PAIN is an interesting concept. As athletes we have a strange relationship 
with it.

For some athletes there can be an enjoyment of the pain you feel in training, a feeling of pleasure as you push your body to its maximum.

I have always liked the pain of training as it makes me feel alive. But my relationship with pain over the last few weeks has not been one of pleasure but one of frustration.

I couldn’t even climb onto my bike last week.

After my crash the week before, my body had gone into a shock and the nervous system had flared up leaving me completely fatigued. I spent most of the week in bed sleeping or screaming out loud due to the pain in my paralysed arm.

I guess I am still learning how to manage life with a spinal cord injury. For those who believe in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour principle, I still have a long way to go in mastering my daily existence with it. But I feel that getting into what I call a state of Flow can cut Gladwell’s theory in half and I need to be chasing this more.

I have felt these last few weeks that my mind has worked more against me than for me. I have been struggling for motivation and purpose and feeling pretty low. Maybe it’s the weather, or the lack of social interactions. Even for an introverted person like me, I still crave social interactions and the chance to see my friends.

I can imagine many of us now are feeling rather frustrated with the impact Covid-19 has had on our lives.

It comes up in every conversation and even with the news of a stable scan for me and things starting to open up again these last few weeks have been challenging mentally.

Bear with me here, but one of the key elements when I talk about accessing this thing called Flow is the deactivation of a part of the mind known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain houses your inner critic, that voice that is relentlessly with you during your waking conscious hours. But once we get into Flow this voice shuts off and we feel free.

When you have a spinal cord injury it is easy for this voice to become over-powering, especially when managing a tumour that hangs over you like a rain cloud.

So this voice has been turned up again these last few weeks.

What does your inner critic say to you? I am aware one of the most important conversations you will ever have is with yourself, and over the last few weeks mine has been one of self-doubt that is bedded in the pain from my neck.

I feel bad even writing that I have struggled these last few weeks with pain when I know that Alex Zanardi went through another surgery this week to have a facial reconstruction and remains in a medically-induced coma fighting for his life.

The positive is that I have learned how to turn this inner critic down, and for me it’s through sport. Even a phone call from Ed Jackson showing me his new bike was enough on Friday to get me moving again.

Ed and I have had a few interesting conversations around injury and what the future holds for both of us. Him getting a bike is the start of a very big goal for him to discover the freedom that cycling can give someone with our level of injury.

As the rain breaks with bouts of sun breaking through the clouds, I start to plan about how to get out on the bike.

I know how special these moments are and this is reinforced even more as I sit reading the news about the passing of the Belgian cyclist Niels De Vriendt who this week sadly died at the age of 20 whilst taking part in practice race.

It is a reminder to us all that time is the one currency that we can not get back.

So if you feel like your inner critic is winning, what strategies do you have to make sure that you don’t let that voice hold you back?