The Seasons of an Amateur Racing Cyclist: Winter is determination against the elements; pounding out the miles with visions of glory under sunnier skies flashing through the mind; mudguards; opting for the full english at the café stop. Spring is filled with the buzz of enthusiasm for the new found racing season; the lengthening days, racing one week in short sleeves, the next under a deluge of freezing rain; the emergence of peak condition. Summer is heaven; never-ending evenings; epic rides to the coast; legs caked in dust from sweat and sunscreen. Autumn is a lament for the ending season, fading enthusiasm for competition, looking ahead to the following year – autumn is about The Spreadsheet.
Every year seems to follow a similar pattern, a familiar ebb and flow of enthusiasm. As the evenings draw in and the leaves begin to fall my bike spends more and more time sitting around unused. A few days, then a week, and all of a sudden I’ve forgotten my last ride. The cool dark evenings provide no incentive to get out and apply myself, the absence of immediate goals allow lethargy to creep along. Last autumn’s spreadsheet – extensive, comprehensive, lovingly prepared – has long been forgotten.
And yet every year it is started afresh. I input the dates, the scheduled hours, I work backwards from my ‘A’ races, plotting my peaks. Each week is labelled in a cyclist’s code – ‘Base 1, Week 1′, and so on, and so on – and a value of hours is attached. Optimistically I believe in surpassing the dedication of seasons passed, of increasing the volume, balancing the intensity. It’s entirely a fiction, and yet it provides a comfort – it could, in theory, become a reality. Those targets could be hit, a mild winter might mean a full schedule of unbroken riding, an avoidance of sickness or injury could keep the wheels on track. Some miracle of willpower might keep an enthusiasm for the turbo trainer burning bright. It could, in theory.
The file sits on my hard drive. At first it is referenced regularly, I start to tick off the targets. It’s there, in the background, that’s enough. It hums away in my subconscious, it’s there as the nagging guilt when the bike is forsaken for the sofa. It provides a structure for the year, every week numbered, a countdown to the racing season.
Until, gradually, it disappears, half-forgotten. It serves as a record of my ambition, to be unearthed at irregular intervals. A reminder of my pre-season optimism. When I begin to drift, as training becomes unstructured and unfocussed I dig out the spreadsheet and pull myself back on track. ‘Build 1, Week 3′, I return to the turbo trainer, urge myself into the early morning gloom to accumulate the miles.
The saying goes that races are won in the off season. But that off season always begins with The Spreadsheet – more than a schedule, it is a statement of intent. Within its rows and cells is the secret dream that we could all, come the new season, be winners.