I’ve turned into someone I barely recognise

As someone who has tended to lack a certain amount of self confidence in her abilities on a bike, I now barely recognise the person that I am becoming. If you’ve followed my blog, you might be a bit surprised by this. After all, I’ve been taking on crazy long distance adventures now for years, but with a mixed degree of success.

So let me explain myself.

What I do possess is a ballsy determination. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I have two reactions. First I get really angry with that person, then upset and then I start doubting myself. Finally, when the anger subsides, the ‘I’ll show them who can’t do something’ kicks in, and I become determined to give it my best shot. The truth is though, that bloody mindedness alone does not generally win the day. It gets me to the end as I’m not someone who tends to give up before finishing the line, especially if I have a point to prove. But the naysayers do generally win however as I cross the line out of time, or finish minutes before the cut off. It gives them their ‘I told you so’ moment, and despite the joy of finishing an event, or riding my longest distance ever, it puts a sting in the tail.

Do you ever find yourself doing something just to prove a point?

So here’s the thing, I started riding long distance over a decade ago for the joy of the adventure. I loved to challenge myself, and marvel at the scenery enjoying the culture of whatever country I was riding through at the time. I loved this kind of riding. I rode solo, as I have done on and off for years, and in that position you are never comparing yourself to anyone else.

But as years went on, I met other riders, and starting joining them. It was great to be introduced to new types of rides, get more adventurous, and start riding longer daily distances challenging myself to go further still. But, without realising it, my confidence started changing. I was always the slowest, always at the back, sometimes accidentally left behind. The thing was though, I was becoming a stronger and faster rider, but so were the others. So I remained at the back. I was riding with people who would always be stronger than me, and I was the only female in the group most of the time, which didn’t help matters. Subconsciously I began comparing my ability with theirs, and the outcome wasn’t good.

So I tried harder, I didn’t give up, and I got stronger, and faster…..but still at the back.

I knew I was improving, but always being the slowest just cements it in your mind. It wasn’t the fault of the other riders it was just the way it was. Somehow though I always felt like I had something to prove, and to an extent that became my motivation. Let me tell you this, if you are striving, consciously or unconsciously, to be better to prove something to others, then your motivation is very, very wrong. I know this from bitter experience.

I had been looking forward to competing in Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) last August, and was determined to finish it within the timescale. My determination was so strong that I started increasing my miles, and riding lots of extra long rides over an 18 month period before the event itself. I wanted to make sure that I had every shot of completing the event. I started going to the gym more, taking spin classes, I hired a personal trainer to help me with strength work. My riding improved considerably….I moved up from mediocre to average. But, on rides of up to 300k I could just about finish within time limits, but over that I was struggling. I would start well but half way round just run out of steam. I could ride the distance, but the 2nd half was always considerably slower than the 1st half, and it was 50:50 whether I was finishing in time.

Half way through my qualifying events, I realised that I was in danger of not qualifying and knew that I needed a new plan, and this is when I hired my coach.

We didn’t have much time and so he changed the way I started riding and training. I was committed, but looking back now, I realised that I had no idea really what it meant to be committed to a training plan. In my mind I was a determined woman, who was a slow long distance cyclist striving to be quicker. My coach worked with me, but he had his work cut out, as this was a whole new world for me. Life was getting in the way, and I was shuffling things around, trying to make the training work around other plans I had. He was used to coaching athletes, but I didn’t see myself as one, and trained as a total novice, with no real clue what I was doing or really what it was going to take..

By the time Paris-Brest-Paris arrived, I was a faster and stronger rider. I had been training by adjusting my normal weekly rides to make them more like training which is important to note. I can say now that it’s not the way to do things. I also cut my links with my previous cycling group, for a variety of reasons. But the main one was that I needed my head to be in a different space, and the riding group was very much a social group, which is lovely in different circumstances.

Unfortunately I took up my coaching and changed mindset a little too late for PBP, although it all helped me to get to the end of the ride, even if out of time.

After PBP was laid to rest, I wanted another goal, but this was all mine. I needed to lay the demons to rest and take on a challenge that I could finish, and finish well. The PBP result disappointed me, and I knew I could do better if I did things differently. This is where the Race Around the Netherlands came in. I’ve spoken about this in other posts and so won’t dwell further as this post is about mindset.

I continued training with my coach, but also joined with his Triathlon team. The team are a wonderful group of people with an amazing attitude. Even without the idea of taking up Tri, I have joined in their training sessions, in conjunction with my tailored program. As a result, I have taken up swimming, including learning to swim front crawl at the age of 53, and during lockdown even laced up my trainers and have started to run. Some of them train just for pleasure, whilst others are training for Ironman events, or crazy runs. We are all a little bit crazy, and whilst most of them can ride faster than me, I know that I can keep going the longest, it’s all relative to the event you are training for. My abilities have gone from strength to strength, and for the first time possibly, I am starting to believe in my own capabilities and have stopped negatively comparing.

I can see that if I follow the plan, take care of my body and my nutrition that my dreams just might happen. I enjoy the training, and will willingly do hill reps after work, and despite sometimes questioning what’s in my plan, I know that my coach knows what needs to be done. He’s been by my side now for a year, and knows what I’m capable of, and where and how I can improve. Yes I will still stop to take pictures on a ride but only when I need to stop anyway. There are no more lingering coffee stops unless I’ve ridden a significant distance first.

My focus is different now.

When I ride, I’m looking to see where I can add an extra hill, or a few extra miles. This is not a person I recognise. For the first time in a decade I am riding entirely for me. I am not trying to prove anything to anyone else. My personal mission is to be the best I can be, and I’ll keep trying until I find out who that person is.

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