SAVOUR EVERY MOMENT
CYCLING WEEKLY|January 13, 2022
Has training become a form of distraction that distances you from fully appreciating your rides? Dr Josephine Perry outlines five ways to re-engage and cycle more mindfully
Dr Josephine Perry

Offered the opportunity to sit quietly for a quarter of an hour, would you welcome it, take a deep breath and gladly settle down? Or would you quiver in fear at the idea of being alone with your thoughts? A group of participants in a study at Harvard University were given two options: for 15 minutes, they could either sit without distraction or self-administer painful electric shocks. Incredibly, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to electrocute themselves. Pain was preferable to sitting quietly with their own thoughts. Are we making a similarly perverse choice when, despite having no specific efforts on the schedule, we inflict pain on ourselves in training?

The prospect of quiet time alone may provoke the worry that the mind will wander to places we don’t want it to go – towards thoughts that don’t feel safe. Some people would rather actively hurt themselves than take that psychological risk. Another US study found that only 17% of people actively engage in relaxing or deliberate thinking; the rest prefer to distract themselves – all the time. A few use cycling as a relaxant; a way to recover from day to day stresses and allow the mind to wander freely. Most, however, especially those racing and focusing on high performance, find cycling hard a great opportunity to distract from the difficulties in life, and as a result, hammer themselves into the ground. How do we overcome the fear of our own thoughts and learn to savour our cycling?

Release the pressure

Andy Turner (SwiftCarbon Pro) rode full-time for a couple of years, quickly rising from fourth-cat to elite, but his performance dipped as his cycling got more serious. It was only after deciding to switch to part-time racing and full-time study at university that his riding improved. Working towards a degree in sport and exercise science helped the 26-year-old understand the different elements feeding into his performance. “I realised that less is more,” says Turner. “I started to see the bigger picture. Until 2017, all my focus had been on turning pro. When I focused instead on my degree and thinking about getting a job, ironically it helped me perform much better in my racing.”

Before switching his focus to studying, Turner had felt that every session needed to hurt and that every Zwift session should leave a huge puddle of sweat on the floor. This urge to push hard all the time, though it might feel productive, can result in digging a hole as the continual high intensity leads to burnout. Performance plateaus and eventually declines as the risk of injury and inflammation soars. If every single session is highly fatiguing and you are training almost daily, there is never time to recover fully. You lose the love of cycling, and rides that used to be about chatting to friends and watching the seasons change become focused on sweat, watts and Strava segments.

The relentless urge to ‘go hard’ to dull the noise in our heads, while distracting ourselves with tech or data to block out the discomfort, drowns out the messages coming from our own bodies. You need to pay attention to this biofeedback to understand how your body is responding to the training. Without it, your perception of effort and recovery goes haywire.

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