I had a day off on Friday as I had dinner and a comedy show booked for mine and Karen’s 6th wedding anniversary so what better way to spend a lovely spring morning than to go for a ride. The fact that it was Friday was an added bonus as most people were at work and the roads were so much quieter! It dawned on me, while on my travels, that I’ve learnt quite a lot about myself while cycling as well as about cycling itself so I thought I’d jot them down here.
1. Preparation Is Key
There was a time when I would roll out of bed, struggle into the bibs and get out of the door as soon as possible in order to hit the roads whilst they were at their most quiet but I’ve realised that was a massive error on my part. I would struggle to do long distances, hills would quite often end up being walked up and I would end up feeling totally spent at the end of a ride. Recently I have changed that approach – I make sure that I get up with my son at the weekend, have a good breakfast (zero fat yoghurt, oats and fruit, made the night before), do some stretching (check out yoga poses for cyclists on Pinterest) and have a shower before getting into the bibs. The results have been remarkable really, my whole performance has improved but it is significant that the rest of the day is now not a write off after a long ride.
2. Everything Feels So Much Better When The Sun Shines
No explanation needed really, it just does. Everything becomes far less of a hassle.
3. Climbing Hills Is Fun
I used to dread them. My legs were weak, my lung capacity poor after years on the fags, I’d sweat at the mere sight of a slight ridge and I’d invariably end up walking while convincing myself that my bad knee (old football injury) was hurting – it wasn’t.
Now I’ve discovered a bit of a love of the hills. It’s taken a long time and a lot of dedication to building up my leg strength through squats, deadlifts, leg presses and leg raises at the gym but it is starting to pay dividends. I feel stronger going into a climb and I feel more able to control my cadence, I’ve also learnt to pace the climb rather than go too hard too soon.
On Friday I made it up Hillbury Road (Croydon) in one go, something I had never done before. It’s not a steep gradient, 1.1 mile at an average of 5.3%, but there is a nasty little left turn at the top which kicks up to the top of the road so it is a challenge. The last time I attempted it I had to stop at the bend for fear of bonking, this wasn’t a quick time but I was happy to chalk up the achievement
4. People Are Friendly, Some Cyclists Are Not
I will always say hello or cast a wave in the direction of a fellow cyclist, I’ll always stop if I see someone who looks like they’re having a bit of a mechanical or they’re lost but it amazes me the amount of cyclists who don’t. A lot of them seem to be so far up their own backsides that they seem to have forgotten why they got into cycling in the first place, to have fun! If you’re out and about be nice, say hello to people!
Weirdly, people not on bikes seem to be the complete opposite (bar the odd arsehole driver). I’ve had lovely conversations with dog walkers, runners and an elderly gentleman who sat next to me on a bench when I stopped for a food break. If people were all just a little bit friendlier the world would be a much better place.
5. Getting Nutrition Right Has A Dramatic Effect
I’m only now getting to a stage where I am understanding the benefit of drinking and eating at the right times. Not only that but, after a lot of trial and error, I have found products that agree with me! I’ve been through a lot of brands in the past that repeated on me, making me feel slightly sick and spoiling the ride. I gave up on gels for that very reason a while back but have since found brands that do not give me that horrible feeling. Here are my current favourite brands:
Getting the timings of refuelling right has given me a massive performance benefit but it really does seem to be an individual thing so no general timing plan will work, you have to know your own body.
6. My Body Hates Me
“Everybody knows how much my body hates me” sang Billy Bragg in Sexuality and I’m starting to understand what he meant. Nearing 40 it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine whether the creaks and clunks are coming from my bike or my body. The battles are greater the older I get but the rewards seem to be so much more satisfying.
7. Keep Going, It’s Worth It
#outsideisfree so the hashtag goes and it is totally true. I’m lucky to live in an area with outstanding scenery, a perfect place for cycling and some amazing views if you battle up the many hills of Surrey and Kent. I feel free when cycling, it gives me a sense of achievement that I haven’t found elsewhere. Forget your Garmin and your Strava every now and again to take in the freebies around you
Enjoy your ride, wherever you go