While researching various training plans and techniques for my challenges next year (details to come!), I gave some thought on how I trained for my Ride Across Britain. Cycling 972 miles in 9 days required a fair amount of training in the run up to it, something that I found incredibly daunting at first! I could barely ride my bike 30 miles at the time and even being provided a training plan still confused me, words like “cadence” and “power to weight” started to make my head spin a little bit.
I’m a little better than I was, but I still find training plans and planning for an event very stressful! I constantly worry about if I’ve taken on too much and how on earth I’ll achieve what I’ve set out to do. Something I eventually learned was that a problem shared is quite literally a problem halved! The worries you have will be valid, but they probably just need a little reassurance from a kind friend or someone that knows a little better. So if in doubt, ask! I learned so much from talking to other cyclists about how they train and what they find useful.
I spent the first 3 months trying to follow my training plan to the letter. This was useful in that I learnt a lot about maintaining a steady pace on the bike and getting used to being out on the roads with cars and other cyclists. But trying to follow “the plan” so precisely also caused a great deal of stress and panic, especially if I started to miss multiple sessions on the trot!
A wise friend was quick to point out that rest was just as important as the actual training. In amongst following my training session, I was also playing hockey and trying to go to the gym three times a week too. Add work and still trying to maintain some kind of social life to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for full-blown burn out.
This is not fun. Constant tiredness, no desire to train or do anything! I’d reached my physical limit in a very non-dramatic way, there was no big injury or sign to say “THIS IS BURN OUT!”, I just stopped wanting to do anything! I’d kept pushing for so long that my body decided to shut itself down so that I was forced to stop. Rest was demanded, and rest was what it got. I took 3 weeks out when I should have been ramping up the training (or so “the plan” told me).
Throughout my training, it is still one of the best decisions I made – taking those 3 weeks to completely recover and start to miss the bike meant that by the time I got back out, I was itching to go further and faster than ever! It was also at this point that I decided to stop printing out “the plan” each week and instead set monthly goals for myself. These goals were sportives that groups of friends were taking part in, or places that I wanted to cycle to or visit. They were planned as days out rather than as “training”.
Setting my own plan in this way allowed me to take everything I’d learned from following “the plan”, such as keeping a steady cadence, trying out the odd sprint session and the value of proper rest days, but incorporated the best thing about cycling – the freedom to just go! It meant that I chased the pros in Tour de Yorkshire, pedalled fast and furious in a closed road sportive, cycled from London to Wales and back, and went cycling through France visiting chateaus and scoffing down lots and LOTS of croissants. I’d plan every weekend to be filled with cycling, roping friends in to days out on the bike, making sure they were centred around a cafe or pub stop somewhere along the way.
It didn’t feel like training anymore – it felt like fun. I’d look forward to my weekends being out on the bike. I stopped fretting about the miles I’d cycled and whether it was enough, I stopped worrying about whether I’d be able to climb the big hills and I just took each bit of road in my stride. By the time I arrived at the start of the Ride Across Britain, I felt strangely calm. I knew that whatever happened, whether I completed it or whether I didn’t, I’d learned and grown so much in the run up to that event that I felt proud whatever happened.
And ultimately, that’s what training should be about, there will always be a specific event you’re working towards, but the ultimate goal should be to better yourself – it shouldn’t be a chore, it shouldn’t be something you “have” to do. The best way to succeed is to make sure you are doing something that you “want” to do.