By the time I arrived in Winnipeg post Cascade, I was burnt out. Perhaps my exhaustion was more mental than physical. I planned to take two weeks totally off the bike.
I arrived a few days before my 18th birthday. My girlfriend, Bryanna, treated me to some grown-up like activities to celebrate my adulthood: we filed our taxes, drafted our wills, and wrote a prenuptial.
We then went out for a lovely dinner. I’m not a big alcohol fan, but I got a shitty cocktail because I could. I was actually much more excited about being able to buy a lottery ticket than a drink. We stayed together in a hotel room. Again, simply because we could. It was a true luxury to share a room with my girlfriend for once, and not a couple of smelly team mates. Unlike my team mates, she didn’t throw me out of bed if I rolled over in my sleep and snuggled. I have had to share a bed with many cyclists and they react very differently to my mid-slumber affection.
While in Winnipeg, I managed to convince my best-friend, Danick, to go sky-diving with me in Gimli. This was to be my birthday present to myself. In hindsight, convincing him to go by saying something along the lines of ‘Yeah we could die, but we’re probably more likely to die in a bike race’ wasn’t the cleverest means of persuasion. Never-the-less, it worked, and we fell 10,000 feet out of a plane. It was absolutely brilliant- falling is an amazing high- I recommend it to everyone. I can guarantee that that wasn’t my last time skydiving.
After two weeks off the bike, I planned to go for a ride with my friend Terry.
I wasn’t super keen on riding, but I really wanted to catch up with Terry and the prospect of an easy ride didn’t seem like too bad an idea. Besides, it was time for me to get back on the bike. I was expecting a couple hours of socializing while we spun before landing at a coffee shop. We didn’t plan it, but before long we were heading west out of town. I only had a single bar with me. Soon I realized that I was in for a hard day. I hadn’t recovered from the last five months of racing. Nor had I ridden in Manitoba for a year and a half. I had forgotten just how mentally demanding those long rides across the prairies can be. I bonked pretty quickly and as we pushed through the wind, I could see where we were supposed to go hours before we arrived. Eventually we had to stop talking as the effort picked up and I tried to conserve energy. I tucked in behind Terry’s wheel for the final hour and a half and didn’t emerge until we were back in town and he was handing me a cinnamon bun. When I got back to Bryanna’s house, I didn’t touch my bike for a week and then only to pack it away in its box for its journey home.
There were races in 2016 where I’d spend over 100 km in the break. I did thousands of feet of climbing some days. I would ride for hours pedalling faster and working harder than my rivals simply due to my junior gear restrictions. However, no amount of suffering during the season compared to how I suffered that day. I had forgotten what it was like to ride at home. I had grown soft in my time away from the Prairies. The bottom line was that I wasn’t as ready or as able to suffer the demands of prairie riding.
I spent the rest of August in Victoria. I went for a spin when my Uncle Tony visited from London, but that was it. Every time I tried to get back on the bike it was forced. Little road trips, working on the house, bungee jumping, hikes and short runs occupied my time off. I took two weeks in mid September to drive back to Winnipeg. I didn’t take my bike. I picked up Bryanna and then we slowly made our way to Victoria. During those two weeks I signed my contract with H&R, which gave me some motivation, and I hoped that by the time I got home I’d be itching to get out and ride. But, back in Victoria I still had no desire to ride.
I got a job at a cafe the day I got home, and decided I best start riding as well. It was almost October at this point. For the month of October, I did nothing structured. I’d ride 3-4 days a week for 2-4 hours. Most days I rode two hours between the time I got off work and sundown. It was almost always raining. Some days were fun, but a lot of the time it was hard to get out and go. It was cold and wet. November 1st was the day I decided would be the official start of 2017. I did a 20 min test to get an idea of fitness, and it was my worst in two years-I knew it would be bad, but not that bad. It was hard to swallow, but I knew that if was going to be prepared for my first season as a pro, I’d just have to suffer for the next few months of training. I made a solid plan with my coaches and told myself it was time to get work. Nearly three months without training meant I had a long way to go, but I was finally motivated.
I learned a lot last season. One of the biggest lessons I can take away is how important it is to listen to your body. If you’re sick, exhausted, or both, take it easy. Take a day or two off. Pushing harder when your body is telling you to slow down or stop, will not reward you. Although it’s second nature for an athlete to push themselves, it’s unnatural. There’s a limit. Of course, it seems obvious, but common sense in terms of personal wellness doesn’t always apply to athletes. During the season, our top priorities are to train and race. Out of fear, the last thing we want to do is take time off. Time off means a loss of fitness. I shouldn’t have continued pushing through Cascade, nor should I have suffered through that ride in August.
It’s equally important to listen to your mind. I didn’t want to ride that day in August. I wasn’t mentally prepared to train yet. I thought I had to. I had only given myself two weeks to recover from 5 months worth of exhaustion. My two weeks off hadn’t been enough, and I knew it, but my fear was that it had been more than enough whether I liked it or not. If I had vocalized how I was feeling early on, Terry would have been totally fine packing it in. I chose to remain quiet, and I faced the consequences of going too hard too soon. I suffered way more than I was prepared to that day, and as a result, I turned what probably could have been a month long break into something quite unsettling.
Important lessons to learn. Lessons I didn’t learn until long after class was over. Another blog post will reveal why.