So I was ill for the past month or so. I felt pretty sorry for myself. Of course if you’ve read my recent blog I can spare going into detail here. Let’s just say my motivation for cycling, and for the season of racing, sportives and cycling challenges this year, was at an all time low.
But sometimes it just takes one ride to change your outlook completely. And so it was last Sunday. With my health returning to near normal, a ride was planned. Bike cleaned and bottles filled, we left Crystal Palace – after a quick coffee at Café St Germain, one of the more popular meeting points in south London – and rolled down Anerley Hill and into the lanes south of Biggin Hill.
We cycled for 3.5hrs. It wasn’t fast. Our average speed isn’t one to be celebrated. In fact, it was one of the slowest rides I can recall in a long time. It was, though, one of the most enjoyable rides in the last few months. With both of us keeping our heart rates down, the focus not on speed or pushing hard on the pedals, it allowed a rare opportunity to take in the views and to talk. The 3.5hrs passed by quickly as we caught up, exchanged stories, planned cycling trips abroad and dreamed of summer races and plotting plans for getting fit.
Being disciplined and watching our heart rates, we kept our efforts to a minimum. Riding a steady pace, concentrating on pedal technique and cadence rather than stomping the pedals. It was just what I needed to ease me back into cycling and training. It felt great to be back on the bike, and to start laying the foundation for the many kilometres of cycling that I know await in spring and summer.
But importantly, my motivation levels have been fully restored.
The ride was also a reminder of the importance of going slow at this time of year. It’s all too easy to ride at the same pace all year round, and especially to go too hard in the winter, when your body most needs a break from the demands of hard riding. I’m guilty of not following my own advice [Indeed – ed.]and the advice that all good sports doctors hand out. At first, riding to a set heart rate band is near impossible, like some kind of torture. It requires patience, and can take a few rides to get used to. But the rewards of well structured base riding (and I know from my training this time last year) can be great.
As Joe Friel says: “In many ways Base is the most important training period of the entire season. If it goes well you will be able to train at a higher level in the following periods. If it doesn’t go so well you won’t be able to train to your limits later on in the Build period and you’ll be more likely to break down due to overtraining, illness and injury.”
So for the next few weeks and months I will be strictly keeping my heart rate in zone 2, focusing on some long steady workouts several times a week to improve my aerobic endurance, until my health is fully back to strength and the time is right to increase the intensity level. Only then, once I’m happy I’m back on the road to full fitness, will I consider laying down some goals and targets for the season.
I really think that being ill has been beneficial for my 2011 cycling season. It has forced me to rest, giving my body the time to recover and to clear my head. It’s also meant I’ve been able to really focus in on what I want out of this year, and how I’m going to set about achieving those goals. I will be patient and let the fitness come in its own time. My slow build for the season has begun.