The returning cyclist is a delusional fool. Despite a sustained period with next to no cycling, we emerge from our winter hibernation with memories of our summer form whilst conveniently ignoring the winter feasts hanging around our blubbery middles. After remembering how to dress in Lycra again, we set off on the bike, confused by the heavy feeling in our lead legs, bemused by the pain in our chests.
Pains best known to the beginner cyclist return. Your bum hurts. So too your arms, neck, hands, ankles and knees. What is this, this hurting thing, you wonder, as if you’ve just stepped out of The Matrix and landed back in Zion. Like Neo, you too could do with downloading a few hundred miles of simulated training.
Rest days and neglect
Idleness returns few favours. I’ve spent weeks, nay months (shhhhh!) off the bike. The only helmets I’ve worn have been made of paper at the Christmas dinner and the only paceline I’ve formed has been to the bar. The only tight-fitting clothing I’ve worn has been the day-to-day clothes that have seemingly shrunk with the passing of each and every meal. It’s true I’ve been guilty of a sticky bottle or three.
Yet still I was surprised by a lack of fitness during my first ride of the season year. Why such scenes shock I do not know. Human Cyclist indeed.
The slow bicycle movement
First ride. At least I’m fresh, I thought to myself, staring through the window at the foreign land you call outside. Out, I was moving so slowly stationary bicycles were overtaking me. Unable to accept the numbers on my expensive GPS speedometer, I was convinced it was failing and so I looked to the skies expecting to see satellites falling.
Maybe it’s this massive headwind that’s hitting me, I thought, tucking my crooked back down into the drops. My speed not increasing, I looked at the trees but not a leaf was stirring. The road had no incline, the tarmac smooth. My chain freshly lubed, I was mashing the easiest of gears, much to my disbelief.
I am better than this, I thought, clambering awkwardly off the bike, my legs tight. The odometer read 2.9 miles. I checked the bike over. The brakes must be rubbing, I thought, looking at my perfectly positioned calipers. Buckled wheel perhaps, I queried, spinning my true wheel and doing my best to ignore my quivering legs.
Devastated, I cycled on, my head shaking almost as much as my flabby thighs. I was not so much pedalling squares but cubes. I found myself coasting more than a boat with no oars, driftwood in a clam ocean, at the mercy of slightest of breezes. Obliterated, I had cycled into oblivion before reaching the end of my street. It will take all of my will to ensure my first ride of the year is not my last.
Cycling. You spend 9 months of the year bursting capillaries and chiseling your calves, for what? A couple of glorious weeks when you’re convinced Team Sky are about to come calling. And then what? Winter comes and your fitness disappears quicker than the leaves from the trees or pigs in blankets come Boxing Day.
A long road back
I need perspective. Looking back at my rides from this time last year has brought little relief. Last year I’d clocked up many a winter mile, not so this year. I stare at the numbers and cannot quite believe that the many 100 mile rides I logged last year are real. A hundred mile ride seems quite ridiculous to me now, astonishing, bewildering.
I’m the type of rider who, once I’ve abandoned the weekly rides and the fitness that comes with them, I will struggle to find the motivation to get back out on the bike. I’m all or nothing. I rest as hard as I cycle. My idea of a rest day is either a zone 5 eyeball buster or three months drinking whiskey sours. Both of these options leave you feeling worse for wear come the morn.
Take it easy hot shot
The temptation now is to grind out some big miles and burn my lungs in pursuit of top speeds. I want to climb mountains in gears so small they’ve been made by a Swiss watchmaker. Yet I must resist such an injury prone attack. I need to accept my legs are made from papiermache and my lungs have the capacity of a dust cap.
First come the miles, then a bit of pace, then the horrid intervals, then a bit of strength and boom, before you know it, the sun will be out, it’ll be June and I’ll be flying. Catch me if you can. Just give me a few months yeah?