As the long days of summer start to dwindle, one’s thoughts easily turn to the season that is passing and what the next might hold. It is a contemplative time. I have also been reading the book Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness (which is not really about climbing better, although it could be); this is a most excellent book and many of the well-reasoned ideas dovetail with the random inclinations that have been informing my own performance, such as it is.
Three theories underpin my approach to cycling, and maybe to life in general, and these are outlined below for your consideration.
1. Double down.
There is only so much time in the day, the season and the year to get things done, especially if you want to do them well. It is easy to be spread too thin. Alongside family/home life and work, there is only room for one other thing for myself. I would like to be able to pursue other activities and hobbies. But I like to do things well and so want to be able to focus on one thing, which means making decisions about what gets done and what does not. Which is why I have doubled down on cycling.
There have been other contenders, but cycling ticks important boxes: it is good for physical and mental health, it gets one outside, and there is an important social aspect. It is also something that one can get better at over time (see also 3. below) and there are many aspects of it that can be explored: the riding, the gear, the history. It is an entry point into many different areas and making that transition from someone who rides a bike to ‘cyclist’.
2. Play the long game.
One needs to be into cycling for the long game. Seasons come and go, and performance (miles, speed) goes up and down, enthusiasm waxes and wanes. But fallow years can be followed by fertile ones (okay, enough with the mixed metaphors). Time frames should be measured in years, not days. There will always be another chance for ‘a big year’ or a special event, or to try a new cycling discipline.
If you approach it right, there are no bad rides, no bad seasons, no bad years. They are just different. Over time, there is a cumulative gain – in health and enjoyment – which sets one up for a lifetime of the benefits that cycling has to offer. One just has to (literally) ride out the rougher times and hang in there. With cycling, something is better than nothing. In the time constrained seasons, go for small gains; when time allows, go big.
3. Have a purpose.
Motivation can also ebb and flow. It is easy to become fixated on narrow metrics, like miles ridden or speeds climbed. This year for your author has been a challenging one – miles are down and climbing times on the slow side of the expected range.
But there are other reasons to ride, for yourself and for others (I would have liked to have done more group rides this year, for example) and there should always be a wider purpose to getting on the bike – for the sake of riding itself and also for the wider benefits (such as being healthier and happier, which is of benefit at home and work as well). Also, think about how your riding contributes to your own development as well as those you ride with.
‘Ride better’ is your author’s purpose. Even though it might sound trite, it is actually more of a challenge than it sounds. It has been outlined in some detail, and argued for substantively, on this very blog.
Like any good theories, these three are subject to revision as the evidence piles up. But they might be useful as a starting point, dear reader, for your own approach to the bike.