A Long Distance Cyclist
I have been cycling with a passion since my 2008 trip to Vietnam (see previous post Wanderlust), and whilst that was the time I felt that I became a long distance cyclist, and never really saw myself as anything other than this until recently.
Now don’t get me wrong, being a long distance cyclist is a wonderful thing to be. Long distance cyclists have amazing adventures. They can travel the world for years on end with all their worldly possessions in a few pannier bags, living life as it come, at their own pace. Long distance cyclists have written amazing and inspirational books and blogs about their travels – and I myself follow quite a number of them.
However, for me, being a long distance cyclist was accepting that it was all I could become. Yes I could cycle a long way, and I loved to do this, but I felt I was deluding myself if I thought I could ever be even slightly competitive as a cyclist. Completing a long distance event in time, let alone a good time, was something that more capable & usually younger women did, not me. I would enter, because I liked the idea of a particular ride, and my aim was simply to complete it, hopefully in time.
In the world of Audax, which is the one that I entered, the time limits are generous, but the distances long. If you waste time, or stop lots (something I did plenty of), then you were still in danger of being out of time. A speed minimum of 15 kph (9.32 mph) seems easy, but that has to include ALL stoppage time. That means every food break, every red light, every puncture, and every time you stop to get something out of your bag, or wait for a friend. It soon adds up. For example, if you ride a 200k ride, and you stop for 2 breaks of an hour (yes that’s a bit excessive I know), that means you only have 11.3 hours to complete the ride and that means your average moving speed needs to be 17.7 kph (nearly 11mph). If you take another hour off for faffing or being stuck in traffic or junctions, you are looking at 19.4 (12 mph). Now it’s easy to start to see why just completing the event is a challenge for some. Using all the available time means it is a ‘full value’ ride. I became for many years an expert ‘full value rider’. Usually one of the last back on rides, I was also known as the ‘lantern rouge’.
For years I sat in this ‘full-value’ world. Happy in the knowledge that I could complete very long distances, I wasn’t really getting any quicker, just stronger in the legs with an ability to be able to keep going. As a member of a local Audax club I rode regularly with many other Audax riders, although on each event I mostly rode alone. The other riders were all male and much stronger than me. There were some that would chose to ride with me sometimes, and it was always nice to have company, but in the back of my mind I always felt like I was holding everyone up.
I’m sure there are many female cyclists reading this that can completely identify. I know of many that do not like to ride alone, for a variety of reasons. Even when they do get to ride with a group, the feeling of holding the group up can be overwhelming. I’ve been on many events when a couple are riding together but only one half will finish, the other having decided to go back by train, so as not to slow their companion down.
Now, whilst I knew I was slow, I am also stubborn and don’t like to get defeated. My mindset is one that I like to finish what I started. I have become so used to riding alone, that on long events I often prefer it. My mindset however, was still that I lacked confidence in all my cycling abilities other than the one to complete. I didn’t think I could ever go fast, no matter how much I rode, and how hard I tried. My main cycling goal was simply to find out how far I was capable of going. How many miles would it be before my body said no more? Anything else, was for other people, my body wasn’t built for speed.
This began to change though when I decided that I was going to have a 2nd attempt at Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). In 2017 I decided that I would do things very differently. I was going to train differently. No longer was I content with just completing. I wanted to complete with time to spare. I wanted my qualifiers to go well, and to finish in good times. I knew I needed to get quicker and stronger so this meant a different approach. Much of my progress is detailed in other blog posts, so I will simply summarise the change that began to take place.
In November 2017 I joined a gym – started spin classes and hired a personal trainer to work on my strength. Both started to make a difference. I got a little quicker, but I certainly felt stronger. Over time I found for a while that completing events got a little easier, hill climbing certainly improved. I was still usually last on events, but slightly less likely to be on the time limit. It was progress, but only a little.
An Endurance Cyclist
My mindset however was starting to change. I had decided that instead of being a long distance cyclist, I wanted to become an endurance cyclist. It’s a subtle difference, but in my mind it was the difference between someone who toured a long way, to someone who took part in long distance ‘endurance’ events. PBP is one such event, but others include Transcontinental, The Tour Divide, and other such feats of cyclings performance.
This is what I wanted to be – but I still had to believe that I could.
I was still riding with the same people. Good cyclists, and wonderful friends, who had lots of advice for me. Mostly I was told to ride my bike more, and faff less. Yes it was true, but it turns out that was only a small part of what I needed to improve. I was stuck in a rut. I didn’t really know how to train to get better.
My role models, those amazing women whose achievements I followed on social media were inspiring me. I was getting to meet more of them, I wanted to have some of what they had. I knew I would never be as quick as some. There are some people that are just naturally talented, the rest of us (and them) have to work at it.
My desire was strong, but my confidence in my ability to improve much beyond where I was at was still pretty poor.
After some mixed results in PBP qualifiers I got desperate, and decided that if I really wanted to do PBP I needed some very specific training. I made up my mind to get a coach! Once again, I have blogged about this initial experience (The road to PBP – 400k qualifier and a change of fortunes), but I can honestly say that it changed my whole perspective of what I was capable of.
An Endurance Athlete
Trevor (Zone6 Concept) gave me focused training plans, which saw my speed improve quite dramatically in a short period of time. After a few months I began to add some of the group sessions that he did with his Triathlon team, in particular weekly core strength sessions (boy these are tough), and turbo sessions. I began to see significant improvements to all aspects of my riding.
Training plans are available all over the place, the internet is awash with them, and I’m sure that if you are committed to following them, all will yield results. However, personal interaction is still missing. If you are lacking in confidence in your abilities, you NEED more than just a training plan. You need a coach or a mentor that believes in you. Trevor has helped me at times when I have felt useless & overwhelmed, and instead of telling me to get a grip, has simply asked ‘How can I help you through this, what do you need?” He gave me chance to refocus, and I came back stronger when my head was in a better place.
It’s been pretty recently that I realised that I have not only progressed from a long distance cyclist, to endurance cyclist, but I am now beginning to believe that I am actually an endurance athlete.
A changed perspective
So what’s change my perspective?
As a long distance cyclist – my focus was ‘I want to, but this is all I’m capable of’
As an endurance cyclist – my focus was ‘I really want to do this, I’ll do the best I can, and practice lots’
As an endurance athlete – my focus is ‘ I can do this, and I’ll do whatever it takes to be the best I can possibly be’
The change in perspective has come gradually over 2 years. First there was a desire, then a determination, complete with both failures, and more recently slow but steady improvements. Finally came a belief in myself. This new confidence has come about from mixing with a different peer group, taking on a training program where I can see significant performance benefits, a husband that is happy to let me get on with it, and a coach who encourages and believes in me.
I no longer look at events and wonder ‘if only I could do that’. Now my list is long, and the only issue is finding the time to do them all.
After my weekly spin sessions, the Triathletes then go straight into an hour long swim session. I have watched some of these sessions, and a new desire has taken hold. No, I don’t want to become a triathlete, not yet at least, but it has awakened a desire to improve my swimming. For most of my life, I have had an immense fear of swimming with my head underwater, and so I am restricted to just breaststroke and backstroke. I have decided to smack the fear in the face, and attack the issue with a lesson or two, so that I can fully enjoy swimming, and then maybe in the future try a triathlon.
My next big challenge is the Race Around the Netherlands in May 2020. I still have lots of training to do, and issues of nutrition and sleep to resolve, but I have confidence now in my ability to be able to ride the distance. I’m not content with it being a full value affair, and I’m out to get a decent time. My goal will never be to win at events – I’m certain that my time is past with that, but I now want to be good at what I do, and know that I’ve given an event all I had to give. That I give my best performance every time.
If you are reading this and your mindset is one that tells you that you are ONLY this, or you could NEVER do that, think again!!. With a change of perspective you could do so much more than you ever thought possible.
If you are interested in sports and performance coaching (any Tri discipline – swim, ride or run) then contact Trevor Payne at Zone6 Concept Sports Performance.
If you recognise your own limiting beliefs in this post, and want to do things differently, then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss ways to address the thoughts and beliefs that are holding you back from discovering your own potential.
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