I haven’t ridden over 200km since my aborted E-W record attempt at the end of April. It’s something that’s niggling away at me, so time for some real talk about why I’m struggling to ride long.
Start at the start
Riding a bike, for me, was born from a time in my life when I needed a purpose. My marriage had broken down, I’d just moved in to a bedsit on my own and was starting again. Coupled with that I was dealing with depression and addiction.
When I moved in to the flat I made a vow to myself, that I wouldn’t ever be ‘that Guy’ again – the Guy that was unhappy, unfulfilled and angry at life, but more importantly I wanted to be the Dad my kids wanted and needed. So at the end of 2016, I started running as a way to get fit, fill some time and also quickly found it a good way to help with my mental health. That led to the idea of setting myself a new challenge every month of 2017 and doing something good for Charity in the process of bettering myself.
I bought a bike on eBay with the idea of doing London to Brighton. Very quickly, cycling became a new way to try and break myself – look don’t get me wrong I pretty much instantly fell in love with cycling, I just found pleasure in the sadomasochistic act of going out and destroying myself. It was cathartic and cleansing. But fuck, mostly it just made me feel something – because feeling something was better than nothing or wallowing in depression and the fear that I’d ruined my life and screwed my kids up.
Fast forward to now and reading that back – I appreciate anyone wanting to do the world’s toughest bike race – racing 3,000 miles across America and aiming to do that in less than 12 days – has to be somewhat sadomasochistic right? I don’t think you can do these kind of races without understanding and accepting the exceptional levels of stress it will put on your mind and body.
But, I wouldn’t also do it if I wasn’t passionate about cycling, specifically cycling long distances. Cycling, for me, has changed over the last five years. The scales have definitely tipped away from this being a form punishment to a genuine passion. I love riding my bike, I love pushing my mind and body and I love winning against myself.
So, why then am I struggling to get out on the bike?
The year that should have been
2022 just hasn’t been the year I wanted it to be. I tried some things and they didn’t go plan and ultimately that resulted in the tough decision to defer my entry to RAAM back to 2023.
I mentioned my East to West record attempt and how I scratched that due to struggling with balancing my nutrition and IBS. This then rolled in to me scratching 100km in to the 800km Wild West Country Ultra – I was riding with the fear of becoming unwell again but also I just hated it, I wasn’t comfortable and my head just wasn’t in it.
Off the back of that we agreed to defer RAAM and I can’t tell you just how devastating that was – everything I’d worked for, dreamed of and planned for – gone. It has been a hard place to mentally come back from.
Silver linings, I still got to go to RAAM with Simon Potter and crew for him. I’m eternally grateful for that opportunity and experience because while it was hard work, it was an awful lot of fun and I learned so much about the race and how to plan for my own.
Lack of a clear plan
At the start of the year I very deliberately didn’t plan any events in for the remainder of 2022, because I knew I’d want the time after racing RAAM to recover, reflect and decide what I wanted to do next. However this has now ended up being another reason for my brain to niggle at me – no RAAM and now, no plan.
I’m very goal orientated, I like having something to point myself at and go for, so I do feel a little lost at the moment in that respect. Working towards those interim goals, seeing progress and testing the training and the nutrition out is a key part of the process.
Previously I’ve always been very open and honest with my goals for the year ahead and I guess I’m nervous about doing that this year – I’m a little scarred from things not going right still I think.
A new arrival
Having a baby makes life, let alone training, harder! Like any new parent, I’m pretty tired, we are starting to get 3-4 hour blocks which really helps. However, it’s more than just tiredness as there’s something new I never really understood before, or maybe I just forgot from when the girls were babies 10 years ago.
I spoke with a ride buddy when he’d had his baby and how he’d got a bit of a fear of being on the bike – what if something happened, you’ve got a lot more to lose now as a parent. While I could understand it I didn’t really fully appreciate it at the time. Now, having had Finley I’m finding it hard to leave – maybe working from home and being around him more is part of it too – but, I’m just really enjoying the baby phase and it feels like I’m missing out if I go out on the bike all day and night.
The unwanted arrival
Returning from RAAM I ended up catching Covid and having 9 days off the bike. Mix that in with some life drama and a second round of Covid at the end of August and it’s meant training has been up and down. I’m lucky, both times my symptoms have been pretty mild – it’s felt like a really bad cold, mild flu – and as such I’ve not been off the bike that long, however it has definitely impacted my training and results. I’m only now feeling like my lung capacity is back to normal and I’m able to hold the Threshold and V02 Max sets again.
Well, you could view this blog as a butt load of excuses and reasons to justify why I can’t or am not doing something and it probably is that. Blogging has always been, for me, a way to organise my thoughts and in some cases draw a line under something. So that’s what I wanted to do here – put it down and positively move forwards. I do also think sharing stuff like this openly and honestly can help someone else who maybe feeling the same or similar, it’s nice to know you’re not alone with these things.
Like it or not we are approaching the autumn and winter seasons now – I actually love cycling in autumn – so back to the positivity, this is the perfect time to build a solid foundation of fitness for the year ahead. To plan and set some objectives but also to put in place all those good nutrition, recovery and mental health routines again.
I’ve now got a week off the bike and exercise – full rest following my vasectomy – so I want to use that time effectively. I’m viewing it as physical rest but also time to give my mind some focus. So to that end I’ll be agreeing a plan for now and in to 2023 with Pav Bryan, my coach – with some A events / races as well as some test sessions as well.
Aside from that, it’s about taking my time, not putting pressure on myself to ride or do something specific. I want to love what I do, so in the short term I’m just going to train and then take each ride as it comes, knowing that my endurance head will return. I’d love to hear what you guys have planned – inspire me!!!