“What are you training for?”
This is asked by my wife at least once a month, when her usually high tolerance for my cycling obsession is wearing thin. “I have to do a 5-hour cycle this Sunday” is regularly responded to with ”I wish I HAD TO leave this house and two kids for 5 hours”. Outlining the contents of the training session does little to cushion the blow or extract any sympathy. 2 hours climbing + 2 hours tempo + 1 hour easy, it still equates to 5 hours gone. It is a fair enough observation and to be honest she is not the only one asking the question.
Even when making small talk, like most cyclists, the fact that I ride a bike is never too far from the surface of any conversation and the question inevitably comes up. “Do you cycle much?” “Yeah, I’d train a few days a week” ……” what are you training for?”. I wish it were easy to answer. It is not like I’m training for a specific event, and the Dunsany GP or Waller Cup generally do not hold as much kudos as running the Dublin City Marathon (or even a parish 10k fun run!). Thanks to Covid there is no Waller Cup or Dunsany GP, so I guess the correct answer is “at the moment, I’m training for nothing.”
Over the past 9 months I have been asking myself the same thing, but have been trying to push it firmly to the back of my mind. It starts as a brief thought leaving the house on a cold morning “You don’t have to do this”. This then progresses to a negotiation when my fingers and toes have gone numb “You’ve done enough now, head on home”. On the worst of days, I have prayed for a double puncture that would give me an excuse to ring home and be rescued. Back home, tired, defrosting and contemplating the best tag lines to sell a 5-year-old bike on Done Deal, it can take a while for the voice to subside.” Why are you doing this to yourself, what are you training for?” (Here’s a tip: Don’t look at next week’s plan when you are tired!)
There is a proper answer to the question. This time last year I was in bad shape. I had abandoned winter training in early January and spent the next few months sampling most of the country’s craft beer whilst also developing an addiction to Salt n’ Vinegar crisps (The Covid Stone!). I had finally made it to A3 but was now nowhere near able to race in it. The plan then was to get back on the bike, cut down on the junk and put in a consistent block of Winter training. All this in the hope that on the other side I would be fit, and ready to race with a bit of purpose.
The belly has gone but Covid is still hanging around and Winter training is now in its 7th month. The last few months have been an agonizing wait for any indication that there may be a race someday/somewhere. A season start in March was never on the cards and each government announcement was a hammer blow to any hope. “Great news, the schools are reopening.” “Anything about sports starting up again?” “Not this time sorry, check back with us in another 6 weeks!” “What are you training for anyway?”
With all this uncertainty, I could stop and nobody would pass any remark. I surely wouldn’t be the only one. There are vicious rumors of others that have lost patience and packed it in. These rumors only increase my motivation, a deluded hope that the reduced numbers will increase my chances. I’m thinking that when racing does return there will be two distinct groups. A large cohort that used the time sensibly to train and are rearing to go and another that faltered in the long winter. I know what it feels like to race un-fit, and it is not a pleasant experience.
If I stop now the 5-hour freeze in January was for nothing. The days coming home soaked to the bone were for nothing. All the late nights sweating on the turbo were for nothing. All the early morning sessions, all the constant tiredness, all the money spent on coaching, all the money spent on even more gear and finally, the money spent on a full race license (taken out as a means of convincing myself there will be racing), will all be for nothing.
Even if I wanted to, I cannot stop.
I’m in too deep.