If I’m honest, I’ve never really been much good at it. Of course, I have tried….I had a coach and followed a structured training plan for a while, but far too often I found myself wanting to do something completely different than my prescribed target ride for the day. This generally meant that instead of, for example, a couple of hours of zone 2 road work, I’d be far more likely to end up riding my singlespeed mountain bike for ten hours around the Brecon Beacons. Or, I might replace a 6×5′ functional threshold indoor session with a “sprint around the block” because it happened to be sunny outside.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is clearly not a good thing for out & out race performance. Well, it depends on the race I suppose, but generally speaking a coach and a structured training plan are excellent things if you want to do well in races and achieve the best level of fitness you can. For me however, that attempt at a structured way of training was simply another part of my learning curve, and the desire to win races just isn’t enough to make me spend my limited free time on things I’d rather not be doing. I suppose that might sound a bit odd coming from someone who is thrilled to have been asked to join a new race team, but really if your head isn’t in the right place, especially training for long races, I don’t think you’re going to get very far…and even worse, you might not enjoy it!
Eventually, I discovered the kind of riding that gets me out of the door when it’s 1 deg C and raining outside, or when I’m exhausted from a day of work, children, chores, and the myriad of other things that deplete our energy and make the sofa a more tempting proposition than riding a bicycle on a cold and dark evening. I still get the miles in of course, but rather than stick to a strict plan I keep my riding flexible depending on my mood, the conditions, and which of my bikes might actually be working at any given time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also become better at listening to my body…and crucially at allowing myself to rest when it’s tired.
The other thing I do is to set myself a lot of “mini-goals”…just to keep it fun. If you ever feel like browsing the latest rides posted by the team on Strava (the widget is over there, on the right of the page —>), you probably won’t see many references to “zones” or suchlike on my rides. You are however quite likely to see an after-work sprint to get to the coffee shop for a chai latte before they close at 7pm, a hill climb to a nice pub to book a table for next Friday, a 200 mile Oxford to Cambridge & back ride because I enjoyed riding it one way a few years ago, or perhaps a spur-of-the-moment attempt at a long distance time trial record because I felt quite good that week and the weather was nice.
Having a flexible attitude to my “training” allows me to do all this, and has rewarded me with a few decent results in return so clearly it’s not entirely ineffective. Perhaps more importantly though, my experiment with, and subsequent rejection of, putting some firm structure into all this bicycle riding was about figuring out the kind of riding that motivates me, that makes me happy…and isn’t that really what this is all about?