I used to be a contender. I could have taken that KOM. I was quicker goddammit and now look at me. Pathetic.
Slow with a tailwind, the merest incline induces a series of huffing and puffing and effing and blinding. Strava automatically marks my rides as private as a sign of a respect to my former self. Inner chimp has become inner chump. Yep, I’m most definitely outta shape.
Empty legs, head and heart. The unthinkable has happened. I’ve fallen out of love with cycling. Say what now? Surely not? The urge long lost, denial initially fuelled more riding. Perhaps I’ll just blast through it, I thought, kidding nobody. This lasted for two months before THAT ride.
Year end comes early for this cyclist. Autumn. Form falls faster than the leaves abandoning the trees. A failed hill climb season peters out and this cyclist has all but quit. Hibernation time.
I’ve been ‘on it’, truly on it, since January. Nine months of riding hard. Every week the same as the last. A turbo session or two, a couple of hard club rides, daily commutes interspersed with monthly trips to the likes of Belgium and the Dolomites.
Not forgetting the early season base miles, from absolutely brutal C2C ride in atrocious weather, to the jaunt to the Peak District when my legs fell off. Oh and ten straight weeks of metric century rides every weekend during the base mile munching months. Nuts.
Yet adventures past are quickly forgotten once you begin to slow. Decline is inevitable yet still surprises and frustrates each time. This year I peaked at the end of July, just when I should have been building for hill climb season. Bah. Physically and mentally I could take no more. The ‘season’ was over, not that I could admit that to myself. Denial.
At first you think it’s simply a bad ride. And then another. And another. Interval sessions become impossible and you barely complete the warm up. The thought of riding becomes as appetising as going to work.
Each time you go for a spin, you do so with the speeds and achievements of days gone by in your head, impossible targets since your body is now in decline. Frustration makes you ride like an idiot in a vain pursuit of previous peaks. You fail, plundering the last of your energy reserves in the process and preventing any hopes of recovery.
Everything about every ride is difficult. The cold. You’re always cold. Every road surface so jarring it’s like riding on the moon. Even the cake stop brings no joy, all this talk of cycling, get a life people!
Mentally you’re long gone. Riding is boring, a chore. Somebody mentions a ride and you splutter ready made excuses about your broken eyelash. Come on they say, it’s only 40 miles. Ugh. What previously would have been a quick spin now sounds very, very far when the walk to the bike shed is beyond your limits.
An existential crisis kicks in. Who am I? What is life without cycling? Lycra gone, you’re Clarke Kent bumbling about not superman flying through quiet country lanes.
You take a break but this only adds to your declining powers. What happened? I love cycling, I’ve done my time, this isn’t supposed to happen, not to me.
How to fill all this spare time? Don’t want to write about cycling, or read about riding, or talk about it, or watch it on TV. Yes, you were that obsessive.
We are defined by what we do. So now what?
A new normal
Without realising it you become normal again, not one of them mad cyclists. The thought of a turbo ride is akin to torture. You rediscover the taste of chips and booze. You remember what it is to be social, to be drunk and inevitably hungover, but hey that’s fine, you’re not riding today.
The only Lycra you wear is for fancy dress parties, the only bananas you eat are flambéed with rum and served in pancakes. Sure, you’re still drinking electrolytes, they’re great for hangovers.
No longer do you open Strava daily. Oh no. Better not look at all those buggers enjoying rides whilst you’re sat on the couch in your underwear drinking a beer. It’s almost lunch time.
Game over. You feel guilty every time you walk past your bike. You’ve got the bike blues and need a break. How long, you cannot say. You’ll know when it’s time to return, when the legs and head are rested, you know, when you’re really, really, really slow.