Last weekend it was gloriously sunny. Warm, t-shirt and shorts, sit outside and listen to the bees weather. The kind of early spring weather that riders dream about. But there was one problem: I didn’t want to ride my bike.
Instead, I wanted to finish building the pond in my garden, to clear away all last year’s growth, build a bonfire, and sit drinking a cool beer while tending said fire.
There is nothing wrong with my bike(s) – I have a selection of test rides and personal bikes at my disposal, they’re all good fun and fully functional. I could choose from gravel, road, enduro, or trail. I’m over my cold, I’m not ill, and I had no child caring responsibilities. But I know the reason for my aversion to bike riding: I was supposed to be Training.
Once, I think about 14 years ago, I managed something close to Training. I lived alone, and I rode to work, rode home, then went for a run. Every weekday. Weekends were often spent riding to the allotment, and then digging, hoeing, and all the other physical efforts that come with tending a small patch of arable land. I ate almost nothing but toasted muffins with cream cheese, or marmalade, and I drank whisky. Hardly the diet of champions, but with so much activity, and so few calories, I soon became thinner and lighter. I also got faster and stronger, and I could see by my stopwatch that my times were improving. I bought new running shorts – they were very short, and very small. My bum did not hang out the bottom, my thighs did not wobble, and this was a source of much happiness. This Training phase was quite short lived however. After just three or four months, I moved house to be with my recently acquired fiance. I still suspect the short shorts played their part in this acquisition. A change of job, no more cycle commute, no more toast for tea, and the period of Training was over. That warm glow of elation in feeling your body get faster and stronger, in tasks becoming easier, all a distant memory.
Back to today, and Training, or my lack thereof. I love riding my bike. Sometimes, usually even, I break sweat on a ride. I think I ride at least 100km a week, usually a bit more, and midweek I do two short but fast rides most days. All that surely adds up to a degree of base fitness – at least as much as the rider who does the same kind of distance in just a weekend and spends the rest of the week in a car? But taking my fitness up a notch, gradually extending the length of a ride, the intensity, the climb…this seems a feat beyond me.
I know people (like Jason Miles, and Beate Kubitz, and my husband) capable of planning their rides – an hour of intervals, three laps of Cragg Vale, a lap of the Mary Towneley Loop, hill reps, a rest day – and of fitting that into their schedule – before work, after work, sometimes both. I just don’t seem to have that capacity. I want sleep, and to sit on my sofa after tea and let it digest, and to pursue other hobbies, like sewing, and gardening, and beer.
I know people will say I should do short but intense sessions on an indoor trainer, but I don’t know how anyone can retain focus and motivation while surrounded by the detritus of a garage. I’ve tried online workouts, but the internet connection in the garage is weak and I always seem to end up frustrated by the technology rather than motivated by it. I can see the attraction in smart trainers that match up your heart rate and cadence and power, give you things to work to and numbers to measure progress by, let you race other people even…but I have a ye olde spin bike in my garage that performs none of these functions. It performs the function of making you sweat very well – if you can stick with it long enough and hard enough without a bit of your soul dying.
So, yeah…I know. I know it is possible. I know I could be doing these things. I live with a human spaniel of a husband who needs regular exercise or he gets antsy – I know it is possible to need to exercise.
But I am not there. This would be fine if I could settle down and finish that pond building in the sunshine. To fit the final stones around the edge, plant the oxygenating plants, and sit back in the sun and admire the result. But I can’t, because I can’t shake the feeling that I should be riding my bike. So I do some gardening until the guilt gets too much, and then I go for a ride. A ride that is neither as far or as hard as it ought to be for someone who is supposed to be riding the 200kmTraining Dirty Reiver in a month’s time. I return without the usual cleansed and elated feeling that riding delivers. Instead I feel guilty. Sufficiently guilty that the next day I do another ride, but again my heart is not in it. Once again I return grumpy – probably even more so than before I went out. And I didn’t finish the pond.
Skip forward a couple of days and I have managed to ride my bike to and from work in a manner which is not Training but is definitely Riding My Bike With A Degree Of Vigour. Last night there was a pair of mating toads in my unfinished pond. Things were looking up. And I kind of decided to abandon all hopes of Training. The idea that I’m supposed to be Training makes me want to ride my bike even less than I would usually, so I figured that maybe I should just carry on as I usually do and just try and enjoy things (though enjoyment may not extend to the Reiver). I woke up looking forward to my long way round to work commute, despite the rain. I piled the kids in the car, the bike in the back. I took a quick look in the pond. Mr Toad was still firmly attached to the now drowned Mrs Toad – me having not yet built enough exit points into the pond, his weight had held her down in the deep water. I rescued him, and left home, worried that this was a portent of doom. I had failed at both pond building and training. A toad had died as a result of one failure…
I tried a bit harder on the climb to work, went a bit faster on the descent, and then met with this road sign. Given my toad centric thoughts of the morning, I stopped to take a picture, and as I stood there, a local guy driving by stopped, wound down his window and said ‘Welcome to Toadmorden’. Now, if I’d been Training, I’d have missed that.