Thursday, November 5, 2015

Above all else, or Quitting because it just wasn't fun anymore.

First off, it's been a year. So quickly time has gone past.
It's a useful measurement, or a good gap to have in order that what follows has more merit.
The reason being that around a year ago I was looking for a cycling coach to help me get faster and place higher in races. Around that time give or take a few weeks I had just found a coach and was making arrangements for initial physiological testing with them.
I had high expectations of both myself and of the coach.
This isn't going to be a negative diatribe on coaching or individual coaches but more an observation on life and decisions made.
The testing revealed that I wasn't a great performer and that opportunities for huge progression were poor due to my genetic make up, but there was opportunity to build on what I had. Agreements were made and I had myself a coach. I finished the 2014 racing season and lined myself up for the operation in early January to repair my shoulder after the 2013 crash.
From February on everything I did became centered around my training plans. Going to visit friends? Got to take the bike and kit and fit in several hours of riding. Fancy a romantic meal? Got to get a ride in before. Leading a club ride? Got to make sure it's pedalled at my training plan zone.
So it continued. Early indications were good and I was pleased with how I was performing against the plan. Whilst my cycling was improving the rest of the things within my life were becoming shabby. The garden was getting overgrown but I didn't have time or energy to fix it because I was or had been cycling. The house needed repainting but I didn't have the time or energy for it because I was cycling. I was going to see friends but I was back early because I was cycling.
At no point did I remember that I started cycling again to help me deal with my mental anxiety issues.
At no point did I remember that I had written in the front of a book on training that I'd gifted to a good friend; 'remember it's supposed to be fun'.

2015 Battle on the Beach. What should've been a fun event left me feeling disappointed as I felt I had chosen the wrong gear ratio to race in singlespeed thus slipping down the field.
What I should have come away feeling was happy that I was in the top third of the field despite being on the wrongly geared bike, and that the sheer act of riding along the beach and through the woods and dunes with like-minded people was great.

Injuries or illnesses seemed to crop up more regularly. My usual accident-prone self was suffering more with niggles and aches and bugs. I was eating healthily yet was crook a lot more.
I raced a club time trial too soon after having been bed-ridden with Campylobacter and was vomiting as I rode from a mixture of exertion and simply still being too ill. But that didn't matter. What mattered was getting a good time.
When that good time didn't happen, because I was ill and yet too stupid to realise, I was disappointed so I had to train harder. I saw the benefits of being struck with Campy in that I had suddenly lost a lot of weight and was lither than I had been for a very long time.
I could hardly walk the day after that 10 mile TT due to back pain yet I had finished 10th on a course that many disliked yet somehow I had found good. I had actually enjoyed the race.
I started to try little things, little marginal gains, to ease my pains. The oval chainrings were removed to see if a constant effort would help. The handlebars were raised, then lowered then raised again. The aero extensions, the skis, were changed to ease the pain from my broken and pinned wrist and shoulder. I tried several pharmaceuticals to try and ease the pains whilst riding from my suffering body. I can confirm that Valium does not help set a good time in a 10 mile TT. That Codeine makes you actually want to have a sleep, not push your body to the limit of what it is capable of.

In July I had the biggest and best day of my life and it was nothing to do with cycling. I got married. The whole effort brought on a massive focal point of pain into my back and I can't remember it ever being more painful. I was dosed up on Tramadol, Valium, Cocodamol, Gabapentin, enough pills to knock a pachyderm out yet I can remember the whole day and the drugs seemed not to even hit the sides. What saw me through the day was two things; the love and support of those who were there with me both on the day and in the months leading up to it, and the knowledge that I was going to be with the person who I truly loved and cared about so deeply it shocked me. I danced that evening like I had never danced before. There was no pain, there was no talent or style, there was just sheer exuberance and joy. There are also no pictures (that I am sharing).

I stopped being coached during that time and remain un-coached. The drills that I was supposed to be undertaking were too much for me to do without physical repercussions. It was an amicable split and I doubt the coach missed my monthly pay cheque or mixed-feedback forms on the training plans. Whilst it was a little thing to do the impact of it was much bigger. I had control again over what I wanted to do. I still wanted to cycle but the format changed. I had learned from my time with the coach and from the books I had read on training and I could see that likely I wasn't going to live up to my own ambitions. But that it was ok to fail.
I wasn't and I'm not impervious or indestructible. Those injuries accrued over the years are making themselves felt as I age, but I have learned that I can tolerate an awful lot of pain and still carry on. I have learned that I have the mental strength to dig in and go that bit harder when it's needed. I rode, and set a PB, in a 50 mile Time Trial 4 days after breaking my wrist. I didn't get through that just with training. I got through that because of the mental strength knowing my sister was going through much more pain and discomfort than I was due to illness yet was running the longest race that she had ever done. It's those additional things that provide the strength each day to each of us. We're far more capable of actions than we think we are. There are times to be negative and sad and there are times to be elated. If we didn't have the shit times then we'd never know how to celebrate the truly good. Life isn't magnolia.

I saw opportunities to take what I had and grow with it. I bought a mountain bike and went and rode in the hills nearby because it was great fun.

I had chips and a pint afterwards because it was great fun and bloody tasty.
I've redefined my goals. I loved riding time trials when the bike was humming away underneath me and the wind was whistling past my head. When then sounds were of the trispoke front wheel chopping through the air and of the strain of the chain as I pushed against the pedals. That 50 mile Time Trial was the last I am riding for now. I don't know when or if I'll TT again but it won't be next year. That's fine. I'm ok with that. I liked how racing gave me a focus but I didn't like how that focus became all-consuming. I look forward to finding new avenues for my competitive streak which has developed and maybe we can have a pint together some time. I never share chips.