Lizzie Armistead gets in the winter miles through the stunning forests of Leuven, Belgium. Photo by Jered Gruber
The tan line on the back of my wrist is gradually fading, early morning rides have been replaced by late morning lie ins. Recently sausages and mash has formed the back bone of my diet, and I’ve indulged my slothful impulses. Unfortunately the winter hiatus is coming to end – today is marked as Base 1, Week 1, Day 1 on my Excel spreadsheet.
Getting off the sofa and back into training isn’t going to be as easy as I might have thought; over the past few months, as the season drew to a close and the winter loomed, it feels as though my attitudes towards competitive riding had been shifting. Taking the time out had been an opportunity to rediscover that hankering for racing, the need for competition. Absence making the heart grow fonder, and all of that.
By now I should be salivating at the prospect of a chaingang, chomping at the bit for a competitive training ride through the hills. But I’m not sure it’s worked.
Why would anyone race? What’s the appeal? The constant need to prove yourself and to perform at your best is draining. The training is hard and sucks up time. Competition is stressful, races can be dangerous. It can be cold and wet and muddy; the suffering might be controlled and fleeting, but it feels real enough.
Fall out of the racing groove, to find yourself at a distance from it if only just momentarily, and it’s not hard to adopt a critical perspective. The satisfaction, the excitement, the thrill, the achievements can all fade out of view, to be replaced with the question ‘Why?’.
It’s occurred to me that in the past I’ve found winter riding to be a time of falling back in love with the bike. It’s an opportunity to ride without training, to amble along with guys who ride this pace all year. To linger slightly longer at café stops, to tackle hills while still maintaining enough breath to continue your conversation. There’s nothing to prove; the guy attacking the group is a nuisance rather than a target.
Crisp winter mornings can be the most beautiful time of year to be out in the countryside – and ignoring the numbers from the digital box on the handlebars makes it easier to look up and absorb those surroundings.
From now until Christmas my rides might be marked ‘Base Miles’ but a more accurate description would be ‘Ambling’. I’ve accepted that I’m going to need to start riding again before I contemplate resuming training. For now a ride will be about a tantalising route on new roads, or the promise of interesting company, rather than because of an entry in a spreadsheet and a target heart rate zone. Only after I’ve had my fill of going slow will I turn my thoughts again to riding fast.
Read part 2, The Inevitable ‘Top Tips’, here.