising it was dangerous, I rode on the hard shoulder and increased the recitation of durood. Allah helped us overcome all the challenges. There were low moments during the ride.
On one such occasion, on the fourth day of the ride, I was struggling to keep seated on the saddle because of the excruciating pain from the many saddle sores I had developed over the first few days. I can’t even begin to describe the level of discomfort experienced, but I alleviated the pain by staying off the saddle or sitting at an angle and standing where possible.
These setbacks, however, were mitigated and overcome, at large, by our preparations and having a good support team assist us throughout the journey. In addition to this, the high morale of the team enabled us to naturally work things out without a losing self-belief and momentum.
We successfully reached our destination with a real sense of achievement. Although I did struggle to walk and sit for long periods aft er this, this was a price worth paying for having achieved a decree set by Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya, and participating in my first Jalsa Salana Germany. That was a reward in itself.
Bringing this to the present day, reflecting on our current socio-economic climate, in light of the Covid-19 crisis, where we are striving to create a sense of normalcy whilst continuing to adhere to social distancing policies, the words of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh are emphasised, from nearly half a century ago. They are more relevant today, then ever before. This wisdom is echoed in numerous articles and guidance from our government, health and bike experts.
In particular, the UK government’s latest initiative pledging to invest “£2 billion package to create new era for cycling and walking”. (www.gov. uk/government/news/2-billion-package-tocreate-new-era-for-cycling-and-walking)
This will not only facilitate social distancing by reducing crowding on public transport, but will, in turn, enable us to improve our health and mental well-being, as well as helping to prevent further pollution.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh advised us many years ago of an exemplary and timeless coping mechanism adhering to social distancing, by travelling to work or running household errands on a bike. We should pay heed and align our goals with the inspired words of Khilafat and start riding for our good health and well-being; safeguarding us from obesity and impaired mental health.
For me, cycling can be considered a metaphor for life; sometimes all you need to do is just keep on pedaling, maintain that forward momentum and overcome your self-limiting beliefs by remaining prepared, focused and positive, whilst placing your trust in Allah and above all else, enjoy the ride. And if you fall down, just get back up again and learn from the valuable life lesson the setback offers. So, go on, hop on your bike and increase the “Ahmadi Cycles”!