Tuesday 10 January 2023

Freewheeling: Cycling burnout - you can get too much of a good thing!

I have been slowly getting back into the rhythm of cycling regularly. I'm not doing any big-mileage rides, but just little outings around my neighbourhood of around 20km. Admittedly, an ongoing sports injury has prevented me from doing much more, and I have had to steer clear of hills.

But even if I hadn't had this misfortune I still wouldn't have done a lot of riding. In the latter half of 2022 my average monthly mileage fell dramatically from around 700km to about one-tenth of that amount.

Regular rides around my local lanes in Kent and Surrey, training sessions at Herne Hill Velodrome, plus rides further afield to the Lake District Peak District had bumped up the mileage. I even did a few trips overseas - to Milan and the Italian Lakes, the South of France, Northern France and Belgium, as well as my regular London to Paris run. I guess I was making the most of our new-found post-Covid freedom. 

These rides were also in preparation for a couple of cyclosportive events I'd signed up for - Fred Whitton Challenge, Ride London, and the Etape du Tour. I did the first two events, but ended up not making the trip to the Alps for the latter event.

In fact by the time the Tour de France was starting I could feel my enthusiasm flagging, and when the inaugural Tour de France Femmes - the big event we'd been anticipating at the end of July - I was ready to move off in a new direction and just watch the bike racing from a distance. 

There was no specific thing that happened to make me feel this way. It just seemed like an unexplained burn-out, and as a result I just felt indifferent about all things cycling. So as a result, after putting my road bike away in the garage on my return from Paris for the Tour de France, it and the other bikes stayed practically unridden for around two months. I didn't miss riding, and for a timecI felt relieved that I didn't have to feel guilty at not training or not doing a 100km ride. 

I enjoyed the fact that on a sunny Sunday I could do an alternative leisure activity like rollerskating, visiting an art gallery, or even indulge in an extended Sunday lunch.

Some years ago I recall the boss of an advertising agency where I worked, speaking disparagingly about cyclists who go out on these really long bike rides on a weekend. He laughingly talked about how he wouldn't be putting in place facilities like showers in the office as he didn't want to encourage this sort of strange cycling behaviour. At the time I thought he was being a little mean and uncharitable towards cyclists. Maybe he was even jealous that he couldn't have that level of fitness to cycle even 10 or 15 miles.

In hindsight I believe what he was getting at was the cycling culture of riding a bicycle all day on a Saturday and/or Sunday, effectively keeping you away from your friends and family. He was all in favour of pleasant leisure bike rides out in the countryside with others and maybe stopping in a pub or having a picnic. But doing all this Tour de France style riding especially when you're nowhere near being professional just seemed antisocial. He even questioned the mental health of folks who see it fit to do these bike rides week in, week out!

Funnily enough as I reached this burnt-out phase I was beginning to think the same. So you've gotten out and ridden your bike 200km and climbed over this iconic hill or ridden over that historic stretch of cobbles or unsurfaced road. Have a pat on the back, but does life really have to be about just that? Then you go home and spend three or four hours watching a bunch of guys or wonen doing the same thing on TV. It all seems like watching paint dry until the last 15 minutes or so, and then folks marvel over those final 15 minutes of the race that was won by an athlete who comes across with slightly (but not much) more charisma than a wet lettuce. 

I found the whole thing rather quirky. I found it especially as these cycling fans talk of the sport like it's the most important thing in the world and trounces every other sport on the universe for entertainment, and bemoan the fact that the mainstream news channels don't feature this event as the top story in their sports bulletins. 

I realised I didn't want to be part of this crowd, and maybe deep down I just wanted a break from this soup, so that I could re-establish the relationship I wanted with cycling. At the time I'd just bought a motorcycle and was taking lessons.

I was getting more and more into ensemble playing with my clarinet, and I was learning to play the flute. So in short there was no time to be doing 200km bike rides. More importantly, I felt happier at the end of my day to have done a 20km cycle ride, flute playing and even a bit of housework. It might sound like a more conventional and less adventurous way to spend a Sunday day, but thers are times when I am not after adventure. 

As much as I like cycling, sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. Nowadays I prefer to have well-rounded weekends where I do a selection of things in moderation. I will always continue to ride my bike, even if it is just for social, domestic and pleasure. Maybe my cycling strength won't be enough for me to hold my own in a race or get round a 200km and 5,000m altitude cyclosportive now, but the fact that I have been there already gives me a sense of satisfaction, and I feel I have a healthier approach to cycling and cyclesport compared with previously. 

No comments: