This article is for anyone struggling to find motivation in their sport and for those looking to get back on track. This is written with cycling in mind, but you can replace those references with your other sports and find this advice still applies.
For the beginner road rider, getting into this crazy endurance sport takes guts, and working through the unavoidable growing pains can be difficult, but don’t lose hope. What you must believe, from the moment you start, is that everyone starts at the beginning and everyone has been where you are — struggling to get out there and face another day chasing pavement. Whether you’ve bought or been given your first road bike (like me at one time), or have taken a bicycling hiatus, we know getting on or back on the bike can be tough, especially in the first few months.
From getting over the first couple weeks of a sore bottom, or that achy muscular fatigue, to navigating uncharted territory, we all go through it. I’m here to remind you that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. However, you can do it! If you put in consistent training, set realistic goals, and don’t dwell on the bad days, the fitness will inevitably come.
Why is it so hard?
This is something you probably ask yourself while you’re watching Netflix and eating crisps... or is that just me? We all have our reasons for making things harder than they have to be!
Schedule is a big reason, especially in the winter, when the days are short and cold, and the mornings come late... (if you don’t know what this is like, then you don’t live in the further tops and bottoms of the hemispheres, and we should talk about life — or a house swap.) Good weather, bad weather, what really stops us from achieving our goals? Sometimes we have to ask ourselves the hard questions, like what’s important in my life? Is cycling one of those things?
If getting outside to ride during the cold winter months is the issue, there is a simple fix: cross-train. Cross-training encompasses weight training, stair climbing, using the elliptical, running, swimming, fitness classes, spin classes — really any kind of alternate endurance activity that’s going to improve aerobic ability and/or strength and endurance. Hell, if none of these activities turn your crank, modern dance is always a good option.
After taking time off, just getting out the door can sometimes be challenging, but the answer can be quite simple. Find motivation. That’s right, it doesn’t just appear, you need to search deep within yourself. Change it up. Find a training buddy or group. Get back to feeling strong, healthy and confident. Consistent training is key. Adjust your schedule and find the time, even if it’s limited. You will gain fitness and it will transfer to cycling, as long as it’s part of your routine.
Failure, or the fear of it — almost everyone experiences this. Whether it’s turning down a group ride because you think you can’t keep up, or thinking that a short ride isn’t even worth the effort, these are fear driven excuses. It sounds harsh, but we all have to face our demons and they’re not always nice. Being slower than you were before taking time off is a reality, but too slow? By whose standards? It’s all about changing your perspective. Any ride is better than no ride! And getting out there is sometimes the hardest part. Worst-case scenario is you’re left behind, which normally never happens, but if it does... you ride home or do a little extra on your own. No big deal. Don’t look at that scenario as a failure because you’re one step closer to your goal, with an added day of fitness under your belt. You’re also gaining experience, you’re getting the blood flowing, healing your body, clearing your mind, enjoying the outdoors — all positives.
Even when you’re at your fittest there are going to be days you can’t keep up, whether it be fatigue from training the days prior, or you just happen to be in a group that’s in a take-no-prisoners mode. There will always be someone who is fitter and stronger at some point, but we all have our own journey and reasons to continue pushing. Change won’t come if you don’t do anything about it, so face your fears. It’s not just about training your body; it’s about training your mind.
Bike Fit: Now, I have to go over this because, despite how boring this topic can be, it’s very important. If you ride 5 to 10 hours a week consistently and you’re still uncomfortable, this is beyond a breaking-in problem. Overall, riding should make you feel better, not worse. I’m not the most technically savvy person, so I can’t go into great detail on the right size stem or handle bar width; I can tell you to go to your trusted bike shop. They should be able to set you up on a bike and troubleshoot what’s causing discomfort. You can even ask a more experienced rider; they are normally more than happy to tell you everything they know about cycling ;). It’s a trial and error process because we all have such different bodies. You may have to try two or three saddles, shorts, shoes, cleats, etc., before you find the right fit. This takes time, but it’s so worth it. As a pro and a sponsored rider, getting the right fit was a compromise to what was supplied; some years would be good and some not so much, but what I can take from those experiences is that certain brands, styles, and shapes work for certain people. We all come in different shapes and sizes and so do our shoes, saddles, kits, and more.
Write down your goals
Goals are a great way to stay motivated and train with purpose. At any level of the sport you need goals, short term and long term. They need to be written down and they need to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound. If your goal is to ride 30, 50, 100 kilometers or more, how are you going to achieve that? If your schedule is unpredictable, sit down on Sunday and write down your goals for the week, giving yourself a couple of different options for each day. If you don’t have time for any of it, get a coach, a personal trainer, or both! Having someone aid in the motivation is a great way to stick to a program and stay accountable. It may cost a bit of money, but if a coach is what it takes to stay healthy and achieve your goals, then perhaps it’s worth it.
There are no bad days. We must remind ourselves of this often. I hate to say it, but more days than not, you don’t feel like Superman. Most days are a slog and you’re tired from the week of life, but after putting in the training, you can’t help but feel proud. You’ve accomplished a goal and you beat the part of your brain that kept telling you, “you have other things to do.” Now, the really hard part is changing your perspective. On a day that you feel tired and fatigued, that’s all it is. However, every day that you get home from work and neglect the couch for a ride is a damn good day! Every morning that you wake up early and take a spin class before work is a good day! Once you realize this and accept and expect those feelings, the bad days become incremental gains, each and every one of them. The power of positive thinking — I think there are a few books about it? It will take a lot of continual work, but your perspective will change, and before you know it, you’ll be crushing your goals and pressing mute on the negative voice in your head.
Road cycling is one of those sports that takes years to understand all the ins and outs. From the gear to the mental, physical, and technical aspects, it’s one of those ten-thousand-hours-to-be-an-expert kind of sports. Road cycling has its challenges but it also offers so much more than it requires. If you can’t find a way to enjoy everything that it gives, then it probably isn’t the sport for you.
When I ride, I ride for the feeling of wind on my bare legs after cold months in double layers, for the warm sunshine on my face, for the wind through my jersey, for the speed and control of descending, for that magical view after cresting the mountain, and for the snacks! Those are among so many of the reasons that I ride. What do you ride for? Create your goals, find your happy place and enjoy the process! There’s a method to the madness but that’s what it’s all about.