(By: Adam Millar)
(Note: Shout out to Tyler Johnston for encouraging us to do these again)
Okay, it’s been a while since the last blog. But to be fair, in the world of bikes and local bike racing, not much has happened (rest-of-world notwithstanding). Winter came, bludgeoned us, and it seems like it is finally a thing of the past for 2021. With the onset of decent weather, I’ve had the opportunity to safely catch-up with some people on the bike outside, and have heard one line of questioning more than any other: “What are you training for? Are there gonna be races this year? What’s been motivating you?”
The pessimistic answers to those questions are easy: “No racing, nothing to train for, no motivation”. And sometimes I do catch myself feeling that way. But I try to snap out of it quickly because I don’t ride a bike with the intention of being miserable about it. If anything, this prolonged period of eventless bike riding has allowed for a bit of a reset. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but “it’s reminding me why I started riding a bike in the first place…”. That’s something of a cliche these days, but there’s some truth in it.
I’m not a veteran of bike racing, haven’t been doing it for decades or anything. I’m pretty new. I’ve been into bikes for nearly ten years, but it started as a refuge from a more demanding and stressful sport - for me that was rowing. The bike was freedom, speed, and only hard work if I wanted it to be. I really looked forward to bike rides, and started to make more time for them in my schedule. This story has been experienced and told in many ways by many people, but stay with me because I swear I have a point.
I retired from rowing, rode bikes more. I used Strava and went hard for local segments, but I was actually really enjoying how it wasn’t a competitive outlet for me. Years spent competing were stressful, and it felt good to do something just for fun. But time wore on, I joined some group rides like Morning Glory and The Donut Ride in Toronto, and the competitive spirit within me rose from the ashes. Pretty soon after I was eyeball-deep in Ontario bike racing and couldn’t get enough. I made some great friends along the way, and my competitive nature was as strong as ever. As you may have read in some of these blog posts last year, I kinda whimsically went to Europe for the winter with the plan of returning home in the spring and competing in as many bike races as possible in summer of 2020. Plans, meet curb.
It wasn’t all bad though - along with some great company, I was able to do some bike stuff that I might’ve never otherwise done. Summer came and went. It started getting colder and friends weren’t as readily around to ride with. And maybe everyone can relate to this a bit, but with a dark winter ahead, I was having a hard time writing down some goals to train for. On top of that, I was still trying to figure out what to do with my life after doubling down on bike racing, but bike racing was cancelled.
In short, I reverted back to my original approach to cycling: a refuge, a way to have fun, get fresh air, elevate my heart rate, and explore some new places around me. My (lack of a) schedule allowed me to ride almost solely outdoors over the winter. I rode without a power meter or heart-rate monitor, and tried to spend as little time as possible on pavement. It was just fun. I crashed a bunch of times, got better at handling my bike, sometimes I pedaled really hard, and sometimes I didn’t pedal at all. It got me out of the house, and I was excited to get on my bike every single time I did. I didn’t compete against a single person, and hardly even went after Strava segments because it was usually -5° with snow on the ground. But I had so much fun.
Now, decent weather is rolling around and this is typically the time of year when Ontario road (and gravel) racing is getting into full swing. That’s all still on hold for now, and I don’t really have anything on the calendar by way of a goal or target - which is fine. I get on my bike because I want to. I ride hard or do intervals because it’s rewarding. I still make time to ride off-road, sometimes hard, sometimes easy, just as long as it’s fun.
In terms of motivation, the biggest thing for me is having a group of friends to ride with. Whether that be side by side on the road, or just keeping in touch virtually. Lately, I’ve been doing some hard paceline efforts with Jeremy and Mike, and it really brings back that feeling of racing. We push each other hard, and get the best out of each other. Once the effort is done, there’s a bit of that “post-race euphoria” feeling - which is hard to come by these days. Don’t tell them this, but I train hard on my own so that I don’t get dropped by those guys.
But contrary to that, Strava is a big help for my motivation - and not in the way of just blasting up a hill for a 30 second KOM. I can see my friends in all different places doing hard rides, and it inspires me to do the same. I’ll check the weather app, see rain in the forecast, and get discouraged from riding. But then I’ll see that Tim McClure did 3 hours outside that morning and I can’t let him get a competitive advantage over me, so I go out and ride. Keep your friends close, but your enemies… just follow them on Strava. It’s a great way to siphon some motivation from others, and they’ll never know it even happened. Unless you write a blog about it.
This is just what’s been working for me in this ongoing limbo period of bike racing. Lots of people are seeing great success with virtual training, or taking on other sports and activities, or just taking time off the bike altogether. The best solution is what works for you. In the meantime, cross your fingers that we can pin on some race numbers before another season is lost completely. I’m feeling pretty hopeful at this point, and I’m motivated enough to hopefully survive that first bike race.