The cyclocross season is drawing to a close so it’s time for all those end-of-season blogs, photo montages and messages of thanks to sponsors! I feel I have a good excuse to write a season wrap-up blog (or two) this year though. Following surgery last week, I’m not fit to do anything else! I am currently sitting at home on the sofa, intermittently snorting/hacking up clods of blood and gore from my sinuses.
Sinuses and stress!
Let’s get the bad bits out of the way at the start! Not bad like you see on the news, but I wouldn’t want this blog to be entirely about the idyllic life of a cyclist. There are some tough times too.
Everyone has to deal with illness and stress. I’m no different but this year it all got a bit too much. I missed the 2018 National Championships with a flu-like illness, which then turned in to sinusitis, resulting in weeks off work and keeping me off my bike until March. In my line of work, there’s no one to do it for me while I’m away so, although I get paid (I realise I’m very fortunate here), it’s not great for career progression. General joie de vivre takes a hit too, to put it mildly.
Things turned around after seeing a sinus specialist who advised that, although I may feel terribly fatigued, I wouldn’t be doing myself any harm by going out and smashing it on my bike, and it would actually make me feel a lot better. Indeed it did! Although I’m sure my performance has been somewhat limited by recurrent infections in my sinuses throughout the year, I’ve got even more enjoyment out of my riding than ever I think.
While exercise seemed to be good for my sinusitis, work certainly wasn’t. I’ve always thrived on burying myself in some hard sums, problem solving, computer programming etc. but now 30 minutes of it and my face would be throbbing. At least I could get some relief by going out on my bike. Or I could until people at work thought this meant I wasn’t really ill. Austerity is hitting all areas and everyone must feel like they are overworked and underpaid. So imagine if someone at your workplace calls in sick one day but is spotted out on their bike looking fine the next. Official Human Resources investigation, …, stress,…, bad feeling…
This all reached a peak early in the cyclocross season and made balancing training stress and work stress quite tricky. After working so hard to reach a high level of fitness, it is tough not to be able to reap the benefits. It happens to everyone though doesn’t it? Look at poor Wout with all his contractual problems. Injury and illness are one thing but it’s bad feeling between people that keeps you up at night and can affect performance and health more profoundly.
Let’s take away the positives though…
- I’ve just had surgery on my sinuses and will feel amazing again soon.
- These issues have helped me re-focus on what’s important in life. As the saying goes: “nobody ever said on their death-bed that they wished they’d spent more time in the office”. I’ve gone to 4 days a week at work and will be spending more time on the important stuff (like hitting the trails with the kids).
Someone who knows a lot about the highs and lows of cycling is Graeme Obree. I recently read his book “The Obree Way: A Training Manual for Cyclists”: The Obree Way: A Training Manual for Cyclists (UPDATED AND REVISED EDITION)
Taking into account both his achievements on the bike, and his innovations in aerodynamics, Obree has to be considered one of the all-time greats of cycling. His training manual gives an insight into how he was figuring out for himself in the 80s and 90s the best training and nutrition plans that science is only now delivering to us. Some of his methods are a little ‘out there’, as you’d expect, but I’ll certainly be taking away some ideas from this book. Perhaps the best bit is tucked away at the back, and deals with what is a bit of an issue in cycling: almost everyone is a loser! That is, there’s only one winner in a race, and that’s not likely to be you all the time, indeed probably rarely, even never.
Obree considers us not as winners and losers but as those who aspire to succeed. Each season I set myself goals and train and aspire to achieve these goals. Often someone else beats me to that win or podium, etc. I pick myself up, dust myself down and try and meet the next challenge. This doesn’t mean I’m a perpetual loser, battling against the odds in what’s likely to be an unsuccessful pursuit of a dream. No, I’m continuing to do what I enjoy: aspiring to achieve my goals, where the aspiration is in itself enjoyable and motivating. I also enjoy fishing. Note that this activity is not called “catching”, just like cycling is not called “winning”.
All of the above may seem rather obvious: you can’t win everything and should just enjoy yourself! However, the notion of just riding for the fun of it somehow undermines and belittles the devotion, pain and suffering of the dedicated aspirant. The key, perhaps even subtle message here is that “winning” is not the only satisfactory outcome of dedication: one can be temporarily satisfied with not winning, and the temporary timescale can be indefinite for the dedicated aspirant. Indeed, we should all be aspiring to the end shouldn’t we? Winning may just punctuate this continuous state of being.
To summarise so far: it’s not all plain sailing in Team Forrester this year. Taking into account this not entirely pleasant backdrop top the season, mitigated by a few positive thoughts, let’s get on the cyclocross! Ok, there’s one other thing I forgot about that perhaps needs to be considered first… getting old!
Hanging on to youth
As if things weren’t bad enough already, this season I turned 40! No matter how much you tell yourself this isn’t really very old, or that it doesn’t really mean anything unless you let it, etc., there’s no denying, it is a bit of a milestone. The (naive) way I decided to tackle it was to be a better rider than ever before. I think “better rider“ might include:
- have more fun on a bike and pass on/share the enjoyment,
- be fitter and have more skill on the bike.
After battling against the odds for a year to achieve this, I’ve perhaps got over the whole 40 thing and am now in a position to be this ‘better’ rider next year.
I’ll write more about my 40th year quest in my next post. In the meantime, if you too are looking to get fitter as you get older. Jo Friel’s “Fast After 50” is a great resource: Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life