Updated: Aug 15, 2019
You have exactly as much will power as you think you have.
I lost my cycling mojo. Since the start of the year I have been struggling with finding the motivation to ride. I tried to convince myself it was a Festive 500 hangover. That having completed the challenge I needed a break and then the weather got really cold, so it was harder to get out. Plus my job has changed and that has meant I am busier at work.
But the reality is I just haven’t wanted to ride. For the first time in ages I missed club rides I could have done and stayed in watching Netflix and playing FIFA19. Worse still I bottled out of doing my first 200 Audax, which felt like had let down the others riding ( Sorry again Glen & Will). On the Saturday I was due to ride the Audax I had a long lie in (something I rarely if ever do) and then meandered slowly around Warwickshire for 85km on my own. I realise that for some people that would be a long ride and might not sound like something you do if you have lost motivation, but it was joyless and took a lot of effort to stay out. I have grown so used to loving being on a bike, that to deliberately miss rides and dread being out is a new experience. Or at least it is revisiting a very old experience that I haven’t felt in years.
My mood had not been helped by having two falls on successive club rides, neither of which was my fault. On the first, two riders went down in front of me and I had nowhere to go. On the second, I hit a wet drain cover and the front wheel just washed out. There was no serious damage on either occasion, just a few bruises and cuts, but it does leave you thinking, ‘I am not enjoying being out here’.
Lack of confidence and motivation is exactly where you don’t want to be ahead of taking part in an event that will test you mentally and physically. Every year my club enters a charity Wattathon event where teams of riders compete to ride the furthest distance possible in an hour on an indoor stationary bike. I know from previous years that riding flat out on a Wattbike is a grim experience and a big test of your mental state because it is much easier to turn down your effort and temptingly, it is hard for others to know you have done so, until they see your result at the end. I have been going to the gym once a week for some practice rides for the past month, but could neither hold the speed, nor ride for the hour in any of those sessions, so I entered yesterday’s event expecting the worst.
Each team has 8 riders and as it is the aggregate distance that counts, it matters that you turn up and it matters that you try. Riding alongside friends helps as there is shared suffering and a little motivational help from others waiting to ride next. Our 9am team was mostly made up of guys over 50 so we had no expectation of winning it, but you at least want to put in a respectable score. Personally I was just hoping not to come last of the 8 men.
The first 15 minutes was easy. Some people approach this by riding to a particular watts target. I was sticking to a plan to ride at an average speed of 38kph expecting a drop off over the next 45 minutes to finish just above 36kph. But by half way I was still over 38kph and feeling OK. For the next twenty minutes there was a battle raging in my head between the voice telling me to stop and the counter voice looking across at my friend Trevor and telling me that I was still close to him in terms of speed and watts. The final 10 minutes were back to the grim experience I had expected, watching the seconds pass by slowly, trying desperately to find music on my phone that might help me block out the pain. I wanted to finish with a sprint, but in the end the last minute was just about hanging on. At the finish all 8 of us burst out of the tiny room out in the carpark, steam rising off the collected bodies and heads of people, some of whom had removed most of their jerseys while riding and were only wearing bib shorts. Post ride I looked like someone had poured a bucket of water over me. It’s not a great look.
38.55km actually put me first in our team. Only by about 100 metres, but it counts and I left for a celebratory coffee with the guys feeling a bit more upbeat. In the cafe we shared our stories of what it was like to be in pain and what time during the hour everyone suddenly started battling their inner demons. Coffee over, we all went our separate ways, except that I went back to the watt bike studio to watch my wife competing for the Lady Lanternes team. This was a mistake because I was now informed that Team 3 had just lost a rider and needed someone to fill in. OK, I thought, I can use this as a recovery and I will just give them 25km. It’s better than nothing right? In any case I was not the only rider doubling up (chapeau Michael Bell) and if we didn’t do it, the team wouldn’t register a score.
Knowing that I only had to ride 25km meant I was super relaxed at the start of ride two. Without focussing on a particular speed or watts, I could just go as I felt. 15 minutes in I looked down and I was at 36kph average and feeling good. I added a little more resistance to the bike which makes it go faster and I was comfortable now at 39kph.
And then I found it. My cycling mojo was back. There were no negative thoughts at all in my head. All I was thinking was, ‘I could do this. I could match my previous distance from just two hours earlier’. I was now holding 39/40kph and seeing the average speed creep up by a tenth every minute or so. Once I could see the possibility of hitting 38km I could block out everything except the idea of how great it would be to do this. During the week I had read an anonymous comment online that ‘you have exactly as much willpower as you think you have’ and this was rattling around my head. Into the last minute and I could see the chance to beat my previous distance if I could just up the pain a little.
38.6km - 45 metres further than my first effort.
I amazed myself. I am in love with cycling again. I can’t wait to get out again.
Mental strength can be so fleeting, but it is a choice. You can decide for yourself that you want to push harder, that you will complete something. At the point you don’t want to hold the pace, you can say 'just 30 seconds more’ and see what happens. When you don’t want to ride, you can say ‘just an extra 10 minutes’ and then see how you feel again. Just ride one kilometre more. Beat the negative voice once, then twice and so on and so on.
Will power is a free performance gain.