It's that time of year when cycling becomes less of a pleasure and more of a chore. Days become shorter, the weather becomes colder, there are no races to look forward to and motivation is just a word in the dictionary.
During the race season (in my case somewhere between February and September), it's easier to be motivated and upbeat about training. Occasionally the weather is sunny and warm and trips out on the bike for several hours at a time are pleasant. Or as pleasant as they can be when you're focussed on producing a certain amount of power. But when your biggest concern is staying warm and dry and avoiding patches of ice on the road, it starts to become more of a job and less of a hobby.
Furthermore, throughout the summer months I normally have a race or time trial at least once a week, if not more. And that's just the local events I participate in – add to this the trips away for International competitions or training camps, and it's easy to see how the constant stream of stimulation in the form of racing keeps you going.
And if the weather conditions didn't make the situation bad enough, there's also the inherent boredom that comes from training by power numbers. When the average cyclist goes out for a ride – they do just that: ride. When I go out for a training ride, it's usually with specific goals and targets in mind. I am forever riding at a set wattage for a set period of time. The shorter the interval, the harder it usually is to achieve the target wattage.
But maintaining a set wattage can be a very difficult thing to do. Not because the target is particularly hard, but rather because fluctuations in road gradients, wind conditions, traffic flow, etc – all mean that you must constantly make adjustments to your pace and output to 'stay in the zone'. And the only way to make sure I'm riding at the right intensity is to look at the readout on my bike computer. So I spend most of my time riding along, constantly glancing down at my bike computer to make sure the numbers are where they are supposed to be. It leaves little other opportunity to enjoy the scenery!
Which leads me to my point. How do I keep motivated and keep cycling 'fun' during these long winter months? There's no denying that for me, at this point in my career, cycling IS my job. Like it or not, I am funded to perform on the bike. That means hours and hours of hard work, day in and day out. But HAVING to ride the bike and train certainly isn't motivating or fun!
First and foremost – you have to WANT to do it. And believe me, even though some days it does feel like a job, I love riding my bike. Even in the cold and wet and dark. While you're sat in your office looking out the window and wishing you could be riding – I'm out there doing it. The hardest part of any bike ride is the the 5 minutes before it starts. Just getting out the door and started is the hard part. Once you throw your leg over the bike and start pedalling, it all becomes easy.
And why do I want to do it? Because I want to win. I hate losing – at anything. And the only way to win is to train harder than the next guy. At the top – we all have similar skills and talents. What separates us is those of us who train harder and smarter. There is no substitute for hours in the saddle and there are no shortcuts. But pain today means glory tomorrow. The joy of winning a major championship or race is worth every second of suffering through the winter months.
This year I'm fortunate to have a nice Rainbow Jersey to look at to help stay motivated through the winter. It serves as a contestant reminder of what hard work can give you. Now that I've had a taste of success – I want more. Lots more. I want to break world records. I want to win more medals. I want to be a World and Paralympic Champion. These things don't happen overnight so the hard work starts now.
And as a World Champion the target is now firmly on MY back. The competition is gunning for me and I'm the man to beat. And that's just fine with me. I'm working day and night to stay ahead of them. If they want to beat me, they're gonna have to work harder than me – and that is not going to be easy.
So while you enjoy your Sunday ride in the park with the kids, or your leisurely club run with your mates, I'll be out there beating the crap out of myself. Learning to suffer and endure pain like never before. Putting in the miles, ignoring my surroundings, forgoing fatty foods and alcohol, ignoring my friends and family and staying focussed on winning.
And that... for me is fun.